Have you ever been sitting with someone who takes a film far too literally – and fails to remember, when getting cross about some minor detail, that the entire thing is a work of fiction?
You know the kind: they’ll mention that a car has inappropriate tyres for the terrain… but not mention the herd of dinosaurs that have just run by. Well, I fear that’s exactly where we are heading with filters on social media; that we’re struggling to remember a lot of what we see is fiction.
“Bold Glamour” is everywhere – not just on people’s faces and your FYP (For You Page) on TikTok, but it’s being written about on social media, too. Some users claim it could negatively impact on users’ mental health, low self-esteem and body dysmorphia. One person warned: “Imagine all the teenage girls who will start using the scarily good ‘bold glamour’ filter on TikTok and feel like they need to obtain this certain standard of beauty. This is not good for your mental health.”
While I appreciate those concerns, I think people are largely missing the point. Filters aren’t real, and we all know that. We should treat them like we treat any other sort of “cosplay”, or dressing up.
I don’t use filters on anything online, even though I know they would definitely smooth any lines and make my jaw and cheekbones better defined. But in real life I don’t have filters, so why am I hoodwinking people on a platform to pretend my eyes are in different places? It feels like a colossal waste of time. Plus, I have had a bad personal experience with filters: an unfortunate incident where I met someone in real life and they looked completely different.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the “play” aspect of them. If you haven’t tried this filter yet, let me describe it to you: it’s the modern day equivalent of Pimp My Ride, where a lot of unnecessary extras are stuck onto someone’s face via a filter to make them look different. I tried it. It wasn’t me looking back at me. It was definitely a fictional character with impressive eyebrows. But I took it with a huge pinch of salt – and you should too.
Here’s the thing: filters are fiction. Some put glitter and butterflies on your face and some make you look “better” (well, different at least). We all know that a lot of what we see on social media isn’t real. In a lot of cases, it’s a snapshot of a so-called “perfect” life, when the rest of our lives are full of chaos. It’s the rare moment when a child isn’t screaming and someone wants to pretend they have their life together. It’s not a real representation of life. And we should remember that.
It‘s nothing new: there’s even a trend titled “Instagram vs Reality” that highlights it. So, why can’t we add our own “fiction” label to what we see online? Why can’t we teach ourselves to view social media in the same way as we view a TV programme or film, where we know the people aren’t like that “in real life” – but we can still enjoy the ride (rather than beating ourselves up when we see someone’s life or face appear on the screen and wonder why we aren’t like that).
Social media didn’t invent airbrushing. And, you could argue, filters aren’t that different from make-up, either. We don’t make people wearing make-up stick a label on their forehead saying “not real”, do we? We don’t have to. And any concerns about their influence on younger people are simple: put age limits on them.
We need to become more aware – for ourselves, not for anyone else. We need to remind ourselves to stop taking things at face value. But maybe we should also be asking ourselves one crucial question, too: why we “need” filters, at all.