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How has the rise of filters and social media affected our perceptions of beauty and self worth?

by Aiden

Plus, ways to counter body image and mental health issues that stem from this.

By: Pooja Sachdev

Nowadays, all sorts of technology is readily available to most of the world’s younger generations, which I’ve experienced for myself as a member of Gen-Z. While this is an amazing thing, it has a lot of downsides as well, especially when it comes to social media, which is accessible to virtually everyone who owns a device. Though there are many great uses for social media, it can also destroy one’s mental health. Studies have shown that approximately 53.6 percent of the world’s population uses social media, while 90 percent of teenagers aged 13-17 claim to have used social media at some point in their lives. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), teenagers are active on social media for almost nine hours a day, excluding the usage of social media for homework. 

Now don’t get me wrong, social media has various benefits, such as: 

  • Meeting new friends and staying connected to them;
  • Sharing and expressing your work, music, or other details of your life with others;
  • Building a business;
  • Finding community and support for activities and other interests with likeminded individuals.

However, social media also has a long list of potential risks, such as:

  • Exposure to dangerous people or harmful and inappropriate content;
  • Cyberbullying;
  • Identity theft;
  • Interference with sleep, exercise, homework, etc.;
  • Privacy concerns;
  • Changing the way people (especially the youth) see themselves, leading to insecurity.

The latter is crucial to be aware of, as young adults are growing up and learning through their usage of social media. Everyone has a different definition of beauty, and with the often unachievable standards of ‘beauty’ seen on social media, teens and young adults increasingly want to be or feel ‘perfect.’ The use of certain filters or face apps to make our faces symmetrical, make our lips bigger, our waists smaller, give us flawless skin, etc., completely differs to how we look in reality. This is also known as catfishing, an increasing phenomenon in our digitised age where oftentimes, we initially, or solely, interact with people online.

More and more young people have access to these kinds of filters that ‘beautify’ their appearance to make them look like models or other social media influencers that they feel they ought to be like. This makes it harder for people to tell who the person really is, or what they look like behind their screens. People constantly aspire to look like influencers on social media, and this leads to insecurity. This causes young adults to download new apps or filters to change the way their appearance is by shrinking, sharpening, recolouring, and enhancing their faces and bodies in just a few taps and swipes. It functions almost as a virtual plastic surgeon! How can we tell what’s real or not? The truth is, sometimes we can’t, unless we really know the person and have seen them in real life.  Child psychiatrist Dr. Helen Egger says that “these face filters are using algorithms to reinforce a certain standard of beauty that is very narrow.”

All of this is damaging to our mental health and a way to combat this is self love, which is easier said than done. It is becoming increasingly challenging to love yourself for your appearance in this generation. If we find love in ourselves and appreciate who we are and how we look, people won’t need to justify themselves to fall in line with society’s impossible ‘beauty standards’. With its toll on mental health, and rising body image issues and body dysmorphia among the youth of today, campaigns have been launched, such as the the #Filterdrop Campaign (founded by Sasha Pallari) which has helped raise awareness about the issues arising from the use of filters, and aims to encourage as many people as possible to not depend on filters. 

Certain countries have also made strides in combatting the damaging to our mental health in this situation by reinforcing different rules when it comes to social media. For instance, in Scandinavia, there’s a new law where influencers now have to legally list all the filters or apps they use to edit their photos. This could help other people who look up to the influencers to know that a lot of photos/videos are edited. If other countries follow suit, this could really help in revealing the ugly truth behind the ‘beauty’ we see on social media.

Teenagers and those affected can also download apps which help with their depression and body dysmorphia. A few include:

  • notOK – an app developed by a struggling teenager along with her teenage brother, users can add up to five contacts as part of their support group so when they hit the “panic button,” a message and their GPS location will be sent to them. 
  • What’s Up – an app that uses cognitive behavioural therapy methods to help people cope with depression and anxiety. 
  • Recovery Record – a great app for anyone who wants to recover from an eating disorder and develop a more positive body image.
  • Rise up and Recover – an app that allows you to track your meals and how you feel when you eat them. 
  • Headspace – an app for meditation, where people are able to learn hundreds of skills of mindfulness and meditation.
  • Ten Percent Happier – an app with more than five hundred guided meditations on topics such as anxiety, stress, parenting, sleep, etc. 
  • Quit That! – an app that helps users beat their habits or addictions. 
  • BLAHTHERAPY (Chathub) – A talkspace where people can vent or listen to strangers who need advice or have problems. 

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