How Instagram filters alter more than just our appearances

Although digitally ‘touching-up’ our faces is common, it does leave an impact on our mental health.

Stacey Tay

When she’s not writing articles, you’ll find her at home using her sewing machine.

Published: 1 July 2021, 3:18 PM

Whenever I am trying to take a selfie, I would swipe through Instagram’s gallery of filters to get rid of that one distinct pimple on my chin. With one tap, it vanishes; the filter has replaced the redness with my skin tone. 

From cute puppy ears and flower crowns, Instagram filters have evolved to a point where they are shaping users’ facial features. Applied even by social media influencers, these beauty filters are more sophisticated and subtle, making noses sharper, lips fuller and skin poreless.


There are a plethora of these filters available with names like Faux Foundation, Baby tan, and 90s Magazine. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/@HERUSUGIARTA


I am addicted to using these filters nonstop because they enhance my appearance without making me seem unrecognisable. I would admit that I feel validated when I receive compliments from friends about my face. 

On the surface, using these Instagram filters may seem harmless. But this behaviour can also lead to more problematic issues. 

I decided to speak with a few other youths to get their candid take on their use of Instagram’s beauty filters.

Convenience of covering up imperfections

One perspective is that beauty filters are not such a big deal. Beauty ideals have been perpetuated by mainstream and social media for years already, and Instagram filters are just a convenient way to fix our imperfections.

“Utilising these filters help to cover my pores, mask my acne and sometimes make my face look slimmer. I also tend to go for filters that make me more tanned so that I look less tired than I actually am,” said William Lim, a 21-year-old polytechnic student. 

He also uses filters that are pastel-coloured which suit the theme of his Instagram account. “They help to beautify the photos I upload, and they make certain features stand out more in different lighting,” he said. 


William uses the Instagram filter “b r o n z e” as a quick editing tool to remove his acne scars and to make his skin appear tan. PHOTO CREDIT: WILLIAM LIM


When asked about the discrepancy in his appearance online and in real life, William explained that he cared more about his social media image and did not want his followers to see his skin in a bad state.

“I don’t really care what I look like in real life. If I’m going to be ugly at least let me look good online,” he said.

Becoming dependent on Instagram filters to feel good

While youth like William see these filters as a matter of convenience, others have become heavily reliant on them. 

For Nicole Soh, an 18-year-old polytechnic student, filters have been a major solution to her acne problem. 

She said: “Living without these filters means fewer posts of myself on Instagram.

“Filters make me look better and alter the imperfections that I am insecure about on my face. It is only natural that one does not want to display their insecurities to the world.”

Nicole finds she uses Instagram beauty filters more frequently when her acne acts up, and they help to alter her appearance by clearing her skin and extending her eyelashes.


Nicole prefers filters that help to make her skin appear clear and smooth. PHOTO CREDIT: NICOLE SOH


However, this emphasis on having flawless skin on social media also makes Nicole more self-conscious about the way she looks in real life.

When taking pictures with her friends, she wears a mask instead or tries to stay away from the camera. When her acne is the most severe, she sometimes chooses not to leave the house.

“If I’m not comfortable with the people I’m going out with, even if it’s for something very casual, I would feel too insecure to even go out without at least foundation or concealer,” Nicole said.

Thankfully, having close friends whose company she enjoys does help Nicole cope with her anxieties, and she often forgets that her insecurities were even there once she is with them.

Finding confidence within

Although the pressure to achieve the ideal appearance is real, the lure of filters is not impossible to resist. Rebecca Santa Maria, a 17-year-old polytechnic student, has stopped using Instagram beauty filters as they worsen her insecurities. 

She said: “Having been insecure about my body and face years before, I’m still learning to love myself each day and using beauty filters is not going to help.

“I think for me, I try to find things that suit my natural beauty and highlight my features, not cover them up or put on a fake filter.”

Rebecca also takes social media detoxes regularly to focus on her mental health and well-being.


Instead of beauty filters, Rebecca likes to use those that replicate a film camera as they match her Instagram aesthetic without adjusting her natural features. PHOTO CREDIT: REBECCA SANTA MARIA


Although she empathises with teenagers being pressured to look good online, Rebecca hopes that they will find confidence in themselves without relying on filters. 

She said: “As cliche as it sounds, I hope that they know that they are actually so beautiful on their own naturally! I do believe that everyone is genuinely beautiful and shouldn’t need to hide behind a mask.”

While looking good with Instagram filters may be rewarding for some of us, it is clear we won’t be able to completely find our confidence from using them. 

So although we don’t necessarily have to stop using filters, learning how to accept some of our imperfections is probably a step in the right direction to embracing ourselves.

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