Let’s discuss social media.
If you use Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok, you’ve probably experimented with the filters on these applications. Filters may be entertaining, especially those that transform you into Pixar characters or give you a completely new look. They can even make us feel seen and lovely, such as the TikTok Belle filter, which emphasizes aegyo-sal or the puffy undereye area. TikTok users’ videos enjoying the fact that they finally had a filter that improved their natural characteristics went viral.
Unfortunately, time spent on social media utilizing these filters can sometimes do more harm than good by modifying our expectations. Aesthetic filters on social media are known for emphasizing Euro-centric aesthetic characteristics such as lighter eyes, a smaller nose, and flushed cheeks. Others completely alter the appearance of the face by smoothing out every pore, increasing the size of the lips, and altering the form of the eyes. Every time we open the app, we discover a new filter that transforms us into wholly different versions of ourselves.
The end result? Users of social media who are unsatisfied with their personal appearance, particularly women. We’ve seen multiple videos of women angry about how much the filters on these applications distort their faces.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, this influence is real. In fact, Facebook admitted in an internal memo that it is aware of the negative consequences these apps have on women. According to the document, “thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse” and “among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the issue to Instagram.”
This problem, however, is not limited to youngsters. “Children and adults of all ages have confided in me and shared that they are ashamed of posting photographs of themselves without the use of filters,” explains Dr. Leela R. Magavi, a Hopkins-trained psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centres. “I have assessed some teenagers, men, and women who have discussed the idea of getting plastic surgery to look more like the filtered version of themselves,” she says.
And the research backs this up. According to studies, social media has a huge impact on plastic surgery trends, and people are bringing in photos of their filtered self as inspiration pictures.
In addition to cosmetic procedures, experts say there is a direct link between social media filters and lower self-esteem, self-confidence, and higher cases of body dysmorphia. “I definitely see a new theme to body dysmorphic concerns,” says Dr. Josie Howard, a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in psychodermatology and is on the scientific advisory board for Proactiv.
“People begin to expect themselves to look like their filtered self and can become obsessed with achieving that in the real world, which leaves them depressed, anxious, lonely, and disappointed,” she explains.
According to Dr. Magavi, a Canadian study published in 2019 found that time spent on social media can increase or provoke body image difficulties. “According to this study, as little as five minutes spent on Facebook or Instagram could elicit this negative response.” Other research has established terminology such as “Snapchat dysmorphia” or “selfie dysmorphia” to explain this phenomenon.
These filters, in addition to perpetuating feelings of loneliness and isolation, can contribute to low self-esteem. “At the same time that we are seeing people’s self-esteem eroded by exposure to social media, we are also seeing an increasing sense of isolation because these filters create a self-reinforcing feedback loop that leads to people spending more time on social media, seeking virtual validation, and less time connecting with others in the real world,” Dr. Howard explains.
But what if you may admit that the social media filters that entirely modify your face are phony but continue to use them because you don’t expressly feel any of these bad emotions? These filters, however, can have the same effect unintentionally. “More than a game, these apps subconsciously implant the notion of imperfection and ugliness generating a loss of confidence,” says Loum psychodermatologist Dr. Francisco Tausk.
“Subconsciously, social media and filters can also remind individuals of painful times in their lives or highlight their insecurities, and consequently, heighten symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Dr. Magavi explains. “Excessive time spent looking at filtered versions of themselves can adversely affect individuals’ mood, sleep, and overall mental and physical wellness.”
Even those who don’t spend much time on these applications can feel the effects of these filters because they have an impact on society.
“While the impacts may first be seen amongst the users of social media, they quickly bleed into and permeate the general beauty standards and aesthetic expectations of all of us,” Dr. Howard explains. “So, even if someone is not spending hours on social media, they are still exposed to images and products that are driven by the phenomenon of filter-enhanced expectations.”
So, how can we resist the downward self-esteem spirals and pit of negativity caused by these apps’ filters? According to Dr. Howard, the first step is to raise awareness. “I think really cognitively and consciously challenging and reminding ourselves that these images are not real is a good first step. It’s also important to have some awareness of when social media may be leading to depression, anxiety, or isolation.”
Being aware of any early warning indicators can assist you in remaining proactive and indicating when you need to take a break and ground yourself away from the screen. Dr. Magavi also suggests organizing your social feeds to be a place of optimism, inspiration, and self-compassion. The algorithms in social media apps are meant to constantly feed you one perspective and picture of the world based on people you follow, engage with, and enjoy.
However, if you start following people who are body-positive, people who don’t use these filters as much, and accounts that promote authenticity, you’ll be more likely to surround yourself with and believe in those beliefs as well.