Filtering Faces and Downward Spirals
Social media has changed my relationship with photographs. I see the photos of myself when I was younger, photos that I took to capture the moment rather than to scrutinize. Now, it is a cycle to analyze whether I look prettier while smiling or with pursed lips. I am perplexed by whether or not my face is symmetrical, whether my face looks best in the left or right side or whether my face fulfills the Golden Spiral.
Still, social media platforms are slightly more democratic. I choose who I wish to follow, whose image I choose to consume. It isn’t like the traditional magazines of the 90s, where they curated who I found beautiful; the skinny European model or the “exotic” model. So, even without these expectations and given the power to form my own expectations, why do I still give myself unreal standards of beauty?
The standards of social media seem attainable because it all seems like reality. I could find an IG model walking down the street, I could find her eating at the restaurant I eat at. I know enough about her to know that she is real, that she is intelligent and genuinely sweet.
I feel that I can become her if I just tried a little harder. And I am not the only one. According to a poll by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, 42% of surgeons stated that patients came in to elevate their selfies and social media profiles (Hamrah, 2019).
And the filters just make it easier.
About 6 months ago, I started experimenting with the cute. babyface filter. In the beginning, I was scared too. I didn’t want to realize that I actually looked prettier with the filter on. With the filter on, I would evaluate each feature. I would analyze what it smoothed out, what it enlarged and what it slimmed. Even Bella Hadid (who was awarded the title of “Most Beautiful Woman on Earth” based on the standards developed by Ancient Greece), told me to vote with the filter on! Kylie Jenner wears it frequently, even though the maker of the cute. babyface filter has another filter titled, “Kylie + Kendall.”
I once had an older makeup artist tell me that you use makeup to enhance your face, not as an avenue to develop insecurities. These filters look like enhancements and these enhancements seem like a path to a “better life.” If uncontrolled, this perception could lead to Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD). A study published by Primary Psychiatry found that 80% of people who struggled with BDD experienced lifetime suicidal fantasies and 24% to 28% attempted it (Phillips, 2006).
Perhaps what hurts the most, is the duality of the perception of POC features. In one aspect, they are wanted. The tan skin, the lips and the hair being the most prominent examples. But, whenever me and my friends discuss features we would like to change, it is almost always the nose. They dislike the bump in it, they dislike that it is big and takes up space, they dislike its focality, its bridge, it's positioning, the roundedness of its tip (now seems like a good time to mention that selfies distort our nose by making it look 30% larger (Ward et al, 2018)). A white woman has even described (unprompted), that some people just have noses she would like to “punch so that they could get plastic surgery to fix it.”
With filters, I could see what I would look like if I got rid of my punch-able nose. I can see what I would like if I had a nose that didn’t widen when I smiled. I could see what it would look like if it was thin, straight and angular, jutting out just correctly. In a study that focused on 300 Indian men and women between the ages of 21 to 26, 70% of women stated that they felt their confidence decrease after they posted a retouched photo. 65% of those women stated their desire for plastic surgery increased after posting a retouched photo (Shome et al, 2019).
Many people wish to discuss which is healthier; bringing in your own filtered photos to a plastic surgery consultation or bringing in a magazine. That doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t matter. Through different avenues, they achieve the same thing. The magazine curates an editorial for me that tells me what is beautiful but unattainable, the filtered photo filters me and tells me what is beautiful but a bit more attainable. They only slightly differentiate, but they still control the validity of my beauty.
My mother once told me that life was too short to go around pretending that you are not beautiful. When she looked back at the photos of her own youth, unfiltered, even despite the insecurities she had when she was younger, she realized she was more than just “pretty.” She was beautiful. It took time to gain that perspective. But, why should it take time for us?
There are so many things I can critique about myself. But, quite frankly, I am tired. Yes, by someone’s standards, I would be prettier if I had a thinner nose. But this is my mother’s nose and I happen to think it looks elegant. Yes, if I had plumper lips I would look like Kylie Jenner, but I think my lips fit my face perfectly.
Filters are someone’s perception of what is beautiful. It is a single perception out of many. Filters will change throughout each era, each generation and each month.
I would rather be perceived through the eyes of the people that love me.
So, sister to sister, stop just tolerating yourself and go put on some sunscreen. Yes, you need it in the winter too!
Chiu, A. (2018, August 6). Patients are desperate to resemble their doctored selfies. Plastic surgeons
alarmed by 'Snapchat dysmorphia.'. Washington Post. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A549149271/AONE?u=ocul_mcmaster&sid=AONE&xid=a0c580e8
Hamrah, D. (2019, March 13). Most of my cosmetic surgery patients want one thing: to look better in
selfies. Washington Post. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A578187000/AONE u=ocul_mcmaster&sid=AONE&xid=a7c65161
Phillips K. A. (2006). The Presentation of Body Dysmorphic Disorder in Medical Settings. Primary psychiatry, 13(7), 51–59.
Shome, D., Vadera S., Male S., Kapoor R. (2019). “Does taking selfies lead to increased desire to
undergo cosmetic surgery.” Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology,19(8), https://doiorg.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/10.1111/jocd.13267
Ward B., Ward M., Fried O., Pashkover B., (2018). “Nasal distortion in short distance photographs: the selfie effect.” JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, 20(4) 333-335, http://doi.org/10.1001/jamafacial.2018.0009