AR beauty filters and their (not so beauty) reality

“In a world full of Kardashians be… yourself” says one of the popular ‘memes’ on the internet. What does it actually mean? Well, all you need to do is scrolling your Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat/Tik Tok feed for about five minutes to figure it out: in no time, you will be overwhelmed by the distorted-almost-unrecognisable faces of your friends, changed by the ultimate face or AR beauty filters found on a Social Media.

What is a face filter? An AR face filter is a sort of mask created with Augmented Reality that can add virtual objects, images, sounds and any kind of make-up to your face by simply framing it with your smartphone camera, whereas an AR beauty filter, besides adding make-up and changing the color of your hair, can also distort (or beautify) your entire face and body, making your eyes look bigger, your lips fuller, your nose thinner, your waist smaller than Dita Von Tees’s and so on… causing a large number of critics, psychological issues, especially among younger people, and self-esteem doubts!

The pioneer of the face filters is Snapchat, when years ago it had the idea of putting facial filters to its stories in order to add amusement and fun to the regular photos. The response was huge! Within months all the other Social Platforms had to update and add different kinds of filters to keep up with it. Nowadays, more than 600 million people use AR filters to their stories and posts across Instagram and Facebook and more than 75% of Snapchat users create content using filters everyday. 

AR beauty filters are not just trouble-maker

It is fair to say, though, that thanks to the introduction of AR beauty filters on Social Media, especially during these past two years of pandemic, both people and companies had the opportunity to “live their lives” in a more standard environment. Considering the Beauty Industry, for instance, Augmented Reality is changing the way some brands approach their customers, creating a more personalised experience for them. Hence, the women and men who wanted to try on new products or see how they look like with different hair were able to have a taste of how they could look like without leaving the house and the companies which encouraged the realisation of such filters, on their side, were more than glad to offer the tool and help them finding their favourite product that they would buy right after.

This is a considerable improvement in the beauty industry, allowing the companies to predict which product can have more success, facilitating the visual merchandising and also the inventory. Moreover, it has been studied that people who use AR beauty filters help the companies to improve the quality of their products and set higher standards thanks to the availability of monitoring a million different kinds of facial features.

In addition, it is necessary to say that augmented reality AR beauty filters can also be a new digital tool for all the make-up artists that want to share their art with the world. They can create their digital make-up and make users try it and if they like it, they will be (obviously) more keen to reproduce it on their very face!

But the reality is way more complicated

As Spiderman once said: “with great power comes great responsibility” and the impact of augmented reality AR beauty filters in terms of psychology and education on people’s minds is far from being optimistic. Studies revealed that the spasmodic use of AR beauty filters especially in young girls may cause a significant increase of negative self-perceptions, encouraging young girls towards the use of cosmetic surgery, with the aim of becoming exactly like the beauty filter they use everyday. Apparently, though, this is only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, it is not only about cosmetic surgery, but it is the whole way in which a person sees herself or himself that is concerning.

The Augmented Reality sector put these filters under the category of “deformations” and “face distortion” and if it is not enough to make us think about the disturbing effect that this may cause us, it seems that the “deformation” happens even beyond the physical aspect, going straight to the psychological one, “deforming” our way of thinking about ourselves and how we should look like. Hence, some women now refuse to be seen without AR beauty filters as if they somewhat think they look that way, so now it is common to see photos where girls wear inhumanely long lashes artistically designed and an amazing silk skin beautifully coloured, forgetting how they looked in the first place. 

There are plenty of these filters and you can recognise them just by their name. On Instagram, for instance, in the story filters section, you just need to choose the “selfie” category and you will find dozens of AR beauty filters usually named something like: SilkLashes, BeautyFace, CuteFace, FoxyEyes, PrettyFace, PerfectEyes etc…

Finally some changes are being made in the AR beauty filters sector

Seeing the concerning amount of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts among girls, apparently caused by the negative way they perceive themselves outside the “filtered reality”, some companies and countries decided to do something about it: Facebook banned face-distortion filters in 2019 (reintroducing them again after a few months), countries like Norway and UK forbad AR beauty filters and photos where the image of the body appeared too far from reality, unless clearly declared in the caption and lots of influencers campaigns touch the topic too, encouraging people to post their natural face by using referred hashtags like #filterdrop and #naturalbeauty.

Undoubtedly, this is only one first small step towards a better awareness on the subject and a lot of work still needs to be done. Especially among the young people, educational awareness on how some technological tools work and their impact on their mental behaviours are necessary. The world of Augmented Reality and new technologies is still a mix of wonder and mystery and it is our duty to recognise the real beauty of it and use it to improve our daily reality.

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