Opinion

Filters: A Look Behind The Digital Mask

We’ve all used filters that make us look like a better version of ourselves, but have we thought about what lies behind this desire to put on a beautifying digital mask?

By Atiya Chowdhury

Ever since popular social media sites such as Snapchat and Instagram have given rise to the movement of face-tuning filters, it now seems quite rare to stumble across an image without some form of filter on it. As an avid user of these apps, I admit to playing around with funny, voice-changing filters which are pretty much harmless but plenty of fun. However, it is the nuances of some of these filters, in particular the beautifying ones, which have given room for a virtual, and entirely unrealistic, image of perfection that lingers in the back of our minds. 

Have you ever taken a selfie and thought: “That definitely needs to have a filter on it”? If you have, then welcome to the surprisingly hefty amount of social media users who have felt a similar sense of reliance on these filters. As a filter fiend, I can tell you that there were many times when I wanted to take a selfie, but the version of me I saw inside my head and the one my phone camera would capture just did not match. I would swipe and swipe and swipe until some filter would bridge that gap between my fantasy self and my real self. However, it is after many years of using the filters on these apps that I have realised that the fantasy version of me which these filters entertained is also one which is quite lighter skinned. 

As a POC, I have noticed that the most prominent similarity between the beautifying filters is that they lighten your skin and sometimes your eyes (on some occasions I have noticed my entire eye colour changing to blue or green). Somehow, through my over-usage of these filters, I had internalised this false, lighter-skinned image as an ideal version of myself. I would take selfies to look lighter, and while this was all done subconsciously, I found that every time I looked in the mirror I was disappointed when I wasn’t faced with the lighter-skinned me I had envisioned. Now, I’m not accusing Snapchat and Instagram of perpetuating eurocentric beauty standards, but I am questioning to what extent we are being subliminally exposed to these unrealistic, and quite damaging, notions of perfection. For some people this ideal image may be related to their complexion, or weight, or facial proportions, but all of them are rooted in the belief that there is a ‘perfect’, ideal concept of beauty – a concept which some of these filters help perpetuate. 

Recently, Instagram has been under fire for its ‘plastic surgery’ filters due to its adverse effect on users, to the point where they have banned the filters. Among these is the infamous Louis Vuitton filter which made your lips plumper and face more elongated giving you the most ideal, facetuned version of yourself you could ask for. This filter took the app by storm, being used by some notable celebrities such as Khloe Kardashian. As absurd as it sounds, I even knew people who were waiting for the filter to show up on their phones. Why? Well, this filter gave them that ‘perfect’ face which plastic surgeons would talk of frequently. Personally, I find the most disturbing filters to be, not the ones that put a little flower in your hair or cute glasses over your eyes, but the ones that look like you but better. It is something about the uncanny resemblance of your own, actual face which makes it all the more insidious, both somehow realistic and yet unattainable. However, perhaps the scariest thing about filters is their influence in making us believe that the filtered version of ourselves we see on our phone screens is more believable and real than that we see in the mirror. 

The purpose of this piece isn’t to condemn filters and to start a cyber rebellion against them but to speculate on its effects on our minds and how it can shape the way we see ourselves. In this modern age where everything can be accessed via your phone and life can be virtually enhanced through the use of technology, it is no surprise that we have found ourselves navigating the cyber jungle with nothing but a digital mask to help protect us from our own insecurities. However, we are left with the haunting question: can we face the reality of our unfiltered and unedited selves? 

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