Instagram Bans Augmented Reality Plastic Surgery Filters

(TMU) — Last week, Spark AR, the company behind Instagram’s augmented reality (AR) filters, issued an important announcement on Facebook that may change the face of social media image filters for the better.

Most social media users are well aware of the flurry of video and image filters available to anyone and everyone. From simple film grain and trippy colors to actual features that certainly don’t belong to humans, with the tap of a button you can do a lot to a very normal, regular human face.

But with the advent of these generally fun photo filters and social media in genera came a darker phenomenon than an innocent pair of puppy dog ears.

According to research, social media use, photo filter or not, has been linked to low self-esteem and an increase in the acceptance of cosmetic surgery. The number of facelifts occurring in the United States increased by a shocking 21.8% between 2013 and 2018 and it rose another 21.9% in the 12 months leading up to March 2018, according to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. That’s a big deal. During this time, breast lifts also increased with the most shocking rise of 57.5% happening between 2013 and 2018.

While these numbers don’t show us the cause of the increase, assuming that social media has something to do with it probably isn’t too far fetched of an idea.

In what some may see as an attempt to avoid surgery, Instagram’s Effect gallery provides users with a host of face filters that leave you looking more like a picture perfect magazine model than an actual human. But overuse of these filters that exaggerate your lips, narrow your schnoz, lift your cheekbones and make you look like literally every other person using the same filter leaves some users increasingly disappointed with their actual face.

That disappointment has led some people to undergo what is sometimes referred to as “Snapchat dysmorphia.”

Patients are literally bringing selfies altered with Snapchat and Instagram filters to plastic surgeons requesting to look more like the image in their hand. The problem is so prevalent that researchers at the Boston medical center went so far as to author an article on the phenomenon in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. According to the article, the phenomenon referred to as “Snapchat dysmorphia” is having a significant and harmful impact on self-esteem.

The report goes on to explain that in some social media users, the filters trigger a body dysmorphic disorder. Body dysmorphia leads to compulsive tendencies that often include obsessing over minor of non-existence flaws and leads to a withdrawal from social activities.

A significant concern of doctors is that these social media filters aren’t simply providing the viewer with instances of ideal beauty standards, they are instead unhuman features. According to the report, these features are “unattainable” and blur “the line of reality and fantasy for these patients.”

The trend is particularly concerning to doctors because filters on Snapchat provide not just idealistic standards of beauty but entirely unhuman ones, presenting “an unattainable look and are blurring the line of reality and fantasy for these patients”, according to the report.

I tried a few AR filters myself to see the specific ways in which it would change my face. The most altered image of all only looks vaguely familiar and is unsettling, to say the least.

Sure, who doesn’t like a little skin smoothing every once in a while, especially for someone like myself who doesn’t wear makeup and takes a selfie in a dim room up against a door but with this example it is easy to see that repeated exposure to viewing oneself with even subtle tweaks like softer, smoother skin, larger eyes, and a smaller nose may lead one to become increasingly more discontent with their own face when viewed in a mirror.

And as it turns out, selfies without filters already tend to look pretty strange to the viewer when compared to what we see in a mirror. This phenomenon is strange enough in itself when unpacked. Our mirror image, which we are most familiar with, is actually the reverse of what the world, including front facing cameras, sees. Thanks to mirrors, we are actually most familiar with an inaccurate image of ourselves. Throw in minor distortion due to camera lenses and distance from the camera and selfies are already rife enough with weirdness without the filters. Perhaps this phenomenon is why so many fingers reach for the filter button in the first place.

Clearly this AR filter drama isn’t overly positive and is causing a host of problems of which we may not fully grasp the consequences. Spark AR contends that they want their AR effects to be “a positive experience” and so they are “re-evaluating our existing policies as they relate to well-being.” The company will be removing all effects reminiscent of plastic surgery from the the Effect Gallery and will postpone approval of new plastic surgery type filters. 


Unfortunately, this announcement may be too little too late as the massive increase in plastic surgery is already here and there are numerous other apps on the market that will fine tune one’s face to look more and more cartoonish and less and less human.

Hopefully this announcement and additional research on the topic will lead to widespread action on what seems to be a very big problem, especially considering how many more children are using smart phones, apps, and social media than ever before.

By Emma Fiala | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com