The fair and lovely Bitstrips

Some love them, some hate them, while others, the originals, hate how their coveted Bitstrips app is being overrun and overused, causing Facebook’s most downloaded app’s servers to sporadically crash.
Bitstrips—comic strips featuring you and your friends as cartoon avatars. Some love them, some hate them. Others, the originals, hate how their coveted Bitstrips app is being overrun and overused, causing Facebook’s most downloaded app’s servers to sporadically crash. It’s like when your favorite underground band goes mainstream, and you have to share fandom with Beliebers. But I digress, my fascination lies not with this computer-generated comic strip’s popularity, but rather with what these colorful strips reveal about their creators.

Most users design reasonably accurate cartoon images of themselves. Still, every now and then, you’ll come across skewed, wishful self-perceptions reflected in a tweaked, airbrushed avatar (it almost reminds me of the 2009 Sci-Fi movie, “Surrogates,” in which humans holed up in dark rooms live through perfect-looking surrogate robot–ironically, a comic book series inspired the film). All right, I admit, I’m being a bit hyperbolic. But, hasn’t your eyebrow cocked at the sight of your friends’ Anime-inspired larger-than-life eyes and tightened physiques? Or, the most insidious change, particularly among South Asians: the lightened and brightened complexions?

Typically, I scroll right past most Bitstrips, but a few days ago I couldn’t help but do a double take at two comic strips in my News Feed. The first designed by a chai-complexioned Pakistani American friend, and the second by a milky skinned Greco-American. These two women are beautiful in their own right, but they bear no resemblance to one another. Yet, here they were, one floating through space and the other busy at work. Both, with Anne Hathaway’s face. No exaggeration. The anglicized features and pale skin reminded me of the East’s long held covetousness of Western/European looks. Why, I wondered, would these two successful, attractive women inflate attributes they associate with beauty in their self-portrayals?

Seems like a distant, confused cousin of Body Dysmorphia doesn’t it? Instead of people with low self-esteem misperceiving themselves as grossly undesirable, we’re seeing the opposite through the lens of Bitstrips. In an article in the Scientific American Journal bluntly titled “You Are Less Beautiful Than You Think,” researcher Ozgun Atasoy explains that most people genuinely believe they are above average, which of course is a statistical impossibility. The inflated perceptions of one’s physical appearance is a result of what psychologists call “self-enhancement.” In other words, we imagine ourselves to be better looking than we really are because it helps us feel more confident and more resilient in the face of failure—a self-protection of sorts. The majority of us do this—yes, you and I included— but we’re simply unaware of it. Interestingly though, our perception of others is much more accurate than that of ourselves.

So, what can we take away from this? Most of these animations are just in good fun, and there is no need to delve into psychological theory over them. But, it never hurts to use these small, fleeting opportunities to remind ourselves of the benefits of being humble about our real and imagined attributes.

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