Here's how Instagram masks have altered our perception of beauty
Originally exclusive to Snapchat, masks gained widespread popularity with the introduction of Instagram in 2017. Developers, 3D artists, and even bloggers began creating their filters in abundance. Among the most popular were filters that enhanced facial features to appear more attractive. However, in late October, Instagram announced its intention to ban all masks that mimic plastic surgery procedures.

The social network recognized the negative impact these filters were having on users and their self-perception. Instagram's move comes as no surprise, considering research has shown that the platform leads in terms of time spent by users compared to other social networks and ranks first in terms of its negative impact on users' psychological health.

The first step in creating a more positive online environment was the ban on images depicting suicide, followed by a ban on advertisements for plastic surgery and weight loss products. Now, the platform is addressing face-altering filters.

Instagram has not provided a clear timeline for removing all filters, but the ban has been generally well-received by many users. Nonetheless, alternatives like Snapchat, facial enhancement apps, and Photoshop still exist. It is Instagram's filter popularity that has heightened society's fixation on beauty standards.

A direct correlation can be drawn between filter features on the platform and current ideals of beauty: plump lips, large eyes, a slender nose, and a pointed chin. The transition from playful puppy filters to full-fledged facial surgery showcased on Instagram is no longer considered harmless fun. Whereas individuals once visited plastic surgeons with photos of celebrities, many now present retouched images of themselves, while influencers post pictures with masks, asking, "Where can I find a surgeon to make me look like this?"

However, several digital creators argue that these activities are merely forms of fun, artistic self-expression, or even clever marketing tools. In the early days, users had to follow the creators to access their filters. Moreover, the concept of "digital beauty" has emerged, with many developers discussing its implications.

For example, the FixMe mask, which has also been banned, portrayed a cosmetic surgeon marking a person's face before a procedure. Its creator, Daniel Mooney, explained:

"FixMe was intended as a critique of plastic surgery, illustrating the undesirable aspects of the process such as marking supposed imperfections and the resulting swelling and bruising. I did not want to showcase the 'perfect' end result. Perfection is overrated."

Mooney also pointed out:

"I cannot appreciate Instagram's efforts as long as some of the most popular Instagram accounts belong to individuals who have become the 'best' versions of themselves through surgery. In my opinion, removing plastic-like filters will not change anything."

Indeed, since filters with similar effects align with the version of beauty promoted by prominent influencers. Filters have played a role in reinforcing these ideals of beauty. One of the filter developers, @sucksexfully, shared her perspective with Love publication:

"Beauty has always influenced technology. People are insecure, and someone smart is profiting from their insecurities. I wish the visual business focused on fun, identity, and confidence, but it continues to exploit human insecurity and the desire for acceptance."

Mask creator  also shared her thoughts:

"It all began when front-facing cameras were introduced, triggering a desire to appear more attractive. Initially, there were apps with correction tools, followed by Snapchat filters and finally Instagram, which propelled it into mainstream popularity. It feels like we are witnessing a merging of humans with machines. I have a sense that this is not just a passing trend; it is evolving daily and may become something much larger. I cannot predict what that will be. People love filters because it's akin to dressing up or adopting different personas."

Filters undoubtedly possess a creative element. Engaging effects encourage us to reconsider societal beauty ideals and continually prompt us to reflect on these standards. Some filters allow users to view themselves from a different perspective, experiment with various looks, and express their inner selves without fear of being misunderstood.

Filters should not be viewed solely as harmful. After all, demand leads to supply. The demand for filters that enhance facial features arose due to prevailing visual culture, beauty standards, and their widespread promotion. This discussion once again emphasizes the well-worn but unrealized notion of diversity. It's through diversity that people can witness various forms of beauty, understand its diversity, and ultimately accept themselves as they are, without doubt regarding their inherent beauty.
March 12, 2024