Filters have become a popular way to alter photographs, especially for those keen to keep up with increasingly high beauty standards in the world of social media.
A recent survey, carried out by Girlguiding, found a third of girls and young women will not post selfies online without using a filter to change their appearance.
Thirty-nine percent of the 1,473 respondents, aged 11-21, said they felt upset that they could not look the same in real life as they did online.
The survey results mirror the worries of make-up artist and curve model Sasha Pallari, who recently launched the hashtag #filterdrop in the hope of seeing “more real skin” on Instagram.
“I just thought, ‘does anybody realise how dangerous this is?'” she said, recounting the moment she spotted a global beauty brand had reposted filtered content from an influencer advertising its products.
“I don’t want children to grow up thinking they are not good enough because of what they see on social media.”
The 28-year-old from Bristol turned to her own Instagram feed to post an “online rant”. It had such a huge response that she set up the #filterdrop campaign.
“That’s when it erupted. To see a realistic and honest thread of photos was just phenomenal,” Miss Pallari said.
She is asking people to upload unfiltered photos to their Instagram accounts and to “value who they are above what they look like”.
“We just don’t see enough normal skin,” she said.
“For me it’s no issue putting up a photo with no make-up on, and not using a filter, but for some of these women who have done it… well, one said it was scarier than having a baby.”
Primary school teacher Katie McGrath has followed Miss Pallari on social media for about a year.
She never thought her evening scroll through Instagram would cross over into her profession, but this summer it did.
“Nearing the end of the lockdown period I received an email from a parent highlighting their worries of a change in their child’s behaviours,” Miss McGrath said.
“The email went on to say that the child was having issues with their physical appearance. I was taken aback. This child is four, just four.
“It then made me feel a deepening sense of sadness, that at such a young age our children are now becoming aware of their physical appearance.”
The 29-year-old from Cwmbran, south Wales, discovered that the pupil had been watching make-up tutorials on social media.
“[She] talked to me about disliking her face without make-up on and wanting to change the colour of her hair.
“This is where #filterdrop came in and saved me.
“I felt I could talk to the pupil about self-confidence from everything I was personally trying to take on board from the campaign.”
The four-year-old then asked Miss McGrath why she wore make-up every day - a question she couldn’t answer.
The following week, she went into school with a “bare natural face”.
“I couldn’t have done that without the confidence Sasha’s campaign has given me,” she said.
Miss McGrath is just one of hundreds of women who have responded to Miss Pallari’s campaign with their own stories.
The model says they have given her the strength to continue to try to tackle an issue she once thought was “too big” to take on.
Miss Pallari’s video about the #filterdrop campaign on Instagram has now been viewed by nearly 50,000 people.
She has been inundated with messages from supporters, many of whom did not realise how attached they were to filters until they were challenged not to use them.
One woman who responded, a 33-year-old mum from Glasgow, had stopped allowing other people to take her photo about three years ago - roughly the same time she began to watch and follow a lot of fitness and beauty influencers.
- The complicated truth about social media and body image
- Girl Guides: Digitally enhanced photos need labels
“I really wanted to be one of the women who supported what Sasha is doing, but when I opened up my camera I burst into tears because I felt physically sick at the person staring back at me,” she said.
“The idea of this image being out there for people to judge and compare against heavily altered images isn’t something I could stand.”
The NHS worker said she had a history of relationships involving physical, psychological and emotional abuse and that her “own self-worth is not where it needs to be”.
“There are so many people who feel like me, heavily dependent on filters and staring down a path of dysmorphia,” she said.
“Mental health is supposed to be a focus nationally; we have no excuse for not knowing how these unhealthy representations could potentially trigger and negatively impact our young people.”
Another of Miss Pallari’s followers, Zia Hutchings, said: “Sasha started sharing things about a filter drop campaign on her Instagram and I realised I literally hated my face, one, without make up-on, and two, without a filter.
“I saw so many pretty girls or models on social media with perfect skin, a perfect nose, perfect figures. I have freckles, sun damage pigmentation, and I’ve had a baby,” the 27-year-old said.
“At first, I didn’t have the guts to join in, then one night this huge overwhelming feeling hit me, that I was scared of my real face.
“I’ve got an 18-month-old daughter. If I can’t share a photo of my face without make-up and no filter, how can I ever expect her to love herself like she should?
“That thought broke my heart.”
Miss Pallari hopes the campaign will have three outcomes: for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to demand that social media influencers must state if they have used a filter when promoting cosmetics; to get face-changing and morphing filters removed from Instagram; and to “see more real skin on Instagram”.
“The [use of] filters is often not declared, so people are left thinking ‘why don’t I look like that?’ and it’s because they aren’t being sold the truth,” Miss Pallari said.
She does not want to see an end to filters, but said that some face-morphing filters “should not be allowed to exist”.
“One of the most recent ones I found slimmed my nose down, it slimmed my face down, and it was so realistic,” she said.
“I’ve never thought my nose was big, and I’m looking at this and thinking ‘maybe it is big’… so how damaging is that going to be to someone with less confidence?
“On social media we have the responsibility to make that change; we are choosing what we put on there.
“If these filters have to be declared, then the cycle could be broken.”
Miss Pallari does not want to “name and shame” companies using filters, but instead has been directly messaging brands that have used filters or reposted photos where a filter has been used.
She said there had been a mixed response.
The ASA confirmed that, following contact with Miss Pallari, it was investigating whether the use of filters in Instagram ads were “misleadingly exaggerating the effectiveness of cosmetics products”.
It added: “While it is perfectly legitimate for influencers to use post-production styling in ads, it is important that filters do not misleadingly exaggerate what products can achieve. We will publish the findings of our investigation in due course.”
When approached for comment about the negative effect of filters on Instagram, the social media platform said it had been working on measures to help reduce social pressure, including testing the removal of “likes” to help minimise comparison culture, and looking at research and trends in order to adapt its policies “as necessary”.
In a statement, it said: “We want AR (augmented reality) effects to be a safe and positive experience for our community, while allowing creators to express themselves.
“That’s why we allow people to create and use face-altering effects on Instagram, but we don’t recommend them in our Effects Gallery, which is how many people discover them.”
Responding to the comments, Miss Pallari said: “It’s a shame there’s still not enough acknowledgement of how dangerous face-changing and face-morphing filters are, regardless of being shown in the Effects Gallery or not. They can still be found really easily just by tying in simple words like ‘beautiful’.
“Filters are most commonly used via the creators and the influencers with the largest platforms, which reach far more impressionable people from their stories than by searching for a filter.
“I hope it’s not long until responsibility is taken for how much slimming down a nose in less than five seconds is causing prolific damage to our confidence.”