The Age of Gilded Glamour

Doug Bender

May 25, 2023 | 2 minute read

I remember learning about the “Gilded Age” back in school. It described the decade leading up to the Great Depression when people put a premium on appearing rich. They called it “gilded” after the process of covering an item in a thin layer of gold. This made an ordinary item of wood seem like an opulent golden masterpiece. Today, I think we are living through the Age of Gilded Glamour.

We’re not dipping things in gold and pretending they’re solid; instead, we use social media to paint a picture of our lives that makes them appear perfect, serene and beautiful. 

We use the device in our hands and a global platform to depict a world that may not exist – a world that we wish exists. On more than one occasion, I’ve clicked through an old friend’s Instagram account and admired their happy family, only to find out they have already filed for divorce. But, unfortunately, we hide those kinds of sad realities. 

But it’s not just the stories we are telling (or not telling) on social media that paint a gilded image. It’s also the pictures we show as proof of these stories. When social media first began, digital photography was still in its infancy. Even well-framed photos came out grainy and full of shadows. But now, the tech we fit in our pockets can yield professional-grade images even when snapped at night. 

Going further, we can take those photos and remake them however we want. With a few flicks of our fingers, we can tighten our curves, reshape our noses and flatten our trapezii. Of course, everyone knows that everyone else is doing it. But we all like to keep pretending. Occasionally, someone will snap a selfie without any make-up or getting out of bed. But that same person has thousands of heavily-filtered and AI-adjusted photos on half a dozen social media accounts. 

What does all this mean? I think it means we are having a beauty crisis. In my younger years, I struggled deeply with my own self-image. I had a mental image of myself that I wished I could become. But I never could. I had severely unhealthy views of my body. I wore baggy clothes to hide my insecurities. And I shied away from social engagements out of fear of what people thought of me. (Check out my White Chair Film to hear more of my story.)

I didn’t have the option of hiding behind a filter in those days. And I’m glad about it. Instead, I had to face those insecurities. I had to learn to accept my body and to love it. I still struggle with negative thoughts and don’t always see myself accurately in the mirror. But I’ve grown a lot since those early years. Ultimately, discovering that Jesus loved me just the way I was sent my life in a totally different direction. 

Before this, I had to compete with a fictitious version of myself. I had a mental image of what I wished I was but wasn’t. But now we face the challenge of digital filters, like the now infamous “Bold Glamour” filter working its way through TikTok. It can create a “glamourized” version of you, live and in video form. The transformation is dramatic. It raises your eyebrows, sculps your cheeks and smooths your skin. But this filter can’t change what you think of yourself. 

I’m not preaching against make-up or taking care of your body. I’m not railing against touching up a photo, either. Or against social media, for that matter.

But somewhere along the spectrum, we’ve crossed a line. I don’t know where exactly the line is supposed to be.

But the line is far enough in our rearview mirror to seem out of sight.  

This Age of Gilded Glamour lets us remake the stories and images of our lives. We can tell the world anything we want, and millions of people can “like” those stories and images. But until we realize that God likes the true story and true self beneath the filters, then we won’t have the peace that those pictures pretend we already have.

Doug Bender

Doug Bender

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer and small groups coach. He developed many of the small group tools found at and has coached churches, organizations, and individuals to use I Am Second groups to share the message of Jesus with their friends and family. He also works with I Am Second's parent organization, e3 Partners, as a church planter and pastor in countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and the US. Doug and his wife, Catherine, have four children: Bethany, Samuel, Isabella, and Jesse.

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