Warning: this blog contains discussions of mental health, self-harm, eating disorders and body issues in children which may cause distress.
An influx of hyper-realistic face and body filters has taken the world by storm, causing a surge in the usage of face editing apps and face altering trends across all social media platforms. With children and young people becoming more addicted to social media than ever before, this poses the question; what impact are image altering filters having on children’s perception of body image?
The ability to edit an image or video within an app is now readily available on many social media platforms. Some filters can be experimented with, adding humorous masks or props to alter an image or video. For many this is an innocent and fun pastime and may not be a usual cause for concern. However, the use of these filters may be having a more sinister impact on the lives of children and young people, as more and more filters are being developed to improve or alter a person’s physical appearance.
When someone uses a filter, it is not always obvious; for instance, there are apps available that let the user alter their appearance during a livestream or video conversation. This could be extremely damaging to young viewers as they may not be aware that the person they are watching or speaking to is using a hyper-realistic filter, therefore making them believe that they are looking at a true representation of that person’s face and body. This can lead to children and young people feeling inadequate compared to who they ‘’see’’ online.
In a recent online nationwide study, The Harris Poll found that 69% of parents of children under the age of 18 believe that social media image altering apps and filters negatively affect their children’s body image. The survey was done on behalf of ‘On Our Sleeves Movement’ for children’s mental health.
How are filters impacting young people’s mental health?
A staggering three out of four teenagers feel shame and dislike towards their bodies and children as young as 12 have admitted they feel unhappy with the image they see in the mirror. These findings come from a major new study which highlights the risks and dangers associated with social media usage in children and young people.
Shockingly, nearly half of all children and young people in the UK confess that they have stopped socialising entirely, started exercising excessively, or self-harmed because they are frequently ridiculed or teased online about their appearance the study claims. This demonstrates the significant impact that social media and the usage of filters and image altering apps can have on children and young people’s mental health and well-being.
According to a recent report nearly one in five teenagers claim to have body image issues, and 14% reported having eating disorders, such as restricting food intake, binge eating, and purging or vomiting. Also, four out of ten teenagers admit to having significant difficulties with their mental health. Despite this, only one in ten young people are accessing the professional help required. These results come from a recent poll conducted by the adolescent mental health organisation ‘stem4’. According to the charity, children and young people are in urgent need of mental health support.
Since more children and young people are in requirement of professional intervention for their mental health, it is very likely that children’s charities will invest more resources in campaigns that support children’s and young people’s mental health.
Risk-taking behaviours and mental health difficulties in teenagers have been linked to body dissatisfaction. A ‘Be Real’ study of adolescents in the UK found that 36% of those polled claimed they would go to any lengths to be ‘’attractive’’, a further 57% indicated they had considered dieting, and 10% had contemplated cosmetic surgery.
Examples of how social media filters can impact young people’s feelings and behaviours
- They often compare themselves to digitally altered and enhanced versions of others online.
- They may feel pressure to alter and share particular photographs and videos of themselves in order to “fit in.”
- They can have a distorted view of themselves as they may prefer the ‘’filtered’’ version or online version of how they look.
- If they don’t receive enough “likes” or comments on their posts, they could feel disappointment, shame or embarrassment.
- They may start to engage in risky behaviours to deal with their feelings of negative self-worth and poor body image, such as drinking and drug taking.
- In serious cases they may engage in self-harm behaviours, such as inflicting pain on themselves or refusing to eat or eating too much due to feelings of negative body image.
- They may seek out ‘quick fixes’ such as unregulated ‘’diet pills’’ or ‘’weight-loss shakes’’ or attempt to access illegal or unauthorised ‘’clinics’’ that offer dangerous body altering enhancements or procedures.
Why are filters so popular amongst children and young people?
The years between eight and 12 are critical ages for the social and emotional development of children. At this stage in life, they start looking for social networks outside of their parents, and online and offline friendships start to become more important.
By using online filters and editing apps, children and young people can change how they look with a simple touch of a button. With various filters from dog faces, bunnies and funny facial expressions to glamourous make up and fresh-faced beauty filters, there is no limit on what kind of filters can be accessed online and via social media apps. Although many filters provide light-hearted entertainment, the “hyper-realistic” filter’s emergence has created a new threat to young people’s self-esteem and body image.
Studies with teenagers revealed that males typically tend to use filters for fun and entertainment purposes, whereas females use filters to make themselves appear ‘’prettier’’ and to enhance their appearance online. Numerous filters can dramatically alter an individual’s image by changing the skin tone, adding make up, changing the face and bone structure, portraying flawless skin and fuller lips. Giving a ‘’doll-like’’ appearance. This can be detrimental to a young person’s self-esteem as they may start to resent how they normally look without these filters.
According to a 2017 study, only around 65% of the time could people identify altered images online. In spite of this, these heavily edited photographs and videos posted online have the power to lower one’s self-esteem, encourage harmful habits like binge eating or excessive exercise, and alter how a child perceives their identity. Based on this, it has been claimed that because filters alter the appearance of facial features, the message delivered to children and young people is that they are inadequate the way they are and they need filters to improve and change how they look.
How can parents help children with image and body issues?
As parents and teachers are not always able to monitor everything their children do online and may not be as familiar with the latest social media trends, apps and filters, it may be difficult to safeguard their online activity.
Here are some useful tips to help children and young people who may be suffering with feelings of negative body image.
- Ask them about the use of filters and editing tools, why they use them, and how they make them feel.
- Remind them that the majority of what we see online is a highlights reel and the real world is usually very different as we are not exposed to people’s daily realities.
- Go through which accounts they are following with them and perhaps help to filter and remove any accounts that may be causing them to feel insecure or negative about themselves.
- Encourage them to follow body positive accounts, there are plenty out there that celebrate uniqueness and promote learning to love all parts of yourself.
- Remind them how great the ‘’offline’’ version of them is and help them to list their best qualities.
- If you hear them saying negative things about themselves or others remind them to be kind with their words.
- Be a positive role model, if your child or teenager is feeling insecure with their body image, you could suggest going clothes shopping together for a feel-good make over (charity shops have some excellent bargains that are on-trend and won’t break the bank) or get them involved in some physical activity, such as a walk together or some at home yoga. Exercise produces much needed feel-good endorphins that can benefit you both.
Although social media filters and apps can be damaging to the self-esteem of children and young people, not all of them are bad. Social media can be used in a safe, fun and enjoyable way which helps children and young people bond with friends and take time out from the stressors of daily life. Nevertheless, there is clear evidence to suggest that certain social media filters are contributing to reduced self-esteem and poor body image for children and young people.
However, by staying vigilant and checking in with them from time to time, especially if they are showing signs of low self-esteem and body image or are engaging in self-harming behaviours, being aware and talking to them about it can help to eliminate some of those negative feelings and will enable you to get them further help and support.
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues related to any of the topics mentioned in this article, please seek medical advice or call 0800 1111 to speak with Childline or 116 123 for the Samaritans.