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Are filters warping our perception of beauty?

Using a filter allows us to change our appearance with the touch of a button, but it seems this quick and easy practice is having worrying long-term consequences

In just a few years we've gone from vomiting rainbows, and trying cute dog ears on for size, to filters that let us sport faux freckles, plumped lips and razor-sharp cheekbones. And today there are thousands of filters to be found on social media platforms, all waiting to blur, lift, define and illuminate our faces.

But, according to studies, as they manipulate our features to mimic unrealistic beauty standards, they’re also warping our perception of beauty and impacting our mental health.

What’s worrying is that social media and even business-based platforms like Zoom — who offer a ‘touch up my appearance’ feature — are effectively encouraging us to show up online not as we really are, but as tweaked versions of ourselves that fall in line with often unattainable and exaggerated beauty ideals.

Social media usage alone has been linked to increased body dissatisfaction, and lower self-esteem, but now as the pandemic sees us spend more and more of our time showing up (albeit inauthentically) online, it makes sense that our beauty ideals are shifting and our appearance related anxiety is soaring.

“Over the years I have seen how beauty trends on social media have impacted and exacerbated the concerns my patients have about their appearance. Patients start to believe their already plump lips are too thin, or that their expression lines are unnatural. But now with the rise of photo editing by way of quick and easily accessible filters, I’m also witnessing what can only be described as body dysmorphia, as prospective patients seem increasingly unhappy with the way they look sans filter,” shares Aesthetic Doctor, David Jack.

This increased dissatisfaction has seen the rise of campaigns like the #FilterDrop selfie that encouraged people to upload filter free shots of themselves during the first UK lockdown. And spurred on by the campaigns founder, Make-up Artist, Sasha Pallari, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority announced this year that social media influencers must refrain from using “misleading” filters that “exaggerate the effect of a cosmetic or skincare (product)” when posting paid for content.

It’s a huge win, as celebrities and influencers who rely on ‘perfecting’ filters will at the very least have to refrain from doing so when advertising products.

However, with an estimated 50 billion photos posted so far on Instagram alone, and with images featuring faces being 38 per cent more likely to receive likes, and 32 per cent more likely to receive comments — it seems as though a lot more will need to be done to stem the tide of filter usage and the subsequent negative impact it has on our collective self-esteem.