Are social media filters enforcing unrealistic standards of beauty?
Social media filters can alter more than just our appearances. Five UAE-based wellness and beauty influencers weigh in…
In theory, it’s just a filter on TikTok or Instagram — something we so casually apply to our selfies these days. With a swipe of a screen, photoshopping, once a highly-technical process, has become almost second nature to most of us. I say ‘us’ because I’m very much part of this vanity-obsessed generation that wants to look its best on social media. On one end, we find ourselves being cushioned with Internet quotes promoting self love and acceptance, even flaunting our insecurities. On the other end, with as much force, come in the filtered faces with flawless skin.
It has become so awfully easy to hide bodily ‘imperfections’ that we are starting to inhabit a social media bubble of alternate reality, where open pores, fine lines, blemishes and breakouts cease to exist. Snapchat’s famous flower crown or puppy filters become a lot more complex than a mere expression of creativity when they start to strategically conceal our faces, smoothen our skin tones, give us bigger and brighter eyes and make us look distinctly lighter than we would.
As people become more conscious of the subtle-yet-harmful addiction to alter, or in fact filter, one’s sense of what’s real, influencers, too, are making an effort to portray more of their reality. But how far have they really come? Five influencers put forth their points of view.
USING AND OVERUSING FILTERS
With flawlessness becoming more accessible, skin-softening and face-altering filters on social media can make our eyes dangerously immune to seeing air-brushed, picture-perfect skin all the time. Soon, we may not be able to deal with the reality of each other’s or even our own appearances.
Danae Mercer (@danaemercer)
"I think skin-smoothening filters can be fun to play with, but they can also turn out to be dangerous. We need to have a balance between using these filters and going filter-free. My worry is always, what do we do when the filters go off? I challenge myself to go filter-free regularly and there’s a real joy in that, in showing who you really are, without the added glitter and sparkle. It has helped me feel more confident in my skin."
Rima Zahran (@rimazahran)
"I wish these filters didn’t exist. I’m not against people who use filters — it is a personal choice— but I feel like they can mess with my confidence and make me feel like I’m not “pretty” enough, when I look at myself in the mirror."
Bijal Soni (@myprdiaries)
"I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t tried using a skin-smoothening filters before — it definitely made me look good but also made me feel worse. Unfortunately, with so many social platforms and apps popping up everywhere, it’s very easy to get caught in a web of perfectly edited facial features and bodies. It didn’t really do well for my mental health and hence, my feed today advocates being comfortable with who you really are."
Nikita Phulwani (@niggiphulwani)
"I won’t lie — I do use them from time to time, but I make sure I don’t overuse them. When I see young girls and even women doing makeup tutorial videos on social media, with filters on, I just ask myself — why? They are already doing a makeup video, so why is there a need to put another filter on that? When did we become this insecure?"
Haifa Zakaria Arora (@haifazakariaa)
"I would never appear on social media without a filter, until I realised the extent of which it has taken over my life. I would obsessively compare my face to the filter I would use. I became conscious while going to meetings, even after a full face of makeup, not being able to look like my favourite filter."
UNATTAINABLE STANDARDS OF BEAUTY
The airbrush effects that were once exclusive to models are now lurking in the bedrooms of young pre-teens, growing up with a constant battle of defining their looks and self-worth, based on the unrealistic and often Westernised standards of beauty set by social media platforms.
"I think certain filters can contribute to unrealistic beauty standards. On platforms like TikTok, where teenagers form a large segment of the audiences, they can pre-set the beauty filters to automatically enhance the facial features every time they film a video. So, where teenagers are concerned, I really worry because they’re still developing and if all they ever see is poreless skin, it’s certainly going to impact how they view themselves."
"I’m so worried how my daughter will see herself if she spends a lot of time on social media, growing up. Will she want to look unrealistic? I do appreciate that on apps like Instagram, it’s always obvious from the tagline, that a filter is being used, but I don’t favour using them for every single post uploaded on social media. It may make the young girls think that’s how they need to look, if they want to appear or speak in public, which is unfair."
"Do we really want to wake up every day and compare ourselves to another human being? That’s just not the kind of life that we should be waking up to. In my 30s, I know better than I did in my 20s, but the younger generation is highly exposed to these filters, when they are still in the process of developing their confidence. This is when you end up moving away from celebrating your authentic and unique self."
"It’s unfair to show the young unrealistic standards of beauty. I have also been a chubby girl, and being fat is like a sin. When I would flip through magazines or see billboards or adverts on the Internet, I would wonder would I ever have this perfect body."
Haifa Zakaria Arora
"Society has set an unrealistic benchmark for a certain standard of beauty and the filters just mimic that. Subconsciously, we are so consumed by perfection seen on screen or magazines that these filters, which are extremely popular, fulfil that longing: to look like something we’re not, in a touch of a button. Now imagine young girls on social media chasing this level of perfection in their lives, which only exists virtually."
REAL INFLUENCERS, REAL RESPONSIBILITY
A 2020 study on Instagram’s role in propagating unrealistic beauty standards highlights that notable beauty influencers have progressively played a part, in propagating unrealistic beauty standards online, which they themselves might not be able to maintain, without overusing face filters. Are things changing?
"I’d love to see more influencers doing a mix of using filters and going filter-free. It would be really empowering for communities to see that some of the influencers they’ve followed for a long time, do have pores! They do have the same concerns that so many of us have. Sometimes, people use filters to falsely advertise beauty products, which can be incredibly deceptive and there needs to be more accountability. But it’s also important to not shame anyone for using filters, as their use is so nuanced and pervasive."
"Please for the love of God, stop the makeup tutorials with filters on! I naturally felt responsible because I never wanted to portray a version of me that I’m not. I’ve been raised to own who I am, and carry all my flaws with pride. I want people to connect to that, feel my energy and get to know who I really am, rather than focus on a pimple or over-exhausted eyes."
"Many influencers are starting to ditch the filter game and are talking about real skin issues and real figures on private groups — there is even a group on Clubhouse on body image with direct access to psychologists and mental health advocates worldwide on how it’s okay to embrace who you are. Some of the ones who personally inspire me are @danaemercer, another really good community platform is @i_weigh."
"I think things are changing. So many incredible profiles online now show themselves as who they are and sometimes even champion ‘flaws’. And, on the other hand, when I see some people use filters for even their videos, it just makes me think — are we lying to the audience or ourselves? These filters serve as a quick fix for so many, to make it seem like they look perfect. But who decides what perfect is?"
Haifa Zakaria Arora
"Being an influencer means to make some kind of impact in people’s lives. Whether it’s fashion, beauty or even what you choose to say through the medium, it can leave an impression on the audience. I feel responsible when I get several young girls messaging me on Instagram, asking how they can get the perfect skin — which doesn’t even exist. It is our responsibility to show unfiltered images but also move away from this notion that we can be perfect."
HASHTAGS AND TRENDING BEAUTY
Danae Mercer, who has long been an advocate of portraying untouched, real images on her Instagram, also anchored the #NoFilter challenge, which encouraged several women to post videos comparing their real faces versus filtered faces. While social media is a breeding ground of covering up one’s flaws and insecurities, the same platforms, can also be used to actively fight the good fight, to empower young girls and women to embrace their unfiltered-selves. And such hashtag challenges are just one of the many ways influencers and social platforms can help us break free from the filters.
With under eye dark circles, freckles and skin conditions like rosacea becoming embedded in filters and even transforming into viral makeup trends on TikTok, one is constantly reminded of social media’s endless possibilities when it comes to appearances. While it is refreshing to see that features that were once looked down upon, are being flaunted and even recreated, as a token of beauty, Bijal Soni says, “Adding facial features is the same as fixing or removing your features — at the end of the day, you are still ‘hiding’ your true self.” Albeit a positive shift online, the root cause of these aesthetic trends still stem from an everlasting desire to look a certain way.
While this is not a boycott poster for social media filters or anyone who uses them (been there, done that!), it is a stark reminder that as our notions of beauty continue to adulterate through the use of social platforms, it’s imperative to not get carried away in the process of fidgeting with our online appearances, losing perspective of reality. It is important to pause and ask ourselves, who’s version of ‘perfection’ are we striving for? And more importantly, does reality match that ideal?