The History & Harm of Face Filters (Eek!)

The History & Harm of Face Filters (Eek!)

This is my opening confession: my name is Victoria and I filter my photos.

Let me clarify. I’m not talking about shrinking my waist or altering my curves, albeit tempted. I’m talking about my face. I’ve smoothed out under-eye bags and painted over pimples more times than I'd like to admit. Plus,

So... why has it taken me this long to start letting it go? Reflecting on this, I really do see it as a matter of culture. Photo editing isn’t just the norm for models and celebrities now. Nearly every photo posted by friends online has airbrushed skin and perfected air. It makes sense that the second a picture goes from sitting in my phone gallery to potential Instagram content, we become critical.

Maybe the question we should be asking isn’t “why do I feel the need to filter pictures?" but instead, “why is my feed constantly giving me the urge to fit in and filter my photos like theirs?” We need to better understand social media culture to make sense of the pressures we still face today.

So, let’s go back to the year of denim skirts, Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran, or the color changing dress of 2015. Snapchat bought the Ukrainian company Looksery, which specializes in AI. The social media giant altered their face tech and unveiled Lenses - aka face filters - soon after. Initially, filters could only be made and uploaded by Snapchat the company. They were primarily fun; think the “spitting rainbows” and “dog ear” filters. These quickly went viral among all age groups, but especially middle school girls (that's where I was).

However, the waters got real murky in 2017. Facebook invented its version of the face filter technology. This meant their subsidiary Instagram also had face filters. Snapchat fought back by releasing Snapchat Lenses Studio on desktop.

The opening of the filter-making world created the “beauty filter.” Coming in a million different forms, these are the filters we are talking about today. They focus on making people "look more attractive" which we all know is incredibly toxic for our mindset. Some of their most common tweaks are the ability to lighten skin, shrink noses, widen eyes, and plump lips. Sadly, this is evolving into body altering apps, giving you the ability to change your shape entirely. WHYYY?! 

While the research conducted in this field is limited, the data we do have doesn’t look good. To begin, face filters lower self-esteem. Studies have shown that girls exposed to edited pictures had lower body satisfaction than those exposed to “raw” photos (Anscühtz). Face filters are also known to trigger or increase the effects of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. This is a serious mental illness with symptoms including obsession over specific flaws, comparison with others, and excessive time spent concealing these [said] flaws.

There are known connections between face filters and plastic surgery. Boston Medical Center reports that “...55 percent of plastic surgeons report seeing patients who want to improve their appearance in selfies.” 

This desire to look like your Snapchat self even has a name: Snapchat dysphoria. Finally, if the “lightening skin,” “widening eyes,” and “shrinking noses” features I mentioned earlier sounded racially iffy... it’s because they are. Beauty filters have been long attacked for pushing Eurocentric beauty standards and colorism.

After all that history and data, it’s clear that face filters are both incredibly harmful, and unfortunately ingrained in social media culture. How can we step away from the Photoshop Express and beauty filters if no one else is? As someone working on this themselves, here are some things that have helped me:

Don’t Feel Pressure To Post

The event, whether it be a concert, party, or day trip, was a blast. The environment was adorable. Your outfit looked great. You had time for makeup. You want to document this! You want to share this! You open your photo gallery to post... and you don’t like how you look in any of them.

Sometimes, the pressure to post something is so great, we feel the need to make pictures worth posting. And while there’s nothing wrong with a quick photoshoot at the event, editing photos when they don’t turn out great can be problematic. Ask yourself... is the way you look even the point of the post? Is sharing the pictures going to be empowering to you, or will it just make you cringe when you pass them on your feed? The best way to avoid the need to filter is to not post at all if you're stuck in this headspace.

Ask Yourself...Who Gives A Damn? 

Who are you posting for and what's your purpose? I personally know girls who get nervous when meeting someone for the first time thinking "I hope they recognize me without my filters." That's really sad! Own who you are and take steps each day to start creating a healthier space on social, it's contagious. As I started detoxing my feed (unfollowing those that don't serve me well, and following those that inspire me), I became more empowered to post without filters or photoshopping as I saw other girls doing the same. It made them look even more radiant, authentic and relatable and it's simply beautfiul.

Consider Your Young Followers

It’s very likely you have young girls following your social media, whether it be a little sister, cousin, niece, or even your own daughter. Think about what seeing that the version of you you posted was “beautified” does to their self-image. Even worse, imagine having to explain face filters if they see you taking a picture with one. Let's take this a step further and think about what you would tell your younger self if she questioned why you're using Filters... 

So there it is: the origin of the face filter, and where it all went wrong. Sometimes, stepping away from filters and photo editing can feel like being a rebel with no benefits. But if we all take a stand against filters individually, we’ll end up taking a stand together. Because in a digital world where you can be anyone you want, why not just be you? Or a rainbow-spitting unicorn; that filter can stay.


Written by: Victoria Fluet 


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