Who are the social media companies to tell us what is “beautiful”?

Most viewers princess Snow White as a child, she will remember the immortal line uttered to the title character by her wicked stepmother: “Mirror, mirror on the wall: who is the fairest of them all?”

Now let’s move on to the present and consider what would happen if instead of the stepmother ultimately losing to Snow White, the mirror could use a filter to “improve” her appearance?

It would be one of the dystopian ways to rewrite the fairy tale to suit the modern era. Part of this is based on the fact that women (or rather stepmother) feel that her appearance is the most important thing. Instead of sympathizing with the younger, more beautiful woman, the stepmother continues to compete with her.

This modern dystopia is already with us. Filters have popped up on social media and video calling apps that supposedly make people look their most beautiful. But who decides what “beautiful” really means? In the case of applications, probably the one who creates the algorithms becomes the arbiter of beauty standards.

Today’s version of the mischievous fairy mirror is the “brave glamor” filter that has appeared on TikTok. It uses artificial intelligence to sharpen facial features as if users have undergone plastic surgery or a cosmetic makeover. It’s so realistic you can’t even say it’s an upgrade.

But there is no such thing as “objective” beauty. If you look at cultures and history, the ideals of beauty are very different. Queen Elizabeth I introduced red hair as an ideal of beauty, even though hair color had other connotations before her. The 1960s British model Twiggy was famous for being slim and petite, unlike her US predecessor, Marilyn Monroe, who was famously curvaceous.


Putting a voice in someone’s head at a young age that makes them believe they don’t look good enough is setting girls up for life in doubt

The devil’s advocate might argue that pernicious beauty standards are simply a fact – they are set by someone else or by the general public, and unfortunately they are designed to keep some women back.

Women’s self-doubt and erosion of their self-esteem begins at a young age. In today’s world of social media filters, this is now in a completely different order. Your voice – through your photos displayed on social media – may be telling you that you are not good enough. It is not easy to escape this inner negativity.

I realize I risk sounding like a grumpy old lady by keeping young people from having creative fun. But given the alarming rates of mental health and even self-harm already affecting girls, this is no joke.

Putting a voice in someone’s head at a young age that makes them believe that they don’t look good enough and suggests, through camera filters, what you should most likely look like is setting girls up for life in suspense.

It’s hard for young women to escape this noise, and instilling it into the developing brain means doubts about body image can become permanently encoded in the mind.

There’s a little experiment I’m doing with the kids – you’ve probably played it for fun too. You’re looking at four circles, each a different color with a cross in the middle. You stare at the cross for 30 seconds. Then you replace the four colored circles with white ones. The unusual thing that happens is that you still see the color. Your brain has adapted – and in just 30 seconds. Now imagine a lifetime of seeing images tuned to be a “perfect” ideal that can’t really be created in real life. Then add to that the fact that it was your face that was changed. You would have a hard time looking at yourself without constantly thinking that you need modification.

Plastic surgery is gaining popularity because people are adopting not photos of celebrities but filtered versions of themselves for surgeons to alter.

I think there is no need to wonder if this will cause existential breakdowns in teenagers who only allow themselves to exist on the Internet and cannot be in the real world because it is not their most beautiful self. Even if they undergo surgery to catch up with the avatar, having a “beautiful” filter is a movable set of goalposts – even after surgery, the filters will suggest more changes.

It’s not fun – it’s an accelerated form of dangerous ideals of beauty.

And for men who expect women to look like models, these filters will only exacerbate that, making it even harder to start and maintain healthy relationships.

As a mother of two and someone who has struggled with critical voices around me telling me I’m too dark, too ugly, not good enough, I’m very concerned about this. It’s hard enough to fix the damage outside voices are doing to your self-esteem, but if you’re competing with yourself, how can you back away from it?

Update: May 26, 2023, 07:00

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