Do you want to know a little more about the existential doubts and musings of a novice researcher? Will it be possible to meet the schedule and responsibilities of university life? Learn about my experience as a university student and junior researcher at Comunica Investiga Lab.
I came to the Lab with high expectations, determined to broaden my experience in communications research. After the work I presented with my group in Methods 2, my vision of the possibilities of the communications field expanded enormously. I am a Development major, and although I have certain notions and interest in digital media and audiovisuals, my focus had always been more on the social. However, as I have advanced in my academic training I have noticed that both the social and the communicational are transversal to life, especially in these times. Researching on the popular youth series Euphoria put me in contact with a branch of academia that I had not had the opportunity to get to know until then. Pop culture, digital media, social networks, digital culture and everything that seems so natural to me and so many young people for having grown up in the information age, are recurring themes in studies of the effects of the media and different fields of social research.
I first heard about ‘snapchat dysmorphia’ in the documentary The Social Media Dilemma. Although they mention it briefly in the documentary, those words stuck around in my head. I used Snapchat for some time years ago, and like most I had fun uploading selfies with dog-eared or other filters. I am also an Instagram user and although I very rarely upload photos I did use the filters that the app offers from time to time. However, this was different, they were talking about a growing phenomenon of body dysmorphia cases related to the use of these digital filters that alter the features through Artificial Intelligence. It seems that more and more people are looking to achieve that ‘perfect’ image, and to do so they are willing to do everything from makeovers, eyelash extensions and microblading to facial fillers, botox and plastic surgery. Anything goes to achieve the desired image.
The quarantine and the mandatory virtualization of all activities made me meet new friends and screen friends in between. It was a new experience but I met some very nice people, one of them was Majo, a friend I made in a volunteer program, during that time we became friends even though we had never seen each other in real life. The volunteering ended and we never met but during the summer, just when I was in the induction program at Comunica Investiga Lab, Majo wrote me asking me to come and visit her at her beach house. I hadn’t been to the beach for years and I was eager to meet her so I accepted without hesitation, besides, we are both vaccinated and we had just had covid recently, so it was ‘safe’ to see each other.
The plan for the evening, besides doing make-up, eating and watching movies, was to pretend we were going to a party to make her boyfriend jealous, since they had argued earlier that day. We ‘dressed up’ and Majo pulled out her cell phone to upload stories to Instagram and set the plan in motion. We took a selfie, two selfies, three selfies, until one came out that we both liked. We agreed to upload it and immediately my friend opened the filter options on Instagram and tried several until she found one she liked. Then she looked at me and said ‘There, now we look like Barbie’ with a big smile.
I saw the photo and they were subtle changes but together they transformed our faces. The first thing I noticed was that my skin looked much whiter and totally free of imperfections and blemishes, my nose looked thin and turned upturned, my lips looked full and pink and my face looked thinner. It was us but ‘enhanced’, aligned with an unreal ideal of beauty.
Majo’s phrase left me thinking, I immediately remembered the documentary and some articles I read about this practice. On how the use of these filters that modify the face to bring us as close as possible to the ideal of beauty affect self-esteem and self-perception. I don’t think my friend was aware of the impact of those words, but they led me to reflect on the role of social media today in the lives of young women. On how many people are so invested in curating a desired, ‘perfect’ digital image. On what we are sacrificing to show the ideal life on social media and why social media has become so important, especially in the lives of young people. After this experience, the topic was in my head, I was very curious to find out more about it, and why not to investigate it in my environment. So, with the support and guidance of the Comunica Investiga Lab team, I decided to write an article about the influence of the use of Augmented Reality facial filters on Instagram and the willingness of young Peruvian women to undergo facial aesthetic procedures.
Monday, March 21st
A lot has happened since the last feedback session, I don’t think it’s been that long, but my topic has matured quite a bit since I first brought it up with the Comunica Investiga Lab team. I remember I came with a completely different idea than what I have now, but that’s good. It’s good to be questioned, I feel I learn. Besides, it’s essentially the same topic, and that’s what’s important.
As classes have started now, I am a little afraid of the academic load, will it be too much? I have enrolled in 6 courses, I am at the Lab, I have a part-time job and I would like to take French again. This is a decisive week. For the moment I have set an hour a day to dedicate to my research, if all goes well this will continue for the whole cycle. Google calendar is my best ally in this new challenge.
Tuesday March 22nd
The first day was quiet, I only have one class on Mondays. Today… today is a different story, I have classes from 9 am to 10 pm. The ‘slots’ I have are taken, I have to eat lunch, dedicate an hour to Lab and work. But I feel optimistic and believe that everything is achieved with effort.
I quite liked the article I reviewed yesterday, it addresses the use of social networks and aesthetic work from a critical feminist perspective. I found some very interesting quotes that I hope to include in the framework. I feel happy.
11:30 pm: I feel very tired, I haven’t had such a heavy day in a long time and in spite of that I can’t sleep, this second day has been exhausting. I think reviewing syllabus, and putting together the cycle calendar with deliveries, practices and pc’s overwhelms me a lot. It looks like quite a lot
Wednesday, March 23rd
12:40 am: Unable to fall asleep, I wrote to Sylvi (my therapist). I think I’m trying to take on too much and I know how badly that ends; I have to take care of my mental and physical integrity. I like to write these entries because it helps me to reflect. I am seriously thinking about withdrawing from a course. It would be Diagnóstico because it has a complicated schedule, the classes last 3 hours and finish at 10:00 pm and on top of that some of them are face-to-face. I feel quite overwhelmed and afraid.
5:12 am: I haven’t slept at all, and at 8:00 am I have class. But I feel much better, I took advantage of the insomnia to better sort out my schedule so I can start drafting my framework as soon as possible. After a lot of overthinking about everything I have to do I got a rush of energy. Yes we can do it!
Mental note: Ask for a consultant to review my matrix, last time I had several observations and I can’t start writing my framework without it being perfect.
Sylvi answered me and gave me calm. I feel happy because I’m doing something I like, although I’m still a little worried about the load, it gives me peace of mind to know that in the Lab they value the mental health of the members. Yesterday I made very little progress, I think that that hour on Tuesdays is not enough, but I can’t extend it, I have all the time I need. Next week I have the socialization and I want to arrive well prepared, at least with part of the advanced framework. I will have to spend the whole night from Friday to Saturday fine-tuning these details.
Thursday, March 24th
I’ve thought about things more calmly; yes I could do everything but I wouldn’t enjoy the process and it’s something I really want to do. I got into the Lab to research on different topics than I’m used to, that’s why I chose the topic of filters or social media beauty effects. It sounds a bit irrelevant or unsubstantial but that’s the point, when you go so deep into something it ceases to be and you understand the implications beyond the prejudices you may have. It goes outside the norm and I like that.
When I have talked with my friends about my article I have noticed that they do not have the same attitude as when I have talked with them about more ‘serious’ topics such as reproductive rights, inequality, etc; topics with more emphasis on social issues. And I understand that, these topics are strong, they touch the heartstrings. But I believe that my subject also has that potential, after all I have read I am convinced of that, I just have to raise it well and dedicate myself fully. I have already decided to leave a course, I want to enjoy this process and I must take care of my mental health.
Friday, March 25th
Today I am withdrawing from this course, I think it will give me more peace of mind. Today I only have two classes so I will be able to move forward in the evening. I have realized that I really like the courses I am taking this semester, they are really interesting topics and I am very curious to learn about them. It has been a nice experience to write this blog and it has helped me to reflect. I think it is a good exercise and something I will continue to put into practice.
Saturday, March 26th
This first week of classes has been heavy, I have never withdrawn from a course before, but I don’t think of it as something negative. The truth is that overloading myself with activities and not taking care of my mental health and health have taken their toll on me before and I have learned my lesson. I think being able to recognize my limits and prioritize my well-being above all else is a good decision. There is enough time to accomplish what you set out to do without destroying yourself in the process. It is nice to have the support of Comunica Investiga Lab and the beautiful group of women who make up the first generation of this project. The advice, workshops and socializations have greatly enriched my article and my perspective on the subject. It is nice and reassuring to have this support network to be able to train myself.