According to a study conducted in 2021, 90% of 175 young women reported using filters or editing their photos on social media, from slapping a VSCO filter on to whitening their teeth to even reshaping their bodies. The negative impact that social media has on Gen Z’s body image and mental health is one that has been heavily discussed as social media continues to pervade our daily lives. While social media can be harmful in perpetuating unhealthy and impractical beauty standards, what if there was an app that fought against these norms? What if there was an app that prohibited users from using a filter or FaceTuning? What if there was an app that encouraged you to be… real?
The new BeReal app, created by French former GoPro employee Alexis Barreyat, demands authenticity from its users rather than carefully curated content like Instagram. Although BeReal debuted in January 2020, it has surged in popularity over the past month, with SensorTower reporting that the app has been one of the most downloaded free social networking apps since April 1.
BeReal has especially been gaining traction among Gen Z in the new age of “casual Instagram” and “photo dumping.” Tired of striving for unattainable perfection, Gen Z is looking for an escape from heavily curated and edited feeds — and BeReal is exactly that escape they’ve been searching for.
So, how does the BeReal app work? Each day, the app sends you a surprise notification prompting you to post a photo of whatever it is you’re doing within a short two-minute time window — whether you’re out buying your second Starbucks latte of the day or in the bathtub rereading Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, BeReal doesn’t care.
Every user who has the app receives the notification at the same time, and the time the notification is sent varies day to day, adding to the spontaneity of the app. When you go into the app to take your daily photo, BeReal automatically takes both a front-facing camera shot and back-facing camera shot — all unfiltered. You can retake the photo as many times as you’d like within the two-minute time limit, but your friends can see how many times you retake the photo (BeReal keeps receipts, y’all). You can also only see your friends’ photos of the day once you’ve posted yours.
The lack of filters on BeReal is one of the most appealing parts of the app for users like Rylie, 22. “Advocating that users actually ‘be real’ is something that’s very empowering to me and I’m excited to use the app because of it,” Rylie tells Her Campus.
Unlike Instagram and TikTok, there are no feeds on BeReal, either — the photos you take each day can only be viewed by you, similar to how Snapchat Memories works. “I really like the BeReal app,” Benjie, 21, tells Her Campus. “I like how simple it is. Its lack of features, unlike Snapchat and Instagram, is attractive in itself and creates a more healthy and authentic environment.”
The app also focuses on real friendships rather than follower count. Only you can see how many friends you have on the app — BeReal isn’t about your number of followers, which Gaby, 22, finds enticing. “There are no ads, no influencers, basically nothing except your friends’ posts,” Gaby says. “I think it’s a refreshing change from sites like Instagram and TikTok that inundate the viewer with content and advertisements.”
However, can BeReal truly compete with apps like TikTok if its content is so different? Some users like Gaby don’t think so. “Because the app doesn’t have much content other than your friends, I don’t see it having the same power and influence that Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter have,” Gaby tells Her Campus. BeReal’s push for authenticity sacrifices monetization — whereas apps like Instagram do the opposite by promoting shopping features and supporting influencer culture.
Although BeReal has mostly received positive feedback for its mission of authenticity, some users have mixed feelings about its execution. While you receive a daily notification prompting you to take a photo of what you’re doing, you ultimately have the freedom to decide when you want to take the photo any time after. Some users utilize this to their advantage, opting to take their photo during the most exciting part of their day, or when their makeup or outfit is just right. “The purpose and idea of the app is to show unfiltered, unplanned photos from your life, but the act of taking out your phone, opening the app, and taking a picture seems contradictory to the supposed carefree and unplanned nature of the app,” Gaby tells Her Campus.
While Gaby brings up a good point, her argument also begs the question: Is it possible for any social media app to be completely authentic, spontaneous, and real? At its core, social media is all about showing yourself online — and people are going to want to show the best versions of themselves, always. Even with apps like BeReal, the toxicity and insincerity of social media can’t be eradicated overnight — or maybe even at all.