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  • Writer's pictureDigital Girl Africa

The Dark Side of Beauty Filters: Uncovering the Mental Health Risks of Social Media

Let's chat about social media and the filters we love to play with. It's true, who doesn't enjoy turning themselves into a cartoon character or trying on a new look with a beauty filter? But, have you ever stopped to think about the impact these filters might be having on our mental health and self-esteem?

You see, these filters often promote Eurocentric beauty standards, like lighter eyes, smaller noses, and rosy cheeks. And some filters go even further by completely altering our faces, smoothing out every imperfection and enhancing certain features. It's like every time we open the app, there's a new filter that turns us into a completely different person.

This can be especially problematic for women on social media who are already bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards. We've all seen those videos of women feeling frustrated and upset at how much these filters change their appearance. And it's not just a few isolated cases, the impact is real and shouldn't be ignored.

So, while filters can be fun, let's be mindful of the messages they may be sending and the impact they may be having on our self-esteem.

Did you know that using social media apps like Instagram can have a negative impact on mental health, especially among women and teens? According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is well aware of this issue, with an internal document revealing that 32% of teen girls feel worse about their bodies after using Instagram. The same document showed that 13% of British teens who reported having suicidal thoughts and 6% of American teens attributed this to Instagram.

It's not just teens who are affected, though. Dr. Leela R. Magavi, a psychiatrist, shares that she has heard from people of all ages who feel ashamed of posting unedited photos of themselves on social media. Some even consider getting plastic surgery to look like their filtered selves, which is supported by research showing a correlation between social media use and plastic surgery trends. People are using their filtered photos as inspiration for the procedure.

Experts agree that there's a clear link between filters and a decline in self-esteem, self-confidence, and an increase in cases of body dysmorphia. "I've definitely seen an increase in patients who have body dysmorphic concerns related to social media filters," says Dr. Josie Howard, a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in psychodermatology.

According to Dr. Howard, people start to expect themselves to look like their filtered versions, which can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and disappointment. A Canadian study from 2019 showed that even just five minutes spent on Facebook or Instagram can trigger negative body image concerns, adds Dr. Magavi. These filters have even led to terms like "Snapchat dysmorphia" or "selfie dysmorphia" being used to describe this phenomenon.

Not only do these filters harm self-esteem, but they can also contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation. "At the same time that social media is eroding people's self-esteem, it's also leading to a sense of isolation as people seek virtual validation and spend less time connecting with others in the real world," says Dr. Howard.

Even if you're someone who is aware that these filters are fake, they can still have a subconscious impact. "These apps implant the idea of imperfection and ugliness, leading to a loss of confidence," says Dr. Francisco Tausk, a psychodermatologist. Additionally, looking at filtered versions of themselves for extended periods of time can lead to mood swings, sleep problems, and overall negative effects on mental and physical health, explains Dr. Magavi.

Lastly, it's worth noting that even those who don't spend much time on social media can still be affected by these filters because they have a way of impacting society as a whole. "The impacts of social media filters are not limited to those who spend hours on these apps, as they quickly permeate beauty standards and aesthetic expectations for all of us," says Dr. Howard.

So, what can be done to counteract the negative effects of social media filters? The key is to be mindful and aware, according to Dr. Howard. "It's important to be conscious and aware that these images aren't real and to keep in mind that social media use can lead to depression, anxiety, and isolation."

By being aware of any early signs of these negative impacts, you can take action and step back from social media when necessary. Dr. Magavi suggests making your social media feed a source of positivity, motivation, and self-care. The algorithms of these apps create a sort of echo chamber that only shows you one perspective based on what you engage with and follow.

Therefore, by following accounts that promote body positivity, authenticity, and don't rely heavily on filters, you can create a positive and inspiring social media environment for yourself. By surrounding yourself with these positive views and beliefs, you are more likely to internalize them too.

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