Is face-altering affecting our mental health?

In 2021, Norway introduced a law that requires social media users to disclose if their photo was edited. France is in the process of implementing the same rule except for both photos and videos. We might see similar changes in the UK soon as there’s evidence that face-altering apps have a negative impact on our self-esteem.

Can face-altering apps be a good thing?

Apps that allow users to alter their appearance aren’t entirely bad: they can be used for creative self-expression. For example, they allow you to apply a cat ears filter and experiment with hair colour. Some people also claim that seeing an improved version of themselves in a photo can be a self-esteem boost. As long as you aren’t changing your features too much, a filter is a way to apply the perfect makeup without needing the skills to do it.

How do face-altering apps negatively affect our self-esteem?

While makeup is meant to enhance your look and can be done in the real world, filters are tied to the digital world and might be used to make drastic changes to your appearance. Some filters now alter the size of a user’s nose and enlarge their eyes, contributing to unrealistic beauty standards. Considering how advanced and accessible this kind of technology is, there’s a reason to worry.

How apps affect those who use them

Filters can be fun to play with but using them frequently might have negative consequences:

  • You might reinforce the belief that you aren’t good enough and that the only way for you to feel beautiful is to achieve perfection. This might result in low self-esteem and other mental health issues.
  • You might start to expect yourself to look like your ‘improved version’ which isn’t achievable. If what you see on your social media page is different from what you see in the mirror, you’re likely to experience worsened mood and develop body dysmorphia.
  • In some cases, people who use filters might end up pursuing plastic surgery to help them look like their filtered selves even if a procedure might be dangerous to their health.

How scrolling through social media can affect your self-esteem

Even if you don’t use the face-altering apps you’ll still come across altered images on social media. This can be damaging to people’s self-esteem:

  • It’s human nature to compare yourself to others and seeing heavily edited photos might exacerbate your insecurities. One study showed that exposure to manipulated photos leads to lower body image. Unless you follow body-positive accounts, you’re unlikely to come across wrinkles, spots, or even normal skin texture.
  • Believing that certain looks are attainable can be especially dangerous for adolescents who are still in the process of building their self-esteem and spend a lot of time online. Recent findings from a study by a mental health charity show that eight in 10 people between 18 and 21 years old dislike their bodies. Even more worryingly, an increasing number of children face body image issues. According to the survey, three out of four participants are embarrassed by the way they look.
  • Younger generations are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem. They might not only compare themselves to their peers and celebrities but also to their filtered selves.

The new laws don’t solve the problem completely. However, they are a good start as they can help make people aware of which images have been altered.

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