Is it just me, or are faces starting to look the same? Models like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and a slew of other Instagram influencers have eerily similar face features: lifted brows, pulled back cat eyes, thick lips, plump cheekbones, and no wrinkles in sight. Even older influencers and celebrities, like Kim Kardashian, are noticeably starting to have similar features. It’s been dubbed “the Instagram face,” and looking like Kim is currently the number one request for cosmetic surgeries.
This fairly new but incredibly popular face combines South Asian brows and eyes, African American lips, a Caucasian nose, and Native American cheek structure, all with an ethnically ambiguous tan. While this trend personally frightens me, for a multitude of reasons, it’s hard not to compare your own face to “the Instagram face,” especially when social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat showcase the possibilities for you in the form of face filters.
Face filters are a relatively new feature on social media apps, originally introduced by Snapchat in 2015. You may remember the signature face filter with puppy ears, or the flower crown. While it started off fairly innocent, there are now endless options that significantly alter your appearance. “Plastics,” “Top Model Look,” “Holy Natural,” “Perfect Face”— these are just a few examples of the names of these new face filters, and they all have that familiar ‘signature’ look.
I have never considered altering my face, and I am strongly resisting the urge to get Botox, but two months into using these filters as “entertainment,” I found myself debating whether or not I should get lip injections.
Like most of us, I started using face filters as a form of entertainment. Who doesn’t love a puppy-faced selfie? I have endless videos saved on my phone of me hysterically wearing my husband’s face and my dad as a bee. When stories were first introduced to Instagram, I didn’t like speaking into the camera, predominantly because my crooked teeth would be visible for all to judge. But over the years, as a way to embrace and own my so-called flaws, I began posting stories, and made sure to do so without filters—zits, wrinkles, crooked teeth and all.
It wasn’t until a few months ago though, that I became intrigued with these new filters. I started using the “Anna Wintour” one whenever I needed to ask my followers a favor, like liking a post or resharing a story. I dubbed it my “unapologetic boss filter.” Soon after, I’d occasionally post a story in a sauna using the “Butterfly” filter, and before you knew it, I was using the “Smiley” filter on a weekly basis. They were cute, just like the puppy filter, except one noticeable difference: flawless skin, fuller lips, and higher cheekbones.
I have never considered altering my face, and I am strongly resisting the urge to get Botox, but two months into using these filters as “entertainment,” I found myself debating whether or not I should get lip injections. I’d Google things like pricing and how long they’d last; things that had never occurred to me prior. I was honestly now considering it.
And I know I’m not alone. In 2017, facial plastic surgeons saw an increase in patients who wanted surgery to help them look better in selfies—a 42% increase since 2013 to be exact. It’s been defined as “Snapchat Dysmorphia,” using cosmetic procedures to look more like our altered selfies.
When we compliment people who are using face filters, we are really promoting and celebrating a version of them that doesn’t exist.
When I asked my Instagram followers through stories if they ever felt tempted to change their face because of the use of face filters, I was shocked by the dms that rolled in. Many expressed concern and ditto-ed the same thoughts I’d been having; a few even admitted to booking appointments with surgeons.
What face filters essentially do is morph our perception of ourselves. One of my followers shared: “If you start to use a filter innocently for a few weeks, your brain starts to think that’s the norm and finds reality almost unbearable.” And she’s right. In China, many students don’t even look at their real faces anymore because filters are directly applied to their phone’s camera. Graduate student Amy Niu researches the impacts of face filters on college students. She shared: “This illusion of one’s self-image may cause people to temporarily feel better about themselves but later, when they are exposed to their actual look, their self-image may experience greater disturbance than traditional appearance comparisons.”
And I can vouch for that. Anytime I was using these filters, I much preferred the way my face looked without evidence of my hormonal acne. And whenever I’d look in the mirror, at my real face, with zits the size of pennies on my chin, I’d feel awful and ugly.
I’m not banking on corporate responsibility to change the way we view women and their physical beauty, knowing unrealistic beauty standards were set long before social media was invented.
Maybe the most disturbing of it all, I noticed an increase in compliments whenever I’d use a face filter on stories, essentially indirectly deeming my fake face better than my real one. Or at least, that’s how I saw it. When we compliment people who are using face filters, we are really promoting and celebrating a version of them that doesn’t exist.
Besides the harmful internal dialogue one might experience when using face filters, another problematic issue arises in what we deem beautiful. ON OUR MOON writer Julia-Elise Childs reached out to me to express concern. She shared: “As a mixed person, I have a lot of thoughts about how race is used to define beauty. The Eurocentric features, like a lean nose and high cheekbones, mixed with more traditionally ‘ethnic’ features, like full lips and slanting eyes, has got me really fucked up at times.” These clearly set beauty ideals don’t leave much room for other types of beauties, like wider noses, thin lips—hell dare I even say it—no cheekbones types of beauty.
In the era of body positivity and radical self-acceptance, I find it interesting that the usage of face filters seems to only be increasing, including its harmful impacts. But there is good news: Social media platforms have decided to take action, and in 2019, Instagram banned the use of filters like “Plastica” and “FixMe” for mental health concerns. And while this step is in the right direction, there are still plenty of filters that remain on the platform that I would categorize as “problematic.”
I’m not banking on corporate responsibility to change the way we view women and their physical beauty, knowing unrealistic beauty standards were set long before social media was invented. I believe the responsibility falls on us, as consumers, to be aware of its impacts.
While I may sometimes consider cosmetic enhancements as a 31 year old, I will not allow face filters to be the reason. I firmly believe everyone has the right to choose what feels right for them, especially in respects to their bodies. In the battle to radical self-acceptance, accepting and embracing exactly who we are and what we look like, is where we win—cosmetic enhancements or not. For now, I’m severely decreasing my usage of face filters because they not only impact the way others see me, but the way I see myself. I don’t want my face to morph into an “Instagram face,” or even a puppy face for that matter.