In the wake of limiting the visibility of advertisements of so-called "detox teas" to minors on Instagram, the social media platform is now making another move in its attempt to avoid body shaming. Heeding the calls of celebrities like Jameela Jamil to reduce features that can negatively impact the self-esteem of users, the platform is changing some of its filter options. As you scroll through the Effect Gallery in Instagram Stories in the coming weeks, you’ll notice that Instagram is eliminating plastic surgery filters previously available on the app, Refinery29 reported.
Spark AR, the Facebook-owned development platform that creates Instagram Story filters, announced that it will be "removing all effects associated with plastic surgery from the Instagram Effect Gallery" and "postponing approval of new effects associated with plastic surgery until further notice."
These effects, or filters, included "FixMe," which simulated a plastic surgeon’s marks pre-surgery and bruises from post-surgery at once. Also included in the ban is the filter "Plastica," which simulated a brow lift and augmented lips on users’ faces. And though the creator of the FixMe filter, Daniel Mooney, told the BBC that the filter was created as a critique of plastic surgery, Instagram is removing all plastic surgery simulation filters amid concerns about their impacts on people’s body image and mental health. "We want Spark AR effects to be a positive experience and are re-evaluating our existing policies as they relate to well-being," Spark AR began their statement announcing the changes by saying.
The rise in selfie culture has been accompanied by increasing concerns about the photos’ relationships with people’s body image. Selfie dysmorphia is a "social-media induced dissatisfaction with appearance" and has been on the rise since the rise of face- and body-altering filters on social media, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. And while selfie dysmorphia is not a diagnosis recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the medical community is starting to recognize its impact on potential patients. The study found that there are strong ethical implications of offering plastic surgery to people who may experience increased body dissatisfaction or dysmorphia associated with their social media use.
And the more people of any gender manipulate their selfies with filters, the more likely they are to also experience negative body image and mental health consequences, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Body Image. For adolescent girls, too, these effects can be stark, according to a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. This study found that the more closely adolescent girls interacted with selfie manipulation through filters and other alteration techniques, the more likely they were to also experience body-related and eating concerns.
However, a 2018 study published in the journal Body Image found that if women believed other women’s selfies were altered or filtered, the photos were less likely to negatively impact their own mental health or body image. But a 2017 article published in the journal Cognitive Research suggested that people generally have an extremely limited ability to recognize when photos are digitally altered, so selfies with less obvious plastic surgery filters may in fact go unrecognized and feed into users’ body dissatisfaction. This lack of recognition can do a lot of damage to people’s own body image and mental health.
While it seems clear that there is a link for many people between intense body dissatisfaction (and resulting negative mental health experiences) and images simulating plastic surgery, there are communities for which plastic surgery can be extremely body affirming. For many trans and genderqueer folks, different kinds of plastic surgeries serve as life-saving gender confirmation surgeries. For some, gender confirmation surgeries include facial feminization surgeries, which may involve the lip and cheekbone augmentations featured in the "Plastica" filter.
Regardless of how you feel about Instagram’s decision to remove these filters, there are still plenty of others to play around with — ones that hopefully won’t have negative impacts on users’ self esteem. Because really, you can probably only get a self-esteem boost from giving yourself puppy ears.
Wang, J.V. (2019) Patient perception of beauty on social media: Professional and bioethical obligations in esthetics. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jocd.13118.
Lonergan, A.R. (2019) Me, my selfie, and I: The relationship between editing and posting selfies and body dissatisfaction in men and women. Body Image, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30572289.
McLean, S.A. (2015) Photoshopping the selfie: Self photo editing and photo investment are associated with body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26311205.
Vendemia, M.A. (2018) The effects of viewing thin, sexualized selfies on Instagram: Investigating the role of image source and awareness of photo editing practices. Body Image, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30243124.
Nightingale, S.J. (2017) Can people identify original and manipulated photos of real-world scenes? Cognitive Research, https://cognitiveresearchjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41235-017-0067-2.
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