Thought Leadership
  • Content marketing

Selfie culture: The effects of facial filters on self-image

Hayley Smith
19th March 2019

  • From flower crowns to puppy ears, facial filters are here to stay

  • Surgeons are seeing a rise in patients who want to look better in selfies

  • Is the Snapchat generation going too far when it comes to facial filters?

On 15 September 2015, Snapchat gave its users a gift they never knew they needed: the ultimate selfie booster. Snapchat introduced its latest feature allowing users to send each other photos with animated filters that responded to their facial movements. These ‘lenses’ were activated through the app when using the phone’s forward-facing camera, holding a finger down on their face and choosing between puppy ears or being able to vomit rainbows.

Users were able to drastically alter their selfies with the click of a button. However, some of these lenses, which are also known as facial filters, were more subtle than being able to blast laser beams out of your eyes. The now-famous flower crown proved to be a favourite and became a worldwide fashion craze which saw users wearing the festival-inspired hair decoration.

Unlike the process of transforming someone's face into a cute dog or deer, you wouldn't have thought that adding a simple accessory to a selfie would necessarily have a marked effect on the actual structure of your features...

Snapchat's secret nips and tucks

But as it turns out, even the simplest of facial filters make pretty substantial changes to someone's appearance. When wearing the flower crown filter, artificial intelligence is not only used to track and fit a head accessory but it also instantly smooths skin, contours cheekbones and brightens eyes. They are just some of many examples of Snapchat’s lenses that offer instant retouches to your face.

One facial filter that is particularly guilty of instantly altering an entire face is the ‘blue colour tone’ lens also known as the 'beauty Filter'. And yes, I am guilty of using it. With one click of a button, all of your imperfections disappear. Do I want those dark circles under my eyes gone or need to hide that spot on my chin? No problem. This facial filter transforms your face into a totally refined and desirable version of yourself. A process that is not too dissimilar to the way a magazine might Photoshop a celebrity.


And since 2015, it's not just Snapchat that has adapted to the demand for facial features. Apps such as Instagram and Facebook have also introduced their own range of digital enhancements. An abundance of apps now offers the chance to hide insecurities with the click of a button. Showing a filter-free face to the public is a thing of the past and running selfies through a photo editor like FaceTune, or applying a facial filter on social media is becoming standard.

Instead of celebrating individuality and unique traits, we are masking them with a veil of standardised facial filters to enhance attractiveness. Anyone under the age of 20 will undoubtedly have a handful of pictures on their social media with some kind of facial filter applied from the likes of Snapchat or Instagram. Which is completely understandable - who wouldn’t want a chiselled jawline, slim nose and perfectly smooth complexion? Without having any tech or editing knowledge anyone can digitally modify their appearance for free.

A face filter too far?

But what happens when your non-filtered face becomes a sobering reality? Last year, scientists coined the term ‘Snapchat dysmorphia’ after surgeons saw a rise in young people turning to cosmetic procedures to look more like their altered selfies. New research from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons saw a growing demand for cosmetic procedures. In 2017, 55% of facial plastic surgeons saw patients who wanted surgery to help them look better in selfies, compared to just 13% in 2013.

Gone are the days when patients wish to look like their idealised celebrities; instead, they want to look like a retouched version of themselves. Angelina Jolie no longer has the perfectly sculpted nose; your beautified selfie does. Surgeons have seen an increase in patients bringing in photographs of themselves with a facial filter applied, seeking surgery that replicates the perfected photo in real life.

There are many factors that can influence someone to opt for surgical intervention to alter their appearance, but could one of them be beautifying facial features on social media? A staggering 63% of 13 to 17-year-olds use Instagram daily, and 54% go on Snapchat. These teenagers are consistently exposed to facial filters that perpetuate seemingly unobtainable beauty standards.

This isn’t meant to be read as an attack on Snapchat’s creation. I have no objection to using a pair of augmented reality sunglasses to cover up how tired I look. Rather this is meant to be an eye-opener to the detrimental effects that living through filter tinted glasses can have.

Want to understand more about the digital marketing landscape?

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