Towards the end of last year, I wrote ‘Censoring Plastic’, which was about the new policy created by Instagram to “ban all augmented reality filters that promote ‘cosmetic surgery’ as a response to concerns over the app’s harmful effects on mental health”. It has been a year since Instagram pledged to ban self-harm images on its platform and it has been two months since the app banned cosmetic surgery filters from its in-app camera feature. Has there genuinely been an improvement? Judging from the filters that are still available, it’s clear that Instagram’s bans don’t come with instant change, nor do they come with potential for long-term change.
It was filters such as, “Holy Bucks”, “Top Model Look” and “Clorochina”, that prompted the urge for change. You would find them on every celebrity account by adding, or enhancing, the effect of lip and cheek fillers, botox and facelifts. With the introduction of the new policy, I suddenly found all the filters I had saved to give me the ‘Instagram Face’ were gone, and others were outraged by the loss of these filters despite it being a possible solution for facial dysmorphia. It was an important change, despite it being a form of censorship that restricts creators from publishing work as they wish, it promotes a better well-being for its users. Although, they haven’t left Instagram yet, even after the initial waves of removals. When you removed one, another one would show up in its place, or if you removed one, another version of that filter would take its place, or creators would alter the filter slightly, even though they still stimulated the effects of plastic surgery.
I first noticed it on Kylie Jenner’s story through her compulsive use of the “cherry on the cake” filter, by @barbaramalewicz. This filter still continues to give you the look of plastic skin, a brow lift, cheek fillers, a chiselled jawline and lip fillers – that’s all ignored under the two big cherries that take over your cheeks. Another one that is still being used is “Clorochina”, it was one of the filters that apparently didn’t need to change, despite the brow lift, the eye lift and the nose job that no one asked for. I see it on the stories of influencers, friends and celebrities. “Holy Bucks” was banned and wasn’t allowed to be made available, until making alterations to the design. Using this filter now, you no longer have lip fillers, or any other form of surgery. Although, another filter has taken its place, and that’s “dollar baby”, also by @barbaramalewicz. This filter is still giving you lip fillers, cheek fillers, a facelift and a similar dollar sign pattern. These filters are the Hydra of Instagram: for every filter chopped off, the app’s creators will release two more.
Not all of these filters are used by influencers and celebrities though. It is clear that these filters are creating space for the black market for plastic surgery filters, with creators sharing secret filters online, all to avoid detection under the ban under Instagram. It’s not surprising that people are searching for banned filters, as you can find other hidden filters that are not widely used through word of mouth, such as “cute face” by @li.sofia.li and “Top Dolly Look” by @xeniabelskaya. They give you all those enhancements that are not as widely used. I think it’s time to realise that there may not be much that can be done. The use of facial enhancement through augmented reality is popular, with users following the creators in heaps, to track other filters they create and are prepared when they re-upload similar designs they were forced to take down. This policy also ignores that many of the accounts users follow on the app are influencers who are surgically-enhanced, who don’t particularly need these filters, but will also retouch their images.
I tested out whether reporting these filters actually helped, too. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened, and none of them were taken down or put under review. This market for filters that ignore the ban on plastic surgery fillers is continuing to expand at an unprecedented rate, with designers creating more to barely pass the ban, and users who are desperate to use them. It just goes to show that with Instagram, there is no instant change, but more importantly, there may not be a substantial change in the long-term due to the backlash from its users.