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Picture Yourself Pretty – Reflections on Snapchat Filters

by in Culture on 2nd January, 2018

Recently I’ve been thinking about the implications of Snapchat and how it impacted the perception of myself, aesthetically and otherwise. The thought at first seemed random and quite mundane if I’m honest.

I thought I was deepening something that wasn’t even that deep.

But I’ve had time to simmer over it and actually, it is that deep. Everything is.

In the world of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter where a picture can be viewed for what seems like millennia beyond when it was first uploaded, the impermanence of Snapchat made it, for me, a pointless and repetitive.

You upload a picture and after 24 hours it disappears? You send it to a person and they look at it once and bam, it’s gone?

Almost Christmas Movie confused question hun almostchristmas GIF

But like most things, it grew on me or rather I became used to the image of seeing little round circles filled with the Lives and Exciting Times™ of those whom I followed, and the use of it became as routine as brushing my teeth. I was already living a digitalised life, why not add one more element to it?

Soon, I was tormenting my followers with pictures of banana bread, and (amazing if you ask me) renditions of Dip’s ‘Deug Deug’. Despite Snapchat’s ability to merge with your lifestyle to the extent that it no longer feels like ‘social media’; like a chore or like something which you must keep up with, you just post – Eat. Snap. Drink. Snap. Laugh. Rewind. Snap; I felt disrupted.


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Stage 1:  

Snapchat has a way of making you feel as if you were continuously accompanied by your own image. It reminds you, at every turn, of what you look like, of the crease in your nose which you tilt your face to hide in selfies and of the way you bop to music when you wish to convey that you are having fun (honestly, you are). Except what is paralleled to you is distorted. Fun-house mirror fabulous. Still you – just passed through layers of algorithms.

At any given point in time, the view of your face is just one button away. One touch of an icon and there you are. Your face is reflected in a way that differs from a hand mirror or a front-facing camera because you can choose the version of yourself which you wish to see at that very moment. Of course, every single time we take a picture, we are declaring that that moment is important in some way and when we share that picture, we are convincing the world not only of the importance of that moment but also that it deserves to be seen by others.

This too is true for Snapchat but the difference is the variety which it gives us access to in terms of self-presentation.  You can be yourself. Or you can be a dog, a koala, an old woman with glasses and cloud-like hair… the possibilities are endless (as determined by those who design and submit filters to Snapchat headquarters, of course).

Soon enough, you can become hyper-conscious of yourself. For me, it was akin to continuously being drawn back into myself/my image/my face/my moments of (supposed) happiness. How do our connections with the ‘real’ (read: less visibly digitalised) world differ when we are regularly drawn back to our digitally curated selves?

Stage 2:  

The signifying element of Snapchat is, evidently, its filters. What would the app be if you couldn’t flick through the bottom row of circles morphing yourself as you go along? Filters arguably add an additional level of potency to the ease by which Snapchat allows us to transform into (our)selves.

Filters like the notorious dog filter, other animal filters and seasonal ones like the pirate filter etc are so far removed from what the human face looks like that to apply them to oneself almost doesn’t have an effect. No-one puts on a cat filter and thinks ‘ah, I still look like myself.’  These filters are so extreme in how they differ from the construction of the human face that to use them can be easily dismissed as a bit of fun. Unlike these, filters such as the popular ‘Flower Crown’ and the ‘Alien’ (I have no idea what that’s really called; it makes your face slimmer, makes everything a weird bluish hue…) can alter your face in such subtle ways that although a change is noticeable, you still think of that version of yourself as YOURSELF. Not you-as-a-cat or you-as-a-dog but just you. With constant use, you can start to think of this version of yourself as being plausible, as somehow, being within your reach because, of course, it is. A tap of one button and there you are, amplified.

It is no secret that these ‘beauty’ filters are modelled on Euro-centric standards of beauty. Skin becomes whiter, the nose becomes more aquiline, eyes become bigger and doll-like, the face becomes slimmer. We live in a society which pivots around this concept of whiteness and all that is associated with it as being more desirable, pure, beautiful, worthy and feminine. If then someone grows up detesting the very features they possess because they are convinced daily that it is grotesque and a filter can aid them in bridging this gap between who they are and who they feel they should seek to be, won’t they hold on to it? If you’ve always wanted a smaller nose or bigger eyes and with the appearance of a Flower Crown you are able to achieve this (to varying extents) won’t you want to hold on to that as it represents your more beautiful self?

I think that after some time, your reflection can become uncanny to you. There’s the ‘you’ in the mirror and the ‘you’ on the Snapchat cam; and in most cases, we all know which one is preferable. How do you negotiate between these two selves?

How do you absorb what you see in the mirror or the front-facing cam as reality when the filter can instead work magic?

The Culture Critic

The Culture Critic

The Culture Critic is a London-based Gambian blogger who writes in order to avoid bursting into flames. She (dis)engages with ideas surrounding visual culture, ‘the ‘homeland’ and post/de-coloniality. She believes in the power of communal eating and has a fondness for feminist literature and puff pastry.