Whatever precarious grip you still have on reality, prepare to let it go. It appears that influencers have managed to fake the one thing that anyone could still theoretically trust: Their own reflection.
At the beginning of February, a model and influencer named Kara Del Toro blew the top off what I’m going to refer to henceforth as Mirrorgate. “I’m going to let you guys in on a top secret-secret for all of the blogger mirror pictures you see,” she says in a now-viral TikTok video captioned: “Selfie secrets bloggers don’t want you to know part 1.” (Click!)
Del Toro has perfect hair and over 1 million followers on both Instagram and TikTok, so when it comes to secrets, I trust her. “Have you ever noticed that bloggers get the most perfect mirror selfies?” she asks rhetorically, the sun — excuse me, the “sun” — hitting her cheekbone highlights just right. “Like, their mirrors are so clean … Never any smudges … Never any marks …”
Huh. You know, I can’t say that I have noticed that, but I’m listening.
Bloggers must have mirrors, like, everywhere, Del Toro continues. Otherwise, how can they take mirror selfies in places where mirrors aren’t usually found — in front of white walls, outside, weirdly close to peoples’ beds? And why is the lighting always so good?
It’s possible that these influencers just picked their mirrors up and placed them where they wanted them, cropping the photo to obscure the frame. I’ve done that myself at least once. But no. Some people, including Del Toro herself, have gone to even greater lengths to capture the perfect mirror selfie. “Here’s the secret,” Del Toro says. “There is no mirror.”
There. Is. No. Mirror.
There. Is. No. Spoon.
Okay, take a deep breath, grab on to something sturdy, and let the evidence wash over you. “All you need is a second phone or a spare camera,” Del Toro explains breezily, showing viewers her personal setup. Of course! Instead of pointing her phone at a dirty, ugly mirror, she uses a tripod and self-timer to take a photo of herself taking a photo. She even gazes down, sort of cross-eyed, at her phone screen, as if she’s concentrating on her own reflection. But it’s all fake. Her phone is just a “prop,” as she puts it in her video. A PROP!! My God, can you imagine? “I’ve literally done this for ages on all my Instagram posts,” Del Toro says with zero remorse, showing the below image as an example.
Naturally, this made the internet flip a metaphorical table. In a sub-Reddit titled r/Instagramreality, someone posted suspicious-seeming mirror pics by America’s second stepdaughter Ella Emhoff and America’s most controversial influencer Danielle Bernstein with the caption: “Ever since I found out influencers don’t actually use mirrors but just another camera when taking ‘mirror’ selfies, my life has known no peace.” (Ironically, ever since Ella Emhoff and Danielle Bernstein were used in the same sentence, neither have I.)
It’s an eye-opening realization, like popping a red pill or seeing the other side of one of those mirrored monoliths. “Fuck no wonder I always look like shit when I take mirror selfies,” wrote one user named Butterdog in a comment.
Instagram was originally intended to be a platform for sharing the innocuous moments that constitute our reality, including crappy mirror pics taken in bar bathrooms and such. (A lost art, at the moment.) But it’s been warping our perceptions and making people feel bad for about a decade now. Authenticity is almost impossible to find on the app. Our reflections are not fixed; they can be enhanced with filters and Photoshop apps. There are entire accounts dedicated to calling out fakes and exposing the lengths influencers go to “for the ’gram.” We even have avatars like Lil Miquela posting “mirror pics” with a computer-generated glare.
You’d think that in 2021, after the sobering year we’ve had, it would come as no surprise that influencers are full of it. Of course mirror pics aren’t a reflection of real life. But as one of the last remaining examples of an off-the-cuff post, they feel worth protecting — the final bastion at the edge of the Uncanny Valley.
We’re beyond the point of asking whether people really do this. Clearly, they do. (Although some influencers, like Naomi Anwer, whom Del Toro featured in her TikTok, have denied it.) The most pressing question, at least in my mind, is why??? Why would someone go to such great lengths to fake a mirror selfie, instead of just taking a nice, regular picture of themselves?
“It’s an easy way to hide your face if you just aren’t feeling it that day, which is totally fine,” Del Toro told Buzzfeed News in an interview in early February. Compared to staged photos in enviable places, there’s also something more casual about a mirror pic. It implies that you’re alone; that you lack influencer apparatuses like selfie sticks; that you’re just doing your best to participate in the selfie economy and make the most of your surroundings. When I look at one, I get whiffs of eau d’early blogging, when all people really cared about was the composition of their outfits. “It has an effortlessness to it and an ‘in the moment’ appeal, I think,” Del Toro added of the genre. The irony being that her version is the exact opposite.
Of course, I had to try this trick for myself. Because I don’t have a “prop phone” or a spare camera that isn’t ancient technology, I asked my roommate if I could borrow hers “for my job” this week. I took a photo myself with my own shattered iPhone, pointing it at the dusty mirror in my room, as I have done almost every single day during the pandemic. And then she took a photo of me with my phone in the same spot, while I held hers like I was a freakin’ French mime.
Can you tell the difference? I hate them both.