Censoring Plastic

You may have recently noticed that your go-to filter on Instagram is missing. Last month, Instagram announced of their intention to ban all augmented reality filters that promote ‘cosmetic surgery’ as a response to concerns over the app’s harmful effects on mental health. Perhaps you would use ‘Holy Natural’, ‘Top Model Look’ and once they vanished, you even moved on to ‘Clorochina’. All of these filters illustrate the effects of cheek and lip fillers, botox and facelifts. It’s safe to assume that these filters don’t benefit our well-being, you can take my own usage as an example of it.

It starts like this, I am on an influencer’s story and I notice she is repeatedly using the filters ‘Holy Natural’ or ‘Holy Bucks’. I tap on the filter title and give it a go, and I am immediately horrified by the way I look. I send it to friends, poking fun at how ridiculous my augmented face looks, but something more insidious happens. I begin to like it, because I no longer look like Vinny Sandhu, I look like a Kardashian and I have finally achieved the currently idealised standard of beauty. I rarely posted it on my story. But, in secret, I saved a plethora of photos with these plastic surgery filters over the two weeks I used them. They suddenly vanished and I had to come to terms with my natural face again. The face I had loved before, my natural self with all my wonderful scars, wrinkles and untouched nose, was suddenly not good enough.

instagram: @holymariia

Thankfully, my short stint with the filters meant that I could realise that it was silly of me to think otherwise, and that my natural face does not need to be reshaped. However, when these augmented reality filters go from being ‘a little bit of fun’ to a mask that we constantly need to promote an idealised version of ourselves, I would urge for their banning too. I encourage you to consider when the line went from ‘just having fun’ to not posting a photo without these filters since they were introduced to you. Some of these don’t just promote Kardashian-esque beauty, but they push it further by making the individual look more alien, glossy and plastic. There is obviously something deeper going on here.

Of course, we already understand the ramifications of the obsessive nature to which individuals can extremely augment their faces, but should we also address whether it is censorship and question whether it is okay for the app to remove the filters created by their own audience?

The content creators were obviously not happy about this and I shall present @holymariia as an example. In one of her stories she opens with a statement:

“I didn’t delete my filters. Instagram decided to deactivate all of them, because they changed their well-being policy. And I’m also very upset, but will do everything I can to get them back and together we will do that!! … thank you for your support!”

Even in her e-mail to the Spark AR Team (the studio that allows people to create these Instagram filters), it reads: “Why should the users be left with nothing if you [care] so much about them?” and concerns over why she should put in hours of work simply to be banned. She continues the story, by posting grievances and anger from her users, one including teen celebrity Loren Gray, who says: “Literally, who decided, that it would, that it would be a good idea to get rid of HOLY BUCKS and HOLY NATURAL? Literally the closest I’ve ever been to an insta baddie and it got ripped away from me today, I’m so, so sad”. These grievances simply resulted in less augmented version of these filters to take their originals’ places as the creator has recently posted on Instagram today. 

instagram: @holymariia

I would argue that it is a form of censoring and restricts creators from publishing work as they wish. But, if that means promoting better well-being for its users, then I would also say that the app should be removing them, and enforcing the restrictions even on the rebranded filters. The realm of social media has changed our conception of beauty and it’s great that Instagram is making those steps towards battling that homogenised idea of beauty. But, is censoring content creators for augmented reality filters going to achieve much? Absolutely not. It will help some individuals come to terms with their face, or even spark a conversation here and there, but all of us are going to have genuinely discuss our relationship between social media and beauty, how it is vindicated on our feeds and how it is forced upon us before we can see improvement.

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