The controversial Snapchat filter called out as “yellowface” by many earlier this week has thrust the popular app’s face morphing filters into the spotlight again, with some wondering if the app may be impacting how we see ourselves and others.
Aside from racially insensitive filters, there’s also the matter of Snapchat’s “beauty” filter and how it may reveal a bias toward a certain kind of look. Specifically, a look that hews more toward western mainstream social norms as opposed to accentuating the true, diverse beauty of the many different kinds of faces seen around the world.
Earlier this week, one Snapchat user decided to open up about her use of the beauty filter and how it’s affected her view of herself.
“Snapchats popular ‘beauty’ filter makes my face slimmer, my eyes bigger AND my nose narrower And I was starting to prefer my face with a nose job!” wrote Nicole Williams, a blogger on Medium. “Even my Twitter profile has a version of my face using this Snapchat filter. I have been unintentionally communicating a photoshopped version of my own face for months. And I had no idea. But I had started really hating my nose.”
The only photos I liked were ones through Snapchat, using the beauty filter. I started defaulting to Snapchat for every selfie.
And while Williams’ digital transformation was gradual and not initially intentional, she admits, “The only photos I liked were ones through Snapchat, using the beauty filter. I started defaulting to Snapchat for every selfie.”
But the filter-powered makeover doesn’t stop at Snapchat. Many users have also been employing the powers of smartphone camera filters with automatic “beautifying” effects to change their looks, a practice Williams also pointed out regarding her own image.
“It’s taken awhile to notice, but my smartphone is making me prettier, according to a Westernised algorithm,” writes Williams. “My Samsung S7 comes with editing tools that along with removing red eyes, can slim my face or make my eyes bigger.”
Of course, users have been using the beauty mode option on Samsung smartphones for several years now to enhance their looks for a slightly (and in some cases, drastically) different look.
Snapchat, I am very disturbed by the fact that your “beautification” filters make my skin lighter, and my nose and jaw smaller. Just saying.
Allegra Clark (@SimplyAllegra) May 9, 2016
snapchat filters promote such unrealistic small-nosed/flawless skin/defined jawline/westernized beauty standards
rylee crowley (@ryleeannnee) August 12, 2016
Snapchat filters are the real cause of unrealistic beauty standards
Kate Beckman (@Kate_Beckman) August 5, 2016
snapchat whitewashing colored skin in their filters is ugly. nothing pretty about racist beauty standards!!!!!
Best Of Keelin (@twiliteluvr) July 31, 2016
But what Williams points out is how this may be subtly enforcing beauty standards that don’t take into account all the different kinds of beauty common to people of different backgrounds.
“The really insidious problem with photo filters,” says Williams, is that, “they are programmed to Western beauty ideals. They tell Polynesian and African American girls that their noses are too wide. They tell Asian women their eyes are too small. And it tells every woman that their face should be skinnier.”
However, despite these very valid points, a quick look on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter quickly reveals that a large number of men and women are happily using these filters to change how they’re viewed by the world.
Olivia Nope (@kyyraa_) May 20, 2016
That fact alone means that western-beauty-focused filters will likely be difficult to walk back now that they’re out in the wild.
But as Williams’ personal story, as well as the recent missteps by Snapchat, indicate, more and more users will likely begin to demand that app makers look beyond their narrow views and work on creating filters that enhance all types of beauty without putting anyone in a cultural box.