Sexualizing Snapchat filters
The popular picture-sharing app Snapchat is rapidly becoming the answer to a number of existential questions. Where am I? Say no more: there’s a geofilter for every remotely interesting landmark you care to document. What time is it? Don’t worry, Snapchat will boldly stamp your picture of a dark room with the time to let everyone know you have insomnia at 3 AM. What’s going on today? No problem, Snapchat will surely feature several celebrity stories to remind you that the VMAs are on later. How can I adhere myself to a conventional standard of beauty? Well, with its widely expanding set of filters, Snapchat again has your back!
Snapchat has quickly become a staple of communication and social media. Since its launch in 2011, it is now known as one of the most popular apps used today, sporting over 100 million active users and nine thousand snaps sent per second, according to Verily Magazine. In 2015, Snapchat introduced Lenses. Commonly referred to as “filters,” this feature allows the user to alter their image in numerous ways. When applying the filters, users can become a killer bunny, an adorable puppy, and now, thanks to a number of beautifying filters, a better version of themselves.
The use of specific Snapchat filters have invited many widespread instances of slut shaming and mockery. In particular, Affinity Magazine points out that use of the puppy or crown filters are often judged heavily by others, to the point of the lenses being deemed “hoe” filters. While this phenomenon is mostly covered by pop-culture publications without any scientific grounds, the negative mindset against these filters has been observed by both men and women. Indeed, the filters conventionally used by women have been bashed by male-centric Twitter accounts, like the Meninist feed. This account posts tweets that all revolve around the sexualization and objectification of females; the username alone is poking fun at women and feminist ideals. Unfortunately, even as girls use the filters specifically targeted towards them, Snapchat has unknowingly provided yet another set of means with which to degrade women.
Many of the aforementioned beauty filters have become less of a fun and harmless feature of Snapchat, and more of an instance retouch of the user’s face. Upon use, Elite Daily found that many filters will subtly modify the image taken: cheeks will be slimmed down, noses narrowed, and eyes widened. Blemishes are smoothed out, as are freckles and any other facial marks deemed unsightly by modern society. The Independent, along with multiple other online publications, has also noticed that many of Snapchat’s beautifying filters tend to lighten the user’s skin, inciting criticism that Snapchat is synonymizing beauty with white skin. Critics debate, yet one notion still stands: using the beautifying filters often confines women to one standard of beauty.
What’s most disturbing is that these modifications are so subtle that most are unaware of the changes being made to their appearance. Coming from an app originally desirable for its capture of the raw and unedited aspects of everyday life, the unconscious reworking of images allows further insecurities to develop among young women. Spending extensive time and extra effort applying special effects to one’s face also takes the user further from reality for a longer period of time, betraying the honesty the app originally intended to preserve. In addition, many celebrities like Ariana Grande and Kylie Jenner endlessly promote the filters, leaving the average user wondering why they cannot emulate the same presumed flawlessness in their own lives. The normalization of “effortless” perfection when so much of Snapchat’s content has in fact been edited can promote dangerous ideas and expectations about body image. Besides the harmful mental effect, Eurekalert notes that such a process of disillusionment can lead to eating disorders and a bodily dissatisfaction across men and women alike. As a reinforcement of the legitimacy of this phenomenon, in 2011 the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy to reduce the retouching of images. With this in mind, it is surprising that in 2016, we are the ones editing now ourselves voluntarily, contradicting the body positive movements currently trending throughout the nation.
In the spirit of using Snapchat as an honest depiction of everyday experiences, users should consider the implications of the filters behind their daily selfies. Confidence is key in this generation, yet this does not negate the reluctance of many people to post any picture without some sort of edit, be it a lighting adjustment, cropped edges, and yes, now a Snapchat filter. Yet if external appearance continues to be voluntarily tweaked and edited, how is bodily acceptance ever to be achieved? Before Snapchat filters, the edits of images in the media were out of our control. Now, we have a choice. Perhaps after years of viewing idealistic images behind a filter, maybe humans should choose, finally, to allow themselves to exist without one.
Catherine Colgan is a first-year exploratory major who respects people who can give a silly face sans filter. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.