Besides the obvious economic devastation, the COVID-19 pandemic brought on some other unforeseen side effects.
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, millions of people turned to video conferencing for work and social interaction. Instead of living with an outward-facing perspective and looking at other people during professional, social, or personal interactions, we were constantly staring at our own faces on the screen – and many of us didn't like what we saw.
The more you focus on something you don't like, the more you will see it. And this isn't any different when it comes to focusing on every single flaw on our face, no matter how tiny and insignificant it may be to someone else.
Why Do We Stare at Our Own Faces?
The reason we have eyes is that a large percentage of our thoughts seem to be processed in the visual cortex. The eyes can deliver colossal amounts of information to the brain, and we use visualization to solve problems, play games, and keep ourselves out of danger.
We also pay attention to how someone looks, and this usually plays a big part in the first impression we form about someone and the type of relationship we go on to have with them. And while looking good isn't the most important characteristic of a person, it's the first thing we see, so it's only natural to want to look good and to make a good impression, especially if you’re trying to attract someone.
However, as a society, we have a little bit of a problem with being hyper-focused on physical appearance, which is only exacerbated by social media. We’re constantly exposed to people on social media who go out of their way to look the best they can, whether with makeup or filters.
When you spend a decent chunk of your day scrolling social media and seeing people who look incredibly attractive, and then spend hours in Zoom meetings looking at your own face, it's only natural to hyper-focus on yourself and start thinking about doing something to improve your looks.
And before you even know it, what started as just an innocent, curious thought, a simple comparison, has turned into taking the plunge and deciding to change the things that make you insecure. If this sounds like you, you’re not the only one. Many people felt this way during the pandemic.
What Does the Data Say?
"As reliance on video calls increased, we started seeing the consequences of how staring back at yourself for a prolonged period of time significantly impacted our patients," said Shadi Kourosh, MD, MPH, of Harvard Medical School in Boston and director of community health in the department of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Kourosh and her associates surveyed 134 board-certified dermatologists and found that nearly 57% had seen a rise in cosmetic consultations while in the midst of a global pandemic, and 114 providers (86.4%) noted their patients citing video-conferencing calls as a reason to seek some sort of a facial procedure.
Patients cited video-conferencing calls as a reason to seek some sort of a facial procedure.
“People will think ‘my chin is bigger than I thought’ or ‘I have acne’ or those types of things that may cause them to be uncomfortable on Zoom. We may think this is a vain type of obsession, and it’s really not a vanity. It’s more of an anti-vanity but rather ‘I think I’m so ugly that I don’t want people to see me any more than I have to be seen’,” says Marybeth Evans, an OSF HealthCare licensed clinical social worker.
"The increased time on camera, coupled with the unflattering effects of front-facing cameras, triggered a concerning and subconscious response unique to the times we're living in," adds Kourosh. "In addition, many people were also spending more time on social media, viewing highly edited photos of others, triggering unhealthy comparisons to their own images on front-facing cameras, which we know is distorted and not a true reflection."
It All Started with a Pair of Dog Ears
One of the first pre-set face filters to be added to Snapchat and Instagram was the dog ears filter that would give you, well, a pair of floppy dog ears, a broad nose, and a tongue licking the screen when you opened your mouth.
However, what you may have noticed then but forgotten about since, because of how normalized using augmented reality filters have become, is that the dog filter also slimmed your face, smoothed your skin, and elongated your jaw, essentially making a funny and light-spirited FaceTuned version of yourself.
When augmented reality face filters first stepped on the social media scene, they were essentially a gimmick that allowed users to change their face to look like an animal, grow a mustache, and make the eyes abnormally big, all for a good laugh.
Today, though, more and more young people — and especially teenage girls — are using filters that "beautify" their appearance and promise to deliver model-esque looks that include smooth, poreless skin, a slim, more defined jaw, bigger and brighter eyes, fuller lips, and even sharper or "snatched" eyebrows.
While doing research for this article, I decided to hop on Instagram and give myself some good old torture by scrolling through different filters. Some of them in the "beauty" category truly made me gasp and made me self-conscious seconds later, to the point where I ended up scrolling through filters so that I wouldn't have to turn them off and see my imperfect skin, uneven eyebrows, and chapped lips on the screen.
My experience made me worried about young, impressionable people who put themselves through the same situation I did but with more serious expectations.
Filters Are Motivating People To Get Plastic Surgery
Through swipes and clicks, the array of face filters not only enables users to adjust their own image and erase the things they don't like about themselves, but it also lets them sift through different identities with incredible ease and flexibility.
For perspective, as of 2020, 130 million Instagram users are from the U.S., and 72% of them are teens, making Instagram the most popular app among teenagers, right after Snapchat and YouTube. However, we don't know how many of those teenagers are actually 14, 15, and 16-year-olds who are using facial filters that make them appear seductive with wide eyes, slightly parted lips, and tanned, airbrushed skin.
Beautifying filters are impacting young people to the point where many of them want to get Botox as a preventative measure, and many no longer want to get plastic surgery to change something they don't like about themselves, but to look like an actual filter. The phenomenon of people requesting procedures to resemble their digital image has been referred to as “Snapchat dysmorphia.”
The term was coined by cosmetic doctor Tijion Esho, the founder of the Esho clinics in London and Newcastle. He noticed that where patients had once brought in pictures of celebrities with their ideal nose or jaw, they were now pointing to photos of themselves with a filter.
Real Life Is Imperfect, and That’s Okay
Seeing ourselves constantly "improved" when using a filter perpetuates unhealthy and unrealistic standards. People see a version of themselves that doesn't exist and can never exist in real life, which corresponds to an unnatural and inhuman ideal of beauty.
Your skin can never be poreless because the pores exist for a reason. That reason is to be a passage for our sweat to help keep us cool during a hot day and for sebum, which is the natural oil that lubricates the skin and protects it from harmful pathogens. Too much filler in the lips will never look natural in real life because the hyaluronic acid stretches the lips in a weird way that will certainly be visible to others. Your eyebrows will never look the same because they’re not meant to look picture-perfect; they’re meant to keep sweat from going into your eyes and irritating them.
People using filters see a version of themselves that doesn't exist and can never exist in real life.
So, it’s finally time to recognize that using filters will only make us look prettier and more attractive in photos and that this version of us simply doesn’t exist in real life.
Of course, getting rid of insecurities such as skin texture or a prominent scar with a filter may feel good for a short time, but these things are a part of you that will continue to exist after you turn the filter off, so the best thing to do is work on finding a way to accept them.
Filters are fun to experiment and play around with, but we’re only now starting to notice there’s a slippery slope in using them. I can definitely confirm this, since a few Instagram filters managed to make me feel bad for the rest of the day.
There’s a well-established link between social media usage and psychological concerns, and Instagram has been tied to not only anxiety and depressive symptoms, but also to concerns such as anxiety related to physical appearance, increased body dissatisfaction, and lower self-esteem. And since the pandemic pushed us into spending more and more time on these platforms, we can assume these concerns have not only remained but increased.
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