Nfld. & Labrador·First Person

Here's how I used to edit my selfies to look pretty — and why I won't do it anymore

Madison O'Dell shares a candid look into the pressure to look good on social media, and the process she uses to get there.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit just how much time I lost worrying about 'beauty standards'

Madison O'Dell writes she compares herself to people she sees on social media, and some days end up feeling like she's not good enough. (Submitted by Madison O'Dell)

This is a First Person column by Madison O'Dell, a Grade 12 student at Holy Trinity High School in Torbay, N.L. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

Picture this.

I'm on my couch slouched over, half asleep, eating any chocolate or chips I can get my hands on. Just totally pigging out as any teen does.

It's the middle of the day.

I still have my stained and unwashed pyjamas on, and my hair hasn't been washed or brushed but I want to at least feel like I've accomplished something. So, I think: time to post a nice selfie!

Obviously, I won't take the selfie here.

It takes me an hour or more, and finally I'm ready. Makeup, hair, outfit — and I have to get good lighting, the right angle, the right pose. Then I'll post it! (Just joking. I wish it were as easy as that.)

Next, after 30 minutes of getting all done up, I wipe off my makeup, throw my hair into a messy bun and jump back into my stained and unwashed pyjamas. I sink back into the couch, and reach again for the snacks.

Now the real work begins: choosing the right picture. I took multiple shots, hoping one would be good enough to post. I begin to scroll through my camera roll, saying, "Nah, nope, no way, oh god" to almost every single one.

These are all the photos Madison O'Dell snapped for her Instagram selfie. She will narrow it down to a select few, which she then edits. (Submitted by Madison O'Dell)

I see two or three that aren't completely terrible, so I send these to my friend group. Their brutal honesty narrows it down to one.

I over analyze the one I chose. It's not perfect but it will work. I literally start from the top and work to the bottom, whitening anything that's white, like my eyes and my teeth.

Next it's my blemishes, pimples and scars. I simply erase them with the touch of a finger like they've never been there.

Then my body.

If I've just eaten a bunch of snacks and I'm bloated like any human would be, I edit the selfie to make me look skinnier with wider hips.

Right about now, you're either calling me crazy or actually relating to me.

You think I'm ready to post? No, I'm not. Next comes a caption, which can't be something weird; it has to relate to the picture and it has to be something people understand.

I search "Instagram captions" on Google. Everything that comes up is way too cringey.

I think of song lyrics and search them. After once again consulting my friends group chat to get a consensus, I settle on a caption inspired by my favourite song.

"Jealousy, jealousy, jealousy. #oliviarodrigo" I'm a teenager, OK — a lot of jealousy happens.

Instagram vs. reality 

In this story I am totally exposing myself and sharing the Instagram-versus-reality version of me. Not just with words but a picture — yup, that is right, an actual photo of me unedited and unfiltered.

Doing this was scary, but I wanted to show the pressure social media really has on us teens, so here goes nothing:

This is a photo of Madison O'Dell before (left) she used the Facetune app (right) to touch up her selfie. (Submitted by Madison O'Dell)
This is an example of Madison O'Dell's face without an Instagram filter (left) compared to the same photo with a filter that adds eyeliner and blush among other touch-ups (right). (Submitted by Madison O'Dell)

There are real accounts and fake accounts

A lot of my friends and I have both a fake account (also known as finsta) and a real account — the fake account being real photos of me and the real account being fake.

Confusing, I know — unless you are a teenager yourself, and then you probably know what I'm talking about.

The fake account has all my unedited photos, my real moments, real smiles and not parent-friendly stuff. Only close friends who I trust get to see my finsta. 

The real account has what I edit — think teeth-whitening app — to make me look good.

This is for anyone in the world to see.

The perfect me. 

Here's how much time I waste on this crap:

This screencap of Madison O'Dell's phone which shows the amount of time she uses it in an average day. (Submitted by Madison O'Dell)

That's my screen time tracked over the Thanksgiving long weekend.

When you look at that number, are you shocked? I'm not. I've seen way higher numbers before but you have to take into account that I sleep an average of eight hours a day.

So out of the 24 hours in a day, I waste nearly five hours scrolling.

Continuously refreshing and continuously comparing myself to others, no matter what social media platform I'm on.

How scrolling affects my mental health

When I open Instagram, I see a delicious ice cream smothered in chocolate. I scroll down a bit further and I see Kim Kardashian in a tight, hot pink jumpsuit that shows her curves. #pinkcurvyhighlighter

I quickly go from wanting yummy ice cream to not wanting yummy ice cream.

I scroll some more and see friends of friends who I've heard say they didn't like each other but are posed next to one another looking happy as can be. #whatever

I scroll again to see a supermodel in a bathing suit looking "candidly" off to the side. I know this is clearly posed. 

But I still compare myself to others, and there are some days where I feel I'm not good enough and I don't look like the girls coming up on my feed.

As a teenager, I was self-conscious about my appearance. I looked more and more at what other older girls had and wondered why I didn't have those things.

They have flat stomachs. Wide hips. No blemishes. Perfect white teeth. No scars. 

Some days, the more I scroll, the more I learn to hate myself. I feel as if I'm not good enough and never will be good enough. 

I don't fit the beauty standards.

But what even are they anyway? When I looked it up, an article in Teen Vogue said, "Individual qualifications women are expected to meet in order to embody feminine qualities."

Madison O'Dell, a Grade 12 student at Holy Trinity High School in Torbay, N.L., lives in Flatrock. (Submitted by Madison O'Dell)

How is someone's definition of beauty the same as mine? Why am I expected to meet certain qualifications?

We all have different ways of thinking. Not only is my mind being warped but my body too. 

In the past, I've thought the only option is to not eat, cry, and turn into someone society expects me to be, flushing my mental health and well-being down the toilet.

Trying to keep it real between the fakeness

I am now so over altering my photos because I know how many young people are on social media these days, some just entering their teens or even younger.

I don't want to make them feel how I did: not good enough. They need realness, not the fake version of me. 

I was sick of hating myself so I learned to love myself.

I now promise and challenge myself not to edit my pictures to be unrealistic.

Will you take on the challenge?

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Do you have a compelling personal story that can bring understanding or help others? We want to hear from you. Here's more info on how to pitch to us.


Madison O’Dell is a Grade 12 student at Holy Trinity High School in Torbay, N.L. She lives in Flatrock.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?