TikTokers Are Fighting Back Against Face-Altering Filters (& Promoting Authenticity)

Social media has become so ingrained in our daily lives that it's difficult to remember a time without it. In fact, many social media users have never known a time when their lives weren't shared online. Social media has been an exceptionally beneficial tool for staying in touch with loved ones who live far away — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — and for sharing critical information during times of need. It also gives users a chance to express themselves and be creative through the use of media choices, trends, music, stickers, and filters. However, not all things on social media are good for us.

TikTok users are now beginning to speak up about the advancements in filter technology and how far filters have come from where they started. For example, early filters could add sparkles to the screen or replace your face with an emoji. But over the years, face modification technology in filters has advanced. Today, a filter can make your face look entirely different without indicating to viewers that you've added a filter to your post.

As the newest generation of TikTokers are beginning to make their presence known, they're expressing their opinions about filters and advocating for authenticity. Users are bluntly calling out social media platforms for perpetuating harmful narratives by using overly-altered and fake images. Fighting back against face-altering filters is extremely important, and here's why.

Social media can promote unhealthy behaviors

Social media is a great tool for speaking out about important issues, and many influencers have used their platforms to call out toxic behavior, from combating unhealthy interpersonal dynamics to the ways in which technology can warp the way we see ourselves. The viral video shared by @emiliaafaye, with a caption that reads, "This filter is so damaging,"  is a perfect example. With a dramatic filter in tow, Emilia is moving her face in different directions to show her perfectly-polished look. Then, she turns the filter off, revealing her natural appearance. "Just a reminder the internet is fake," the words on the screen read.

Toxic filters and manipulation aren't limited to TikTok but are present on nearly every social media app. Tech companies frequently put profits over the well-being of users by creating addictive platforms based on toxicity. "For teens struggling with body image, anxiety, or other mental health issues, negative social comparison is a dangerous trap, intensifying their engagement with the platform while worsening their symptoms," Sydney Bryn Austin, a professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard University, told Harvard School of Public Health.

And while some steps have been taken to eliminate toxic behaviors on social media, the voices of individual users have been more prolific than the advances of the platforms themselves regarding mental health protection. TikTokers speaking up about toxic face-altering filters are amplifying the benefits of authenticity and promoting healthier content creation.

Beauty filters create toxic comparison with our own bodies

Face and body modification filters perpetuate the negative effects of comparison on social media. Scrolling through your feed and comparing yourself to the curated, altered, and perfected posts of others can instantly decrease your mood and degrade your body image and feelings of self-worth. The analog version of social media beauty filters can be found in the photoshopped images in magazines, so even people born before the emergence of social media have likely been subjected to unrealistic ideals with the potential to negatively impact mental health.

The difference with social media today is that comparison isn't just to airbrushed models on magazine covers, but to our peers and even to ourselves. The "enhance" function on TikTok allows users to create idealized versions of themselves that they post to their accounts. While this may seem like an innocent thing to do, the real danger is seeing your body reflect you through a filter that isn't present when you look into a mirror. 

TikTok user @kbangerz shared a TikTok video of her face before and after a beauty filter, with words on the screen that read, "This should be illegal."  To further combat this unrealistic comparison, the anti-beauty filter trend on TikTok has gained popularity with users posting filtered images of themselves stating, "The filters on TikTok are okay," followed by unedited versions of the same photos with the caption, "But my favorite is your actual face."

Authenticity has amazing benefits

If comparison is the thief of joy, then authenticity is the giver of joy. The anti-beauty filter trend and rejection of face-altering filters are promoting the benefits of authenticity, which include improved mental health, self-love, and self-compassion. Just take this video above, for example, depicting a TikTok user showing her face with and without a beauty filter. By revealing her face without the filter — which users say is "prettier," per the comments — she is promoting her authentic self, thus, encouraging others to do the same.

Understanding authenticity can be nuanced, though, and it might feel uncomfortable at first to refrain from editing the media you post, but the benefits are extraordinary. Wharton Magazine, a publication from the University of Pennsylvania, reports that two core outcomes of being authentic are the cultivation of trust and the creation of meaningful connections. Being authentic could be expressing that you're exhausted and need time to rest, or authenticity can come from posting unfiltered media online. It's emphasized that being authentic often takes courage because we live in a world where carefully crafted identities are the norm.

Embracing authenticity within yourself can inspire confidence, self-love, self-compassion, and self-kindness. Developing these qualities and installing them as pillars of your internal dialogue can lead to benefits, including improved mental state, increased optimism and overall outlook, decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, stronger relationships with others, and improvements in immunity by reinforcing your immune system.

Ways to embrace your authentic self

Reaping the benefits of authenticity is absolutely worth it! Since it's so easy to edit the media we post, and modification technology can make filters appear eerily realistic, it can be difficult to know when we're viewing a filtered image versus one that's unedited. While you can't control what others post, you can incorporate habits that will bring more authenticity into your own life and onto your social media accounts.

One way to invite authenticity into your life is to avoid using face-altering filters (as hard as that may be). As user @tolzhaus says in the TikTok video above: "If you look at yourself all day in a filter like this ... how do you not feel like absolute garbage about yourself? I highly recommend doing no more filters, just for your own self-esteem and your betterment for mental health." A social media break may also be in order.

You can also create a personal vision or mission statement for yourself and assess whether or not the media you're posting is aligned with your values. Authenticity is about getting to know yourself, so spend some time listening to your inner voice instead of relying on outside influences. The stronger your inner voice and confidence, the less likely you'll be to internalize messages from others, including the projections from face-altering beauty filters. Obviously, this is often easier said than done, but with practice and a commitment to your personal values, you'll begin to see positive changes.

How to join the movement

For many users on social media, particularly TikTokers, the trend of posting a filtered selfie next to an unedited version of the same image has inspired many users to cease their use of filters and editing functions altogether. Many users have been vocal about their preference for unedited versions! Using your social media accounts to promote unfiltered images, reject toxic beauty filters, and advocate for authenticity can spread a positive message to your followers and create a ripple effect. 

When you see a friend, follower, or influencer post an unfiltered photo, tell them you appreciate their authentic image. The conversation can also be taken off of social media and into your everyday life by talking with your friends about the negative impacts filters can have on mental health and why authenticity is powerful. Offering genuine compliments to friends and letting them know why you're grateful to have them in your life can spark a culture of supportive authenticity. As more voices are being added to the movement of choosing authenticity, the tide is beginning to turn. Always remember that your voice matters. 

Hundreds of TikTok users are utilizing hashtags like #NoMoreFilters to spread the message that authentic bodies, personalities, and identities are appreciated above filtered content. That hashtag alone has so far collected over 5 million views. Other hashtags being used in the movement are #FiltersAreDangerous, #FiltersArentReal, and #MentalHealth, which speaks for itself.