Carolyn Stritch used her posts to teach her 187,000 Instagram followers a thing or two about reality.


Faking it on Instagram has become pretty common. Most of us have airbrushed out a blemish, enhanced a sunset, or posted a gorgeous meal from last week and pretended we just cooked it that night. But how can we determine the line between appropriate editing and lying?

Carolyn Stritch, a U.K.-based influencer with 187,000 followers on her Instagram account @TheSlowTraveler decided to find out once and for all.Known for posting dreamy photos while sipping coffee and reading books in front of the tall windows in her apartment, Stritch has perfected a light, airy, beautiful, Instagram feed.

But Stritch changed up her approach to social media a few days ago when she posted an image of herself in bed with a caption about her upcoming travel plans. "Tomorrow, I'm going to be 22!" she writes. "I'm treating myself with a trip to Californ-I-ay: I'm off to Disneyland to Instagram the hell out of Sleeping Beauty's Castle."

Credit: The unedited image on the left versus the edited version that made it to Instagram. Photos courtesy of @TheSlowTraveler/Instagram.

If the 15,000 people who "liked" her photo had noticed Stritch's heavily edited face or the fact that she claimed to be just 22 (she's actually 32) few voiced their skepticism, and the picture was taken—quite literally—at face value. "After posting the first image, receiving so many birthday wishes and comments from people telling me I'm beautiful, I felt really anxious and uncomfortable," she tells Health. "It was like a four-day panic attack! But I felt strongly enough about the project to see it through."

A day later, Stritch posted another photo standing in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

The image was met with 17,000 likes and plenty of impressed commenters wondering how she managed to get a shot of the popular tourist destination without a single other person in frame. Only a few comments suspected Photoshop, and even those were compliments on her editing skills, not accusations that the image was fake.It wasn’t until the next day when Stritch shared a lengthy blog post titled "Why I hacked my own Instagram account" that her followers were let in on the secret.

Stritch begins her blog post by talking about an eye-opening experience she had while editing a selfie. "[M]y face changes quickly and dramatically: fine lines flatten, wrinkles smooth out, blemishes unblemish, dark circles disappear, cheekbones rise, eyes brighten, lips get bigger, nose gets smaller," she writes. "When I swipe back to the real image, the flaws seem far more prominent than when I first took the the selfie."

When she uploaded this edited photo on Facebook, not a soul questioned its accuracy—not even her sisters or partner. This lack of reaction caused Stritch to brainstorm a project.

Credit: Stritch's unedited selfie on the left versus the edited version. Photos courtesy of @TheSlowTraveler/Instagram.

"I came up with a story: my FaceApped perfect self, who’s ten years younger than I am, flies off to Disneyland for the day, and somehow manages to photograph herself all alone in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle," she says. "I manipulated images, captioned them with a fictional narrative, and presented them as real-life. I hacked my own Instagram account."

Credit: The original photo of Stritch versus the Disneyland image she superimposed herself onto. Photos courtesy of @TheSlowTraveler/Instagram.

Stritch explains that her photography studies helped her come up with this experiment. "One of the modules on [my photography] degree asked us to stage an 'intervention'," she says. "I decided to stage mine on my own Instagram."

Although she has had a mostly positive experience on the social platform, Stritch knows the app can be triggering for some. "[It's] full of these 'slim, prosperous, happy, extroverted, and popular' [people], a bit like my perfect self," she says. "I wanted my fictional narrative to challenge the way I portray myself online."

Stritch challenged her followers to help her research by responding with their thoughts and questions about her project. "I don’t usually FaceApp my face or pretend I’ve been places I haven’t," she explains, "but I do style my images. I do edit them." She adds that she hopes to figure out where the "line" is between a normal amount of editing and deception.

"I'm sure some people look at my account and it makes them feel bad," she admits. "Those are the very best bits of my life. I have to work, study, exercise, clean the bathroom, do all the stuff everybody else has to do. I feel all the same pressures my followers feel. I want people to know that."