Cosmetic surgeons remember with nostalgia and a certain tenderness the times naive in which his patients would come to the office with a photo, say of Angelina Jolie, and they would say: “I want this”. It was as simple as turning the photo upside down and telling them: “Very good, but you are not Angelina Jolie”.
Two decades later, that first meeting has been complicated. Patients pull out their phones and show their own filtered face: “I want this,” they keep saying, but now it’s hard to convince them that it’s impossible. The argument of “you are not Angelina Jolie” makes water because this time they are passed through the symmetric sieve of augmented reality. They arrive at the consultation after a while living with the best version of their factions. They were more handsome, younger, smoother, and of course, they want to pay to have all that.
“They come with their face very studied, they have tried various filters, they know how they look better and they arrive with the diagnosis made: they say if they want to increase the lips or raise the cheekbones… Sometimes they ask for truly strange things that cannot be achieved, for For example, change the position of the eyes. This is Dr. Gema Pérez Sevilla, cosmetic surgeon and specialist in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. On Instagram He has just published a video with his face passed through TikTok’s Bold Glamor. “It is not healthy to show yourself to the world with factions that are not ours and that, in addition, are reproducible in series for the whole world,” he told his more than 45,000 followers.
Although TikTok has not confirmed it, experts believe that Bold Glamor applies a type of artificial intelligence that rejuvenates faces with precision and, what is more perverse, with realism and verisimilitude. Instantly puts you before your best version. Erase everything you don’t want to see: wrinkles, sunken cheekbones, dark circles, open pores, slack chin, dull eyes, sparse eyelashes. And he does it in real time and without fail. It is a mental trap that hooks. The filter has been used more than 16 million times since its launch in February. The Generative Adversarial Network artificial intelligence, known as GANs, compares each face against a database of infinite faces. Then, with technology machine learning Build the best possible version of the filtered face. If the aesthetic is impressive, its realism is even more so, this elevated version of yourself does not fail when you move your face, nor when a hand enters the visual field (traditional filtered faces are always betrayed by the hand movements of their owners ).
The phenomenon of people asking for surgical procedures to look like their digitally filtered image was coined Snapchat dysmorphia (the first filters came via that platform) by Dr Tijion Esho, a plastic surgeon with clinics in London and Newcastle. In 2018, a study published in J magazineAMA Facial Plastic Surgery suggested that leaked images of oneself blur the line between reality and fantasy and could trigger body dysmorphic disorder, a mental disorder characterized by obsession with imagined physical imperfections.
“Until the filters arrived, we had never faced our best version, and this is harmful because it leads to a comparison in which reality always loses out. The perception of our brain is altered, and when you see yourself without makeup you feel a certain rejection towards your image because the brain also prefers the best option”, says Dr. Pérez Sevilla.
Every day Paz Torralba, director of The Beauty Concept clinics, has to do “didactic work” to gain the trust of those patients who arrive with “very high expectations and an unreal image, distorted by filters, and who hide serious problems of self-esteem and self-perception. Both concede that the filters have changed to some extent the practice of their profession.
According to Snapchat, more than 90% of young people in the United States, France and the United Kingdom use its augmented reality filters. Meta, for its part, indicates that more than 600 million people have used its AR effects on Facebook and Instagram. Also, this habit starts earlier and earlier. A 2020 investigation by the Dove Self-Esteem Project says that by the age of 13, 80% of girls had already used a filter to alter their appearance. The Bold Glamor filter is too new for there to be any scientific evidence of its impact on self-esteem, but those earlier filters, which now seem rudimentary and almost toy to us, have been scrutinized.
The available scientific evidence shows that the further the filtered image is from our self-perception, the worse we feel. It also suggests that heavy use of filters speeds up the first visit to the plastic surgeon.
The therapist Adriana Royo has very young patients, under the age of 20, who, when they are sick, put on a filter to appear before their TikTok audience. “They do not show their worst face, although they can tell their followers that they have had a bad day and even cry in front of their audience. That ends up impacting the brain. What I have seen in my last 10 years of clinical practice is that anxiety and depression are closely linked to the constant search for perfection”.
In 2021, a study from the City University of London explored the negative effects of mental health in 175 young women and non-binary people aged 18-30. More than 90% of young women used filters or heavily edited their photos. The most popular filters were those that provided an even, tanned, glowing skin tone, white teeth, and shed several pounds. They used filters to define the jaw, correct the nose, enlarge the eyes and fill in the lips. According to the authors, the younger girls admitted to being under “considerable pressure” for appearing “happy, fun and with a very active social life”, all while being “unproduced pretty” (effortlessly beauty, the Anglo-Saxon term popular on TikTok and other networks behind which filters and enormous hours of editing are hidden). The researchers found that people with low self-esteem and a poor self-image were more likely to use filters, behavior that reinforced negative beliefs about their appearance.
other research they have also shown that filter abuse increases feelings of body dissatisfaction. “They are no longer just comparing their appearance to professionally produced pictures of celebrities, but harshly judging themselves against their own leaked selfies,” the authors write, noting that this relentless scrutiny wreaks havoc on self-esteem.
The obsession with comparing and judging yourself on social media increases filter dysmorphia (a disconnect between actual appearance and edited images deemed fit to share with the world). This alienation from reality was observed by the researcher Ashna Habbid in her work on how Snapchat filters affected young women, published in 2022. Habbid described a ritual: “You begin to find flaws that no one else notices, for example, the shape of the face or the width of the forehead. To correct these supposed imperfections, they frequently look at their old photos. Then they spend a lot of time repeating their selfies over and over again, and editing them until they get the perfect fit. looks ideal. Ultimately they are trying to change their appearance to get closer and closer to their leaked version. It is very likely that there are people who never publish a photo that has not passed that image wash.
Others studies suggest that the detailed and excessive comparison of manipulated faces and bodies generates a type of self-reification that could explain why intensive users of filters opt very quickly for the scalpel to correct themselves definitively. American plastic surgeons warn that unlike other static filters, TikTok’s Bold Glamor smoothes pores and adds lashes and “remains undetectable to the untrained eye.” In this hyperrealism lies its perversion.
TikTok does not release a garment about the design of Bold Glamor, but it has asked its creators in an official statement to be “honest” and mark their content every time they use this filter. In France from Friday it is an obligation. All the influencers they will have to communicate to their audience the use of “beautification filters”, explained the number two of the Executive and Minister of Economy, Bruno Le Maire, to “limit their destructive psychological effects”. The prohibition is part of a behavior guide aimed at influencers and content creators.
The confusion between reality and fiction disturbs identity, writes in an article Renee Engeln, director of the Body and Media Lab at Northwestern University (Illinois). “Looking at your real face in a mirror suddenly scares you. You will never like yourself again. You will always find something that needs to be corrected. Your interest in plastic surgery and other procedures will soon increase”, indicates the researcher.
If Paz Torralba and Pérez Sevilla already notice something, it is that their patients have become more demanding and have very high expectations. They no longer want to be Angelina Jolie, it’s true. Now they want to be the clone of their clone on Tiktok. As Murphy’s First Law states, everything is always liable to get worse.