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Instagram bans plastic surgery filters

The social media giant is increasing its efforts to counter Insta-dysmorphia.

We recently wrote an article about Instagram finally taking a stand against the promotion of diet culture on its platform to protect susceptible users from potentially dangerous self-medicating. Now, to further counter ‘Insta-dysmorphia,’ an unhealthy trend that sees people comparing themselves to surgically altered celebrities and face tuned influencers, the app is banning filters that entertain the idea of a fake aesthetic.

Since the Spark AR feature debuted earlier this year, many of us have delighted in seeing what we might look like with smaller noses, reconstructed jaws, and a larger pout, defended by its creators as ‘artwork,’ or ‘just a bit of fun.’ But it’s having an undeniable effect on our self-esteem.

A 2018 study asked 220 women to view a set of appearance-‘ideal’ images. Results of a survey taken after the study showed that seeing these images led to greater feelings of body and face dissatisfaction from almost all of the participants. ‘Exposure to idealised Instagram images (attractive peers) has a detrimental impact on body image,’ one of the medical scientists who conducted the study confirmed. Combine this with the opportunity to totally transform your face and the outcome is bound to intensify.

It comes as no surprise then that wellbeing concerns have been voiced regarding the popularity of these filters and the negative connotations behind them. In allowing literally anyone to publish their own augmented reality effects, ignoring what it might mean for our perceptions of beauty, has Spark made a critical error?

Personally, I believe that they have. Bearing in mind that we already know a great deal about how damaging social media can be in terms of making us feel inadequate, you’d think that they would consider it a priority to put our wellbeing first. However, the fact that digital designer Teresa Fogolari’s ‘Plastica’ filter has been used over 200 million times and still hasn’t been removed, simply proves that they don’t. Well, until now.

‘We want Spark AR effects to be a positive experience and are re-evaluating our existing policies as they relate to wellbeing,’ PR reps said in a statement before mentioning that they’d also be taking down all effects associated with plastic surgery and postponing the approval of new ones.

While I certainly praise their decision to crack down on the production of these effects, I find it rather alarming that Spark even tolerated it in the first place. One filter that stood out to me in particular was ‘Fix Me’ by Daniel Mooney which gives the user tuck and lift markings related to the actual process of plastic surgery rather than just the results. It also gives you a smaller nose and larger mouth, encouraging a higher acceptance of going under the knife by continuing to promote face deformation as a glamorous and ‘Instagrammable’ concept.

It’s honestly incredibly worrying that this did not raise any red flags when passing through the approval stage and Spark is entirely responsible.

Losing perspective on what we actually look like by comparing ourselves daily to an intentional fake self that we present on social media is extremely unhealthy in itself and needs to be part of the wider conversation about these issues.

‘Young people are already bombarded by idealised body images via the media which exacerbate feelings of insecurity and anxiety about their appearance,’ said Kitty Wallace, a spokesperson for the NHS. ‘Filters such as this only serve to reiterate the message that they are not good enough and that cosmetic procedures can be used to solve the problem.’

Spark haven’t officially stated when the mass deletion will begin, but in the meantime, amidst the ongoing pressure to formally tackle issues of self-esteem, we must try harder to safeguard vulnerable people from such damaging messages.