Are Photo Filters Damaging to Mental Health?
By: Nathan Fry, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Olivia Storti, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief; Valeri Guevarra, Founder/Executive Director
Without any doubt, it is apparent that photo filters have taken the world by storm, with applications across all social media: Instagram, Facebook, and in particular, Snapchat, recently added new 3D filters. These wondrous additions to technology flood social media and ultimately heighten the “beauty standards” of the era. Photo filters come in a wide variety of possible applications: from turning your face into a magical, singing unicorn to smoothing out your skin tone. Despite its wide, ever-growing use, it isn’t that apparent of the knock-on effects of photo filters. And do they have a significant impact on overall mental health?
Many people would argue that photo filters have little to no negative impact on their mental health, as they are just there for some fun; other people would argue that photo filters improve their mental health by improving self-esteem. An article by The Orion suggested that “while their [previous generations'] main concern in appearance was looking nice out in public, we have to worry about looking nice in public and online. We have the constant digital pressure to look good.” Whilst this may be a negative impact, photo filters tackle the surface impacts of this sensation to look nice online. Therefore, photo filters allow crucial sources of self-esteem and can help people feel better about themselves.
Furthermore, children and teenagers are more likely to be influenced by the need to look nice online, which is incredibly harmful. It threatens self-esteem by forcing internet users to constantly evaluate their appearance, compare it to others on the internet, and feel discouraged when they do not meet unrealistic beauty standards. Although photo filters can fight off the surface impacts of this, “it is crucial to have many sources of self-esteem,” says Childmind. This suggests that, although filters can be primarily bad, it allows teenagers an opportunity to have an additional source of self-esteem and be more comfortable with who they are.
However, whilst some people may argue that photo filters aid in growing their self-esteem and make them feel better about themselves, other people would completely disagree and say that they push false beauty standards onto social media and can cause a decline in mental welfare. It was even suggested in a recent study that up to seven in ten girls feel that they do not “match up” to today’s beauty standards - and this is a great portion of today’s children!
Some places even go as far as recognizing trends in this behavior, one of which is - as recognized in a paper written by Dr. Susruthi Rajanala - “a new phenomenon, dubbed “Snapchat Dysmorphia.” This mental illness, often categorized as part of OCD (or obsessive-compulsive disorder), describes people diagnosed with it as obsessing over their appearance due to beauty standards set unrealistically high through the presence of filters everywhere online, building underlying causes. The Medium outlined a similar thing, saying that, “The pervasiveness of these filtered images can affect self-esteem, make you feel bad that you are not in the real world, and even lead to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).” Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or body dysmorphia, is a mental state wherein individuals focus on their physical appearance and perceived flaws an unhealthy amount. At the same time, other people fail to see the physical flaws. This clearly illustrates the destructive nature of beauty-defying filters and “pretty filters” in general.
So what are the knock-on effects of photo filters besides their varied impact on mental health? Not only do they affect moods, but many people even go as far as having plastic surgery to make themselves “meet up” to the expected standards. Medical News Today has recognized that there has been a significant increase in people seeking to get plastic surgery to “improve their appearance in selfies” 42% of plastic surgeons say that they saw this in 2014, compared with 55% in 2017. Furthermore, a paper by Dr. Rajanala shows the variety of things that people seek to get done, saying that “patients [seek] out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves instead, with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose.” This clearly conveys that people get plastic surgery and have a wide range of possible flaws, all produced by the deceiving benefits of using photo filters.
In general, photo filters are a great way to have fun with friends, or to temporarily make yourself appear better, however, it is very disputed that they should come with warnings. Some people argue that social media apps, like Snapchat and Instagram, should be introduced to an older demographic to limit any psychological damage that can be caused by surreal standards set on said apps. It also depends on whether filters are the cause of body dysmorphia and related illnesses, as other people dispute that filters are not on trial. Still, the continual progression of social media should be.
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