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The online dating beauty filter trap

Dating coach Eric Resnick recently asked a client to send him photos that she wanted to use for his dating app profile. The images were labeled “FaceApp 1,” “FaceApp 2,” and “FaceApp 3,” revealing that the customer processed them with a photo-editing app that lets you smooth out your wrinkles, fill in your hair, or chisel your cheekbones.

Beauty filters are a bane of online dating, Resnick said. They are also very popular.

Beauty filters are a bane of online dating, Resnick said. They are also very popular. Everyone uses them: women, men, 20+ who can’t remember a world without Instagram, and 50s who prefer to hide the signs of aging. Still, Resnick advised her client to lose the changes, which visibly smeared the skin around her eyes, neck, and mouth. “If you want to have a real connection, you’re not lying,” he told me.

On a practical level, this reasoning makes sense. A visibly filtered face or retouched body could turn off potential matches. Looking different from your photo isn’t the best way to start an in-person date. But it’s also hard to fault people for trying to conform to today’s ubiquitous social media beauty standards, especially on apps that treat us like merchandise in an online catalog. In our increasingly visual culture, there are powerful impulses, both societal and technological, that drive people to improve themselves digitally.

Philosopher Heather Widdows argued in her book “Perfect Me” that because striving to become beautiful has become an ethical endeavor, wrapped in moral language (“You let yourself go”, “You deserve it”), it becomes in fact more difficult to resist. The standard of beauty for women, she said, is both more predominant and specific than ever: With few exceptions, women are said to aspire to appear firm, smooth, youthful, and lean.

Beauty filters are designed to bring you closer to that standard, but they also lower it. Filters make eyes appear bigger, noses smaller, lips fuller (think: the Kardashian-Jenner clan). While the filtered ideal is somewhat racially ambiguous, many filters lighten and lighten the skin, exacerbating existing colorism, reported the MIT Technology Review. “Instagram Face” is instantly identifiable and coveted by social media users from an early age.

Retouching, once reserved for celebrity images in glossy magazines, has become more democratic. It’s easy, it’s available and it pushes us down our throats. Instagram’s filters have smoothed our faces for years. Even Snapchat’s ultra-popular and ostensibly playful puppy filter has enlarged eyes, slender faces, and airbrushed skin. Anyone can download FaceApp or Facetune. Huawei phones come with a “beauty mode” that automatically puts a filter on your face.

Research is still unclear on the impact of beauty filters on our mental health, but it is undeniable that in a world where we constantly look at ourselves – whether through selfies, FaceTime, or Zoom – it is. easy to feel inadequate. When you turn off a filter and look at yourself in the mirror and don’t appear anything like that enhanced image, “there’s a huge dislocation between the real self and the imaginary self,” Widdows told me. “As the gap between them widens, the potential for anxiety, dissatisfaction and unhappiness increases. This is why people keep asking plastic surgeons to sculpt their faces to look like filtered versions of themselves.

“I feel naked without a filter, but I really never think about it, my phone automatically suggests beauty’s,” dating app user, 29, told Johanna Degen, Andrea Kleeberg -Niepage and Jo Reichertz, researchers in psychology at the University of Flensburg in Germany. “The look feels natural,” she said. “I look sick if I don’t use a filter.”

Filters have the power to influence how you think about yourself and how you present yourself. But the design of many dating apps encourages us to make these idealized versions of ourselves public.

Browsing profiles, “like” and match on apps like Tinder is like scoring points. You build up a tally that you can use – consciously or not – to measure response to your profile and optimize how you present yourself. It’s like the A / B test versions of a product. And the product is you, whether you go on an app looking for love, validation, or just fun.

Since scanning apps are very visual and rely on photos rather than text, adding a beauty filter to your image is one way to optimize yourself. Degen of the University of Flensburg found in his research that users of apps like Tinder seem to choose dating profile photos that make them easy to categorize (men holding fish, anyone?) And generally attractive. To compete in the fast, appearance-based app, whose algorithm has matched users for years based on their desirability, most people want to look conventionally sexy.

Trying to appeal to a homogenized ideal means taking less risk – and that includes being frank. While it would likely result in better relationships, showing your true self to public consumption makes you more vulnerable. It is natural to want to comply.

“A filter literally puts a protective surface between you and the other, so you’re showing less of yourself,” Degen said.

Hanna, 23, who asked that I don’t use her full name, posted screenshots of her profile on Reddit, asking people to comment. She used several photos where her face was glowing after being visibly, but lightly, airbrushed, explaining that she used a Snapchat filter because she doesn’t wear a lot of makeup and the filter mimics her effect, giving her eyelashes. bigger and smoother skin.

Still, Reddit commenters criticized his use of filters, which was mild when it came to filters. “The filtered images look too fake,” one said. “Guys hate filters in general, tbh,” added another.

Concerns about filters are understandable in the online dating world. The dating app Plenty of Fish banned face filters in 2019, after saying a survey showed 84% of its users wanted more “authenticity” in online and in-person dating and 70% considered face filters as deceptive.

Many people expect a basic touch-up. They reject it when a certain subjective and tacit limit is crossed and the artifice ceases to be acceptable.

At the same time, the filters have become standardized. The Plenty of Fish survey showed Gen Z are less judgmental about filter use than older daters. “It’s socially accepted to optimize yourself a bit,” Degen said. Many people expect a basic touch-up. They reject it when a certain subjective and tacit limit is crossed and the artifice ceases to be acceptable. The definition of this line can very easily become confusing.

Hanna said she expects other Redditors to dislike the filter – but that doesn’t mean they don’t like the results. “I think they’re a bit hypocritical because most men still go for the filter and / or makeup look,” she said.

The contradiction between expecting a certain look and then complaining when that look is artificially obtained is an example of what Brooke Erin Duffy, a Cornell University professor who studies digital culture, calls the “connection of authenticity.” .

Women are particularly vulnerable to accusations of forgery, which is nothing new. During the Victorian era, makeup was associated with sex workers, who were scornfully referred to as “painted women.” “It was this idea that if you wore too much makeup you were morally corrupt and trying to hide your real self,” Duffy said.

As much of our lives are spent online, the question of who is your “real me” becomes more complicated. It is quite possible, for example, that beauty filters will become as common and accepted as makeup. Today, however, many of us are doomed to failure. These widely accessible tools will make you look more like the widely admired beauty ideal – but if you use them, you could disappoint everyone, including yourself. Or call yourself a catfish.

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