A Buzzfeed reporter took the words right out of my mouth in a recently published article regarding Snapchat and its controversial ‘beauty’ filters.
I was actually discussing this topic with my sister a few weeks back, pondering whether or not to write about it but they beat me to the punch; damn you Buzzfeed! Although all tantrums aside, of course I have to give props where they’re due; the reporter really hits the nail on the head by giving clear examples of the issue at hand, so do check out her article here!
Now many of you may not even know what Snapchat is, so I’ll break it down for you.
In a nutshell, Snapchat is basically a mobile app which allows its users to share and view instant photos, videos and text with their friends. However, the twist is that all content self-destructs in a matter of seconds (unless you attach it to your Story, then it’s visible to everyone for 24 hours- but let’s not get into the nitty gritty!). As much as it pains me to say, this bizarre concept for an app strangely works! It’s exploded in popularity in the last year or so largely because it suits the millennial generation to a T; it compliments our narcissistic tendencies while simultaneously catering to our short attention spans.
A fairly new feature that Snapchat developers have added to the app is the ability to use filters on images and videos. For example, a user is able to press down on their screen and transform into a dog with a wagging tongue, or a wrinkly-faced elderly person, or a disfigured version of themselves with an oversized nose or lips etc. But not only did they introduce these ‘silly’ filters, they also added ones intended to make the user look prettier/more visually appealing. In particular there are two such ‘beautifying’ filters, both of which serve to lighten one’s skin. However that’s not all that they do, they also pinch in the user’s nose, enlarge the size of their eyes and pull in their jaw-lines all in the name of beauty.
So does this mean that Snapchat is racist? Well it’s essentially glorifying porcelain skin and small, sharp features, thereby implying that Eurocentric facial features epitomize beauty, but make of that what you will. The app also recently came under fire following its creation of a digital blackface filter on National Weed Day. Oh Snapchat, for a new-age app you’re displaying some seriously outdated ideals!
Now I know what you’re thinking, it’s not that serious, they’re harmless filters what damage can they really cause? But my answer to that is: a lot! Countless teenagers and young twenty-somethings across the world use Snapchat on a daily, hourly, basis and for them to see that the filter which is designed to make them look ‘beautiful’ is actually doing so by thinning their wide noses and whitening their caramel complexions, subtly spreads the message that ‘white is right’ and everything else is wrong.
Now consider how that will impact on the self-esteem of a black/Asian/Latin-American teen whose features don’t quite fit the Eurocentric mould, will they not begin to scrutinize and question the appeal of their natural looks? I find it hard to believe that these ‘beautifying’ filters won’t ignite some kind of insecurity in the deep, dark depths of their young minds, because let’s not forget that teenagers are just kids, they’re highly sensitive and impressionable!
Take my 15 year old cousin for example. She constantly posts selfies with a filter that lightens her skin tone and narrows the shape of her face and to be honest it makes me sad to see because she’s beautiful just the way she is, ‘unfiltered’ features and all. But the harsh reality is that she’s just one of many teens who’ve come to rely on these filters and believe that they look best when they’ve enhanced their looks by employing them.
Now I’m all for the ‘silly’ filters, it’s fun to contort your face and see what you’ll look like with purple eyes or a moustache, but come on Snapchat do the right thing here. Re-adjust your ‘pretty’ filters or just do away with them all together, because the longer you keep them up the more you’re at risk of damaging the self-esteem and self-perception of your young users. #priorities