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You but better? Not so fast. Unpacking TikTok's controversial 'Bold Glamour' filter

Experts worry about the negative impact TikTok's viral
Experts worry about the negative impact TikTok's viral Bold Glamour filter can have on body image. (Photo: zhangsta via TikTok)

Hira Mustafa is no stranger to the dangers of beauty filters, recalling the few quick fixes she learned to make to her pictures with a photo editing app in high school, which ultimately led to an unhealthy body image fixation.

"These were little changes, you know, and it's basically me but it's just a little bit enhanced. And then every time I went to edit one of my photos, I would have to do the same steps so it'd be a consistent image," she tells Yahoo Life. "My routine got so long, that it'd be like 10 different things that I had to do to an image of myself to match this appearance that I was building."

Mustafa, now 26 and working as a content creator in the beauty space, explains that she started to believe that the curated version of her images was what she really looked like.

"You look at yourself in the mirror, and it's a different person," she says. "You become a lot more critical of yourself and you start to nitpick at yourself to a whole different level. And I noticed myself doing that."

With the latest "Bold Glamour" filter gaining popularity on TikTok, she's worried about just how many people will experience that same feeling as a result of the pressures and prevalence of social media.

The 16.4 million videos created with the filter — which slims the nose, sculpts cheekbones, creates fuller lips, smooths skin and applies contour and smoky eyeshadow — illustrate its ubiquity. And with so many people praising how beautiful they look with the AI generated filter, it's difficult to ignore its impact on beauty standards for young people, in particular.

"Filters create an unattainable standard for beauty that can’t be matched in real life. Human beings have pores in their skin, asymmetry in their faces, wrinkles after a certain age, stretch marks, cellulite and bodies that aren't 'perfect,'" Florida-based psychologist Carolyn Rubenstein tells Yahoo Life. "When someone sees their face in a filter, that can become the standard they wish to live up to."

While the existence of a beauty standard isn't new, its pervasiveness is unique to social media.

"I was eight years old 40 years ago, and the thin ideal and beauty standards were a thing, but they were a thing that we saw maybe in movies or on TV, or at the magazine stand in the grocery store," Dr. Kimberly Dennis, chief medical officer at SunCloud Health, a mental health treatment center, tells Yahoo Life. "Kids today are getting a more intense version, a more toxic version and so, so, so much more pervasively."

Snapchat was the first to introduce the real-time special effects with the launch of "lenses" in 2016, which used facial recognition technology to alter a user's image. Even the famous dog filter, which seemed harmless at the time, was enticing because it gave the appearance of smooth skin and an elongated, chiseled facial structure. It's no wonder that it became viral as people found themselves more willingly taking selfies with the filter on, rather than off.

"Social media apps exploit the natural insecurities of young people," Dennis says. "It's further selling them on this idea that there's something wrong with how you look. That you are not good enough without some way, shape or form of changing your body, changing your appearance, altering or enhancing."

The extreme nature of these enhancements is more evident with the rollout of the Bold Glamour filter, which provides a more drastic alteration on the face of the person using it. With the use of advanced technology, however, it's somehow less detectable as well.

Angela Zhang is one TikTok creator who pointed this out in a video that has garnered seven million views as of Wednesday afternoon. She tells Yahoo Life that she found herself curious about the differences she perceived in the function of this particular filter from others.

"With the traditional filters, when you put your hand in front of your face it immediately kind of gives away that you have a filter, you have something layered on top of your face. Because you see like the lipstick tint or the eyeliner and eyelashes floating," she says. "But this filter, with all the girls and guys that were using it, people will be touching their face, they'll be putting their hand in front of their lips or trying to smudge their eyebrows and it's just like their face."

Zhang credited Luke Hurd, a TikToker who creates AR filters, for helping her understand the phenomenon. Hurd's page features his own in-depth analysis of Bold Glamour where he talks about the machine learning technology that makes it so "next level."

"This actually takes the camera image itself and then processes it. It does track your face," Hurd said in his video, noting that traditional filters simply overlay a 3D mesh that's taught to find your face within a two-dimensional screen.

"It's the most seamless," Zhang adds.

Dennis worries that that's a big part of the problem.

"I'm a big believer in informed consent as a physician and I think that's one of the huge problems for this and so much of social media. When you're downloading these filters on these apps, it's not like a warning pops up," she says. "For people with a certain set of risk factors, these kinds of filters, these kinds of messages that you are not good enough, you have to change how you look, you will never be accepted, can worsen depression, worsen suicidal thoughts, worsen people with disordered eating or body image issues."

Because as easy as the filters are to apply online, the ability to actually resemble them in real life is one that would take extreme measures.

"When a person uses filters on most pictures, their authentic self tends to become subpar in their eyes," Rubenstein explains. "Because the filter is so unrealistic, seeing oneself without it can feel like a letdown and cause negative self-esteem. A person might spend excessive time in front of a mirror picking apart things they don’t like, they may take excessive pictures of themselves, or obsess over others on social media who seem to have the perfect looks. They may turn to cosmetic surgery to look more like their filtered self. Others may resort to extreme dieting to mimic the ‘body tune’ portion that some filters offer, which slims and shapes the figure. Others might feel anxious about going out where they must show their real face and body and fear it won't be sufficient."

This wasn't the intent of the filter's creators at TikTok.

"Creative effects offer our community a creative medium for self expression. As with all effects on TikTok, videos featuring the Bold Glamour effect are disclosed with a tag directly on the video, so users can transparently see which effects are used," a TikTok spokesperson tells Yahoo Life.

Nevertheless, more people are speaking out about the inherent danger of the look being popularized across TikTok feeds, including Katie Couric who said, "Use them wisely or preferably not at all."

"Appearing as beautiful as possible to exist is a really dangerous message to send, particularly to young kids," Mustafa says. "That this is just a part of requirements of their life to look appealing to other people, even if it's not particularly appealing to themselves. I want people to feel beautiful, no matter where they're coming from and what they decide to do with their bodies."

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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