5 Reasons to Avoid Social Media Face Filters Leading Up to Your Wedding

They can seriously harm your self confidence.
face filters
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maddy sims the knot associate editor
by
Maddy Sims
maddy sims the knot associate editor
Maddy Sims
Associate Editor
  • Maddy writes for The Knot, with a specialty in beauty, sustainability, mental health and inclusivity.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Maddy wrote for several different publications, including Insider, Bustle, Real Simple and Apartment Therapy.
  • Maddy has a Bachelor's degree in magazine journalism and a Master's degree in health, science and environmental reporting (both of which are from Northwestern's Medill School ...
Updated Apr 06, 2021

The pressure to look perfect for your nuptials (think: toxic conversations around "shedding for the wedding" or having flawless skin) can add unnecessary stress to the wedding planning process. But recently that pressure has gotten even more intense—largely due to face filters on social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

Filters have always been a part of photo-based social media apps. With a swipe of your finger, you can add a slight blur or increase the contrast in the picture. But there's a new kind of filter on the scene, and it can change your appearance: making your nose smaller, your lips plumper and your eyes bigger. With the click of a button, you can morph your face into a completely different shape. But the impact of seeing an unattainable standard of beauty could be damaging your self image (especially leading up to your wedding day, when you may already be feeling insecure). "Seeing a different, digitized version of your face all of the time can lead to dysphoria. This dysphoria may lead to depression, anxiety, disordered eating, as well as OCD-related problems such as body dysmorphic disorder," says Hannah Tishman, licensed clinical social worker and therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy in New York.

Face Filters Cause People to Compare Themselves to Others More

Social media use was already linked to mental health issues even before the rise of face filters. "Lots of evidence shows that it is the process of social comparison that is the underlying mechanism for the effect of social media on body image," says Marika Tiggemann, Ph.D, a psychology professor at Flinders University in Australia who specializes in body image. "There are so many impossibly attractive celebrities and influencers posting, but even normal people only post photos in which they look good. As a result, the viewer thinks they don't look as good as other people."

Our tendencies to compare ourselves to other people have likely been heightened due to face filter technology. Seeing other people using these effects can negatively impact our confidence, says Papri Sarkar, a board-certified dermatologist based in Boston. "Everyone on the internet is using filters regardless of what they look like in real life: celebrities, models, puppies," she says. "How can we expect to like how we look as ordinary humans if Margot Robbie and puppies are getting filtered?"

Face Filters Can Damage Your Self-Image Too

But there's an entirely different layer of comparison emerging due to face filters. We're beginning to compare our natural selves to our filtered selves—and it could be causing some major psychological damage, says Allison Kiefner-Burmeister, Ph.D, an associate professor of psychology at University of Findlay in Ohio, who specializes in body image. "Using face filters every once in a while can be fun and harmless, but there is certainly a risk involved with continued use of image-altering technology," she says. "Just as someone who wears makeup daily may feel naked or unattractive without makeup, a person who continually uses filters may begin to feel unattractive or develop feelings of self-loathing when seeing their non-edited face." These negative feelings about one's face brought about by photo editing software (now known as "Snapchat dysmorphia") are becoming more common, and they can be deeply distressing.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we're spending an excessive amount of time online. Business meetings have been moved to Zoom and happy hours have been relegated to FaceTime. We're spending more time scrolling on social media too. In fact, Instagram was the second most used social media among adults in the U.S. in March 2020. Because of this, we're being confronted with our digital appearance—and pressures to change it—more than ever before. Zoom, for example, offers a "touch up my appearance" feature while Instagram and Snapchat have face-altering technology for use.

Staring at our edited selves is taking a massive toll on our mental health because it's a standard that's simply unattainable. "Face filters don't just hide wrinkles and freckles, they can change the shape of a person's eyes, nose, cheeks, jawline, and more," Kiefner-Burmeister says. "If a person gets so used to seeing this modified face as their own, they may be even more dissatisfied with their own face in real life."

Face Filters Are Reinforcing an Unattainable, Exclusionary Standard of Beauty

Not only are our filtered appearances unattainable, they're also often unnatural, according to Sarkar. "We know that looking completely symmetric makes people look like robots or avatars," she says. "It's not a normal, human look. It's more humanoid." And as a result of our unique features being smoothed over, we're all starting to look the same. "All of a sudden, everyone has a button nose with a straight nasal bridge, exceptionally full and pouty lips, poreless, smooth, glass-like skin and cat eyes that might lift up at the ends," she says. "It's causing many people to look like washed-out carbon copies of other people. People of all ethnicities are suddenly morphing into one plasticky aesthetic."

This reality is troubling, as filters are based on one specific standard of beauty. For example, the symmetrical face shapes we see are based off of "Phi" (the golden ratio for facial proportion set forth by the ancient Greeks centuries ago) says Corey Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist based in Birmingham. "The problem is that these models are based strictly on a European standard of beauty," he explains. "We know that other ethnic groups have striking, stunning features that fly right in the face of the golden ratio. To reduce people's beauty to mere mathematical formulas defies the uniqueness of each face and contributes to a world where everyone looks exactly the same."

In fact, Snapchat filters and other photo editing apps have come under fire for whitewashing and excluding people of color. "Evidence has existed for decades that the promotion of Western beauty standards around the world is damaging," Kiefner-Burmeister says. "We knew the risks of the spread of these beauty standards well before social media became commonplace. Unfortunately, social media apps seem to be innovating the ways people can be made to feel bad about themselves."

People Are Changing Their Faces to Match Face Filters

But what's also concerning is the actions people are taking in light of the rise of face filters. Both Sarkar and Hartman say they've seen a noticeable influx of people coming in for procedures to achieve a filtered effect. "Patients are requesting changes to their faces with filler to achieve exaggerated facial features like fox eyes, enormous, shapeless lips and button noses," Hartman says.

While there's nothing wrong with performing a procedure to feel more confident about yourself, Hartman says there's a point where it becomes unproductive. He says he's been having this conversation with patients more and more in light of face filters. "Half my job is convincing people of how beautiful they already are," he says. "I believe in cosmetic enhancements to make yourself look and feel better. However, there's a point where we go from restoration and enhancement of unique beauty to grotesque augmentation—and risk deforming a perfectly good face."

To-Be-Weds Especially Feel Pressure to Look Perfect

This is especially relevant to to-be-weds, as they face so much pressure to look flawless on their wedding day. There's noise around losing weight as well as having flawless hair, skin and nails. To make matters worse, COVID has thrown everyone off their original self-care routines. "COVID has been tough on the psyche for many folks, but especially for people preparing for weddings," Sarkar says. "Instead of having access to their usual gyms and friends for stress relief, people are working more than ever—and we're doing it while looking at ourselves all day on Zoom."

To-be-weds staring at filtered videos or photos of themselves all day is a recipe for disappointment, Sarkar says. "When they look in the mirror and don't see that image looking back at them, it leads them to my door," she says. Even subtle filters can have this destructive effect too. Certain ones straighten your nose ever-so-slightly while others add a touch of volume to your lips. "The problem is that when you see yourself without the help of one of those filters, you might suddenly be disappointed," Sarkar says.

And the more to-be-weds are exposed to filtered images of themselves (or others), the more their psychological wellbeing is at risk. "If someone has become accustomed to judging beauty based on unrealistic images, they're putting themselves in danger of feeling unattractive in their photos or feeling the need to photoshop their photos past the point of recognition," Kiefner-Burmeister says.

How To-Be-Weds Can Protect Their Mental Health Right Now

The truth is that face filters, while seemingly fun, are dangerous. "It makes you feel good in the short term, but in the long term it makes you anxious and dissatisfied because you have to always keep it up—and it isn't the real you," Tiggeman explains. But here's the good news: Despite the negative impact face filters can have on to-be-weds, there are ways you can protect your wellbeing.

Avoid Face Filters

The number one thing you can do is avoid face filters completely. Not only does this limit opportunities to compare yourself, it will also stop the chain of reinforcement on social media. "When others provide positive feedback on your face filter, that may lead you to become more likely to rely on that validation," Tishman explains. "It reinforces the idea that you should alter your appearance through technology to keep receiving validation and positive feedback."

By only posting natural pictures of yourself, you're reintroducing the world (and yourself) to what you really look like. Tiggeman says you should also only look at accounts where people post natural pictures of themselves so you don't compare yourself to a digitized filter. And finally, she says it's crucial to-be-weds don't view likes or comments as a measure of your worth. You are so much more than a snapshot on a phone screen.

Limit Your Social Media Consumption

Curbing social media use during a pandemic is difficult, but it's one of the best things you can do to avoid Snapchat dysmorphia. "I tell my to-be-weds to take a break from social media and its filters about four to six weeks before the wedding," Sarkar says. "That's the time when everyone gets really frenzied, so taking a break during that time and just concentrating on each other makes for a more blissful coupling overall." If deleting the apps isn't feasible for you, consider setting boundaries. Avoid scrolling before bed or first thing in the morning. Or, set a time limit (many apps allow you to do this easily). Once you've hit your allotted time, the app will close out.

"We have the ability to lessen our exposure to these hurtful feelings by disengaging with websites that promote unrealistic images and unfollowing people to whom we know we are comparing ourselves," Kiefner-Burmeister says. "This can be helpful to our self-esteem and body image in our normal lives, but could be especially helpful before milestone events like a wedding."

Talk to a Professional

The psychological effects face filters can have on to-be-weds are very real. If you're dealing with body dissatisfaction, seek out help from a professional. "While body image may seem like a small thing, it is deeply impactful for people and could be a result of or a contribution to a deeper issue," Kiefner-Burmeister says. Talking to a therapist about why you're experiencing this can help improve your body image and confidence levels, which can help you enjoy your wedding day (and the days after) to the fullest.

Before you schedule any kind of procedure, Hartman says it's crucial to sit down and speak with a board-certified dermatologist first. "It can be tempting to fall down the rabbit hole at home: Looking into the magnifying mirror and scrutinizing every tiny detail about your face and the way it may be changing," he says. "That's why it's important to develop a relationship with your dermatologist and trust them when they give suggestions and advice."

Plus, dermatologists can offer an honest perspective if you're comparing yourself to a celebrity (or the filtered version of your own face). "I always tell my patients to be kinder to themselves," says Dhaval Bhanusali, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "We treat some of the most famous faces in the world, and I can promise you that no one looks perfect all the time or in real life. We all have our flaws, and that is what makes us human."

Pay Attention to Your Self Talk

Social media experts agree: Comparison is the thief of joy. That's why it's so important to get in tune with your self talk. By monitoring your thoughts, you can break the comparison cycle more often. "When you find yourself practicing a 'compare and despair' mentality, instead of chastising yourself for having these thoughts, become curious," Tishman suggests. "Ask yourself: 'What's leading me to compare my physical appearance to others? What value does this add for me?'"

Dig into the way you're comparing yourself to your filtered appearance too. "If you're a perfectionist, a filter can become a way to communicate to yourself that your face is only acceptable when filtered," says Jean Fitzpatrick, a relationship therapist in New York City. "If you have anxiety about how you look in selfies, or if you're constantly trying one filter after another in an effort to correct your 'flaws,' it's time to shift your focus to genuine self-care."

That means seriously changing the way you talk to yourself. "Focus on telling yourself something positive about yourself every day, including something about your face and body," Fitzpatrick says. "Write down these positive thoughts and stick them on your mirror."

Practice Self Compassion

While there's pressure to change your appearance for your wedding, think critically about how you want to remember the day. "[To-be-weds] will likely be interacting with everyone that has ever played a major role in their lives to this point—and they'll pose for photographs that'll become family heirlooms," Hartman says. "I would ask them if they really want to misrepresent their true essence on this day and in these moments."

Your true essence is what makes you, you. It's what caused your partner to fall in love with you. It's your own unique beauty that can't be reciprocated, and that should be celebrated on your wedding day. If you're dealing with confidence issues in light of face filters, log off social media and practice self compassion. "Remember that you are the only person in the world with your fingerprints, your eyes and your skin," Fitzpatrick says. "When you're feeling anxious, put your hand on your heart. Give yourself a hug."

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