Gen Z’s distorted sense of selfie |

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Mercedes Jiménez-Cortés often takes photos in the vaulted mirrors that hang in the parking lots. Mirrors render an everyday scene surreal, bending concrete like jelly and exaggerating the size of Jiménez-Cortés’s face, her iPhone, or her outstretched middle finger.

Jiménez-Cortés, 24, who works for Instacart and lives in Atlanta, liked the look of the mirrors so much that she recently bought one for her apartment. The stylish PLX18 Circular Acrylic Interior Convex Safety Mirror is $37 on Amazon and comes equipped with a swivel mounting bracket to extend your range of visibility at loading docks and driveways. Jiménez-Cortés hung the mirror near a disco ball in her living room, where her cat, Pixie, uses it to look at her own distorted reflection.

“It looks like fun,” Jiménez-Cortés said. “But it looks funny on purpose.”

So goes Gen Z’s latest approach to self-portrait. The #NoFilter selfie is out, and the dumb and obvious distortion is in. There’s the 0.5 ultra-wide angle lens for extreme forced perspective; the AI ​​portrait generator to render you as a painting; and the lo-fi digital camera for grainy, nostalgic quality. Some youngsters looking for these effects are also turning to an item better known for capturing interstates than influencers: the traffic mirror.

You’ve seen these mirrors before. Sometimes called blind spot mirrors, they fly out of school buses and eighteen-wheelers. They are also often used as security mirrors, allowing attendants at grocery stores and subway stations to keep an eye on a wide area. They’re probably more accurately described as convex mirrors, but on TikTok, a platform adept at warping language, they’re known as traffic mirrors.

Jiménez-Cortés said she sees the mirrors all over the app, where they are presented as a selfie tool and an inexpensive home decor hack. The hashtag #trafficmirror, which has over 20 million views, appears alongside others like #inspo, #roomdesign and #aesthetic. Mirrors are sometimes included in TikTok video roundups of streetwear accounts and are praised by commenters as “bus driver core”.

“In fact, there has been a slight upward trend in sales of late,” Stylianos Peppas, a director at SNS Safety Ltd, a London parking and traffic safety company that sells convex mirrors through Amazon, wrote in an email. He said he thought the mirrors were selling well “because people are increasingly concerned about their safety and that of their families.”

But social media suggests a less practical motivation. On Pinterest, searches for “convex mirror” were four times higher in December than a year earlier, according to Swasti Sarna, the company’s global chief data officer.

That traffic mirrors have historically been out of style is part of their appeal. Cheap, ordinary, and notoriously out of place in a bedroom or on Instagram, mirrors add a layer of irreverence to photos.

In November, Elijah Ray, 25, who works in a lumber mill and lives in Portland, Oregon, ordered a set of two rear view mirrors on Amazon for $15. Before buying them, he said he would stop to take a selfie when he saw the mirrors at a bus stop or CVS; he now brings them home, capturing their outfits and much of their decor, like their strips of red LED lights and the handmade yin and yang rug where his bearded dragon chilled in the background during a Zoom interview. .

“I like the vibe of, I have a giant eye and a small eye,” she said.

The way mirrors distort the face and body can take some of the pressure off to look perfect, said Allie Rowbottom, author of “Aesthetics,” a 2022 novel about an influencer trying to undo years of cosmetic surgery.

The proliferation of apps like Facetune to smooth out pores and cinch the waistline beyond the limits of the possible sparked a backlash against #NoFilter that seemed to emphasize authenticity. But even part of that supposed reality still required self-manipulation. Looking “absolutely bizarre” online is Gen Z’s rejection of both approaches, Rowbottom said.

“We have come out of the conventional era of the selfie that started in 2012, 2013 with the advent of Instagram,” he said.

The history of distorted portraits, however, predates social media. Italian painter Parmigianino was around 21 years old when he painted his “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” in 1524. Parmigianino used two barber’s mirrors that exaggerated the size of his hand and made the horizon behind him appear curved and off-center.

Where earlier Albrecht Dürer portraits, for example, were meticulously posed, Parmigianino’s was playful and fluid, while also displaying virtuoso painterly skill, said Sabine Haag, director general of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, where the portrait.

Like people who take selfies today, the painter was looking to capture something specific. “It should really give you the idea that it’s not built,” Haag continued. “It’s very spontaneous.”

Much later, when Nikon’s first fisheye camera lens became widely available to consumers in 1962, similar images became a pop culture fixture. In the 1960s, fisheye lenses were used to photograph album covers by Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, and to document the Woodstock craze.

But the fisheye look is perhaps best associated with the 1990s, the decade Gen Z emulates lovingly and wryly. Jeremy Elkin, director of the documentary “All the Streets Are Silent.”

Director Hype Williams used fisheye lenses to highlight Missy Elliott’s futuristic outfits in the music video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and Busta Rhymes’ many characters in “Gimme Some More.” The ultra-wide angle of the lens could hold a fast-moving skateboarder, Missy Elliott’s full Hummer, or a rooftop full of Beastie Boys.

The fisheye look is back on recent album covers by Lorde and Harry Styles, Elkin noted. Creating a dramatic look with relatively inexpensive equipment, the convex lens reflects a DIY ethos that is timeless among the young, fashion-forward, and penniless.

“With skateboarding, music videos and kids taking selfies in parking lot mirrors, what they all have in common is that you don’t need a high production value or a crazy scene or a crazy location,” Elkin said. “A fisheye lens can take something as basic as a studio, it can turn it into something exciting.”

The same logic applies to TikTok, where Harry White posted a video of his traffic mirror in July that has been viewed more than 1.2 million times.

White, 26, a home decor content creator in Cardiff, Wales, removes strips of protective film from the mirror and pokes its soft surface into the video, which borders on ASMR. He said that he had received messages from viewers asking where they could get the mirrors for themselves.

“The thing about TikTok is that it’s very competitive,” he said. “When one creator’s video does really well, like mine did, other content creators will try to replicate the video, even if their home décor pieces are vastly different and won’t match their vibe,” he said. .

The experience deepened White’s reservations about the rapid cycles of decorating and fashion trends that crop up on the app. Mirrors are cheap enough that people buy them, shoot a video or two, and then throw them away, following a fast fashion manual.

iPhone photography accessories that were already in vogue haven’t necessarily stood the test of time: who’s still looking for a flattering angle with a selfie stick?

Whether or not the traffic mirror remains, Rowbottom believes the sentiment behind it is enduring.

“Leaning into a distorted image of yourself through a mirror or your iPhone screen is an act of recovery and rebellion,” Rowbottom said. “That environment is so essential to youth culture in any era.”

Justyna Gwozdz, 26, an accountant in Katowice, Poland, bought a traffic mirror in June at a home improvement store and hung it in her bathroom, above the toilet. She takes photos almost daily that document her best party looks of hers and her worst bedheads.

No matter how dressed up she looks that day, she looks weird and funny in the rearview mirror, and that’s a relief. “You don’t need to look good to look good in it,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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