With upcoming Christmas and New Year parties spelling plenty of photo opportunities, people are more reliant on filters than ever before. Google reported that its Android devices take some 93 million selfies per day, which is likely to escalate over the next few weeks.
Most of us are scathing of our appearance in photos at the best of times, honing in on faults that others rarely see, and the advent of filters just takes this problem to the next level. Suddenly every selfie we take is subject to copious filtering to render it ‘acceptable’, to the point where we don’t look like ourselves – or want to.
I spoke on a panel a few weeks ago – the photos came back and they weren’t my best. I was wearing my glasses (I always take them off for photos) and in my mind, my face was animated (i.e nerdy) in mid-sentence. I’ve become so used to posing doe-eyed at the camera, mouth shut, skin perfectly lit and tanned with ‘Paris’ filter so this photo in question would normally be deleted in seconds.
But after some deliberation, I posted it on my gram anyway – it was the first time I had spoken on a panel and it was important to my career. The positive comments and ‘well dones’ soon came flooding in and I wondered what I was worrying about – but filters have become such a huge part of our lives, candid shots are something we’ve come to dread. Which begs the question: are filters just a bit of fun or are they slowly sabotaging our self-esteem?
Cosmetic doctor Tijon Esho has noticed a rise in requests for a ‘filtered look’ among his clients. “Until recently, patients would bring in pictures of celebrities and pick the kind of features they wanted to aspire to – but they understood these were just a reference point,” he explains. “Fast-forward five years and they’re now bringing in pictures of themselves with filters. They’re no longer just a reference point – they wanted to look exactly like that.”
Given the amount of filtered selfies and videos many of us post, it can create a kind of online ‘avatar’ as Dr. Esho points out. “They’ve created a ‘social me’ that’s what they look like online – and they want ‘real-life me’ to match up with it.”
Indeed some filters are being used to project beauty ideals we feed into thanks to the Love Island. There are even ‘cosmetic surgery’ filters with names like ‘Fix Me’, ‘Plastica’ and ‘Perfect Face’ and arguably Louis Vuitton’s controversial ‘LVBeauty’ filter (Instagram has recently banned a lot of these). Even seemingly harmless filters more of us are familiar with such as the puppy dog and flower crown tend to give a face-slimming and skin-smoothing effect.clan and
“The main beauty ideals filters feed into are fuller lips, pixel-perfect skin and also the ability to contour the face from a rounded to a sculpted jawline,” Dr. Esho notes. “But people forget it’s an app – it isn’t reality. It’s these people who are the ones most vulnerable to body dysmorphic disorder, and I’m careful to consult at great length with prospective clients to make sure this isn’t the case.”
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition where people have a skewed perception of how they look, becoming obsessed over perceived ‘imperfections’ in their appearance. A recent report in the US medical journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery indicated that filtered images which “[blur] the line of reality and fantasy” could be triggering more cases of it.
You could argue that we wear makeup to enhance our appearance and disguise so-called imperfections – so how are filters any different?’ Quite a bit, according to Lucy Sheridan, confidence coach and spokesperson for FOREO’s Boost Your Glow campaign.
“With filters, there’s a completely different intention,” she explains. “It’s really manipulating the way people view us, rather than enhancing and hiding our imperfections like makeup. It comes to a point where we’re not being real.”
Is this deliberate, does she think? “I don’t think people are setting out to manipulate or mislead people,” she replies. “But it can play into that area. Especially when it comes to dating app photos. You might panic and think at the last minute ‘I’m not going for that drink because I don’t look like that’.”
Daniel Gray, founder of men’s make-up range War Paint and who also has experienced body dysmorphia, agrees that rather than being on a par with makeup, filters take facial ‘enhancement’ to a whole new level. “All makeup does is enhance what you look like – you’re not changing your facial structure,” he remarks. “I know a lot of us can depend on makeup, but at least you can put it on and go out the door. With filtering, you change the way you actually look. No one can see the real you, which taken to extremes, might make people not want to go out at all if their real-life appearance doesn’t match.”
Indeed, it seems as though even the best make-up isn’t enough for some filter fans, with 50% of women in a recent FOREO survey admitting that if it were possible to walk around wearing a real-life skin filter, they would.
And for people with visible differences like Brenda Finn, who has alopecia and is an ambassador for the charity Changing Faces, the effect of filtered reality is even more damaging.
“This time of year is particularly hard for me,” she admits. “With all the dazzle and perfect sparkles, I get reminded that I’m not your typical glamorous female. It can put me off going out altogether.” She agrees that filters can take these issues to a whole new level. “We’re all being expected to strive to these impossible ideals. When filters were first introduced, they were just a bit of a laugh – but now it’s as if the magic of photography has been taken away. Photos are meant to create memories. The focus shouldn’t be on how good you look in that moment, but remembering what that moment was about.”
But of course, convincing people to use filters less often is easier said than done. According to clinical and British Skin Foundation spokesperson Dr. Andrew Thompson, it can be part of a wider issue and one not easily solved. “Improving your self-image is better done within therapy than trying to find a ‘quick fix’ technique. But in the meantime, try writing a list of things that are important to you about you and your body that don’t include your skin or other traits you see as ‘negative’. What are you proud of?”
Sam Cheatle, who heads up the Changing Faces wellbeing team, has some more advice on how we can be less harsh on our unfiltered photos – especially if we have a visible difference or skin condition. “Try and pick out something you like about yourself – it may be the colour of your eyes, or your style, or your smile,” she advises. “What do people compliment you on?”
That being said, it’s important to acknowledge a separate growing pressure to be ‘body positive’ 24/7 and if we’re not, we can feel even more of a ‘failure’ and punish ourselves further. But if you can’t resist the filter’s allure, it’s not the end of the world as Brenda explains. “I still have bad days where I feel down about how I look. I sometimes use filters to blur out my skin etc. But what’s gradually helped is shifting the focus on parts of myself I really like. When I lost my hair, I just wanted to make people look away from that – but I only realised a year ago I’ve got really blue eyes and that I actually really like them. This is who I am, this is what I look like, and now I’m ok.”
So here’s to making the most of the party season, to shimmering cheekbones, glittery eyeshadow and uploading all those sparkly selfies to grace our social media feeds. But whether you decide to use a filter or not, just remember these pictures are about capturing a time in your life, not how ‘perfect’ your face looks.
Top ten products and tricks to feel more confident in front of the camera:
Amanda Harrington The Face Set
Brush on this facial tanner as you would with bronzer for sweat-proof sculpting, contouring and glow. £65 amandaharrington.com
Work your angles
Turn your body away from the camera, put one foot in front of the other and swivel your shoulders back round to face the flash. It’s a great way to show off your shape.
NYX Filler Instinct Lip Plumping Gloss in Let’s Glaze
This magnifying gloss adds volume to lips (you can feel a slight tingle when you apply it) with minimal stickiness. £6.50 Superdrug
Guerlain Terracotta Highlighting Powder
Dust on cheeks, shoulders and collarbone to get that ‘flower crown’ sparkle irl.
Put your lips together and blow
Charlize Theron is known to use this trick: part your lips and exhale slowly as the photo gets taken. Having your lips slightly parted makes them look fuller – without risking the dreaded ‘duck face’.
Smashbox Photo Finish Pore Minimizing Primer
This blurs out visible pores and works wonders mopping up a shiny complexion.
MAC Prep + Prime Fix+
A few sprays will ensure your make-up doesn’t budge come midnight.
£21 Mac Cosmetics
Huda Beauty #Fauxfilter Foundation
Pretty much does what it says on the tin – ideal if you want to cover scars and blemishes. £32 Feelunique
Tip your hair upside down and flip it back five seconds before the flash
It adds instant volume and body to hair without having to reach for the dry shampoo.
Charlotte Tilbury K.I.S.S.I.N.G Lipstick in So Marilyn
A blue-toned red lipstick like this knockout shade suits every skintone and makes teeth look naturally whiter. £25 Net-A-Porter