Social Media Filters and the Search for Perfection

Dawn O'Shea

March 15, 2021

A new report from the University of London's Gender and Sexualities Research Centre says young women in the UK feel under constant scrutiny, causing anxiety and distress.

The report - Changing the Perfect Picture: Smartphones, Social Media and Appearance Pressures - is based on research with 175 young women and nonbinary people in the UK aged 18-30 years.

Author of the report, Professor Rosalind Gill at City, University of London, said: "A critique of perfection ran through the research like a bass track, with young people telling me that they feel overwhelmed by images that are 'too perfect'.”

The report raises particular issues about how appearance standards are narrowing and how the affordances of smartphones (e.g., magnification and screenshotting), together with editing and filtering apps like Facetune, are contributing towards a society in which young people feel under constant forensic scrutiny by their peers.

Ninety per cent of women reported using a filter or editing their photos before posting to even out their skin tone, reshape their jaw or nose, shave off weight, brighten or bronze their skin and whiten their teeth.

Young women in the study also described regularly seeing advertisements or push notifications for cosmetic procedures - particularly for teeth whitening; lip fillers; and surgery to enhance bottom, breasts or nose.

Professor Gill said: "With nearly 100 million photos posted every single day on Instagram alone, we have never been such a visually dominated society."

"Posting on social media can produce the intense pleasure of 'getting likes' and appreciative attention, but it is also a source of huge anxiety for most young women."

"I was struck by young women saying to me again and again: 'I feel judged'."

A summary report has been submitted to the Government Equalities Office's Inquiry into Body Image.

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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