Instagram filters are detrimental to our mental health and body image

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Monica Alarcon-Najarro, Contributing Writer

Instagram was one of the first apps I downloaded as a middle schooler. I remember using it to post embarrassing, yet wholesome pictures of my friends and myself. People were posting solely to create a collection of memories on their profile instead of worrying whether their picture followed a specific aesthetic or would get them more followers.

Today, people post with the intent to possibly become an Instagram influencer through edited photos, and it’s affecting how younger generations think of themselves.

In the past few years, social media platforms such as Instagram have transformed society’s perception of beauty and success for the worst. I believe that Instagram has directly affected the beauty standard across all ages, especially younger audiences.

I remember being drawn to Instagram because of the variety of filters I could add to my photos. Filters used to solely change the color of your photo but have now evolved into transforming a person’s entire look.

New filters change the entire shape of a person’s face, lips and eyes, making them look unrealistically perfect. Original photos end up looking nothing like the finished product after editing.

A study published in Computers in Human Behaviors Reports — “The relationship between Instagram use and indicators of mental health: A systematic review” — identifies a link between time spent on Instagram and effects on body image, such as disordered eating.

Photo filters are definitely not making this any better. As a young girl, I felt like my unrealistic body goals stemmed from pictures that were most likely overedited. I would fantasize about living the lifestyles of the insanely rich people I followed and looking the same way they looked. Influencers such as the Kardashians are known for photoshopping and overediting their photos, making people want to match their unattainable, flawless look.

When it comes to younger generations, kids today are easily able to bypass the age limitations on social media apps such as TikTok.

According to TikTok’s Guardian Guide, the age limit to use the app is set at 13 years old in the U.S. If users are under that age, they’ll be added to the “TikTok for Younger Users experience” which includes more privacy and safety protections.

Though, I’ve seen tons of children recording from their iPads on my “For You” page, making me wonder how these kids are being affected by the media they see on the internet. The newer generations are spending more time looking at screens than they are looking at the outside world.

According to the Child Mind Institute, a survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health asked people ages 14 to 24 how social media affects them. “Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness,” according to the survey.

As a society, we should push the idea of being outside and getting off our phones a lot more. Even though many people find this irritating, I think that the TikTok page that alerts you when you’ve been scrolling for too long is extremely beneficial and should be added to other social media apps.

Social media is negatively affecting the way we see each other online, and the amount of time we spend on our phones is contributing to it. It seems that many of us deal with the fear of missing out because social media posts tend to make us feel more lonely than we are. We can all relate to the nights where we mindlessly refreshed our social media pages to avoid missing out on anything happening with our friends.

In addition, COVID-19 made being on my phone a lot easier as I had nothing else to do while in lockdown. Instead of finding new hobbies, it seemed easier to mope around on social media to see what other people were doing with their time in lockdown. I remember my screen time hit an average of about 10 hours a day during quarantine.

According to a study published by Frontiers in Human Dynamics, the daily screen time usage for people in India, China, the United States, Canada and Australia increased by five hours, reaching 17.5 hours for heavy users during the COVID-19 pandemic. Children and adolescents are among the higher average of screen time usage.

This year, I’ve tried to combat my phone usage by limiting my time on social media. I haven’t been on Instagram as much and usually don’t post on there unless I have an urgency to post, which would mostly go on my stories.

The older I get, the more I realize how precious my time really is and it shouldn’t be wasted looking at a screen comparing myself to others. It all boils down to your perception of social media and how you like to use it; just remember everything on social media is always too good to be true.

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