Filters: fun or damaging?

Illustration b y Jaida Noble | Editing and filters can be very harmful to one's self esteem and personal body image.

The recent emergence of a Facebook whistleblower has brought the idea of social media as harmful back into the spotlight.

For years, people have been editing their faces and bodies on social media to make themselves seem more conventionally attractive. This practice has been detrimental to many people, not just young girls. Some filters are just harmless fun, like the ones that turn your face into a clown or put rainbows all over your face. Others perpetuate a harmful beauty standard that causes young people to hate their appearance. 

A study done in April 2021 by, Keisha Gobin et al. called “The effects of self-disclaimer Instagram captions on young women’s mood and body image: The moderating effect of participants’ own photo manipulation practices” found three main conclusions regarding the effect on women when viewing the ideal thin woman on Instagram. 

The researchers concluded that “exposure to thin ideal images… was associated with decreased body satisfaction, happiness and confidence…,” self-disclaimers, a disclaimer in the caption noting that the picture has been edited, were neither helpful nor harmful to the women’s negative changes about themselves after viewing the images and, “the specific self-disclaimer had a protective effect for those who frequently alter their own photos…”

To sum it all up, this study shows that editing images has a negative effect on the viewer, though primarily they studied women, one can assume that the message can be applied to all people. 

Plastic surgeons are seeing people come in with edited pictures of themselves or with a Snapchat or Instagram filter on them when, before people would come in with a celebrity photo. Some may say that this change is good, however, I say that this evolution of using yourself as a reference photo is bad.

It can cause someone to develop a condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). The Mayo Clinic describes BDD as “a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that appears minor or can’t be seen by others,” this can cause anxiety in social settings and depression. 

When you bring in a filtered or edited version of yourself, it could cause you to starkly see the differences between your filtered ‘ideal’ body and the real-life ‘imperfect’ one. This is a dangerous mentality and one that we should not be perpetuating.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2020 Americans spent $16.7 billion  on cosmetic surgeries, during a pandemic no less. Compare this to the only $8.2 billion spent in 2019. It is apparent that the plastic surgery industry is booming and one factor is the widespread use of filters and editing.

Recently, there was a Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, revealed that Facebook knows because of its internal research, that young women fall down a cycle of depression and hateful thoughts around their bodies, and as those feelings increase, so does the use of Instagram, which then leads to these young girls consuming large amounts of content that could trigger eating disorders. 

Haugen added in an interview for 60 Minutes, “Facebook’s own research says it is not just that Instagram is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers, it’s that it is distinctly worse than other forms of social media.” 

I’ve been one of the social media users who edits her pictures. It made my insecurities so much worse. I hated my face so I fixed it. But then I focused on the parts I hated instead of focusing on the parts I love. I encourage you to find three parts of yourself that you love and focus on them. Tell yourself that you are beautiful and are perfect without any editing or filters.

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