How do beauty filters affect self-esteem?

Graphic shows two photos of young people who have used beauty filters. There is a mobile phone in the background between the two pictures. The colour scheme is mint green and pink.

The impact of beauty filters on self-esteem

Have you ever seen a photo of someone on social media that looked so perfect it didn’t seem real? That’s probably because it isn’t. With the rise in popularity of beauty filters, it’s become more and more common to be able to change your appearance online using apps and present a so-called ‘improved’ version of yourself to the world. But if you’re constantly hiding yourself behind filters, what impact can that have on your confidence and self-esteem?

How young people feel about beauty filters

Revolution Beauty has launched a survey to find out more about this and the results show that beauty filters are seriously impacting young people’s self-esteem, especially young women.

The survey revealed that 40% of young people distort their appearance on every image they share, and that half of all girls don’t like the way they look without beauty filters.

More generally, three in four girls said that they feel insecure about how they look and 80% of 13-34 year olds suffer self-esteem issues based on their looks. These stats show just how much pressure so many young people are under to not only look good online, but to change their natural appearance to feel confident about themselves.

Using beauty filters to feel more confident

It’s not that surprising that beauty filters can seem like an instant self-esteem boost. If you’re feeling a bit rubbish about yourself, they allow you to airbrush out all the things you might perceive to be flaws. They can give you glowing skin, shiny hair and even change the shape of your features.

When you post that filtered photo on social media, it can feel amazing to get that flood of comments and likes, telling you how great you look. But when you know that image isn’t real, it can leave you feeling like the real you isn’t good enough, especially when you are constantly comparing yourself to other filtered images of your friends and celebrities on social media. It’s common to feel trapped in a cycle, relying on the likes and comments of others to get that next boost of approval.

Coping with the impact of beauty filters

Coping with this pressure can be really challenging, especially when it feels like the people around you are stuck in the same toxic comparison culture. But there are steps you can take to build your self-esteem in a healthier, more empowering way.

We spoke to an expert on The Mix’s helpline who supports young people with self-esteem issues (as well as with many other things). They have put together this expert guide to having a healthier relationship with your image and with social media.

Addressing your triggers

Every person’s journey on social media is different and it can be easy to compare someone’s experience to our own. If social media is affecting your self-esteem, try to establish what’s impacting you most – perhaps it’s other people’s content and messages. Pinpointing the areas can help you to manage your self-esteem issues.

Acknowledging that a post is triggering different emotions and identifying what we can do next to take care of ourselves can be really empowering. For example, taking a break from social media to go for a walk, or see people we connect with in person. It’s also ok to hide content you see from others that may be triggering. Read our guide to protecting your mental health online for more tips.

If you want to share content on social media, it’s helpful to think about what you want to share that makes you feel confident, happy and comfortable in an authentic way.

Accepting who you are

Self-acceptance is vital when using social media, as it can help protect our well-being. It is important to recognise the things you like about yourself and to be proud of them. Taking pride in who we are and how far we have come helps us to see that life is a journey to be celebrated, including our mistakes and imperfections.

Identifying that we are all unique and different is what makes us realise that our individuality is special and that we don’t need filters to make us look like everyone else. Remembering that we know ourselves better than anyone else can help us to learn how to brush off negativity from others and choose not to worry as much about what people think.

Understanding the reality behind the photo

People use social media platforms to post selfies where they feel and look their best. It’s not often that a person posts a selfie of themselves when they have just got out of bed in the morning, when they’re not wearing makeup and haven’t styled their hair and their outfit. Preparing the perfect photo and adding filters can give us a rush of confidence, which can be boosted further when we get likes and compliments.

Seeing other people’s perfected, filtered photos can lead us to compare ourselves to them, looking at ourselves and focusing on the features and parts of ourselves that we don’t like. But remembering that the perfect version of others we see on social media isn’t really real, can help to ground us and break out of the pattern of constantly comparing ourselves to others.

This doesn’t mean you should never use beauty filters or look at filtered photos, but understanding what’s real and what isn’t can prevent them from having a negative impact on your mental health.

Building your self-esteem

  • Listening to your mind and body, and learning to say no is OK.
  • Try reducing time spent on social media where you focus on other things you enjoy, for example, trying something new, such as netball or cooking an unusual recipe. 
  • Speaking to people you trust to express how you’re feeling can really help you to understand your emotions and become more in touch with what you need.
  • Expressionism through areas such as art, acting, music and poetry to enhance our creativity can help turn our feelings into something positive.
  • Journaling can help us build healthy self-esteem by identifying positives and negatives about our day, things we are grateful for and how we may combat the negatives. For example, you might acknowledge that:
    “Today was not a good day because I saw a friend post their graduation on Instagram.”
    “Tomorrow is a new day, and I will take each day at a time as I can only focus on what is within my control. I am working towards these areas in life.”
    “We all complete things at different paces and take different pathways and that’s ok, it’s what makes us individual.’’

Next Steps

  • The Self-Esteem Team (SET) run workshops in schools across the UK to help tackle young people's issues with body image, self-worth and mental health.
  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 23-Mar-2022

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