Encouraging unattainable beauty standards or just a bit of fun?
By Olivia Adams
Instagram, influencers, selfies and trends; all words that are part of the everyday vocabulary for the younger generation of today. As we live in a world where social media holds a full-time role for many of us, it can become rather difficult to separate what is real and what may be fake. The flawless snapshots that we see of others, whether it be celebrities, friends or strangers, can paint a false reality of perfection that can shatter self-esteem and leave us feeling unsatisfied at our own reflection. The constant exposure to standards of beauty that are only available to people with large amounts of money, can be very toxic to those who are without. However, when Instagram ideally enabled access to new filters that could satisfy and complete this expensive look of beauty for free, the main question was never why? But instead, why wouldn’t you?
Although selfie culture has been around for many years now, it is only more recently that effects created purely for face altering have begun and have become increasingly popular. The introduction of Instagram filters like ‘pure baby face’, ‘cute kodak cam + tan’ and ‘cute shining’ gives users a new look that can plump their lips, smooth their skin, change their eye colour and even give nose jobs! While some view these as funny and unrealistic, others see them as beautiful and achievable; even if this does mean spending money to look this certain way.
(Filters in use- by Livvy Adams)
As more of these filters are appearing on our screens every day, it is important to try and understand the detrimental effect that they could potentially cause. These effects have ultimately been created with the sole purpose being to make the user look different from their usual self. Not only is this deceiving for the people who may see it, but also for the user, who may only be using it as they prefer the way they look with it. By keeping these filters, Instagram is only allowing for toxic standards of beauty to be promoted and could be considered as a contributor to the growing number of diagnoses of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). For those unaware, BDD ‘is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others’ (NHS, 2017). When looking at the increasing amount of diagnoses for BDD, along with the growing popularity for cosmetic surgery (as Cosmetic Surgery Statistics Australia & Around the World (2020) shows procedures are expected to reach 3,847,929 by 2030), it makes it extremely worrying that an app as popular as Instagram is allowing these user-generated filters to stay.
Being a user of Instagram myself, I thought the best way of gaining insight on how women truly felt about using filters and whether these had impacted their feelings towards cosmetic surgery, was to find the statistics out for myself – and so that’s what I did. I took to Instagram to reach out to my followers with a series of polls and questions and received responses from 111 young women (aged 16-27). Here are the questions and findings:
1. Why do you use/have you used these filters?
Although not all of the participants answered this question, the majority that did gave the answer ‘to make myself look better’, which is a red flag straight away. The fact that women are using these filters in order to feel more confident in themselves will only make them reliant on something that does not look like their natural self. To start to view yourself as ‘better’ looking when viewing a false representation of yourself is extremely damaging.
2. Do you prefer the way you look with a filter on?
The response to this question was unfortunate to read as 82/111 women said yes, meaning 74% are happier with their appearance when it is altered, rather than natural. However, the fact that women are repeatedly seeing this different look as an idealistic beauty goal from celebrities and other filter-users, makes it no shock that nearly ¾ of the women asked would rather post an image with a filter - or even go as far as to getting permanent alterations.
3. Have you ever considered/wanted face altering surgery (e.g. botox, lip fillers)?
As 56/111 of the women answered yes, this translates to meaning 51% of those who answered are likely to have considered/want cosmetic surgery. It is worrying that young women are even considering this when the majority are not at the stage of being fully developed.
4. If you answered yes, would you say you feel this way due to liking/wanting to look how you do with an Instagram filter?
Out of the 56 that answered yes to the previous, 19 of them said that their feelings towards this had been affected by liking/wanting to look the way they do with an Instagram filter. Even though the results show that less than half (34%) blame Instagram, which may be considered minor to some, the fact that even one person feels this way is bad enough. It begs to question, that if Instagram hadn’t allowed for these filters, would this person feel the same way about themselves? Would they feel more confident in the way they look if these filters never existed? The only way that can prevent this from happening is for them to be removed, which is difficult when so many enjoy using them for the feel-good factor.
After receiving these results, I thought it would be interesting to ask for a further explanation from two of the women who took part in my research and held differing views on the subject:
Do you think that Instagram filters are bad for our society?
Estella Towning: ‘Not all, I think some are a bit extreme and can really alter someone’s face/body which could make people think ‘I want to look like that’. But when I see ones like that, I know it is fake so I know the person doesn’t look like that. I think 95% are fine; some are a bit of fun and some can just add to your features. So overall I don’t think they are bad for society. But I do see why people think that, I just think some are so over the top that the person doesn’t even look real.’
Do you think the face altering filters are female orientated? If so, then why?
Isabelle Tyner: ‘They are female orientated because women are constantly told that they have to be an object of beauty. It’s the same reason that society ingrains in us that we should be insecure, e.g. too skinny, too fat, big lips, bigger eyes, longer hair. If women decided they were secure in how they looked naturally then so many businesses would go bankrupt. These filters are just reinforcing that women need to change their faces to be more beautiful, because then they are more attractive to guys, otherwise known as the ‘male gaze’. We don’t see boys using filters that change their face/hair colour/feature size, because men don’t have the pressure of beauty like women do. Men can roll out of bed and it’s completely acceptable.’
Although my research only looks at a small number of young women, the results are still a massive indicator towards the negative implications that these Instagram filters are having and could potentially have. There is not enough evidence to suggest that the filters are contributing to the increase in BDD, however, it is clear that some users feel they are the reason for considering cosmetic surgery.
In my opinion, I feel that Instagram has allowed filters to be taken too far. Whilst it can be argued that these new face altering ones are user-generated and not created by Instagram themselves, the fact that they have given them the ‘okay’ still means they are hugely responsible. From being able to add a different colour or perhaps a fun sparkle to your image to now being able to actually change the way that you look means that the line of what is acceptable has been crossed. There is no need for these filters and no place for them in a society who feel they are continually under pressure to look a certain way. Even though photo shopping and other filters have been around for a while, the fact that these filters are effectively playing on people’s insecurities marks them as completely different. Something needs to change before it goes even further; before these fake versions of reality become the cosmetic realities of the future.
If, like myself, you think these filters should be removed, please sign this petition which aims to do just that: https://www.change.org/p/facebook-regulate-face-filters-on-instagram?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=f0538ed0-2dc3-11e7-b18f-af824dadd90c
NHS, 2017. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). [online] nhs.uk. Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/body-dysmorphia/> [Accessed 3 September 2020].
The Victorian Cosmetic Institute. 2020. Cosmetic Surgery Statistics Australia & Around the World. [online] Available at: <https://www.thevictoriancosmeticinstitute.com.au/2020/01/cosmetic-surgery-statistics-australia-around-the-world/> [Accessed 3 September 2020].