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The Warped Reality of Online 'Beauty'

How video and image editing apps affect society - the freeing movement to be more #bodypositive.


CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness and suicide which could be distressing to some readers.

The rise of perfectionism

More than ever, we are seeing what perfection should look like online. Social media sites like Tiktok, Snapchat, and Instagram, among others, are flooded with beautifully produced, yet finely edited, pictures of our favourite idealistic celebrities and influencers that young adults, especially girls, admire. In turn, this makes it extremely difficult to escape the visual dreams on social media.

Whether it be the perfect smile or the perfect body that we crave, it is vital to remind ourselves that everybody is beautiful in their way. Yet, due to the warped reality of beauty shown online, nowadays it seems that every individual is the ideal beauty standard. This complicated relationship with social media produces a disturbing view of perfection, often creating a self-critical view of oneself, due to the sub-conscious comparisons we make.

This pushed aside societal pressure of perfection has led to a rise of many damaging effects including, but not limited to, the use of editing apps. These unrealistic beauty standards, set by the admired of society, dictate whether one can be included within this newfound societal norm of perfection. Excessive hair, scars, or a tummy pouch is now seen as far from the ideal, but why is this?

Editing apps

Whether you want to enhance your smile, slim your waist, or deepen your skin tone, there is an app for that. Facetune is the most popular editing app, allowing its users to produce digitally manipulated photos. With over 30 million Apple store downloads in 2021, apps such as this have grown exponentially over the last couple of years, with celebrities such as Khloe Kardashian being caught up in the act.

This app has many features, one prominent and disturbing one is ‘re-shape’, which allows its users to alter to produce images which will enable the body to look curvaceous, and the face slimmed. This damaging feature manipulates the perception of not only the user but also the viewer.

According to Case 24, 71% of people don’t upload a photo without editing on Facetune. This has led to the branding of aesthetic similarity known as “Instagram face”, due to so many using the app.

Undoubtedly, the rise of apps, like Facetune, have the potential to damage the perception of many. Not only do these images disturb the idea of what beauty is, but it also warps reality. By producing finely/extremely edited photos, young and fragile children are given the idea that it is achievable, when in fact this reality is only achievable through plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures.

The effects of editing apps on society

According to a 2019 study published by the Mental Health Foundation (‘Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies), the societal pressures forced by the use of these apps are changing the perspectives, and warping beauty realities online has been proven to be harmful to the youthful generation’s mental health. As quoted by the Mental Health Foundation,

“Research has found that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life and psychological distress, a higher likelihood of depression symptoms and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders.”

As having a healthy body image is associated with positive mental health, it is of serious concern the extent to which influential people, who use these editing apps, have on easily influenced and mouldable youngsters.

Shifting the narrative

As image editing software has continued to be downloaded exponentially, at the risk of others’ mental health, it is by no surprise that there has been a shift in the narrative to a more #bodypositive future.

A new law in the UK is currently in progress, known as the Digitally Altered Body Image Bill, which will:

“...require advertisers, broadcasters and publishers to display a logo in cases where an image of a human body or body part has been digitally altered in its proportions; and for connected purposes.”

This bill will aim to abolish warped beauty standards, forged using face and body-altering apps, in the hope to boost positivity and diversity.

Within campaigns globally, we have seen an increase in diversity and positivity, allowing the expression and inclusion of all beautiful bodies. One, in particular, has been the #filterdrop campaign, with over 8.5k posts on Instagram, with fitness influencers such as Hayley Madigan illustrating their true unedited selves.

This influence has also positively leaked into new apps, such as Bereal, allowing their users to upload daily unedited photos of their life on the notification.

While these are all a step in the right direction, could we argue that is it truly enough?


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