Getty Images. Design by Jenna Brillhart
Lockdown has changed almost everything in our lives, but one thing that's remained as steady as ever is the power of celebrity selfies. Especially when you can’t go out into public, selfies offer that quick reminder to yourself and others that you’re here, you’re beautiful, and maybe, especially in a Kardashian’s or Jenner’s case, that you look gorgeous with butterflies on your face.
“Golden Butterflies,” the first butterfly Snapchat Lens, was introduced in July 2016. Since then, these filters are found everywhere that selfies are. In some filters, the butterflies mark tiny freckles on your face. In others, they flit around your head or appear to land in your hair. Snapchat’s internal data showed that Butterfly Lenses received more than 300 million views daily during summer months, when they are most popular.
Butterflies flit in and out of fashion — from subtle trends like the butterfly clips of the '90s or the butterfly prints that were big this summer, to full butterfly couture, like the Moschino gown that Zendaya wore in 2017, or Jean Paul Gaultier's moody butterfly-themed collection from 2014. However, their appeal comes not just from their delicate wings and sharp colors, but from their symbolism as well. In some cultures, butterflies represent rebirth; in others, they represent the souls of departed loved ones; some cultures even feature a butterfly at the center of creation myths. In modern pop culture, though, it’s also easy to connect our individualism and love of change (be it a new hair color, getting bangs, or a full fashion makeover) with the butterfly’s metamorphosis.
Ana Casciello, a Snapchat LensCreator, finds that “butterflies represent a simplistic sense of beauty, which I love — and [that’s] also why I think Snapchatters have gravitated towards them over the years.” Annaleya, 20, a typical filter user, says that butterflies are “calming and feminine,” and that watching them flutter, even just on a screen, was beautiful. When I asked if she would ever pose with live butterflies, she says, “I would definitely do it.”
I’m guilty of loving these filters, too. My saved snaps are full of selfies with delicate-looking, digital insects, but my interest is more than just hypothetical. My debut novel features an entomologist (one who studies insects), and the more I researched the field, the more interested in (and less grossed out by) bugs I have become.
I asked Annaleya if she would ever consider posing with other insects.“Usually bugs freak me out,” she replies. “ Like, ants and caterpillars I’m totally fine with, but spiders or roaches? No thanks.” She’s not alone in being grossed out. A recent survey found more than a quarter of people were actively afraid of bugs — and anecdotally, that number even seems low. Psychologists suggest that we might be confusing disgust, for fear. Of course, some insects are dangerous, so it's important to make sure you understand your muses before posing with them. The key to combatting your disgust, then, is knowledge. And the social feeds of real life entomologists are a good place to start.
As far as hashtags go, #butterflyfilter has nothing on #facebug. In 2017, entomologist Nancy Miorelli drew attention to these fantastic shots by bug lovers world wide in what became, at the time, a trending phenomenon. The hashtag is what it sounds like: people posing with bugs on their faces. The trend became popular in the science community and beyond — even EntoBarbie (yes, that’s a Barbie doll entomologist) joined the trend.
Miorelli still routinely posts #facebug pictures. When I caught up with her, she highlighted how #facebug photos show off insects in a way other content can't. With a bug on your face, she notes, it’s easy to see their comparative size, and also how unthreatening the tiny creatures are.
Entomologist Megan Asche started in the world of marketing and graphic design before deciding to pursue a career focused on insects. Her Twitter mixes the best of both worlds: she sells the idea of insects as approachable, and also offers up cool bug facts. In response to how she got used to touching and posing with insects every day, she notes that much of the ‘gross factor’ of bugs is nurtured while we’re young. “A lot of kids are raised by people that go, ‘It’s dirty! It's dirty! You're going to get bit. Don't touch that! It's gross!’" she says. "And even if you're an outdoorsy kid like I was, there is a certain amount of psychological barrier there until you get used to asking, ‘What would really happen if I touched it?’”
She decided to sit on my face.
— Tulip Lotus🪴🧚🏾 (@FairyPlantBabe) October 4, 2020
Tulip Lotus recently went viral with her selfie of an Atlas Moth on her face. When she poses with an insect, she says, “It may sound weird, but I literally ask animals and insects for their permission before taking photos and give them compliments, just as I would with a human.” Lotus says to get over the gross factor with bugs, “You have to just go for it.” Some tactics that help quell her anxiety include listening to sounds of insects on YouTube, watching documentaries, like the BBC Life episode about insects, and reading books. (A few approachable nonfiction books to check out are Sex on Six Legs, about weird habits in bug reproduction, and Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects — and of course, my novel makes good book club read.)
Asche and Miorelli had more suggestions for those planning to take selfies with real bugs. Both women say that the colder the temperature, the slower the insect. This fact also means that as your body warms up, insects become more active and harder to photograph. Asche suggested doing photo bursts: “When you have the animal on you take as many photos as you possibly can, hoping one of them will be cute.”
One mental shift I made during the past few years was thinking about insects as animals — which they are, and which Asche routinely refers to them as. Even without fur and with antennae, the mental switch in the way I think of insects has helped me calm down.
#facebug with this gorgeous green crested katydid (Steirodon sp.) Did you know they hear with their elbows? If you wanna see him crawling about check out my #periscope just below this post. pic.twitter.com/wULkRwWbv5
— 🐞 Nancy Miorelli 🐞 (@SciBugs) April 10, 2020
Miorelli suggests patience with yourself and with the animal if you’re attempting a photograph. One of her most commented on #facebug pictures featured a cockroach. She laughed as she told the story. “I literally locked the cockroach in the bedroom with me because it would get frustrated. It would fly away ... One shot must have taken me an hour or two. I was cockroach-wrangling.”
While you might not be at tracking-down-and-befriending-household-vermin level pandemic yet, there are other ways to learn more about insects with filters. Google recently created insect augmented reality. Miorelli gives this effort an "A," calling it a “great teaching tool.”
Most insects are completely harmless, and many are even extremely cool. Most importantly, we live with insects every day, and should probably get used to them for the sake of staying sane. Getting used to the insects we share our space with can only improve our quality of life, and maybe result in some pretty epic pictures.