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Wellness > Mental Health

How Filters Altered My Self-Perception (And How I’m Reclaiming Control)

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Infamous dog and flower crown filters defined our very iconic yet slightly cringey 2016 Snapchat Era. 

Middle school me was dancing out of pure joy to finally fit in with the rest of the world (aka cool girls in my class) on one of my very first social media platforms. Snapchat was the it app of the time — if you weren’t on Snap, what were you doing? 

When I first downloaded it, the features I was most excited to try were all the different filters the app included. I would try on every single filter available — the ones that would make my face longer, make my nose a lot larger and rounder, replace my eyes with bug eyes or any of the rest of the other animal or silly-themed ones. I would send pictures of myself to my friends and post them to everyone without hesitation. It was all fun. 

I’m not sure exactly when it began, but I assume it was around the start of high school. Eventually and unconsciously, I began seeking out and only using the filters that would make me look better, whether it was making my skin look clear, slimming my nose or improving the “lighting” of the picture overall. Despite these changes I would add to my snaps, I knew deep down that it was all fake, and that I didn’t actually look like that in real life. I began to grow increasingly frustrated with how I looked. I would either stare at myself in the mirror for too long before going to school or hated even glancing at my reflection in car windows. I grew uncomfortably self-aware of how I appeared on social media. It came to a point where I completely stopped posting pictures of myself online. I would archive or delete my old posts and would retake casual snaps ten times. I refused to take selfies with my regular iPhone camera. Apps like Instagram and Tiktok also had their versions of beauty filters, and I couldn’t help myself. I tried all the various versions of my pictures and videos. It was truly an addiction. 

My infatuation with beauty filters continued to grow at such an exponential rate that I sought out ways to make myself look like a filter in real life. My alarming yet oddly satisfying makeup addiction settled in for years to come. I’ve tried a diverse brand range of every cosmetic product, like concealers, BB creams, CC creams, tinted moisturizers, blush, contours and eye makeup. Although beauty and skincare are now my favorite hobbies, at the time, I was pursuing them from a place of deep insecurity and low self-esteem. 

I knew I had to change. I had to increase my confidence even just by a little bit. I had to break my addiction. Filters are not real. I had to remind myself that I was feeding my mind an unrealistic version of myself in my head. I always thought I needed to add something to make my appearance better when really there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. If I wanted to appear different, I needed to adopt healthier habits, both for my physical fitness but also for my mental health. I had to eat better, shut down the derogatory self-talk and utilize makeup as an artistic outlet to help me project a more empowered version of myself. 

I forced myself to delete all of my social media for a month. I honestly couldn’t even get through the first two weeks. But even those two weeks resulted in a spark of subtle yet significant change. I am content, just me as my “raw” self. I am still healing. It still takes time to warm up to the pictures I’ve taken on my iPhone and to smile at myself in the mirror before I leave for the day. But, slow progress is still progress.

I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I want to share in hopes of inspiring and uplifting other young women. Take pictures of yourself no matter how you look to remind you of who you were at a particular moment of time in your life. Five years from now, you will regret having no memory of yourself. There’s nothing wrong with filters or social media, but you must be mindful of how you interact and approach the media you are seeing. It is quite misleading to believe that in order to fit societal beauty standards, you need to appear a certain way. You cannot change how you look with any product or filter, but you can enhance the existing beautiful features you were born with through confidence. You are perfect and pretty with your flaws. Embrace yourself with open arms and an open mind.

Manal is a junior at UCLA studying molecular and cell biology. In her free time, she enjoys reading and traveling. She also loves art, food, and fashion.