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Am I the Latest Victim of Filter Dysmorphia?

“I look horrible! Put a filter on!” my friend said one day as I took out my phone for a photo of us. The sentence at first seemed absurd to me, coming from her especially. She, with not a pimple in sight, with makeup and hair done and the owner of enviable facial features. She, who all of these things considered looked anything but horrible, was scared of presenting herself online as she appeared. That is: unfiltered and undistorted.

But is this sentence- and the place it stems from- that wild? Snap to a recent shoot I did where I was required to take a selfie for the client to approve my makeup. “Oh my god, I can’t send this photo”, I told the makeup artist. “Look at my pores. This is too real for me”, I commented of her high res selfie camera. To which the makeup artist (bless her!) replied, “You really shouldn’t be so insecure about your gorgeousness”. Which is true, I was slowly becoming more and more insecure of my IRL appearance and I had no idea until that moment.

The truth is: smoothing out my flaws on photo editing software or with filters is so habitual it’s almost a shock to see my face in imperfect high res glory. The unofficial name for this mentality is filter dysmorphia. This digital version of body dysmorphia is more rampant than ever these days, and my friend and I are it’s latest victims.

Dr Keith Ladner explains how it happens: “When [people] create these versions of themselves and post them on social media they tend to get an influx of ‘likes’ and positive comments. Of course, this makes them feel good, leading them to want to look like their ‘perfect selfie’ in real life.” I.e: We get more likes when we look like the Bratz Doll version of ourselves, and this makes us strive to this ideal IRL or feel bad that we don’t actually look like this.

The harm comes when seeing yourself without a filter or taking a photo without a filter is shocking or rare to you.

The term dysmorphia “refers to an obsession with the perceived flaws in one’s face or body”. Following a spike in requests for plastic surgery or non-surgical enhancements that mimic popular Instagram and Snapchat filters, cosmetic professionals have coined the trend filter dysmorphia. This obsession with living up to this virtual beauty ideal is so widespread and normalized it’s hardly a topic of conversation and bringing it up elicits eyerolls of massive proportions. Not because it’s not a problem but because what’s the point? It won’t make you stop using them, and tbh it won’t make me either.

But the conclusion of this post isn’t to get you to stop using your favourite filter. After all, I know of course that when I use a filter anyone who sees it is aware that it’s not real (I hope so at least) and you know that when you use one, I know it’s not real either (at least I hope so). So what’s the harm? The harm comes when seeing yourself without a filter or taking a photo without a filter is shocking or rare to you. I won’t badger you with some trite diatribe on why you’re perfect the way you are (EVEN THOUGH IT’S TRUE), or why plastic surgery is the devil – that’s your business, boo.

Once in a while it’s good to get to know our undistorted, be-spotted selves.

I will however say that only you will know when your use of filters masks more than your physical insecurities and is actually a band aid to deeper emotional and mental ones. The truth is: filtering your flaws won’t fix your self-esteem, it will only make them appear bigger to you. Once in a while it’s good to get to know our undistorted, be-spotted, pored, bumpy, non-sparkly selves and make peace that at the end of the day everyone else has to as well. Whether we see that version of them or not. Because it’s true babe : you really shouldn’t be so insecure about your gorgeousness.


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