Out with the hyper-posed, face-tuned, and ring-lit photos. In with the teary-eyed, makeup-smeared selfies, blurry snapshots, and quick outfit checks. Gen Zers are turning their attention toward casual photo dumps and “authentic” apps like BeReal, and away from the curated, filtered funfest that is Instagram. But can social media platforms ever be real?
BeReal, a social media app that launched in 2020, prompts users to upload a candid photo once a day, during a randomly generated, two-minute time frame. The hope is that catching users off-guard leaves little time for perfection. As such, the app is populated by snapshots of laptop screens, classrooms, and the occasional concert or group hang. These posts remind us that life is, more often than not, pretty mundane. Most of our time is spent at school, with friends, or at home doing work or chores—not on expensive trips or celebrating milestones.
In theory, this shift toward “being real” could offer a foil to the oft-criticized impact of social media: that it ingrains within us the unattainable goals of always looking flawless and living flawlessly. But in reality, when the BeReal timer starts counting down, it elicits a mad dash to make oneself look a bit more presentable or to make one’s surroundings appear more exciting; the very act of sharing photos of ourselves online promotes comparison with our peers. We want to be liked. We want to be admired. We compare the facts of our own lives to Kylie Jenner’s morning routine and Insta-girls’ perfectly plated, four-course dinners. So, as we are prompted to generate around-the-clock content online, we are pressured to live in a perpetual state of aesthetic beauty. No hair should ever be out of place unless, of course, it serves as a knowing nod toward manufactured imperfection.
Such a desire for social inclusion, acceptance, and beauty long predates Instagram, and a two-minute window won’t stop anyone from putting forward the best version of themselves. With this in mind, BeReal amounts to nothing more than a collective performance of authenticity: we show our inner lives, but from our best angles and with the knowledge that we are being watched—even if we can’t see our watchers. It has turned what was perhaps our last authentic moments into a perpetual performance.
BeReal positions itself as the solution to over-curation, but aren’t we the most “ourselves” when no one is looking? Imagine a world in which smartphone cameras were all turned away and our faces no longer had to remain perfectly poised for capture and commodification. Think about coming home after a long day, unbuttoning tight clothing, and putting your hair up without looking in the mirror to see if the strands are perfectly imperfect—there is a certain release that comes with privacy, with logging off. Perhaps the only way to achieve authenticity, the only way to be real, is to not share anything at all.
Story by Sophie Lee
Photography by Domen & Van de Velde
Model Hunter Clem
Manicure Britney Tokyo
Manicure assistant Tohko Nishimoto