Social media has always been a part of my life. I remember making my Facebook account when I was in elementary school, and ever since then, I have always used social media every day to communicate with others. With the emergence of many other social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, it is impossible for me and my friends to live without social media because it is so addictive and is already a part of our daily lives.
I started using filters and photoshop when I was in high school, in order to get more likes. Me and my friends were on social media platforms all the time, looking at other girls’ photos, pressing like and commenting on the photos to compliment on their pretty faces. The number of ‘Likes and Comments’ were like a representation of popularity during those times. The ‘popular’ girls would always hit 300-500 likes for uploading a photo, and it would be embarrassing to not get over 100 likes, in my middle school. Therefore, in order to stay popular, me and my friends would treat photo uploads like it was our life goal, and worked very carefully to select which photos to upload and to use which filters to use on the photos.
I found it very interesting how we could adjust, or ‘enhance’ our photos with the popular photoshop apps such as Photowonder, Facetune, or MakeupPlus. Most photoshop apps are very straight-forward and are easy to use, as they have features such as ‘Bigger Eyes’, ‘Slimmer Nose’, or ‘Slimmer body’. These features are completely based on the beauty standards of this era which believes that people need big eyes and a slim body in order to look good. Personally, I do not believe that people need perfect eyes and a slim body to look pretty. Everyone looks different and they should embrace their own facial features and body shapes. However, because everyone else seemed to have big eyes and perfect skin on Facebook and Instagram, I did not want to fall behind, and used photoshop to make my eyes bigger, and my face and body slimmer. At the time, I felt like my face and body in my photoshopped pictures was a different person from myself, and felt ashamed of my real appearance. Because everything was so ‘perfect’ on social media, the breakouts on my skin (which is perfectly natural during teenage years), my natural skin tone (the photoshop always made my skin whiter), and my short height (because I looked taller and slimmer on the pictures) made me feel ugly and fake. This was ironic, because instead of thinking of the pictures as fake and made-up, I considered my real self as fake, since I adored the ‘enhanced’ version of myself and wanted to look like the pictures.
Looking at articles on ‘Snapchat dysmorphia’, I could connect to the low self-esteem that many people around the world are also experiencing because of the filtered and photoshopped selfies of themselves. Nowadays, I do not use photoshop and filters as much as I used to in middle school and high school, because I got tired of the obsession with social media and worrying all the time that I do not look just like my selfies. However, I have a friend who likes to upload photoshopped photos on social media every day and feels insecure even though people compliment her looks by liking and commenting on her photos. I recently went on a trip with her and experienced the tedious routine behind uploading ‘that one perfect photo’ on Instagram. First, she would ask me to take about 100 photos of her so she could very carefully select the best 1 to 2 photos to upload. Next, after photoshopping the carefully selected photos, she would then ask me which filters look best on her photos. But this was not the end of the routine. In my eyes, she looked pretty and perfectly fine. However, she would constantly ask me if she was fat, if her eyes were too small, and if people would judge her because she looks different from her photos, and that she wanted to get cosmetic surgery. At the end of the trip, I got very tired of listening to her go on about her insecurities which were clearly caused by using photoshop. Looking back, I could see the old me (in middle school) with the exact same insecurities caused by the photoshops and filters that I use, and I came to a conclusion that the photoshop apps and filters only enhance the appearance on pictures, and harm people’s self-esteem at the same time.
It is scary to think that me and my friend are not the only ones to have experienced this body dysmorphic disorder, but that it is widespread worldwide, with the number of people experiencing it increasing every year. It is even scarier to think that 80 percent of people with body dysmorphia has thought of suicide, according to a study in Primary Psychiatry (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/08/06/patients-are-desperate-to-resemble-their-doctored-selfies-plastic-surgeons-alarmed-by-snapchat-dysmorphia/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d3cab4697754).
Social media’s influence on people, especially teen girls who can use photoshop, is getting bigger each year. About 7 years ago, when I was in elementary school, social media was not that much of a big deal for me and my friends and we used to not judge other people based on the number of likes. However, social media now is so much bigger and I fear that it would have an influence on even younger girls now.
In addition, there are many ‘micro-celebrities’ with many followers who have to constantly upload posts and interact with their followers in order to ‘stay popular’ on social media platforms. As they can make profit out of advertising products, they would do their best to gain more followers, and the easiest way for them to gain followers is to post beautifully edited pictures of themselves on Instagram. With so many competitors (other micro-celebrities) on social media, there is no doubt that they would be pressured to use photoshop and filters.
I am very excited to explore this topic of filters and photoshop in relation to self-esteem, as I know the potential harms that the innocuous-looking apps can cause, by experience.