When You Don’t Like What You’re Seeing, Change The Filter

Yesterday I did something I don’t normally do. I hopped on a bandwagon. In this case, the bandwagon was the controversial Lensa AI app. Twenty-four hours ago, I didn’t even know the app was controversial. Hell. Forty-eight hours ago, I didn’t even know becoming an artist’s rendition of yourself via an app was a thing. I had only recently glimpsed a headline about the popularity of trying these lenses and then saw a post on Facebook from a friend who had tried it out the previous day. My decision to see what the fuss was about was based solely on the idea that it might be fun to see what images of me the app would come up with. I suppose downloading an app and then uploading my photos to it without understanding more about the technology was foolhardy. I didn’t understand what I might be getting myself into. Perhaps it was a little naive, but I’ve been home alone for ten days with little human interaction, so I was looking for something to distract me from myself. We make a lot of our dumbest choices out of boredom or curiosity. If I were a cat, I would have exhausted all nine of my lives seventy times over by now.

At any rate, I signed up for the app’s seven-day free trial, uploaded some selfies, paid $5.99 (come on, people, that’s the equivalent of one grande Starbucks oat milk latte) for 100 Magic Avatar images, and waited fifteen minutes for them to materialize. When the results populated my screen, I was fascinated. Some of the images were quite realistic, looking an awful lot like me in art form. Some of them were a little off, my eyes farther apart than they are in reality, my eyebrows higher, my nose straighter. Some of them were so far off I dismissed them completely. Still, it was a fun endeavor. I’m 54 and not getting any younger, so it was inspiring to see myself as a fantasy princess and a space warrior. I’ve never imagined myself like that. The images begged me to question why I hadn’t. Seeing myself in those images made me realize maybe I’m not as plain Jane as I have always thought. It might even be possible that I am, gasp, sort of pretty. I decided that the experiment was worth the $6. I downloaded the images I thought looked most like me, canceled my free trial, and deleted the app.

Feeling a little puffed up about how cool I thought the generated images were, I posted a small collection of them to social media. It took only five minutes before I got my first negative comment. Oh, social media. Aside from a family member’s house, where else can you go to have other people instantaneously judge your choices and question your intelligence? I chose to brush off the disdain and review the rest of the feedback. Overall, it was intriguing to see which images other people liked and disliked. A couple images I thought were only me-adjacent and not fair representations of me at all garnered quite a few likes, which confused me. Do people think I look like that? Do I appear that way to some people despite my own eyes telling me otherwise? Do they wish I looked like that? I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe they simply liked the artwork? A couple of the images I felt most realistically depicted my features and expressions were not liked at all. How does that even work, I wondered. That is what I actually look like (minus the airbrushing, mind you). Why did people not appreciate the images that most resembled me in real life? Those were the ones I was drawn to, the ones that made me look slightly younger and way more badass than I feel.

The experiment made me consider our self-perceptions. Having been raised in a decidedly negative household, my general self-opinion has mostly remained negative. I am fantastic at telling you what is wrong with me. Ask me what I do well and I’m stumped. Maybe that was why the images the app created enchanted me so. I looked at the woman in the artwork and saw a different side of myself, a stronger, braver, sassier me, one less afraid of her own shadow and more empowered. One who is really great at knowing what to do with her hair. Perhaps I was seeing the me I might have been earlier if I had figured out before now that I can, at times, be dynamic and inspiring.

The lesson I emerged with from this little experiment was this: when you’re feeling down, try viewing yourself through a different lens. There’s nothing wrong with you that can’t be changed by picturing yourself as the unique, bewitching, and formidable badass who forever dwells within you, even when you’re just doing the dishes or taking out the trash.

You May Not Know What You Think You Know, Which Is Shocking, I Know

I saw this quote recently, and it struck a chord with me. Not just because people from my childhood on have sized me up, rated and assessed me according to their standards, and then expected me to fit in that neat little box for the rest of forever. If I grew or changed, they became disoriented in our relationship. Some adjusted, although in most cases we simply parted ways. I know this is a human condition. I know I too have sized people up, assigned labels, and lived in that fabricated paradigm with them, never acknowledging they might be more than I have given them credit for. Never once thinking perhaps the terms I ascribed to them were placed there via my own filters and were, at their kindest, a little biased, and at their most abhorrent, completely unfair.

It’s what we do as humans. We look at others hoping to find similarities. We look for our people. When we run across someone who doesn’t fit our prescribed guidelines, we pack them up and place them in the box we’ve determined they belong in. We are often wrong because, although we may have asked some initial questions, we usually haven’t conducted important follow-up inquiries to get beyond the superficial. We stick to the surface. We may half hear one part of a response to a question we’ve asked and suddenly we’re off to the races on judgment. If this pattern were an Olympic event, I would be in gold medal contention. At the very least, I’d probably make the podium.

In my world, I am working to be, as Ted Lasso reminds us, curious and not judgmental. Holy hell is that a hard road to walk after a lifetime of judging that began when I was but a wee Polish-Catholic girl. I will keep on working at it, though, because I can’t expect people to accept the ways in which I have changed unless I am willing to view them through a different lens as well. This ability, to allow others to grow and develop in ways that suit their goals and lives, is one I work on constantly. I do this because I don’t want to grow apart from the people I care about. My sons are clearly much more than I have decided they are, and I have to work to remind myself of that. They deserve their own chance to define themselves without my input. So, I am trying to be curious, to observe, to ask questions, and to apologize when I haven’t allowed them enough room to challenge their perceptions of themselves, to reach outside of their past behaviors, likes, and wishes and stretch.

Take a minute to reflect on how you measure people. Are you taking their measurements every time you meet them to determine how they are different and how you can fit into their new schema or are you expecting them to fit into the same outfit you gave them a decade ago? In what ways have you limited a relationship by neither admitting your own growth or acknowledging someone else’s?