Mercedes Jimenez Cortes takes many pictures of herself in the dome mirrors found 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 employee, lives in Atlanta and loved the mirrors’ look so much she bought one for her apartment. Amazon sold the stylishly-named PLX18 circular acrylic indoor convex security mirror for $37. It also came with a swivel mounting bracket, which allows it to be seen from loading docks and driveways. Ms. Jimenez Cortes placed the mirror next to a disco ball in her living area, where Pixie, her cat, can gaze at her 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. #NoFilter Selfie is now available, with obvious distortion. There’s the 0.5 ultra-wide-angle lensThe extreme forced perspective is the A.I. portrait generatorYou will be able to see yourself as a painting. 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.
These mirrors are not new to you. These mirrors are sometimes called blind-spot or street-spots. They can be seen from school buses and eighteen wheelers. They can also be used to provide security or safety mirrors that allow attendants at subway stations and grocery stores to watch over large areas. They are best described as convex, but TikTok, which is an app that’s adept at describing them, calls them that. warping languageThey are now known as 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 20,000,000 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.
Part of the appeal of traffic mirrors is that they have never been trendy in the past. The mirrors can be used in photos that are ordinary, cheap, and not very fashionable.
Elijah Ray, 25, a 25-year-old wood mill worker and resident of Portland, Ore., purchased 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.
Mirrors can distort the body and face, which can reduce the pressure to look perfect. Allie Rowbottom, the author of “Aesthetica,” a 2022 novel about an influencer who tries to undo years of cosmetic surgery.
Apps such as FacetuneThe #NoFilter backlash, which appeared to emphasize authenticity, was caused by the desire to smoothen skin and tighten waists beyond any reasonable limits. Self-manipulation was required for some of this so-called authenticity. 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 distortion in 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. In the 1960s fish-eye lenses were used for photographing album covers by Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and 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.
Recent album covers show the fish-eye effect back. LordeAnd Harry Styles, Mr. Elkin noted. Convex lenses are a D.I.Y. because they create a dramatic look from one piece of equipment. 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 where Harry White is involved posted a videoHis traffic mirror from July has been viewed over 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 explained that he has received many messages asking viewers where they can get the 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. People might purchase the mirrors for a reasonable price, record a couple of videos and then toss them away following a fashion guide.
Some of the most popular iPhone accessories are no longer relevant. selfie stick?
Ms. Rowbottom believes it will be a lasting sentiment, no matter how long the traffic mirror stays around.
“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, Poland-based accountant, purchased a traffic reflector in June at a home improvement shop and mounted it in her bathroom above the toilet. It’s where she captures almost every day 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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