This essay originally appeared in the Privacy & Perception Issue of Vice Magazine, created in collaboration with Broadly. You can read more stories from the issue here.
Like most teenagers growing up online, Glenda Lissette often posted pictures of herself. Born in Chicago, she moved around a lot and spent her early adolescence in Guatemala, where, at 12, she first started snapping self-portraits. She bought Photoshop from a small tienda down the street, one that sold pirated music, films, and software, and would share images of herself on hi5, a social networking site that was popular at the time. When she returned to the States at 14, she followed the social media trends. She discovered MySpace and Facebook, and, a year later, Flickr, which was the first site where she gained a real audience. And then Instagram came along, and she hopped on that, too. It was there, as she continued to upload self-portraits, that brands identified her as an “influencer.” Eventually, she began thinking about what, exactly, that term even signifies.
“I was contemplating what [that word] means and making work about it,” she says. “A huge focus of this is the concept of the self-gaze.”
The project featured here, first began in 2017. She created more self-portraits that, along with a multidirectional video and sound installation, she says, “focus on [this kind of] manipulation and female labor.”
“I’m using Photoshop,” she explains, “to create imagery where fakeness is emphasized and decontextualized to draw attention it.” In one photo, for example, she stands in a garden of flowers, her arms, torso, and part of her face erased; in others, she’s altered herself to seem “perfect.” “My body,” she says, “definitely doesn’t look like this in reality.” She’s also modified palm trees, and jewelry, and pieces of fruit.
Ultimately, it’s her attempt to criticize how we interact on social media, and how brands try to sell the female body. Lissette advocates for the influencer, but she also recognizes the exploitation that exists in the media, particularly for young women—how what they do is so often gendered, racialized, and sexualized. By making viewers acknowledge how she blatantly manipulates her photos—singing karaoke, say, with two versions of herself in two different outfits—she asks them to consider why she’s manipulating anything in the first place.