I just recently realized that a crap ton of people are using filters on social media. Apparently, I missed the memo. I thought we had finally reached a point of authenticity, but I am beginning to wonder if I am seeing anyone’s real face online. It seems beauty filters are the new norm, and I don’t know about you, but I feel duped.
Filters are no longer just fun bunny ears or googly heart eyes. Beauty filters can manipulate just about any part of your face. With just a swipe or a click, you can have instant access to poreless skin that constantly radiates light, flawlessly full lashes, and plump lips forever the “ideal” shade of pink. You can sharpen your jawline, enhance your cheekbones, and shrink your nose to create the “perfect” filtered version of yourself for all the world to see.
I will admit I am an avid user of social media, and I am all for a bit of cropping, color saturating, brightening, and even removing a blemish or two to make you look your best in a photo. Some may argue that beauty filters are not much different than putting on makeup, and I get that point. It’s great to have an option to add a little color to your face or give your eyes a little pop. But at what point does it go too far?
Photoshopping media images isn’t new. The problem with this on social media is that we spend hours a day scrolling social media, thinking we are seeing snippets of people’s real lives. But, unfortunately, our minds perceive all these filtered photos and videos as “authentic” images, and we don’t realize we are becoming accustomed to an adjusted “reality.” As an adult, I am fully aware that a lot of the images I see on social media could be altered, but I often don’t recognize filters on photos. And if I can’t differentiate between what’s real and what’s not, how will my children?
I can’t help but think about my daughter scrolling through social media and critiquing herself against other people’s altered photos. I wonder if my 15-year-old son is scrolling through images comparing his normal teenage breakout to unrealistically smooth skin in filtered pictures and videos. And I worry about these things because I catch myself scrolling and comparing my everyday reality to another mom influencer’s dewy, smooth skin, wondering how the hell she always manages to look so flawless all the time.
And I know I am not the only one comparing myself to these photoshopped images. Clinical psychologist Rachel Riley Fancher shares she has seen this issue run rampant this past year. She believes that people staring at themselves on Zoom all day has reactivated or triggered intense body insecurity for many. In addition, she states, “The lack of real social interaction this past year has also played a role in this increase, as so many are spending so much more time consuming the ‘perfect’ (aka photoshopped and filtered) images people are posting online.”
Increasingly, plastic surgeons are seeing patients come in, requesting to look like their filtered selves. Jordan C. Carqueville, MD, Medical Director of The Derm Institute of Chicago, shares that patients often express that they are unhappy with how they look in photos or in Zoom meetings. She states, “Photos on social media are often some of the motivating factors to inquire about improving appearance, particularly skin texture, wrinkles or volume to the face.” She continues, “There are reasonable ways to achieve a refreshed, natural look under the care of a professional, and preferably a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Not every patient needs what they think they need.”
Craig Baldenhofer, MD says that he has seen an uptick in requests for submental liposuction, a procedure that removes fat and tightens the chin and neck area. “I started performing more of these procedures as people spent more time on Zoom, and beauty filters were on the rise.” But he clarifies that “Beauty filters can sometimes set unrealistic expectations for a patient’s goals, and as a board-certified plastic surgeon, I am trained to move forward with procedures that are safe for my patients and will set them up for practical, long-term satisfaction. I turn people away all the time for unrealistic expectations, body dysmorphia, and red flags like being unhappy with the previous four plastic surgeons.”
The crazy thing is I genuinely believe that social media has played a significant role in shifting the ideals and standards of beauty over the years, and mostly for the better. It has provided a platform for people of different races, genders, ethnicities, abilities, sizes, body shapes, and more to disrupt society’s narrow, European-based beauty standards. But using beauty filters seems to be taking this movement a step backward and negatively influencing users’ self-perception.
Psychologist Martina Paglia of The International Psychology Clinic told Bazaar, “We’re subconsciously being told that even the most beautiful people simply aren’t good enough to show themselves as they really are. We all want to look the best we possibly can, but when that means refusing to be seen as you are in real-life, it’s indicative of poor self-esteem and a deep-seated belief that you don’t feel you’re good enough to be accepted for who you are.”
Paula A. Madrid, Psy.D., expresses that she doesn’t see anything wrong with someone using fillers, moderately, if that is something that makes them feel better. However, she shares, “It is no replacement for working on one’s self-esteem nor will it change the way a person feels about themselves at their core. Whatever tricks one can use to look better are acceptable in my view as long as people are aware that they are not going to change their lives.”
The reality is, beauty filters are fun. And I am not saying don’t use them, because who doesn’t like to look their best when posting something on their social media feeds? But when you find yourself swiping over to a beauty filter, take a second to ask yourself if you are just having a little fun — or have you been duped into believing you don’t fit these warped beauty standards that aren’t anybody’s reality?