Are Instagram Filters Causing Body Dysmorphia?

T/W: This article discusses themes of body dysmorphia

Living in the digital age, we are constantly being inundated with technology. One of the major developments in tech has been the internet and consequently, social media. With 3.78 billion social media users worldwide, the influence of social media is substantial. While technology has made it extremely easy for us to connect with one another, it’s worth questioning if it’s making us more insecure and impacting our mental health. The average person spends around 145 minutes on social media per day, and around 95 million photos are shared on Instagram daily. While social media allows us to stay connected and discover new places and people, it also pulls us into a world of highly edited and carefully curated faces and bodies, to whom we compare our looks and lifestyle. Even the filters used on these platforms such as the AR filters and Snap lenses, can be heavily damaging to our mental health and self-esteem. Keep reading to find out more about the co-relation between filters and mental health:

AR Filters – The Beginning

Let’s go back to the very beginning of Snapchat. Snapchat was released in 2011 on the app store – it was called Picaboo at the time. The app was developed to create multimedia messages called “Snaps” that would consist of photos or videos. These could then be edited to include filters, captions, doodles and even effects. Little did we know that eventually Snapchat would give us the infamous doggie ears. Soon enough in 2015 snapchat launched their AR filters. There were originally 7 lenses, but now there are many more to choose from. Soon, Instagram and Facebook followed in Snapchat’s footsteps. In 2017 Facebook launched their AR tool called Camera Effects, and later renamed it to Spark AR which expanded onto Instagram as well. Initially the platform used to create AR filters was not available to everyone, but this changed in 2019. Since then, anyone can create AR filters. Today, filters have become so common that even businesses are adopting them into their digital marketing campaigns, and creating their own personal filters on social media.

Filters And Body Dysmorphia

As filters have grown in popularity, it is becoming increasingly rare to see individuals posting on their Instagram or Snapchat without one. It’s almost as if filters have become a sort of “digital makeup” for social media. Seeing ourselves wearing these filters and then comparing what we look like without them can cause serious body dysmorphia. It can lead us to question how we should really look. These filters even out our skin tone, smoothen out the skin and enhance the face structure, and sometimes even make our lips and eyes appear larger than they are, all while cinching in our noses. In one way or another, they change our appearance. In the past we may have compared ourselves to photoshopped images of models on billboards or in magazines, but now we may be comparing ourselves to what we look like with filters on. This can cause self-esteem issues. All this begs the question: are AR filters a reflection of the creators own beauty standards?

Reliance On Filters

Filters are often used to cover up any skin issues, or simply just serve as a replacement for makeup. Alina, 19, finds herself using Snapchat filters quite a lot. She feels like they blur out or change features that the majority of people do not want others to notice; it makes her wonder, is she naturally beautiful to society or not? Alina is not alone in feeling this way. Many all over the world feel that filters make them question if they are good looking at all without them. Sara, 22, told us how she is heavily reliant on filters and goes through at least 7-10 filters to see which one makes her look the best, before she sends out a Snapchat or posts an Instagram story of herself. Sara also told us that while the filters make her feel beautiful in the moment, they also make her feel bad about how she looks without them. As someone who has scars on her face, she relies on filters to hide them and when seeing herself with perfect skin via filters, she wishes she looked like that all the time. This causes her to obsess over her looks and spiral into anxiety. 

Filters and Cosmetic Surgery

The rise of filters has been correlated with a surge in cosmetic procedures worldwide. Image-heavy social media platforms users, like on Snapchat and Instagram, are more likely to consider cosmetic surgery. Therefore, it’s no surprise that in 2018, 55% of surgeons were visited by patients who were looking to improve their appearance mainly for their selfies on social media. Using face filters leads to a longing for an appearance which is impossible to achieve in real life. This is why many may opt for cosmetic augmentation, such as fuller lips, smaller nose or a more defined jawline. Layla, a 17-year-old high school student reported how she felt pressured to get a nose job and lip fillers since she was 15 years old. Instead of having to worry about editing her nose and lips in pictures, she would much rather go under the knife to look that way constantly. Plastic surgeons have reported that an increasing number of patients bring in pictures of themselves with filters on, as reference pictures for what they want to achieve from cosmetic procedures.

Makeup And Filters

Some feel that face filters make their makeup look better than it looks in reality. Zara, 18, told us how she wishes her makeup looked as good in person as it does when she uses filters. Face filters also play a role in the false advertisement of makeup or skincare products by influencers and bloggers, as sometimes influencers can be seen advertising a product while wearing a filter. On TikTok some make use of the skin smoothening effect available, leading viewers to falsely believing that the product being used in the video provides an airbrushed finish. In reality when they use the product though, they find that their pores are still visible or that they are unable to achieve the flawless and airbrushed look they were sold online. This sets an unachievable standard and expectation out of makeup products, as makeup sits on the skin and can cause the appearance of texture, which is normal. That is how makeup looks, it’s not always 100% seamless. It’s for this reason the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that brands, influencers and celebrities should not apply filters to photos that promote beauty products, if the filters are likely to exaggerate the effect the products are capable of achieving. 

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