Have you ever scrolled through Instagram wondering how everyone always looks so perfect? I mean, do they have a personal lighting crew and a hair and makeup team following them around 24/7? It turns out the secret to their flawless appearance is simpler than we thought – filters.
Just last week, I logged into a Zoom meeting and noticed that the facilitator looked like she had done her makeup professionally. The group commented on it, only to learn that it’s a new filter that is in beta for Zoom. We joked about not having to do hair and makeup in the morning for video calls.
But then I started to think about something. While filters seem like good clean fun, what messages are we sending to young girls and ourselves, for that matter? At what point is using a filter to enhance our selfies a novelty, and at what point does it become damaging?
The use of filters has become a serious issue, particularly for women. The constant pressure to look perfect online has increased body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors. Filters might temporarily boost our self-esteem, but the long-term effects can be damaging.
It's so bad that the number of cosmetic operations in the hospital's plastic surgery department increased by 49.4% in 2021 compared to 2020 and 29.7% compared to 2019. Why? Think about it. 2020 saw a global pandemic and the rise of videoconferencing. And with that, an opportunity to examine ourselves in cameras like we’d never done before. We were suddenly seeing things we’d not seen before, every flaw, every wrinkle, every blemish.
Filters and their Impact on Self-Esteem
Filters have become so normalized that it's not uncommon to see people using them in everyday situations. From taking selfies to posting pictures with friends, filters have become an easy way to hide perceived flaws and enhance one's appearance.
However, while filters might temporarily boost self-esteem, the long-term effects can be damaging. Research has shown that social media can lead to increased feelings of social comparison and low self-esteem, and the use of filters can exacerbate these feelings.
A study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders found that the use of social media filters was associated with increased body dissatisfaction and eating disorder pathology in young women. The study found that those who used filters frequently had higher levels of body dissatisfaction and were more likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that young women who used social media frequently and were exposed to idealized images of thin and beautiful women were more likely to experience depressive symptoms, anxiety, and body dissatisfaction.
Filters can also create unrealistic expectations of what one's body should look like. Many filters are designed to make people appear thinner, with clearer skin, larger eyes, and fuller lips. Look at this photo.
That ME with the Bold Glamor filter from TikTok! Do I look amazing with the filter? YES! Do I look like me? Sort of (although I think I look like my very young niece!). But what does this filter tell me? It tells me all the things I should change if I want to HAVE Bold Glamor.
These features might seem harmless, but they can create an idealized image of beauty that is unattainable for most people.
Fortunately, I'm at the age where these filters are humorous. But what about the young girls who are still building their confidence? What about women who struggle with their confidence and their appearance?
The Danger of Comparison
Social media has created a culture of comparison, where people are constantly comparing themselves to others. The use of filters can exacerbate these feelings, as people compare their unfiltered selves to others who appear perfect online.
The danger of comparison is that it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. When people see images of others who appear perfect, they might feel like they are not good enough or that they don't measure up. This can lead to a vicious cycle of trying to improve one's appearance through filters and feeling worse about oneself when the filters don't live up to expectations.
What Can We Do?
The use of filters is not inherently bad and can actually be a lot of fun. But it's important to be aware of their potential impact on self-esteem and body image. Here are some tips for using filters in a healthy way:
Be aware of your motivations for using filters. Are you using filters to enhance your appearance or to hide perceived flaws? Are you using filters to conform to a certain ideal of beauty?
Take breaks from social media. Social media can be overwhelming, and taking regular breaks can help reduce feelings of comparison and low self-esteem.
Practice self-compassion. It's important to treat ourselves with kindness and understanding. If you find yourself feeling inadequate or unhappy with your appearance, try to practice self-compassion by reminding yourself that everyone has flaws and imperfections.
Surround yourself with positive influences. It's important to surround yourself with people who uplift and support you rather than those who contribute to negative feelings about.
Seek professional help. Body dystrophia is mental disorder characterized by the obsessive idea that some aspect of one's own body part or appearance is severely flawed and therefore warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix it. If this is you, please seek professional help so you can see that you're amazing just as you are.
So, let's all take a moment to appreciate the beauty of imperfection. Instead of trying to present a flawless version of ourselves to the world, let's celebrate our imperfections and encourage others to do the same.
Let's consciously shift the focus from outward appearances to our inner qualities and accomplishments. Let's celebrate our unique characteristics and stop striving for an unattainable standard of perfection.
Remember, social media is just a highlight reel, and true beauty comes from within.
Let's embrace our imperfections and encourage others to do the same.
Sandy Stricker is the CEO of Emerging Confidence, empowering women to listen to their inner voice and live in confidence while achieving their personal and professional goals. She helps women learn to lose the doubt so they can build a career they love and get the salary they deserve. She has more than 30 years of experience coaching high-performing women.