Why the new TikTok filter that turned me FROM THIS TO THIS risks stealing the self-esteem — and sanity — of a generation
The extraordinary transformation you see before you may look like it took several hours and a crack team of hair and make- up experts, but actually I managed it myself in just a couple of seconds.
Sitting in my car on a rainy afternoon, I opened up TikTok on my phone, pressed the ‘ plus’ button at the bottom of the screen, clicked on the ‘Bold Glamour’ filter, and in the blink of an eye went from pale and stale (not helped by a stinking cold) to hot and glossy, a cross between Megan Fox and Kim Kardashian on acid.
Suddenly I had soft, pillowy lips, a smooth forehead, a narrow, smaller nose, a sultry, cat-like expression and a tighter, sharper jawline. No blotches, bumps or blemishes, just all-round foxiness.
In other words, a wholly unrealistic representation of the real me.
Social media is full of clever filters that alter a user’s appearance in seconds, and which aren’t always easily detected.
The latest iteration of this is TikTok’s Bold Glamour filter, which uses Artificial Intelligence — or AI — to sculpt the facial features of users, smooth out their imperfections, brighten their teeth and eyes and generally turn even the most dishevelled worn- out middle- aged hag ( me) into something resembling a contestant on Love Island.
Or, as some witty TikTok users have put it, this filter makes me look the way I’d appear to you if you’d had one too many drinks and were in a dimly lit nightclub. Forget Bold Glamour: they should really have called it Beer Goggles.
Since its launch just over a month ago, it’s been used in more than 15 million TikTok videos, with users alternately delighted and horrified at its effectiveness.
Of course, for someone like me it’s just a bit of harmless fun; but there’s a darker undercurrent to this phenomenon. In particular, there are concerns that for some — adolescent girls, especially — these sorts of filters could be really quite harmful in terms of their mental health and self-esteem.
The pressure on young women to conform to a certain beauty standard is nothing new, nor for that matter is it restricted to the young. After all, older women feel increasingly obliged to keep up with society’s expectations via antiageing ‘tweakments’ that are now widely available.
But ever since the introduction of social media filters, which teen favourite Snapchat popularised in 2015, the abyss between what is real and what is not has been steadily growing. According to a recent poll, one in four Britons will only upload a selfie if it’s been through a filter or been edited in some way first, with the figure rising to two in five in the 16-25 age group.
And in a City University study, 90 per cent of young women aged 18-30 said they filtered their social media images because of the pressure they feel to conform. They are driven to scrutinise every aspect of their appearance and are highly critical of their own perceived physical shortfalls.
And it’s not just on TikTok: these filters are endemic across all social media platforms. But there’s something about this specific one, this Bold Glamour, that feels next level.
Most filters are very superficial: they just overlay your existing features, like a digital mask.
This one is different. It’s far more sophisticated, using AI to alter a person’s appearance from all angles. It doesn’t matter which way you move your face or what expressions you pull, the illusion is maintained. It’s the difference between playing a video game on your TV and putting on a virtual reality headset. This is full immersion.
From a technical point of view, it’s impressive; but in terms of the effect on the human mind, it’s more ambiguous. Some users have pointed out that this filter should carry a warning.
And they’re right. When the lie is this believable, the disconnect between who and what a person is in real life and the version of themselves they display and look at online is deepened.
These digital, deep-fake versions of ourselves offer an alternate universe; one which, if you happen to be in the wrong frame of mind or are simply too young to know any better, can make our organic selves seem hopelessly inadequate — alien, even.
This erosion of the true self is bound to cause problems. humans were not designed to spend their lives gazing at images of themselves, let alone warped images of their selves as designed by the gods of AI.
It’s bound to lead in some cases to feelings of physical inadequacy, or even full-on body dysmorphia — both of which can be highly damaging and lead to all sorts of problems, including severe anxiety,
It’s bound to lead to anxiety and dysmorphia
self-harm and anorexia. It also, of course, leads to people wanting — and attempting — to translate the ‘ improvements’ they see on screen into reality.
Hence the shift we’ve seen from cosmetic procedures predominately being used by older women to look younger towards much younger women using them to fundamentally alter their facial mapping.
In particular, the popularity of ‘fox eye’ surgery — plastic surgery that lifts and repositions the corners of the eye — and ‘lip flips’, a procedure which uses Botox to create a fuller, curled-up top lip. Both are attempts to achieve that ‘filtered’, almost cartoon-like look popularised by social media.
And of course, TikTok is conveniently full of videos promoting such procedures.
In truth, though, none of this is very new, it’s just getting more sophisticated.
Let’s face it, for decades the fashion and beauty industries have made women feel worthless, inadequate, less than, in order to
sell us the ‘solution’. Wear this dress, these shoes, use that moisturiser, that mascara — and maybe, just maybe — you’ll be up to scratch.
Bold Glamour is just the evolution of this, another stick with which to beat ourselves.
That is not exactly why, earlier this week, Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden ordered the app to be deleted from all government phones and devices. He did so after concerns that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance — which is based in Beijing — could hand over data to the Chinese government, undermining national security.
But in so doing he may have added to a growing chorus of concern about these sorts of platforms, which not only promote a warped reality with soul- sapping filters, but also draw us into a bizarre, uncensored world awash with bogus conspiracy theories (let us not forgot the devastating effect all the speculation about the recent disappearance of Nicola Bulley by amateur TikTok detectives had on her poor family) and populated by dubious characters promoting all sorts of controversial ideas and behaviours.
It’s not only government officials who need to delete these apps and get their heads back into the real world, it’s all of us.
TikTok may or may not be storing our data and giving it to Beijing. But if we allow it to, it will steal our self-esteem, our sense of reality — and, ultimately, our sanity.
It’s making our organic selves seem inadequate