Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok Filters Are Potentially Instilling Body Dysmorphia in Their Users

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Warning: This article includes topics regarding body dysmorphia that may be triggering to some people with body related-issues and disorders.

Filters. What a great tool to show people how their features can be enhanced and for app developers to indirectly tell their users that if you’ve considered yourself attractive before, you might want to retract that statement.

I’ve used my fair share of Instagram every now and then to promote my writing and even used its filters to make my surroundings appear more aesthetically pleasing for the eyes of my followers.

The same went for Snapchat, as well, until I eventually abandoned it due to boredom and because it didn’t have much to offer.

TikTok on the other hand, whew, do I have a lot to say about this app.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not someone who shames anyone for using social media apps due to their mainstream popularity— I always try my best to see the appeal these apps have to offer to their users because you can never know, right? I might even like it as well.

But oh boy, when I tell you I tried so hard to find the appeal in TikTok is that it wasn’t long before I immediately found myself walking away from the gold mine before I could even discover the gold—assuming there even was one, to begin with.

Sure, there is the occasional funny content that is well-crafted and provides great enjoyment to its users, as well as some very informative ones. But in terms of what TikTok is mostly known for which is attractive people being attractive— there isn’t anything else.

I’d like to consider apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat similar to that of Midas touch.

Based on the myth that took place in Ancient Greece, King Midas of Phrygia had the ability to turn everything that he touched into gold after he was granted a wish by the god Dionysus.

He was satisfied that his palace was filled with gold but in the end, despite his surroundings appearing beautiful and lavish, none of them were actually useful. Like when he touched a grape to eat it but instead morphed it into gold, or when he hugged his daughter and turned her into gold as well.

That’s my perception of what Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok all have in common. Sure, they might offer aesthetic appeal for the short term and mostly revolve around showcasing momentary enjoyment their users can consume as a way to kill time such as so-called “fun” online challenges, fashion and beauty trends that they can try out.

But that’s all these trends have to offer. Brief satisfaction that is only meant to go away as soon as you found it

That also applies to their application features, and the one that sticks out to me the most is their filters. I experienced a recent dilemma regarding this feature when my mother was browsing through TikTok and had gotten curious about the Camera Roll on the app.

What followed after was keen exclamations upon discovering the filters, declaring how it altered her face to look completely unrecognizable, and when I whipped my head around to see what she meant I couldn’t stop myself from appearing bewildered by her latest discovery.

Because she did look different. I mean, not to the point where she completely morphed into Kim Kardashian or anything, but she didn’t necessarily look the same either.

TikTok and its filters have gone out of their way to make my mother look like an edited version of herself. By enhancing certain physical attributes such as sharpening her jaw, making her eyes look bigger, lightening her skin, completely removing all blemishes from her face, etc.

And as she sat there inquisitively tapping on every filter she can possibly lay her hands on and progressively looking a lot less like herself but more like an unrealistic, overly-polished version of herself deprived of the natural traits of what makes her a human being, I was trying my best to convince her to get off the app before she gets carried away.

But instead, she raved about how some of the girls she followed on the app probably don’t look like how they appear on their videos because of how much TikTok amplifies one’s appearance, scoffing at the idea of them committing clickbait, while I was just there thinking to myself:

“This is creating such an immense illusion to the people who use this app.”

You know how you undergo extreme insecurity over your appearance whenever someone takes a candid photo of you and when you check to see what you looked like in the picture, your other eye looks somehow much bigger than your other eye, your face looks ten times bigger, your expression looks awkward as well as your posture, and you scramble to go to the nearest mirror and make a couple of good poses and master a more tolerable looking smile and think:

“I look better in the mirror now than I do in that picture, but is that picture a more realistic perception of who I am?”

Your phone’s camera roll already excludes the filters most of these social media applications include in their platforms, but even so, photography of all types aren’t always completely accurate. The candid picture where you look different was taken in a one-shot moment where you looked a specific way, but that specific way stayed in a specific angle as well.

The reason why you look different in the mirror is that you have the space to move around and see yourself in every position and lighting. While that one photo probably didn’t even capture ten percent of what you actually look like— just one.

It puts you in a box and only captures what you looked like during the moment it was taken— that’s why people have this sentimental fondness for photos because they capture what a setting look liked when they experienced it.

But things aren’t always going to stay the same and things change along with the seasons, including places that you once went to as well as your body and face.

Now, imagine how much self-loathing you undergo with just one photo that captured you without any enhancement or space to show who you are and the entirety of all your features. Sucks, right? But imagine how it would feel like seeing different alternatives of what you could potentially look like, whilst straying further away from your actual face.

Instead, you are greeted with a hypothetical scenario of what you could look like with lighter skin, bigger eyes, fuller lips, bouncier hair, and different eye colors.

But once you turn that camera off, you are faced with the spine-crawling realization that oh damn, that is not what I actually look like.

Of course, the filtered version of you still bears some resemblance to what you look like, but it’s not completely accurate. Deep down as you play around with those filters, there’s a gnawing voice inside your head that questions “What if?” and it destroys your perception of yourself.

But you know you’d rather resort to these filters than take a candid, unfiltered photo of yourself and post that on social media, and you gradually get fixated on what you see in your day-to-day life, to what you see on your Instagram photos and TikTok videos.

And that’s where body dysmorphia comes in. She’s here, and she’s only getting started.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of body dysmorphia, here’s an overview from Google summarizing what it means and its overall effects:

Body dysmorphic disorder is 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. But you may feel so embarrassed, ashamed, and anxious that you may avoid many social situations.

Sounds traumatizing, right? Well, this is what these social applications are instilling their users with. By playfully altering yourself to reduce blemishes, have thicker lips and lighter eyes, you’re cultivating an image of yourself that in your eyes, looks better.

And once you confront these traits that you carry with your normal skin texture such as having pimples, blackheads, and acne, these things start to become a problem to you, instead of something that’s only natural.

You then start to develop a magnifying glass gaze that zooms in on so-called physical imperfections you think you have that these filters don’t show or at least can make go away once you use them to take a photo of yourself and that you can post on social media, trying to convince yourself that what you see in yourself, at least other people don’t know about.

It’s such a dehumanizing way to make one’s self-esteem plummet, because yes, it’s understandable that not everyone is gonna be satisfied with what they look like, I get that. That’s why we have plastic surgeons and these-so-called filters.

It’s normal to resort to these alternatives despite how damaging they are, and I’m not trying to make it seem like the people who use these are click-baiting other people, because they’re not.

You can always find ways to make yourself more comfortable with what you look like, but if it’s only momentarily, I don’t see the point of why you have to resort to it, because the insecurities aren’t gonna go away as well.

If you can maintain it in a healthy, progressive way, I say, go for it. And if you can detach from the mentality that what you see in the mirror to what you see on social of yourself are two completely different things and that you love yourself either way, then sure.

But if it boils down to brief gratification that’ll eventually slip past your fingers and you start to detest who you are and what you look like, then it’s a problem.

This is also where the running joke, mostly insinuated by men, come into play. That whenever a girl uses filters and make-up, chances are they won’t resemble what they look like online. 

So they suggest this very distasteful insult to other men saying that if you ever arrange a meet-up with a girl who uses make-up and filters, take her to a pool party. Because with men’s innate ignorance that they carry in their humdrum day-to-day lives, of course, they’d make a joke out of this as a way to spite women.

This will then lead to women feeling more insecure about themselves than they already were, but let me just say that make-up and filters are in their own way — normal.

It’s okay to use them as a way to make yourself feel more confident. But we also have to realize that we shouldn’t normalize them enough to the point that we prefer the enhanced version of ourselves to the natural versions of ourselves, one that we instead choose to tolerate.

Because we shouldn’t have to tolerate ourselves. We have to embrace who we are and what makes us human knowing that at the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter that much.

We have to learn to separate these two things without glamorizing one more than the other because some things just aren’t meant to be normalized.

If you can learn to come to terms with what’s already known, either with yourself or with other people, then great. Because we all know ways to enhance someone’s features like makeup, hair extensions, wigs, contact lenses, and filters aren’t gonna go away. They’ll always be there.

But we either need to stop obsessing over them or to come to terms with the fact that they are in fact, temporary. Temporary to the point that we can progress past the need for them, but we all know society isn’t gonna allow that considering we need them in order to feel confident with ourselves, even just for a little while, but also at the end of the day, we shouldn’t grow too accustomed with that feeling.

Considering it’s brief and it shouldn’t have to matter the way it does.

That’s why we need to stop viewing everything we see online at face value because chances are what you see isn’t what it actually looks likes. And that’s okay, as long as you know it.

Instead of perpetuating it in unhealthy ways the way women scrutinize either themselves or the way men mock women for what they look like in real life versus on social media, we have to be sensible enough to realize that yeah, they probably don’t actually look like this once I meet up with them, but this person exists either way and if that isn’t enough for me to accept them for who they are, I was just taking them at face value.

And that isn’t normal.

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