Social Media, Beauty Filters and the Rise of Insecurities in Gen Z

Has the craze about app filters gone too far? Are they fun or frightening? How do they make you feel about yourself?

Social Media, Beauty Filters and the Rise of Insecurities in Gen Z (Jeremy Bezanger via Unsplash)

There is a direct link between beauty filters and the rise in Gen Z’s insecurities — and young people aren’t happy about it. Recently, the generation has turned to social media platforms like Instagram, Tiktok and Twitter to express their dissatisfaction.

Let’s be real, people have used beauty filters to hide imperfections and enhance their looks. So then what is the problem with the filters? The problem arises when filters make users think their noses are too big or lips are too thin; creating new insecurities or inflaming old ones. Apart from erasing imperfections and providing a charming aesthetic, filters have evolved from being enjoyable ways to take pictures and videos to a sinister avenue for virtual plastic surgery.

The majority of the platforms’ filters give users a “nose job,” whiten skin complexions and make faces smaller and skinnier. Other filters like the “beauty filter” on TikTok and the “belle” filter on Instagram, completely alter users’ faces by erasing pores, increasing the size of the lips and altering the shape of the eyes. 

These filters are inherently racist. Take it from Seven King, a 17-year-old online social activist and content creator from Houston, who creates infographics on Instagram and TikTok videos about Black people and history. 

“Filters are just another way of making sure that no one can point out our imperfections. But there’s no reason a filter should change the structure of your face. A lot of filters are white-washed, which can be very harmful to Black people and other people of color. I used a lot of those types of filters during quarantine and had to struggle extremely hard to love my Afrocentric features again,” said King. 

Nose shrinking and skin lightening filters like “snow white” and “pure baby face” on Instagram are known for promoting Eurocentric beauty standards. They reinforce racism through colorism by promoting lighter skin and eurocentric features at the expense of people with darker skin and ethnic features. These filters also exaggerate the flaws of their users, primarily young people who place a high value on their appearance. 

Most beauty filters, unlike the “angel core” and “razr cam” filters, act as a mask, completely changing the appearance of their users. When this mask is removed, many are left feeling unattractive and undesirable. Not only that, but these digital beauty augmentations also draw attention to minor details that individuals previously overlooked, causing them to obsess over features they were born with.

A recent report explained how young girls feel inferior looks-wise, as a result of these filters. The girls relied on the filters to create appealing photos and videos, which led to increased filter use and exposure, spreading the problem.

And these filters are not consistent with reality, they can be deceptive. It’s even gotten to the point where people are afraid to reveal their unfiltered faces in public places. They are frightened of being labeled as a “catfish” and not looking the same in person. 

Marshalee McLean, a 17-year-old podcaster from New York, said continuous use of beauty filters can trick us into thinking that the overly edited versions we see through the screen are how we are supposed to look. As someone committed to making tangible change through open dialogue and social awareness (online and in-person), she restricts herself from using beauty filters.

“Coming from a place of low self-confidence, filters didn’t make it any better. I started to compare myself and wonder why I didn’t look like what the filter made me look like. It was so depressing,” said McLean. “Filters are so damn addictive. There was a time when I didn’t take not one picture without them. Let’s be honest, Gen Z values looks. Even though we are more of a ‘freer, more liberated generation’ we still have these internal desires to be desired and perceived as attractive. Those feelings don’t just go away.” 

It’s okay to have acne or a big nose. It’s fine if your face isn’t symmetrical. You don’t need to lighten your skin or have big lips to be beautiful. We are all beautiful in our own way. It would be ideal if platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, refrained from creating such harmful filters, but we shouldn’t let our self-worth be determined by them. Our imperfections are usually what makes us unique. So next time you want to use a filter, think about how you’ll feel after using it. 

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