Why Facetune & Filters Are Damaging Our Mental Health

posted on February 3, 2020

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I’ve been calling out social media content for almost 18 months now, and over the last month, I’ve started posting daily Instagram vs reality pictures on my story. 

Most of these comparison pictures involve an influencer who has been caught editing their photos. I’m not taking a bit of saturation increase, I’m talking full on digital botox. Smooth poreless skin, wide cat eyes, big lips, slimmer jawline, skinnier nose, whiter teeth, smaller waist and bigger hips… basically they have altered their image almost entirely to fit today’s alien-esque beauty standard. To the point that you might not recognise them irl. 

Gone are the days when only high profile celebrities get their photos edited for magazines by photoshop professionals. Magazines have been replaced with social media, and everybody is a photo editing expert due to accessible and easy-to-use apps such as Facetune. And everybody is starting to look the same.

But so what? Filters and Facetune are just a bit of fun, right? What’s the real harm here?

In 2018 the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK released #Statusofmind, a report which looked at the impact of social media on mental health. The report surveyed 1,500 14-24 year olds about their mental wellbeing and various social apps. The report associated users with anxiety and depression and poor body image. This is just one of many studies which has highlighted the correlation between social media and poor mental health.

Part of this problem stems from the lack of transparency and the rife comparison amongst users. Social media has become a hyper-competitive arena whereby you win followers for ticking certain boxes. As a result, platforms such as Instagram have become the dictator of our social status. If we fit the mould then we are praised with likes, comments and followers which are a sort of currency. Just like with money, when we have more of this currency we are treated differently, we are more popular at school and we get job opportunities. So not only is social media addictive because it gives you a dopamine hit and a confidence boost, success on the platform can quite literally change your life. But at what cost?

Cosmetic surgeons are reporting an increase in the number of people exploring cosmetic procedures to make them look like their filtered selves. This phenomenon is being referred to as ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’, and could be triggering Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a mental health condition where people become fixated on imagined flaws. 

Filters and Facetune (and the lack of transparency about when people use them) are giving people a warped idea of what they should look like. Normal facial features such as lines around the eyes and mouth are deemed as flaws because the first thing that a filter will do is remove them. Not even children have faces without any lines or complexion – it simply isn’t a human face anymore.

People are continuing to objectify and create a fabricated version of themselves in the name of followers and the worst part of it is that beauty companies are really cashing in. Not only are influencers not transparent about altering their appearance, they then proceed to tell their audience that they achieved their flawless skin/body via some sort of product which they get a 10% kick back from. Not only is this completely unethical false advertising, it’s also contributing to BDD.

I have personally stopped using filters for both me and my followers mental health. I think it’s important to remember that lines, shadows and texture are all normal parts of having a human face and forgetting that will only lead to further dissatisfaction about our appearance and demonisation of aging. Annoyingly, it seems as though Instagram actually has a very subtle filter on the normal camera so it’s difficult to avoid filters entirely.

My personal opinion is that it’s OK to use filters if you really want to, so long as you’re transparent about it if you’re in a position of influence. With that being said, being transparent may soon be mandatory as Instagram has announced that it will no longer be accepting images which are “depicting models whose body shapes have been retouched to make them look thinner or larger”, a sign that they are taking note of the effects edited imagery. Dating app Plenty of Fish has also banned filtered images from its platform after users complained that dates often didn’t resemble the pictures on their profile due to heavy filters.

What do you think about using filters? Do they give you confidence or do they make you feel inadequate in today’s looks-obsessed society?