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Gen Z embraces the distorted selfie using traffic mirrors

Mercedes Jimenez Cortes takes many pictures of herself in the domed reflections that hang in parking garages. The mirrors turn an everyday scene surreal, bending concrete like it’s jelly and exaggerating the size of Ms. Jimenez-Cortes’s face, her iPhone or her extended middle finger.

Ms. Jimenez Cortes (24), a 24-year-old Instacart worker who lives in Atlanta, loved the look and decided to purchase one for her apartment. The stylishly named PLX18 Indoor Convex Security Mirror was $37 on Amazon. It also came with a swivel mounting bracket that allows for greater visibility in loading docks or driveways. Ms. Jimenez Cortes placed the mirror near her living room’s disco ball, where her cat Pixie uses it to view his own reflection.

“It looks funny,” Ms. Jimenez-Cortes said. “But it looks funny on purpose.”

So goes Gen Z’s latest approach to the self-portrait. The #NoFilter selfie has been out and it’s a hilarious distortion. There’s the 0.5 ultra-wide-angle lensThe extreme forced perspective is the A.I. portrait generatorFor making you look like a painting and the lo-fi digital cameraFor a nostalgic, grainy look. Many young people are turning to the traffic mirror, which is better known for its ability to capture interstates than influencers.

You’ve seen these mirrors before. They are also known as blind-spot mirrors and can be seen winging from eighteen-wheelers and school buses. They are also used to keep an eye on large areas by attendants at grocery stores or subway stations. They can be best described as convex mirrors. However, TikTok is a platform that excels at them. warping languageThey have been called traffic mirrors.

Ms. Jimenez-Cortes said she sees the mirrors all over the app, where they are being pitched as both a selfie tool and low-cost home décor hack. The hashtag #trafficmirrorThis video has received more than 20 million views and is ranked alongside others like #inspo, @roomdesign, and #aesthetic. The mirrors are sometimes included in TikTok video roundups from street wear accounts and praised by commenters as “bus driver core.”

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

Social media, however, suggests a less practical motivation. On Pinterest, searches for “convex mirror” were four times higher in December than they had been a year earlier, according to Swasti Sarna, the company’s global director of data insights.

It is not surprising that traffic mirrors are not popular in the past. Mirrors are cheap, simple, and out of place in a bedroom, or on an Instagram feed. They add a layer to photos with a sense of irreverence.

Elijah Ray (25), a worker at a wood mill in Portland, Ore. ordered two traffic mirrors online for $15. Before he bought them, he said he would stop to take a selfie when he saw the mirrors at a bus stop or a CVS; now he takes them at home, capturing his outfits and much of his décor, like his red LED light strips and the handmade yin and yang rug where his bearded dragon chilled in the background during a Zoom interview.

“I kind of like the vibe of, I have one giant eye and one little eye,” he said.

You can feel a lot less pressure to look perfect by the way mirrors distort your face and body. Allie Rowbottom, the author of “Aesthetica,” a 2022 novel about an influencer who tries to undo years of cosmetic surgery.

The proliferation of apps such as FacetuneA #NoFilter backlash against those who tried to smoothen pores and tighten waists beyond what was possible led to a #NoFilter backlash which seemed to emphasize authenticity. However, even this so-called authenticity required self-manipulation. Looking “absolutely bizarro” online is Gen Z’s rejection of both approaches, Ms. Rowbottom said.

“We’ve exited the conventional era of the selfie that began in 2012, 2013 with the advent of Instagram,” she said.

However, the history of distorted portraiture predates social media. The Italian painter Parmigianino was about 21 when he painted his “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” in 1524. Parmigianino used two barbers’ mirrors that exaggerated the size of his hand and made the horizon behind him appear curved and off-kilter.

Whereas earlier portraits by Albrecht Dürer, for example, appeared meticulously posed, Parmigianino’s was playful and fluid while still demonstrating virtuosic painting skill, said Sabine Haag, the director general of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, where the portrait is displayed.

Like today’s selfie takers, the painter was looking to capture something specific. “It really should give you the idea it’s not constructed,” Dr. Haag continued. “It’s a very spontaneous kind of thing.”

Much later, when Nikon’s first fish-eye camera lens became broadly available to consumers in 1962, similar images became a fixture of pop culture. Fish-eye lenses were used in the 1960s to photograph album covers by Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, as well as to document Woodstock’s trippiness.

But the fish-eye look is perhaps best associated with the 1990s — the decade that is at turns lovingly and ironically emulated by Gen Z. The lens became a defining look of the decade through its prevalence in both skateboarding and hip-hop videography, said Jeremy Elkin, the director of the documentary “All the Streets Are Silent.”

The director Hype Williams used fish-eye lenses to heighten Missy Elliott’s futuristic outfits in the music video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and Busta Rhymes’s many characters in “Gimme Some More.” The ultrawide angle of the lens could contain a fast-moving skateboarder, Missy Elliott’s entire Hummer or a rooftop full of Beastie Boys.

The fish-eye look is back in recent album covers LordeAnd Harry Styles, Mr. Elkin noted. The convex lens is a D.I.Y. tool that creates a dramatic look using one relatively inexpensive piece. The convex lens is a timeless design that appeals to the young, the edgy, and the broke.

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

The same logic applies for TikTok, Harry White is the recipient posted a videoHis traffic mirror in July has been viewed more that 1.2 million times.

Mr. White, 26, a home décor content creator in Cardiff, Wales, peels strips of protective film off the mirror and prods its squishy surface in the video, which verges on A.S.M.R.He stated that he received many messages from viewers requesting mirrors.

“The thing with TikTok is, it’s so competitive,” he said. “When one creator’s video does really good, like mine did, other content creators will try and replicate the video, even if their home décor pieces are so different and it’s not going to match their vibe,” he said.

The experience deepened Mr. White’s reservations about the quick trend cycles in décor and fashion that spring up on the app. Mirrors are affordable enough that people might purchase them, film a few videos, then throw them away following a fast fashion guide.

Some of the most popular iPhone accessories for photography have fallen apart in recent years. selfie stick?

Ms. Rowbottom believes that the sentiment behind the traffic mirror will last, regardless of whether or not it does.

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

Justyna, 26, a Katowice-based accountant, bought a traffic reflector in June from a hardware store and mounted it in her bathroom above the toilet. She takes almost daily photographs in it, documenting her best party looks and worst bed head.

No matter how put-together she looks that day, she looks weird and funny in her traffic mirror — and that’s a relief. “You don’t need to look good to look good in it,” she said.

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