Is Snapchat Racist?

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 Oh Snapchat, for a new-age app you’re displaying some seriously outdated ideals!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

13 replies

  1. Oh my, I am waaay too familiar with Snapchat! It was the cause of so many fights on the high school campus I worked on! The ability to send a horrible message knowing it disappears within seconds is too much temptation for teenage girls.
    My campus was also very racially diverse, and I overheard a lot of conversations among the black girls that really broke my heart – conversations in which “light skinned” was equated with “pretty”. I hated the self-loathing this generated on some of the dark-skinned girls, many of whom were beautiful girls, and all of whom were so much more than the color of their skin. One of my student aides was a gorgeous, very dark-skinned girl who embraced it, but she was the exception. I think filters that make minority populations “prettier” because they offer Western European/white features, only contributes to racism in general, and terrible self-images in our young women in particular.

    • Thanks for sharing that! I completely agree with you, teenage girls are all about self-image and they’re highly sensitive too, particularly ones from ethnic backgrounds where you encounter a mixed bag of light and dark complexions; they’re the ones who these filters will affect the most. We need to spread the message that ALL skin tones are equally beautiful, not just blonde hair and blue eyes.

  2. I don’t have Snapchat, and never in my slightest dream would I install in my phone because I honestly don’t understand its necessity. But as for your sentiments regarding the “pretty filters” I’d have to agree on that. I’m Asian, quite light-skinned by birth but I love how my race has authentic brown skin complexion.

    • Thanks for your comment Danica, I agree, we need to celebrate ALL complexions. You’re light-skinned by birth and beautiful, another Asian girl may be slightly darker by birth but that doesn’t mean to say that she’s any less beautiful, however the sad reality is that a lot of people are unable to see that. And Snapchat is not helping with its ‘beautifying’ filters, I don’t blame you for steering clear of it!

  3. This was such a thought-provoking read. I don’t use Snapchat but I’ve encountered the creepy ‘beautifying’ filters in other apps. I’d been reading about supposed beauty camera apps and was curious, so I downloaded one and was horrified to find that all the ‘improvements’ involved making skin lighter, eyes bigger and other features smaller.

    Since I’m so pale I’m pretty much see-through (I have an Irish moon-tan) I thought it would be funny to see what these filters did to my face. It actually really bothered me. Turns out it’s not nice for an app to tell you that your nose and lips are too big, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t experience racial oppression based on their facial features.

    Ugh. Just ugh. And go you for addressing the issue so eloquently.

    • Thanks for throwing in your two cents Tanya, it’s great to hear from somebody with an ‘Irish moon-tan’ as you call it lol, just goes to show that racism is very real and can be recognised by anybody, if they choose to open their eyes to it… Loving your open-mindedness! 😀

  4. As ever, on the pulse
    I myself avoid social media in most forms and opt only to follow someone I know to be of very interesting character on Twitter, three Facebook profiles of various purposes (made redundant by WordPress) are my target to sort this week, when you haven’t visited for months it’s on a life support machine in social terms!
    As for deviating self image the idea is a mix of modern obsession and corrupted values, not to mention anxiety in ones true form.
    I say that until you hit twenty it’s all worth shit, only then are you able to say “This is how nature intends me to look” and you should only ever change that to feel good about yourself for yourself or to avoid health issues.
    Or remain a ghost and never post an image of yourself (Like myself!)

  5. This is so powerful! Your 15 year old cousin reminds me of me. I always use the enhance shade which makes me look a bit lighter. I never post on my story without it. But now you’ve made me realise I don’t need it anymore. I just want to say a HUGE thank you xx

    • I’m so glad that my words touched you enough to realise that you don’t need those filters, that’s made my day 😀 Even though I may not know you personally I can say with unwavering certainty that you’re absolutely gorgeous, inside and out, don’t ever feel the need to change yourself because of ridiculous, outdated beauty standards that mean absolutely NOTHING. Keep doing you and don’t try to hide that beautiful caramel complexion, show it off, because so many people would kill to look like you, trust me on that 🙂 xx

  6. Snapchat “compliments our narcissistic tendencies while simultaneously catering to our short attention spans”…wholeheartedly agree!

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