Almost 40 years ago, a profound book blasted onto the scene. In “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Neil Postman predicted that media and politics would be treated as forms of ongoing entertainment. His premise turned out to be more true than even he probably initially thought.
Now, with the ubiquitousness of the internet, our world is awash in media — streaming films, TV shows, and music — from everywhere. Constant access to social media, which has morphed into its own world within a world, has indelibly marked work, life and how we form relationships. What seemed like a Brave New World of possibility quickly has revealed a dark underbelly that particularly affects young girls.
Women, since the dawn of time but particularly since the sexual revolution, have participated in their own Hunger Games-like race to be the prettiest, thinnest, and sexiest. Social media heightened the game, with the ability to hide one’s real life from viewers and showcase only 30 second TikTok or Snapchat highlights. As social media evolved and “improved,” women and girls started using filters to diminish their flaws. Some are so advanced, they practically change a person’s entire appearance — down 25 pounds with creamy skin. What a sweet, sweet, fantasy baby.
But new polling confirms what most women already know: On the outside, a woman might look beautiful, but on the inside, she still feels ugly. Social media and filters have made it worse.
StyleSeat had 700 Americans try the “Bold Glamour” filter on TikTok and asked them a series of questions about their own perceived attractiveness in relation to social media and the filter. The results about women and beauty were revealing. 70% of Americans thought beauty filters were bad for self-esteem; 60% think they’re bad for mental health.
Shows like “Keeping up with Kardashians” exemplified a lifestyle of flawless (filtered) beauty, expensive skin care routines and, of course, plenty of plastic surgery to tweak seemingly flawed lips, breasts and anything else. Many of today’s teenagers and young women grew up watching Kim Kardashian — lawyer, millionaire, businesswoman, and gorgeous mom — dazzle without a wrinkle or a dot of cellulite in sight. If she can do it, why not them?
This is a lot of pressure for young girls: In real life, women do not look the way they do in an Instagram filter. They look normal, which is not to say that they don’t look beautiful or cute. They just don’t look the same as a fake person online.
Now, in addition to amusing ourselves to death, we’ve added another layer, thanks to the Kardashians and media moguls of the world: We’re deceiving ourselves to death, too. Some women think that if we catch a snippet of our lives that shows a shiny moment, filter it on Instagram, and post it, people will like what they see — the sliver we show them — and then we will be loved, worthy, valuable and famous.
Unfortunately, this isn’t usually what happens. Back to the polling.
Surprisingly, Gen Zers (72%) are more likely than older generations to think beauty filters are bad for mental health, but despite this, just one in four Americans believe there should be an age requirement to keep children younger than 15 from using beauty filters.
According to a 2021 Wall Street Journal investigation about Facebook’s metrics and algorithms, teen girls believe Instagram made them feel worse about their body and had more feelings of depression and anxiety after being on the app. One-third of teen girls who already felt bad about their bodies said Instagram made them feel worse. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed almost 60% of U.S. girls reported persistent sadness and hopelessness.
If “comparison is the thief of joy,” then willful deceit via Instagram filter is the thief of vulnerability, which we all know, is powerful. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change,” professor Brené Brown says. “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”
But how can anyone be vulnerable or joyful when they’re too busy deceiving the world and themselves about what they really look like, what they can actually accomplish, and and how they truly feel? Perhaps adolescent girls and women aren’t really sad or depressed that they don’t look as flawless as a Kardashian does but because she’s purposefully allowed herself to hide beyond the veil of deceit and thus she can never really be known.
Being truly known and knowing someone else is one of life’s true, great joys. For women and girls now to experience it, they must ignore the beauty culture that whispers they’re not good enough and stop deceiving themselves to death.
This story was initially printed August 5, 2023, 5:32 AM.