Social media filters and their effect on mental health

TikTok and its perpetuation of western beauty standards

Joy Chu and Anika Ravilla

TikTok: the app famous for leading regular teenage girls and boys to stardom, but notorious for putting a negative view on their body image. The platform is “saturated with children as young as eight-years-old” and pressures them to fit western beauty standards such as blond hair, blue eyes and a slim figure. 

Social media use has “skyrocketed over the past decade and half,” the leading app being TikTok. The app is considered “the most downloaded app” with “about 625 million downloads in 2021”, and has more than one billion users in all. The platform has a wide variety of content, but some trends target specific audiences.

With about 62% of Tiktok users between the ages of 10 and 29, the filters and trends that populate the app are harmful for self esteem. A correlation is drawn between the number of views, likes and comments on a video and the creator’s “popularity and relevance.” 

The current craze of TikTok beauty filters adds digital edits on faces, like turn[ing] you into Pixar characters or giv[ing] you a whole new face.” Filters on social apps have been heavily critiqued for highlighting western standards of beauty. 

Other trends focus on idealizations, forcing teens to prove that every single part of their body is “acceptable” and fits the beauty standard”. These trends push people to put their bodies “under scrutiny” for a chance to go viral. Social media algorithms, however, are inherently built on Eurocentric beauty standards that “prey[s] on our insecurities and… turn[s] them into so-called “imperfections.” 

The impact it has on teens is clear. About 9 in 10 teens wish to alter their appearance in immediate response to the usage of filters. Dr. Leela R. Maghavi, a Hopkins-trained psychiatrist stated to have met teens that have discussed undergoing plastic surgery in order to look more like “the filtered versions of themselves.” 

The negative impacts brought on by Tiktok filters are incredibly real. 

A report from The Wall Street Journal noted that “thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse” and “among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the issue to Instagram.”

A Canadian study in 2019 showed a significant positive correlation between time on social media and body image issues. It concluded that “as little as five minutes spent on Facebook or Instagram could have the capacity to elicit this negative response.”

What should have been a way to boost the interactivity of a platform resulted in teens’ lack of confidence. These apps have set a Eurocentric standard of what beauty is perceived as, and anything else is considered the “notion of imperfection.” The filters unconsciously make the user compare themselves to what is known as idealism, a concept widely defined by Western beauty standards. The need for validation from these standards puts the targeted audience at risk for deep-rooted impacts like depression, lack of self-esteem and body dysmorphia. 

It is important to remember that beauty is defined subjectively, not by the standards society sets. Body-positive influences that showcase what real bodies look like proves just how self-love is attainable and absolutely you.