Too good to be true is a visual analysis of creating an online identity, parafiction and the performativity of social media through the (artificial) eye of fake Instagram personality Stella Spetto.
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From Stellapedia, the expensive encyclopedia
Stella Belladonna Spetto (born July 20, 1991) is a fictional Italian-American model, social media personality and socialite created
From an artistic perspective, her Instagram account blurs the line between reality and fantasy by creating a parafictional reality using social media as a simulacrum.
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July 20, 1991 (age 26)
Los Angeles, California,
5 ft 6 in (168 cm)
This is the prenatal phase, if you will.
This is when Stella was nothing but a small, irrelevant thought.
From the beginning it was apparent for the creator she wanted to delve deep into the idea
of body dysmorphia and self-completion. These themes are not only intriguing to her but they are also more relevant than ever. Just take a look at how the typical millennial presents him- or herself and the growth and struggles of the transgender community.
It's safe to say that almost everybody experienced body dysmorphia and self-completion to some degree, even when they're unaware of it or entirely reject the idea of it.
The creator has had an infatuation with personification since she was a child. At a very young age she began experimenting with makeup and clothing to radically change her appearance. Growing up with a fashion designer only fueled this interest. As a teenager she briefly explored the world of cosplay, as this was something similar to what she loved. But it didn't quite quench her thirst.
In college her love for personification rekindled as she was constantly challenged to make illustrations. So why not illustrate using her body, it's her most expressive medium after all. It became somewhat of an obsession that took over. It forced her to not only become an illustrator but also a character designer, makeup artist, stylist, photographer, editor and art director. All of this accumulated in her bachelor project De Vertegenwoordigers where she depicted the extraordinarily ordinary lives of her home towns residents. The first drafts of these photographs got her an internship at Flemish television production company Woestijnvis, where she primarily became responsible for the advertising campaign and branding of the 14th season of De Slimste Mens ter Wereld.
This infatuation with personification would manifest itself in her master project somehow, no matter what the subject was going to be.
So the researching began and it didn't take long before she fell into the hole of the internet where she began to look at social media personalities and the pursuit of beauty differently.
November 13, 2018
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Lady Jaye
To put it simply, everything changed when the master coaches at weekly meetings in college told her to "just start photographing".
So she went home and ordered a cheap photo studio which consisted of a few backdrops and two softboxes. She started photographing herself to see what was going to happen. This soon turned into a weird fascination with Kim Kardashian and the way she poses on her Instagram photos. She also found out you can make prosthetics with Vaseline and all-purpose flour.
The more she looked at personalities like the Kardashians and the way they portray themselves on their social media accounts, the more she realized this wasn't that far off from how the ordinary human acts online. They act by acting; by performing.
She started to understand social media platforms like Instagram are a window to the world where you display what you want the world to see. Even if you show everything you don't reveal much. Although we became accustomed to social media to a point where we almost can't function without them, we rarely sit down to really think about them. We consider them low-brow and uncultured. A place to post tacky selfies or pictures of your plate of food which is already turning cold by the time you're done editing it. A selfie is a marketing strategy and can promote its owner. But then one can ask, does a selfie have an owner?
Then one morning on her way to college Charlotte had an epiphany. She would create a false identity using Instagram as a medium to subtly expose the performativity of social media and online identity. She opened up Instagram on her iPhone and started following the it-girls and everything else that seemed important to the Instagram population to see what the cool kids are up to.
On New Year's eve Stella manifested itself for the first time. "New year new me ✨". After that moment a complete meta-morphosis would ensue, unbeknownst to everyone.
It all started so innocent. Charlotte would tell about her epiphany to her coach, who encouraged her to go for it. So she would pack her bag and went looking for wigs, full of excitement. A full beat of makeup and a wig would be enough, right? She thought so, too.
She soon discovered there was more to it than just some fake hair and makeup.
She started incorporating green screens, editing software, 3D-rendered teeth, eyes and breasts and foam hip padding to amp up the surrealism and uncanniness of the photographs.
"if you're not tanning, what the fuck are you doing with your life?"
Making custom hair extensions from scratch. Sewing and toning process
3D rendered teeth
Foam padding process. Cutting out a cushion with an electric turkey knife to resemble something like the continent Africa to create voluptuous hips
VIDEO ESSAY: Stellafication process w/ commentary
Charlotte would turn herself into a an obscure version of how she could look like if the impossible were possible. She would create a narrative and a new 'real' by fusing form and content.
Her Instagram following, which started growing slowly but surely, would be unaware of these modifications. They would actually play along and encourage her outrageously deceptive physique. Not knowing what is real and what isn't heightens the feel of uncanniness.
But the viewer can also desire or despise the image because this level of absurd beauty can't be reached within realistic standards.
Through hidden social media groups, she discovered the shady but thriving system of the replica market of fashion. These hidden groups would post links to products on an online retail service. These links would show something insignificant like a pair of socks while they were really a replica Gucci shirt.
Balenciaga 'authenticity card'
Replica Gucci sweater, €30
(the washing instructions are also replicated)
Replica Balenciaga sneakers, €45
After about a month of fiddling and messing with her new personality, a certain first division footballer (let's call him Fabio) started direct messaging Stella, saying he had something important to ask. And he was very persistent about it for weeks straight.
Of course Stella isn't a married woman anymore, as her baby daddy left after a rocky relationship. This was the reason she left LA in the first place. She wasn't looking for anything serious as she was still brokenhearted. If the circumstances were different she absolutely would have snatched that man's heart in a second. Including his wallet and his shiny car.
After this conversation it became apparent he was looking for a girl to escort him to the Belgian Golden Shoe and he thought of Stella.
At this time he deleted all of his messages, keeping Charlottes there as if she is a weirdo talking to herself.
"Fabio's" video message to Stella
This project uses the smartphone as a simulacrum, therefore it was crucial to adopt the bright flashy screen. These lit-from-within images have a self-proclaimed importance to them, even when they hold no meaning. It turns a portrait into an icon, something worthy of worship.
Charlotte opted to print her Stella images, or icons, on lightboxes. These lightboxes reference both popular culture (see illuminated signs in airports and advertisement panels) and classical painting when you look at the sense of scale. And of course they reference the smartphone, which is in itself a glorified lightbox.
This choice was undoubtedly influenced by Jeff Wall's use of lightboxes which he used to challenge photographic tradition.
The lightboxes were made from scratch using medium-density fibreboard, aluminum foil, led strips, 2 types of acrylic glass and the photos which were printed on a backlit polyester.
The photos were blown up to 11 times the original Instagram aspect ratio, which makes them big enough to distinguish real from fictional elements, but also not too big. With this size the lightboxes became three-dimensional objects with a certain sculptural presence.
Lightbox construction process + custom pedestal "Pedestella" process
Title sequence rehearsal with the appropriate audience