Last month Instagram announced the ban of the filters mimicking the effects of plastic surgery on a face. So, what is the problem? It’s just filters, right?
Seeing stunning images on Instagram might seem like an innocent thing to do. However, being exposed to certain images can imperceptibly alter our understanding of what is beautiful and damage our psychological health.
In May 1999 the New York Times came out with a very curious article. It summarized studies done in previous years regarding the changes in Fijian society after the introduction of television there.
The thing is, TV had only appeared on the island in 1995 and, prior to this event, a round face and curvy body was regarded as beautiful for both men and women.
This situation changed rapidly after locals started to watch “Beverly Hills 90210”. Three years of exposure to the images of thin women was enough to make 50 per cent of Fijian 17-year-old girls to develop eating disorders such as deliberately vomiting food for the sake of losing weight.
Moreover, girls who had been watching TV more than three times a week were half as likely to describe themselves in positive words than those who watched TV less.
These publications, summarized by the New York Times, show that what we see is tremendously important for the formation of self-image. In this light, what can we say about the influence of Instagram on our mental wellbeing?
A recent research conducted at Flinders University, Australia, in 2016 revealed that seeing attractive images can be detrimental for women’s mood and self-perception.
Another study on this topic was made at New York University in 2017. Scientist Jennifer Mills, who carried out the research, comments, “They [young women] felt worse about their own appearance after looking at social media pages of someone that they perceived to be more attractive than them. Even if they felt bad about themselves before they came into the study, on average, they still felt worse after completing the task.”
This gets even worse when the line between the reality and fantasy is blurred by the filters. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in 2017, 55 per cent of surgeons reported having patients who named selfie-taking as a reason for wanting their services.
This is how it works: a woman takes a selfie with the filter, then takes the photo to a doctor to achieve the look in the reality. Instagram’s filter ban is thus not necessarily a bad thing. But is it enough?
Mary McGill, a researcher from National University of Ireland Galway notes that “The issue goes way beyond a few filters to a range of practices and norms that sites like Instagram have introduced into our lives.” The practices she is referring to is treating our bodies and faces as objects for constant evolution.
This reinforces the old patriarchal idea that women exist for pleasing men – aesthetically and sexually. So how about the filters which make skin lighter? What about FaceTune? The ban of ‘plastic surgery’ filters is a good step, but without removing all other “beautifying” apps, what difference does it make? Instagram’s ban on filters may seem trivial, but it is a step towards and recognition of the importance of self-love.
Image: areeva 123 via Flickr