Are Face Filters Impacting Our Self-Worth?

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.

Alexandra D’amour

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.

Alexandra D’amour

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.

Alexandra D’amour

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. 

LET'S TALK: do you use IG filters? have they impacted the way you view your face?

7 Comments

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT THIS ARTICLE

  1. It sucks being a black girl trying to use filters because they make me look absolutely absurd. Having full lips and cheekbones, the filters make me look an inhuman and unattractive alien-morph. It’s clear who these filters were made for and by and again leaves WOC out.

    6 likes
    1. I feel like a whole piece could be written about racial fetishes + eurocentric features in the context of face filters. The reality, like you said, is these were created very much with white folks in mind.

      1 likes
  2. Great read! I enjoy your authentic post, and reading your thoughts, and your experiences on your journey through life. You are an excellent writer, and an inspiration to many. Keep doing, you!

    I am happy that you are addressing face filters, and the impact on one’s self-worth. I personally have never used a face filter, so I can not comment on how it personally has affected my own feelings of worth, but I do agree with you, and I see the way that it impacts, friends and others that I follow on Instagram.

    I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, and expressed my concern, and disappointment on the way that social media, has impacted our lives, and that we haven’t even begun to fully understand the longterm effects, that it will cause, within ourselves, and in the youth and children, in years to come.

    I feel, we as a culture, are inundated with social media post to “living our best life” but in reality we are trying to live our ‘best life’ up to someone else’s standard of their best life”; which in reality, has been shot and re-shot, just to re-shoot it again, from at least, twelveteen different angles, From face filters, to specialized lighting, to makeup tutorials, that teach us the fast and easy ‘32’ steps that are the best to contour and highlight our face, that by doing these easy steps, we will always be picture worthy, and will create that healthy, youthful glow.
    (Don’t forget the highlighting streak, down the front of the nose, to make it look smaller, God forbid)!!!
    (But also, not forgetting to add the hashtag #nofilter, because in fact, a picture filter wasn’t used, we just now have industrial size face lighting, plugged in, so it’s totally different, than applying a photo filter)! And if the above is not available, just add a face filter, with butterflies and sparkles, we still need to remain “insta” ready, cute, we need to be available, at anytime, all times, or else, become irrelevant, because if you don’t post, at least 3 times a week, at certain hours of the day, we fall off the grid, and for fuck’s sake, that cannot happen, how will the world know who “we” are…

    I am always confused on how to feel, when I constantly see posts of influencers, loving their bodies, and embracing their imperfections, and telling others to also, love their bodies…and our imperfections are what makes us all unique! (Which is sooo true)!! (Some people, do need to hear positive content, and I think it’s great that they are getting the positivity in their life)….
    But in reality, their (influencers) nails are fake, microblade brows, lip injections, a full face of easy to achieve 32 makeup steps, spray tan, hair extensions, professional photos, or photos captured with a good Nikon or semi-pro camera, and the large circle face lighting, etc… and the cute face filters! Because, I woke up like this….

    In my opinion we are trying to live up to a fake world, but not a “fake” world… (It’s like we are living on the Truman show)

    How are we going to live up to this….
    How can we continue to live up to this….

    4 likes
    1. These are tough conversations to have! Predominately because I don’t want to shame ANYONE for their choices. But like you said, there is a lot that happens on the backend when to comes to the “no make makeup look”. The perfect lighting. 100s of shots before posting the “perfect” picture, and then of course, not knowing if there were any cosmetic enhancements. Again, tough conversations to have, because anyone who has had cosmetic enhancements should not be shamed. Their body, their choice. But specifically when it comes to celebrity and influencer culture, I think it’s important for them to be honest so that their followers have a realistic understanding of what was done to minimize their own expectations of their own beauty.

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  3. Fuck I use filters often because of my acne but I’ve never thought of it this way. Lots to reconsider here.

    5 likes
  4. Whew. Such a poignant take on something complex and frustrating. Thank you for sharing my perspective – this whole filter situation really does have me fucked up!

    5 likes

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