Why Using Dramatic Filters May Do More Harm Than You Think


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Let’s be honest… Using filters on social media is fun. It’s cool to transform your background into a shimmering wonderland, channel your inner ‘70s babe, or see what you’d look like with freckles, rainbow hair, or skin so glossy it could belong to a dolphin. At the same time, it’s good to be mindful of how consistent exposure to appearance-changing apps might impact the way you perceive yourself.

Beauty Standards: A 21st Century Tug & Pull

There’s something interesting happening right now in regard to modern-day beauty standards. On one end of the spectrum, we’re enjoying a celebration of diverse beauty including a greater acceptance of different body types and better inclusion of skin tones, facial features, and hair textures. Full-blown body positivity and skin positivity moments have gained momentum, and we don’t see that slowing down anytime soon.

On the other end of the spectrum, we’re also seeing a sort of homogenous beauty “ideal” emerge. Also known as the “Instaface,” this look is characterized by high cheekbones, contoured jawlines, pouty full lips, big sparkling eyes, and poreless skin. Obviously, not everyone is born with these features… But with a little digital nip and tuck, it’s possible to fake all the above.

To be fair, social media filters and tuning apps are really just the new versions of editorial Photoshopping. Back in the day, glossy mags were (and some still are) notorious for their vigorous retouching, which often made celebs look taller, leaner, smoother, and younger.

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The good news is that most of us are much more aware of the fact that this kind of editing occurs in magazines, advertisements, and on social media. The downside? Filters and effects are now everywhere. Not only are we exposed to them every single day by simply signing onto TikTok, IG, or Facebook, but we all can tweak our own pics. That’s a lot of power!

The Upside of Using Filters

When someone has a good sense of self-worth and self-esteem, filters can be fun and effective. “For example, if you take a trip with your best friend and tweak the picture so its looks ‘cooler’ just for fun, there’s nothing harmful about that,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist based in New York City. “Or if you have a picture you love of yourself in a bathing suit, but you have a big black and blue mark on your thigh that you want to banish, there’s no harm in that.”


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Also, you can improve the lighting, contrast, color, and overall quality of an image with filters, which often makes your photos more captivating. They can help you build a brand, look more professional, or indulge your creative side.

Signs That Social Media Filters Have Impacted Your Self-Esteem


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Like we said, it’s fun to play with filters. But at what point do we cross the line from messing around or using them as a tool to being impacted at a deeper level? Dr. Hafeez says that if you often experience any of the following, it could be a sign that your self-esteem has already been affected:

  • Not feeling like your real-life image can measure up to the filtered one on social media.
  • Being fearful of posting the real you or yourself in candid, unfiltered moments.
  • Taking countless pictures and not being satisfied with most (or any) of them.
  • Tweaking your images until you feel one is ‘acceptable’ to post.
  • Deleting images of yourself if they don’t get “likes” and/or basing self-esteem on the number of likes your photos get.
  • Obsessively comparing your pictures to those of your friends or influencers.
  • Making lists of features or body parts that need to be “fixed.”
  • Feeling shocked/hypercritical when you see an unedited photo of yourself posted by someone else. (Nobody likes an unflattering picture, but if you have this reaction every time you see a candid image then it’s worth exploring that.)
  • Never posting a candid shot of yourself without filtering or editing.
  • Feeling that the unfiltered you will be inadequate for those who see you in real life.

Tips to Improve Your Relationship with Filters

Do any of the above signs sound vaguely familiar? If so, you’re definitely not the only one feeling that way. Filters are everywhere, and many people feel like they have to live up to a certain standard in order to post an image of themselves.

If you’ve been living that Marianna Hewitt filtered life (who hasn’t now and again?) and are seeking ways to embrace your more candid side — which is totally gorgeous — try making a conscientious effort to deviate. “If you feel brave enough, start an ‘exercise’ in posting unfiltered pictures of yourself,” suggests Dr. Hafeez. “If you don’t feel comfortable releasing them to everyone, share them with your closest friends and family and see the reaction that you get. Get to know the real you once again.”

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Some other ways to feel comfortable with your unfiltered self:

  • Ask your friends to take candid images of you versus being in control of the selfie or image.
  • Instead of being quick to criticize yourself, point out something positive.
  • Post an unflattering image. On purpose!
  • Compliment your friends and fam when they post unfiltered images.
  • Follow social media accounts where filters aren’t heavily used. Body and skin positivity accounts can open your eyes to more realistic images of what people look like. Some good ones are @nonairbrushedme and @skinpositivitymovement.
  • Practice loving who you are every day, whether that means taking time for self-care or pumping yourself up in front of the mirror.

What are your thoughts on using social media filters? Let’s discuss in the comments.