Why Instagram Filters are Hurting Our Confidence
Tear off the mask. Your face is glorious. - Rumi
Instagram connects 500 million people to information, entertainment, and close - or not so close - friends. In times of crisis during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Instagram became a hub of information that local and national media sources lacked. It’s a flourishing, enormous web of ideas and creations. And standards. And flawless skin. And so, so much editing.
If you have ever posted a picture or a story, you know there’s an endless Instagram filter control panel of knobs and dials and sliders to edit your photo. And while this can be great for things like touching up a poor quality sunset picture, the implications of this on a wider scale are harmful.
Lauren Bullen @gypsea_lust / Instagram
Truth About Socially Imposed Beauty Standards
A recent UK study that surveyed 1,500 people aged 14-24 found that Instagram was rated the most harmful to young people’s mental health. Let that really soak in. The survey asked them to report on 14 health and wellbeing issues that were considered of the highest importance. Some of these include:
- Emotional support
- Self identity
- Body image
The fact that Instagram is entirely a visual platform creates the basis for many problems: everything has to be beautiful to fit the aesthetic.
Definition of Beauty
But, what exactly does “beautiful” mean? Each era and geographical location tells you something different, but the underlying idea is the same. That there is an ideal amalgamation of features, colors, and style that combines to create the most socially accepted status of beauty. This has been, and will forevermore be, an issue.
For one thing, perfection is unachievable. The standards are always changing and they are as specific as they are ambiguous. An ideal woman of the Italian Renaissance would have a large chest and rounded stomach. During the Han Dynasty, large eyes and small feet were all the rage. Now the beauty buzzword is “healthy.” Healthy skin, hair, and physique.
What does it all mean? Well, the only way to figure it out now is by seeing what other people consider “beautiful.” And what better way to do that than to check the world’s largest gallery of “beautiful” people, AKA Instagram.
Instagram's Depiction of Beauty
Instagram fosters the toxic celebrity culture by preying on instant gratification and those aforementioned beauty standards, and Instagram filters play a dominant role. Everything on your feed is handpicked and edited to highlight the best moments and features. What this creates is an idealized fantasy in which everyone else is doing it better. Kendall Jenner looks so perfect and tan, and her life is obviously just shy of heavenly. Why wouldn’t we feel insecure?
Kendall Jenner / Instagram
The snapshot setup of Instagram furthers the divide between the achievable reality and the idealized fantasy. If you constantly see the best-filtered version of everyone else’s life, you start to feel as if you are missing out. On top of this, the instant gratification of likes and comments leads you to depend on outside opinion for verification. But since other people get that verification for a certain standard of photo-reality, you start to believe it’s what’s best. You start to believe it’s true
So you edit. You edit out acne scars and even out your skin tone. You only ever upload pictures from a certain angle when you like the way your hair looks. And everything is rose-colored and peachy keen.
So we’ve now created this ultra-saturated fantasy that becomes such a deep part of society that we forgot that’s not how it looks. No one has perfect skin. No one wakes up with hair that smooth. No one has exactly the same body type or hair type or skin color. But because everyone has access to the Instagram filters necessary to change the parts society has told us are unnatural or ugly, we use them.
The resistance to this ideal is most obvious from things like #nofilter on Instagram. Celebrating and emphasizing parts of yourself and your life exactly as they are. The hashtag is self-explanatory, and it shows just how harmful Instagram filters are that we need to actively announce when they aren’t there.
Except the thing is, you aren’t supposed to look like anything. There’s not actually any reason why the photo of you from this morning is inherently better once you tone up the warmth and sharpness. Somebody said it was beautiful and no one ever thought to ask why.
Lupita Nyong'o called out this very fact in her Instagram post exposing her Grazia UK magazine cover photo. She admits the publication edited out her natural hair! Like, what?!
Nothing is strictly beautiful. Everything just exists and you can choose what brings you joy.
So edit the crap out of your photos. Or don’t. Take 50 pictured with makeup on or 50 without. Post exactly what you want to or nothing at all. Just don’t forget, Instagram filters don’t change reality, they just change the photo.
Written by Christiana Sinacola