Let’s talk about filters. You know, those harmless things everyone seems to use nowadays. To brighten themselves up a bit! To hide a blemish! To completely change the structure of their face, to the point they long to look like this digitally altered version of themselves, someone who doesn’t even look like any real human does! Totally harmless!

I did it for a long time. It started with cute, silly filters – ooh this one has whiskers and cat ears! Ooh, this one makes me look like a puppy! Then they gradually started evolving. Yes, they’d still obviously be filters, with flowers and sparkles, but they’d also change your facial features. Some of these filters could even be missed by the untrained eye, as they were so ‘natural’ looking. Probably the most sinister kinds of filters of all. I know what you may be thinking – isn’t that a bit dramatic? Referring to an Instagram filter as sinister? Well, no, I really don’t think it is.

These filters gave people a false impression of what I really looked like. These filters ruined my self-confidence. In the moment, they didn’t. In fact, I thought they were doing the opposite. I’d take a selfie with a filter on and think ‘ooh I look good like that’, then I’d post it and get lots of compliments reinforcing those thoughts. I felt good about myself. They were reinforcing the idea that I looked good. But there were terms and conditions to this idea that I looked good: I looked good, as long as I had a filter on. As long as I didn’t actually look like me.

Because if how I looked naturally was aesthetically pleasing, why would these filters exist which make me look completely different? Why did I prefer how I looked with those filters on? I couldn’t post a photo without a filter. Honestly, I couldn’t do it.

But it wasn’t always like that…

I was in my 20’s when face filters became a thing, so at least I’d experienced my childhood and teenage years without them. Piczo, Bebo, MySpace, Facebook – you name it, I was posting photos of me & my mates everywhere I could – happy, carefree, and completely unfiltered! In that sense, I feel lucky. Lucky that I didn’t go through this as a teenager. It’s hard enough being a teenager, trying to get to grips with who you are and comparing yourself to others. It must be really difficult nowadays, seeing images of your classmates online and comparing yourself, even though looking like them would be a completely unattainable goal. Because they don’t even look like them.

When filters came along, I thought they gave me confidence. I really liked how I looked! In actual fact, they were the thing taking my confidence away. Because I was only happy when the Poppy I was portraying to the world didn’t actually look like me. It was a vicious cycle.

One of the saddest parts is that you end up comparing yourself to other people who are also using filters. People who don’t even look like the photos you’re comparing yourself to. But the filters can be so subtle, so supposedly ‘natural’ looking, that you’re none the wiser. And that’s the danger of it.

People in the limelight use them all the time. Young, impressionable people look up to these celebrities and wish they could look like them. But they don’t even look like themselves! There’s no way of knowing though. No one knows what these people really look like, unless you’ve seen them in person. Yet, people still wish to look like this person who doesn’t even truly exist outside of their screen.

And that’s not a criticism of those celebrities who use them, or anyone else. None of this is a criticism of individuals who use filters. Because everyone does it for the same reason – to feel better about themselves. But you shouldn’t have to feel like you need to look better. Especially when the comparison you’re making is to a digitally altered image.

It hit me one day. The only way I could get out of this endless cycle of self-hatred and only liking myself with a filter on was to stop. So I made a very deliberate choice to post a photo of myself without a filter. I actually really liked the photo, which was a rarity. I wrote a caption being really honest, telling people how this obsession with filtering my face to look like a different person was ruining my self-esteem. I posted it. And that was it. Slowly, my confidence started to return, and I actually became more confident, not less! I haven’t posted a photo with a filter in about 2 years now, and I’ve never looked back.

You may not even realise your self-confidence is affected by your use of filters. I didn’t. It was just a light bulb moment. But ask yourself this: if you’re a person who uses filters regularly, and you took a photo now, would the thought of posting it exactly how it really looks make you feel a bit panicked? Do you think you’d get less people liking it? Do you think you’d keep looking at it and noticing your ‘flaws’? If the answer is yes to any of those questions, then perhaps your self-esteem has been knocked by filters.

And why wouldn’t that be the case? All those filters do is teach you to be unhappy with how you really look. A thinner nose, bigger lips, higher cheekbones. It’s harmless, surely? Well, suddenly the filters aren’t enough. You want more. You want to look like you do on social media all the time. So you get your nose worked on, your lips bigger, your cheeks filled. Which in itself is absolutely fine, if that’s truly what you want. There’s nothing wrong with cosmetic surgery at all. But it does worry me that people now have a distorted view of how they look as a direct results of using filters, to the point where they’re not only changing the way they look in photos, but they’re also going under the knife to get the look of a digitally altered image. It all feels a bit Black Mirror to me.

Something I’ve always loved doing is looking back at old photos. Photos of my mum, grandparents, old photos from when I was a kid, through my teenage years. They’re raw, authentic, real. Imagine this: the year is 2052. You want to reminisce on old photos of yourself. And all you have is photos of you that aren’t even you. They’re this distorted image of you, created by technology. It’s not quite the same, is it?

Stopping using filters is honestly one of the best decisions I’ve made in terms of self-esteem. And now I really want other people to do the same. I know it’s not easy for a lot of people, it can be really difficult. And I know there’ll be other people rolling their eyes at this, thinking ‘god what a first world problem, why’s she talking about it like it’s a huge issue?’. I understand that in the grand scheme of things, there are bigger things going on in the world. But I also understand the importance of learning to be happy in your own skin. And if just one person reads this and changes their perspective, then I’ll be happy!

I challenge you to do it. Post a photo of yourself. You. The real you. Not some distorted version of you created by an Instagram filter. You. As someone who has struggled with self-confidence as a direct result of using filters, I don’t want other people going through the same.

So let’s say no to filters, and yes to becoming confident in who you really are!

Oh, and one last thing while we’re on the topic. I once saw a missing person’s post on Facebook. The photo of the young girl who was missing had a Snapchat filter on. A very posed selfie with butterflies and sparkles floating around her head, her face contoured to within an inch of its life by this filter. Now, let’s be realistic here. That’s not much use in a missing person’s case is it? She’s not going to be walking around with butterflies and sparkles and this digitally edited bone structure. We can’t let filters become so normalised in society that we’re using them in photos of missing people. That’s just ridiculous. So, here’s my advice to you: if someone you love goes missing (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen, but you never know), use a photo with no filters. Even better, one where they look a bit rough! It’ll be a much more accurate representation of who people should look for.

Anyway, if you’re a person who likes to use filters regularly, take on the challenge – let me see you in all your glory! Wait, does that mean naked? I’m not sure. But yeah, get that photo posted and tag me @poppyoa so I can see!

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash