Popping a beautifying filter on the TikTok video she was filming seemed harmless to Mia. It made it look as though she had done her makeup, took away the hint of a double chin that always bothered her, and gently altered her bone structure to make her just that bit closer to perfect.
After a while, using filters on videos became second nature – until she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror one day and realised, to her horror, she no longer recognised her own face.
“I just felt so ugly … It’s a very scary moment,” she says.
“When you’ve got that filter up all the time … you almost disassociate from that image in the mirror because you have this expectation that you should look like that. Then when you don’t, the self-destructive thoughts start. It’s quite vile the way that you then perceive yourself.”
Live, augmented reality filters on photo- and video-based social media platforms including TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat aren’t new but they have evolved from silly hats, puppy dog ears and comically enlarged features to more subtle beautifying effects that may not be immediately obvious to other users.
As well as adding makeup, many of the popular filters that have crept into app libraries also change the face’s proportions, generally to fit female, European beauty standards, with thinner faces, smaller noses and plump lips.
Mia, who asked for her real name to not be used, says she started using filters when one of her TikTok videos unexpectedly went viral and her audience suddenly skyrocketed.
Mia: ‘I was in bed crying some nights about how ugly and disgusting I felt.’ Photograph: Jackson Gallagher/The Guardian
“I’m a bigger girl,” she says. “At that point, I was around 100kg, so it was really scary for me to have people looking at me.”
As her video clocked up more than 1m views, abusive comments started pouring in. “I was getting a lot of hate,” she says, adding: “The filters on TikTok are so smooth and flawless – they don’t always look like a filter. So it felt so easier to use them, just to make me feel a little bit better … but honestly, it doesn’t even look like me.
“I was in bed crying some nights about how ugly and disgusting I felt. I’m almost 30! I shouldn’t feel that way … Imagine a 10-year-old using these filters. That’s scary to me.”
There isn’t yet a full body of research on the psychological effects of these filters but Dr Jasmine Fardouly, a body image expert from the University of New South Wales, says a study she conducted last year suggests the more unattainable the beauty standard that young people are exposed to online, the more harmful it can be …
“It’s promoting a beauty ideal that’s not attainable for you,” she says. “It’s not attainable for anyone, really, because nobody looks like that. Everybody’s faces are being made to look …….