lnstagram Filters and Their Effect on Body Image
lnstagram Filters and Their Effect on Body Image
With US culture at the epicentre of contemporary globalisation, backed by an extensive history of Western imperialism across the world, Eurocentrism has shaped our perceptions of beauty in every crevice of the globe. Lightening and bleaching creams are very common in African and Asian countries, with about 40% of African women using them. Beauty products ads in Africa often make use of white and fair skinned models even though the target audience is predominantly dark skinned. The Eurocentric ideal of slim body, blonde hair, pointed nose, high cheekbones is rooted in racism and sexism, allotting how much value to be ascribed to a woman based on how much she adheres to this standard. We have seen this play out in how features such as Afro-textured hair were once deemed offensive and employers enforcing appearance-based policies on female employees. From time immemorial, women’s looks have been heavily policed, from deciding in the 1890s that women in the UK must cover their bodies in public, to jailing a women’s activist – Luisa Capetillo – for wearing trousers, even up recently with the banning of the burkinis in the South of France.
Instagram is an image-driven app that allows you to build an audience for yourself based on your interest and presentation, and this is the basis of the Instagram culture. The permeation of the western influence has seeped into Instagram with the proliferation of the ‘Instagram face.’ This face is a cyborgian face that is Kardashian-esque with distinctive smooth racially ambiguous skin, long eyelashes, absence of eye wrinkles, small, pointed nose, and full lush lips. This face is achievable with the use of beauty filters which are popular on social sites like Instagram and Snapchat. At the touch of a screen icon, a filter will lighten your skin, give a defined jawline, and transform you into an airbrushed version of yourself. On black skin, these filters such as Reyes filter lighten the skin so much that you’d think the skin was bleached. There’s a whitewashing to black people’s images by these filters that cannot be ignored. Filter is the new bleach was Dawn Richard’s response to accusations of her bleaching after posting a filtered picture.
The population of these filtered, whitewashed images on Instagram has caused an upsurge of a generic cyborgian face that we now aspire to. It is the face you see on most of the Instagram beauty influencers’ accounts. Likes and clicks on Instagram are addictive. Reports have shown that they stimulate dopamine-driven feedback loops in the brain, drawing us in for more. Such translates into us spending more time on social media apps, posting more content for even more engagement and positive feedback. Also, filtered pictures are more likely to amass more likes and 45% more likely to get comments, and because the algorithm prioritises content that receives more engagement, it increases the reach of these posts.
We are increasingly being changed by the fact that we receive metrics that serve to measure how our facial and physical selves perform on the market.
Becoming increasingly exposed to altered images of ourselves and others makes us more critical of our natural looks and leads to a warped perception of beauty. This affects women predominantly and black women specifically, especially on a platform where beauty and engagement translates to money especially creating content for beauty brands. The ideal of beauty has historically been the antithesis of black women thanks to misogynoir, with their involvement frowned upon from beauty pageants to modelling. However, we are slowly divesting from that, from Madame C. J Walker making a fortune in the black beauty and hair industry, to pop musician Rihanna doing the same with Fenty Beauty, and the explosion of black beauty influencers in the social media space.
However the problem of Eurocentrism remains, as there is prejudice within the black community and outside of it towards women with traditionally African features as opposed to black women who have aspects of European features such as light skin, tiny nose, coloured eyes and loose curls. This prejudice against black bodies and hair, often referred to as featurism and texturism, is rooted in colourism and contributes to negative body image in black women. This bias, together with the effect of filters negatively affects the way we feel about our looks.
Instagram’s highest proportion of users are aged 25-34, particularly those of Black and Hispanic heritage, meaning that young communities of colour, especially women, are most susceptible to this exposure.
As a Black Woman, I too have succumbed to this pressure, banishing ‘unrefined’ pictures of myself to my recently deleted folder because I don’t want to show the internet my true face.
Knowing the negative effects of constantly using filters does not help overcome examining ourselves for facial asymmetry, and this is one of the insecurities the beauty industry capitalises on. Like every other industry, the beauty industry is capitalist in nature. The bottom line is to sell a product – be it skincare, haircare, make-up products, or cosmetic surgical procedures. Capitalism thrives and depends on consumerism, hence we are constantly being told something needs fixing, with the goods being marketed to us the tools to do so. We attempt to lighten our skin, alter our hair colour and texture, attain heart-shaped faces with sharp jawlines either with surgery or other non-invasive methods.
It is no news that fitting the conventional standard of beauty opens more doors of opportunities. Black beauty influencers have been grossly underpaid even while working at the same rate as their white counterparts. The halo effect exemplifies how society has warped our collective subjective bias towards conventionally attractive people. It is scientifically proven that attractive women get paid more, get considered for more jobs and are considered to be more social than conventionally unattractive people.
It is our personal responsibility to consciously challenge the ideal and acknowledge how normal faces should look. Social media companies should also create reliable resources and campaigns that encourage natural beauty for women regardless of their body types across the world and the beauty industry should be regulated and encouraged to include racially and culturally diverse faces in their campaigns.
Written By: Mariam Adetona – a writer and medical student at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. She writes across genres and runs a bi-monthly newsletter on positive psychology topics. She can be reached @Amamayoyo on Twitter.
Header Image: Peniel_enchill