Filtering Females: The Danger of Snapchat

I’m nineteen years old and stare down at my new smartphone on Christmas morning the way I once did my first American Girl doll. In my hands is the power to connect to my peers in a manner of which I was previously prohibited due to my clunky Motorola that lacked internet connection. More importantly, this phone can host the app Snapchat. Just like millions of young women across the world I am about to be roped into one of the largest image-sharing social media apps. In my hands is the ability to connect with my friends visually as a newer, better version of myself through a series of carefully placed camera angles and Snapchat supplied filters, giving birth to a generation of pseudo-supermodels and changing the definition of beauty in terms of womanhood and what it means to be female. While more connected with the world, many Snapchat users become less connected to themselves, losing their personal identities as the app forces European beauty standards on the diverse population of the technology harboring world.        

In the constantly shifting modern period, texting has become outdated. Now pictures are favored, evidenced in the memes one can easily impose into traditionally text-based conversations or in the apps to which both younger and older generations are turning—Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. While text is still used to caption and highlight these images found throughout the various social medias, pictures define the tech generation. In a survey conducted by Harris Poll outlined by Time in 2017, younger generations are becoming less comfortable with self-expression through words. Emojis and gifs have become the new medium of expression with 68% of millennials agreeing they are more comfortable utalalizing visuals to express themselves to another individual over a phone call. Not only is the tech generation being affected, but older generations as well, as 37% of those over the age of 65 were in accordance with their younger counterparts. (1, Steinmetz). Individuals no longer communicate in person with the same frequency, but express themselves visually. But what happens when images become dull and boring to the eye?

Enter Snapchat. Enter filters.

Founded in 2011 by Standford student Evan Speigel, Snapchat is a social media app in which friends can exchange pictures that disappear unless screenshotted. Because of this feature, Snapchat has gained a racy reputation. No longer do users face the danger of sending nudes over the infamous text, which saves them permanently to both sender and receivers phones unless deleted and are oh-so-easy to pass on. Now an individual can decide how many seconds a photo can be viewed, and will be alerted if the recipient screenshots said image. Because of the more ‘secure sextability’ Snapchat provides, it is easy for teens to fall down the sexting rabbit-hole as they use Snapchat to send normal images anyway. Labelled as a ‘sexting app’ by the New York Times, Snapchat is at the fingertips of essentially every individual with access to the app store and a desire to swap pictures with friends, which accumulates to be 70% of American teens according to The Statistics Portal. While the app is recommended for ages twelve and up, there is no way of regulating the ages of participants. The recommended age limit is set in accordance to puberty and accountability, but according to U.S. government site Girl’s Health, girls only finish bodily development by the age of fourteen while boys wait two more additional years to gain their adult bodies. Still both genders will not be fully mentally developed into the age of twenty five, as researched by the University of Rochester, and yet by the age of twelve, young men and women are presented with unlimited sharing power over their bodies, and can be introduced to the realm of sexuality at just a click of a button. In her article Social Media and the Sexualization of Young Girls author Stephanie Ng is quick to point out the problematic relationship between social media apps such as Snapchat and resulting effect on adolescent girls’ sexuality. Young women can no longer escape the school day to avoid peers, but are surrounded by constant pressure to impress through technology, a force which is difficult to escape unless one wants to face social rejection. Socially awkward preteens don’t have to stumble through in-person interactions of a first date, but a young teen can send unsolicited penis pictures without leaving his bedroom or fearing the consequences of a real life rejection. Additionally, with a Snapchat image that disappears in ten seconds, it is difficult to prove Steve really sent Stacy a picture in the first place. Forced to grow up more quickly than previous generations, Snapchat throws young girls into the lion’s den of sexuality that parents are often unaware that exists within the tiny screen of a smartphone.  

One of the most captivating features about Snapchat is the ability to superimpose filters over one’s own image, making the user a prettier, blemish-free version of themselves. While not all filters focus on beauty, there is an obvious gap of filters that side with either being comedic or beatific. While both men and women have the choice to use any filter available, the genderfied nature of the app is nothing less than obvious with the many filters that alter users into wearing a flower crown, a butterfly wreath, or pink animal ears. According to a 2015 survey from Statista, 51% of American female teens use Snapchat, in comparison to 31% of their male identifying counterparts, so the abundance of feminine filters caters to Snapchat’s main demographic, yet also harm women under the assumption that feminine also equates to flawlessness. Also, the presence of more female-focused filters concretes the idea that women need to be fixed.

Makeup companies have created multimillion dollar industries from highlighted the insecurities of women around the world. According to The Economist, make-up companies earn $18 billion dollars a year, growing at up to 7% a year, which is more than twice the rate of the developed world's GDP. While immense pressure exists to look perfect in person, an image takes on double the pressure when the subject has the ability to cultivate every aspect of one’s appearance. Accompanying cute sets of bunny ears and glasses users can wear while surrounded by floating hearts are subtle changes that alter Snapchat users’ faces beyond the fun, obvious superimposed images. Now girls can see their own faces digitally altered to reach standards of beauty unreachable in real life while looking to Snapchat to set the definition of beauty. According to Snapchat, all beauty looks the same. While the app hosts different variations of filters—a user’s filtered crown can be made from hearts, flowers, or butterflies, or they might even go rouge and chose the puppy-dog filter—there is no large margin for change when it comes to societal standards for beauty. The same beauty standards are upheld for regardless of the girl underneath. European facial structures appear as the face and nose slim under the various filtered crowns and puppy-dog ears. Skin grows whiter and like Anna and Elsa from Frozen and eyes either subtly widen or balloon like a cartoon character. Many filters also work to blue the color of the subject’s original eye color, which much like one’s facial structure, cannot be changed in real life naturally. Enter plastic surgery. Board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Matthew Schulman stated in a recent interview with the Huffington Post that the latest plastic surgery trend is to attempt to recreate the favorite features of famous celebrities—but filtered. No longer is acceptable to look like celebrities which society idolizes for their good looks and seemingly perfect bodies. Now young women and girls long to be the filtered version of celebrities, who utilize Snapchat to evaporate any imperfections. Those who do not use Snapchat are not safe from the newest tyrannical app either. Both celebrities and everyday people post Snapchat selfies to a variety of platforms, infiltrating Twitter and Facebook users alike and raising the bar on beauty outside the Snapchat realm.     

While the beauty filters of Snapchat work to specifically target women, it is not to say that the men of Snapchat go unscathed. Although beauty filters may not capture men as easily as it does women, the pressure to impress still exists, although not necessarily by the same set of criteria. The number of face filters don’t cater to men because facial beauty holds little importance to the appearance of men by Snapchat standards. Rather, strength and body build determine the value of the male subject. Many could argue in response that men face less critique than women, gaining leeway in trends such as the dad bod, but men cannot be excluded from the narrative on gender and socially acceptable appearance. Article Doing Gender notes that young boys receive praise for their ability to affect their surrounding physical and social environment through the medium of the body while girls of the same age are applauded for their appearance and ability to “manag[e] themselves as ornamental objects” thus becoming part of the environment (141, West and Zimmerman). While women are apt to be judged for their feminine physical appearances, men are apt to be judged for their ability to reject these feminine ideals, and will be rewarded/punished by society based on their ability to do so. A boy’s ability to affect his surrounding environment is also linked back to the body as his physicality is assumed to also suggest his masculinity. Following these societal guidelines, Snapchat would have women exist as Victoria Secret models, perfect in the face and slimmed in form—thanks filters!—while men become Marvel’s superheroes, faceless bodies who plot lines resolve around possessing more strength than anyone else.

I cannot deny my love for my smartphone. It lives with me a way my previous phone did not. Alarm clock, email messenger, beautifier; my new phone connects me to the world more closely than I ever could have imagined. However, the consequences of participated in such a system are much dire than I assumed sitting on the living room floor with my family on Christmas morning. While more connected with the world, like so many Snapchat users I have become roped into the world of objectification of the body as I turn myself into puppy-dogs and flower-crowned queens. Enter technology. Exit words.

Works Cited:

Steinmetz, Katy. “GIF and Emoji Survey: Many Millennials Prefer Them to Words.” Time, Time, 27 June 2017, time.com/4834112/millennials-gifs-emojis/.

Smith, Aaron, and Monica Anderson. “Social Media Use in 2018.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, 1 Mar. 2018, www.pewinternet.org/2018/03/01/social-media-use-in-2018/.

Bilton, Nick. “Disruptions: Indiscreet Photos, Glimpsed Then Gone.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 May 2012, bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/disruptions-indiscreet-photos-glimpsed-then-gone/?_r=0.

“U.S. Millennial App User Concentration 2016 | Statistic.” Statista, www.statista.com/statistics/470730/millennials-app-user-concentration/.

“Pots of Promise.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 24 May 2003, www.economist.com/node/1795852.

“U.S. Teen Snapchat Users Gender 2015 | Statistic.” Statista, www.statista.com/statistics/419388/us-teen-snapchat-users-gender-reach/.

Ng, Stephanie. “Social Media and the Sexualization of Adolescent Girls.” The American Journal of Psychiatry Residents’ Journal , ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/appi.ajp-rj.2016.111206.

“Doing Gender.” Gender and Society, by Candance West and Don H. Zimmerman, Vol 1, 1AD, pp 125-151.