Reddit is full of people talking shit about influencers, but the motherlode can be found at r/InstagramReality, a subreddit where people discuss celebrities and Instagrammers manipulating their photos with Facetune and Photoshop.
Last weekend, a post spilled out of that subreddit and onto Twitter, challenging everything we thought we knew about mirror selfies, and shaking the world to its collective core. It read: “ever since I found out influencers don’t actually use mirrors but just another camera when taking ‘mirror’ selfies, my life has not known peace”.
Illustrating the post are, at first glance, some pretty unremarkable selfies – one from a faceless influencer, the other from influencer (and Kamala Harris’ step-daughter), Ella Emhoff. But on closer inspection, some of the telltale signs of a mirror selfie – like the edges of the mirror, or the tiny little flecks of dust you can sometimes spot on the glass – are missing.
While there’s no confirmation that either of those “mirror selfie” examples aren’t what they seem, having spoken to a couple of influencers for this piece, it turns out the technique is absolutely nothing new, but just another tool in the influencer arsenal.
The thing is, we know that wannabe influencers fake wealth to get more followers, by planting second-hand designer shopping bags in the background of their photos, or pretending to be on a private jet when really they’re in a photo studio. And we know that established influencers with thousands of followers try to make sure their content stays relevant, despite the fact they’re posting it from a five-star hotel in the Maldives during a worldwide pandemic. But a mirrorless selfie doesn’t trick followers into thinking anything other than that you maybe own a reflective surface – so what’s the point?
According to beauty and lifestyle influencer Demi Colleen, the mirrorless mirror selfie is deployed to create relatable content. “Mirror selfies are quite relatable, because a lot of people take them and they feel less performed and posey,” she explains.
Sure, but why not just post a photo taken on your camera, rather than simulate a mirror selfie? “It gives us something to do with our hands, and [we] can show off an outfit without including our faces,” she says. “Additionally, not everyone has a cute space in front of a mirror, or even great lighting, so you might want to ‘fake it’ for the sake of good content.”
Naturally, taking a mirrorless mirror selfie is a lot less straightforward than a standard one. Instead of just picking up your phone and standing in front of a mirror, you’ll need to set up a digital camera on a tripod with a self-timer and position the phone to make it look like you’re using it to take the photo. If you’re particularly slick, you can also use your phone as a trigger to take the photo.
For London-based fashion influencer Hannah Louise, this mirrorless mirror selfie technique was a necessary faff – she didn’t have an Instagram-ready place to shoot when she moved into her first flat. “It’s like the evolution of finding ways to take pictures without having access to space and locations,” she says, “which is how the mirror thing started, in my opinion.”
At this point, we all know that taking a good mirror selfie is an art form. In a 2013 article, The Atlantic describes all selfies as art: “The selfie is a deliberate, aesthetic expression – it’s a self-portrait, which is an artistic genre with an extremely long pedigree.” And like any other art form, there are considerations to be made here – like not covering your whole face with your phone, making sure the mess in your room is pushed out of frame and avoiding your hand looking like a giant claw gripped around your tiny phone.
Over the lockdown summer of 2020, influencers took their mirrors outside to take selfies, and those who were really serious about it bought one of those Gustaf Westman popcorn mirrors, to add an extra little touch of flair. But for your average selfie-taking influencer, having a nice home and an elaborate mirror can make all the difference – so if you have neither of those things, the thinking seems to go, just fake it.
Ultimately, compared to some of the more harmful aesthetic edits influencers make to their photos, posting mirrorless mirror selfies really isn’t that deep (despite the fact I’ve just written 700 words about it). Still, it’s always fun to get a glimpse into how the influencer sausage is made.