Social media is nothing if not a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it connects, inspires, and informs us. But on the other, it’s a breeding ground for toxic behaviors like bullying and self-deprecation.
Armed with this information, we peruse social media at our own risk. Regardless of whether we’re aware of it, we accept the potential downfalls in exchange for an unencumbered user experience.
Sometimes, we find solutions to common problems. We “silence” people instead of blocking them. Additionally, we participate in empowering hashtag campaigns and thoughtfully curate our feeds’ content.
Currently, we seem to be trying out a new “solution” to harmful social media filters. However, this workaround seems annoying at best and counterproductive at worst.
The Effects Of Social Media Filters
We’ve come a long way from the high contrast, high saturation photo filters of the mid-aughts. Indeed, face filters have continued to grow more whimsical, wacky, and, in many cases, harder to detect.
Research has found these filters to be incredibly damaging to the human psyche. They diminish our self-esteem and encourage unhealthy body standards. These filters give us an open invitation to ruminate and “correct” perceived flaws. But of course, not all filters damage equally.
Some filters are purely comical, like those that turn your head into a pickle. Others alter the light or color, changing the overall aesthetic, not you. It’s the subtle, cat-eyed, slim-nosed, big-lipped filters that are doing the actual damage.
Scientists have aptly named this phenomenon Snapchat Dysmorphia, referring to the many face-altering filters the app offers. Their influence has gone so far, in fact, that people have started taking filtered photographs to plastic surgeons as reference images.
Filters Seem To Be Here To Stay
Despite their damaging effects, face-altering filters don’t seem to be going anywhere. And really, why would they? Social media thrives off the destructive, addictive patterns we fall into online.
If anything, facial filters have only gotten more discreet, alienating, and damaging. The latest filter trend appears to be variations of the same, distinct look. These filters narrow, lift, and enhance the eyes. They also plump the lips, narrow the nose, and lighten skin.
These filters—labeled things like Fox, Like Gigi, and others—are designed to not look like filters. The overall effect on the image is so subtle that it’s easy to assume the subject isn’t using a filter at all. Unsurprisingly, this only worsens their adverse effects.
Conspicuous filters do enough damage as it is by promoting unrealistic beauty standards. By making them even more discreet, we reinforce this idea tenfold. We wonder how so many people could look picture perfect with no filter because we can’t tell one is there.
Rather than ignoring these filter options altogether, we’ve opted for an even more inefficient approach.
‘This Doesn’t Even Look Like Me’
Over the past several months, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend cycling through my newsfeed. Maybe you have, too. We seem to be using more of these harmful filters—not less. Even worse, we seem to be missing the sheer irony of our using them.
Though the videos may vary slightly, the general idea is the same. Women will post a selfie video using a face-altering filter. They’ll say it’s “such a Catfish filter” or “this doesn’t even look like me.”
The selfie-taker will coo into the camera about how different they look. Both the viewer and the subject are locked in on the filtered face. (Thanks, front-facing cameras.) But after 20 seconds, are you really calling out the filter? Or, are you enjoying your “new” look and sharing it for all the world to see and envy?
Perhaps this assumption gives them too much confidence. Maybe the people taking these videos are participating in some good ol’ self-deprecation. “Look at me with this filter. Now, look at me without it! Oof!” Still, is guffawing at your appearance that much healthier?
Finding An Actual Solution
This social media trend is harmful for several reasons. To start, it circulates these filters far and wide. We make the filters more accessible to users of all ages and mental health states. When we give something so much ubiquity, we only enhance its power.
Further, there doesn’t seem to be a feasible end goal for the viewer or poster. These videos still give viewers a healthy dose of beauty standard reinforcement. And what about the videos that reveal a “worse” face at the end? How should the viewer internalize this message if they look more like the unfiltered, oof-inducing face?
Moreover, what purpose does this serve for the poster? Is dogging on yourself the way to boost confidence? Is observing your face with a filter any better for your self-esteem? Aren’t you reinforcing the beauty standards you claim to condone?
If we want to take these filters’ power away, then we have to stop helping them pervade our newsfeeds. Whether it’s in jest or not, why use the filters at all? How will we ever be comfortable celebrating ourselves if we never try?
Indeed, the best way to denounce these filters is to stop using them. Share your face in all of its realistically, wonderfully flawed glory. We shouldn’t have to try to squeeze into the confines of “beauty.” Instead, beauty should wrap around the perimeter of humanity, encompassing all of us in our many unique, distinct forms.
You’re right; your filtered face doesn’t look like you. And frankly, that’s something to celebrate.