By Rebecca Hitchon
I often think about how refreshing it would be to live in a world without social media. It’s true that technology makes life simpler logistically. But logistics aside, it’s not any easier for our mental and emotional wellbeing. With social media we not only compare ourselves to others, but also warped perceptions of ourselves aka filters.
The problem is that during a year of staying at home, we have become increasingly accustomed to filters. We’ve seen ourselves more, spending our lives on Zoom for work and keeping in touch with family and friends. It’s made us more critical of our appearances, noticing what we’d change if we could, prompting us to use filters that make these changes possible. And filters are available everywhere – Instagram and Snapchat are well-known for them, now TikTok and Zoom have skin-enhancing features too.
There is also a rise in those of us getting a more permanent version of a filter, cosmetic surgery. In fact, filters are linked with a rise in cosmetic surgeries, with the term ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’ describing this.
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But then filters were around long before the pandemic. In the last decade, they have quickly progressed from fun sepia tones and dog ears to having the ability to transform us into a different person – often one that makes us hate our individual, authentic appearances.
Take TikTok’s inverted filter, where users look at themselves regularly (how they see themselves in a mirror) then use the filter to flip the image and show how they appear to others. It highlights how asymmetrical your face is, leaving some TikTokers crying at this version of themselves. With a symmetrical face being an unrealistic but nonetheless established beauty standard, the filter is devastating for people’s self-esteems.
Research shows that this impact of filters can lead to anxiety, depression and sometimes eating disorders.
“It’s clear that people are striving for unattainable goals that they believe possible because they’ve already seen how they could look through a filter. It leaves them scrutinising every flaw in the mirror and getting frustrated when skincare doesn’t deliver the same result as what they are able to get digitally,” says esthetician Joanna Kenny. With 60.2k Instagram followers, she is striving to normalise real skin and bodies: spots, body hair, cellulite and all. Her motto is #poresnotflaws.
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When I ask Joanna how she found the confidence to show herself authentically, she tells me that it was less confidence and more an act of survival after years of using full coverage makeup and filters to hide her acne.
“I knew that if I continued conforming to unrealistic beauty standards I would never fully recover from the psychological impact of living with a skin condition,” she says. Anxious to show her authentic self in person, she shared images of her acne for the first time on Instagram.
“Sharing that first picture was one of the most liberating things I have ever done, and for the first time in fifteen years of constant insecurities I felt in control. When I actively tried to love my skin, in spite of my acne, that’s when magic started happening. Genuine confidence was a bi-product of that commitment to love myself unconditionally,” she explains.
While more of us are learning to love ourselves through accounts like Joanna’s, there’s always others of us that hate ourselves because all we see is filtered content. It’s down to profit: filtered content gains more likes and shares, meaning that content creators keep making filtered posts and social media platforms keep prioritising them.
The same is true with beauty advertising campaigns, whether by big companies or influencers. Tapping into the desire for a ‘flawless’ appearance, skincare products sell more if filters show magical (read: mythical) effects.
Luckily, things are changing in the beauty industry. In February, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against using filters on social media adverts if they exaggerate a product’s effect. This came after makeup artist and model Sasha Louise Pallari created the #filterdrop campaign. It called for influencers to have to state when they use a filter to promote a beauty product. Sasha said:
“filtered content should not be used for your profit. There is immense pressure on women and young girls especially to look a certain way, and if we don’t start fighting against these ridiculous ideals, this world will soon become unrecognisable.”
Really, it comes down to us doing our bit too. By interacting with and creating unedited not filtered posts, filters will lose long-lasting power over our self-esteem and mental health.
What is your opinion on social media filters? Would you say no to them? Let us know in the comments below.