90% of young women edit their photos before posting to fix their skin tone, reshape their jaw or nose, slim down, or whiten their teeth (Research from City University of London, 2020)1 . Face filters are now found on every popular social media platform making it so easy to change your look to keep up with unrealistic beauty standards and contributing to the ‘flawless beauty’ tyranny.
Snapchat’s claim to fame was their efforts in popularising filters / lenses amongst the young generations with the oh-so memorable flower crown that seemed to magically make your face look ‘better’ than you remembered. We might think that participating in trends informed by western, Eurocentric selfie ideals that the East had nothing to do with them. However, the fake selfie movement actually originated from ‘kawaii’ culture in Japan where girls would decorate self portraits to make themselves look more ‘girly’. Asian countries are often guilty of pushing western beauty standards on their women with double eyelid becoming a rite of passage in South Korea or bleaching skin to become more fair. This, no doubt, has contributed to the excitement of changing our face shape with a touch of a button.
Creation of lenses has dramatically increased YOY reaching at least 1M+ (Snapchat) in 2021, heightened by the video-call frenzy lockdown of 2020. On Tiktok, there is the ability to see which filters are being used in which video and lots of trends actually play on the transformation aspect which helps you to remember that it is all fake. But, now some influencers upload videos post touching up in one of the many other beauty editor apps. This is especially potent in Instagram posts where there is usually no disclaimer of filters or editing. These lenses are changing the way we form our identities and present ourselves to others, adding a filter to your whole life rather than just an image, which can be toxic to young individuals’ self esteem.
We used to think we would at least get a real sense of what a person looked like in video as that’s not possible to edit but it turns out, apps are adding features to distort bodies in moving images.
Everyone likes to whiten their teeth a little or brighten the exposure so there’s no harm in the actual process of editing. In fact, there are communities that find that creating filters can provide an escape from low points in life and make moments fun again like for MUA Caroline Rocha (@frenchsinger). The real danger comes when young people are scrolling through their feeds unaware of the illusions creating an unattainable reality for them.
Does this mean that our future generations are destined to have filter dysmorphia feeding off likes and follows or, fall into an ‘envy spiral’?
Brands have now started to pick accounts to sponsor that feature real bodies and less airbrushing as they garner more respect from Gen Z and Millennials. One of my favourite influencers is Emily Clarkson (@em_clarkson) as not only does she proudly post her un-edited body but she also actively talks about normalising weight gain, skin blemishes etc and that all bodies are beautiful. As a veteran social campaigner, Dove has released a new short film, Reverse Selfie2, highlighting how the dangers of retouching apps on children has increased over the pandemic with the increase of screen time. I would definitely recommend you check out their Self-Esteem Project if you notice body image issues in yourself, family members or friends.
Some apps are making a conscious effort to ban any face-altering features in order to promote skin positivity. Pinterest’s AR ‘Try On’ service3 allows users to see what different make-up products will look like on their face without adding any filters or smoothing effects. This is mainly used as a shopping feature but it’s a first step in the right direction in allowing users to feel more comfortable looking at their real selves on cameras in-app. It further helps that the UK’s ASA has imposed a new rule that prohibits the exaggeration of promoted beauty products within filters.