Filters have improved a lot over the years, so much so that many manufacturers have a smoothing/softening/”beauty mode” filter on by default for their selfies. Google has completed some research into the effect that filtered selfies may have on someone’s wellbeing — and it is worrying but not entirely surprising.
After conducting multiple studies and speaking to many child and mental health experts “from around the world” Google found that when someone is not aware that a filter has been applied to a selfie the photo can have a negative impact on their wellbeing. It seems that the result is similar to the Instagram models #nomakeup — the filter set a beauty standard that some compare themselves to.
Google then created guidelines to allow users to decide for themselves if and when their appearance is altered in photos. This means that, by default, this “beauty mode” should be off so that someone can decide for themselves when to turn it on. Google have decided to steer away from references to “beauty” so that those using the filters can decide what the filter means to them, rather than suggesting it.
Starting with the 2020 Pixel phones Google have started applying these guidelines within their own Camera app. The face retouching is turned off by default and in the future will push out an update that will change the descriptive icons and labels for these face retouching options to be “value free”. The new changes will also show someone how the setting is applied and what change it will make to your image.
Google have worked with partners “across a broad ecosystem of apps and devices” to also help others update their experiences. Snapchat is one app that has their image retouching off by default with a user having to opt-in to allow filtering of a photo.
While it may seem like a minor change, as a father of a teenage girl, I know all too well the pressure that social media and the unrealistic standard that kids try to compare themselves to these days. It may only be a small step but at least it is a step in the right direction — next we need social media to put labels on uploaded images that are retouched.