• Sun, 10, Nov, 2019 - 5:00:AM

This is not what real people look like

Me, pre-filter and post-filter / Instagram

I didn’t think I would need to say this. Hell, I didn’t think I would need to be told this.

I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by body positive peers and platforms so developing a slight case of face dysphoria wasn’t something I expected.

But here we are.

Recently, Instagram launched an engagement model where certain accounts can design and release face filters for people to use on their stories, if they follow the creator.

Some filters are really fun (think holographic skin, orbiting planets, raining money) so I jumped on the filter train and spent two weeks experimenting with each one in my arsenal.

One day I wanted to take a selfie with my brother, but the seemingly quick process was hampered by my search for the perfect filter.

“Why don’t we just take a regular picture?”

And “because I look ugly without the filter,” instinctively fell out of my mouth.

Hearing my inner doubts voiced aloud made me pause and question the role of filters in my online life. I’d never thought of myself as ugly before. But all of a sudden, I was hyper-aware of how thin my eyebrows were and how big my nose was.

Of course, my eyebrows were only thin and my nose was only big in comparison to the person I became with a filter. (Not the fun, ‘ridiculous to the point of being harmless’ filters either.)

The filters that stoked my insecurities were the ones that served no purpose other than to provide a full face of makeup and contouring in a second. These face-modifying filters puff up your lips, shape your eyebrows, thin your nose and splash a healthy blush on your cheeks in the click of a button.

It’s flattering and uplifting to see such a glamourous version of yourself reflected back at you. And I’m all for a confidence booster, so long as that confidence doesn’t hinge on the face that’s staring back at you.

Facial modification filters create a near-unattainable beauty standard for women. I say for women because the features that are exaggerated the most, like eyelashes and lips, are conventionally associated with feminine beauty standards.

The filters might be new, but the marketing tactics are as old as the cosmetic industry itself. First came airbrushing, then retouched photos, and now facial modification filters. They’re all ways of communicating how ‘flawed’ women are, and that with just a bit of makeup, or plastic surgery, or adjustments to our face, we could look so much better. So much more beautiful.

Every person on the platform, which includes children as young as thirteen, can be exposed to these enhanced versions of themselves. For younger and more vulnerable users, it can be difficult to separate the meticulously curated beauty standards online from what ordinary people have available to them. 

I’m working to unlearn what I’ve subconsciously picked up from social media (repeat after me: your eyebrows are fine, put down the pencil) but constant exposure to these ideals can quickly lead to body image and confidence issues before you know it. 

So, I’m here to say: this is not what real people look like.

I’m not blaming Instagram, shaming those who use makeup, or suggesting the filters be removed. We can all appreciate the feel-good vibes that come from getting dolled up with makeup, and the filters are essentially a quick hit of those (did I mention that they’re also really entertaining?)

But they’re not the definition of beauty. Airbrushed, contoured faces are beautiful, but so are faces under sunlight that falls just-so, and so are faces wrinkled in laughter.

The next time we are compelled to strive for beauty, let’s consider what ‘beauty’ even entails.

The beauty on the screen is computer-generated.

The beauty we all have in our most natural, unadorned form is imperfect, authentic and wonderfully human — and that’s how it should be.


  • Instagram /
  • filter /
  • Body Dysmorphia /
  • Body Image /
  • Selfies /
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