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This Instagram is the Diet Prada of celebrity airbrushing

@celebface reveals that famous people might just be as self-conscious as the rest of us

Instagram is watching. It’s not just @diet_prada, the no-longer-anonymous account hellbent on unmasking fashion rip-offs, or @whos____who, which spotlights the art world’s copycats. There’s also the sharp-eyed @celebface, the private page lifting the lid on the photoshop of the rich and famous. ‘WELCOME TO REALITY’, its bio greets.

Here’s how it works.

A celebrity gets snapped by the paparazzi (A-list gala! Fashion week runway!). The images are uploaded to agencies like Rex or Getty, where said celebrity (or said celebrity’s social media manager) buys them, edits them (or has them retouched by a professional), and posts them to their own account. Sometimes, the source image for the retouched version is a regram from a friend or brand, but the result is the same – @celebface finds both the original and the copy, and switches between the two in one eternally looping, hypnotic gif.

It’s like a game of Western beauty standards spot the difference: waistlines become thinner, while hips get rounder. Eyes grow to doll-like proportions. Legs extend. Lips are plumped. Frown-lines disappear. The results are genuinely transfixing, not to mention shocking: not just because the ‘before’ pictures are usually still beautiful, but because scrolling through your feed, you probably would have had no idea any edits had even taken place. Sure, we know in theory that people play with their pictures, but there’s a suspension of disbelief that happens with social media – it’s easy to assume that these celebrities genuinely look like that, and that the images they post are less produced and retouched than what you might find in a magazine or fashion campaign.

As the account shows, however, that’s not the case (people even have their own cover shoots and fashion campaigns edited, only posting their version). @celebface targets include Kim Kardashian, Rita Ora, Amber Rose, JLo, Hailey Baldwin, Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Elsa Hosk, Magdalena Frackowiak, and Jordan Barrett – all people for whom their image (and an extremely groomed, constantly maintained, public performance of it) is a fundamental and highly profitable part of their careers. Unsurprisingly, the account has been blocked by a number of high profile names. 

“@celebface blows a hole in the idea that the more beautiful people think you are, the more money you have, the more followers like your pictures, the happier and more free of insecurities you will be”

It would be a lie to say that @celebface doesn’t thrive on a kind of schadenfreude, a “got ya!” thrill that comes from uncovering the real truth behind these otherwise imperceptible acts of augmentation. Likewise, a format of posts featuring the staggeringly different appearances of Instagram it girls in their own pictures rather than IRL often replicates the shaming pap shots of the weekly gossip magazines of the 00s, trying to catch women out for having cellulite on the beach, or not actually being as perfect as they are pretending to be. The tone can sometimes be snide and cutting: “Your parents bought your career, but they didn’t buy the confidence for you”, a bullying caption on an airbrushed Vogue Japan cover posted by Bella Hadid reads.

It would also be a lie to say that there wasn’t something that feels invasive, almost cruel in the exposure that the gifs provide. Follow the account for a while, and you start to notice the ways that, image after image, the same celebrities consistently alter the same things about themselves – like how Kim’s pictures regularly shrink her trap muscles and shorten her chin, or Rita Ora’s make her entire torso and upper arms shrink, while Jordan Barrett’s pretty much recast his every facial feature to make them sharper and more chiselled. In this way, @celebface takes a highlighter and draws a series of giant, neon circles around the insecurities of famous people: in their quest to hide the things they didn’t want to be seen, attention has only been drawn to them.

@celebface is so engaging because it blows a hole in the idea that the more beautiful people think you are, the more money you have, the more followers like your pictures, the happier and more free of insecurities you will be. Sure, you could get all postmodern about how fake images of reality have replaced actual reality itself, but on a practical level, there’s something weirdly encouraging about it all – well, unless you’re one of the targets. If you’ve ever looked at an impossibly beautiful picture of a bikini-clad Victoria’s Secret model cavorting on a yacht and thought: how does anyone even look like that? Chances are: they don’t. Without the ‘before’ you don’t even realise you’re looking at an ‘after’. Perfection simply doesn’t exist. It’s certainly nothing to celebrate, but celebrities just might be the most insecure out of all of us.