Doctor, I want Angelina Jolie’s lips, I want a childish face like Justin Biber’s, I would like to wear Kim Kardasian’s cheekbones and breasts… They are requests heard in cosmetic surgery clinics predisposed to work those miracles. It is enough to type in a virtual search the words surgery and famous to see that there are people willing to do anything, even to let them destroy their physique, to look like that star they idolize.
A trend in the world of aesthetics that now begins to write, however, a new and unknown chapter. Those anxious patients no longer present themselves to the surgeon with the image of a famous person. Now they come to the consultation with a photo of themselves, which they usually keep on their mobile phone. It’s authentic, yes, but not real since most of those images look little or nothing like the original photo. They have been retouched and passed through many filters until they achieve transformations in the anatomy impossible to reproduce with the scalpel.
Obsessing over having that unreal face or that perfect body and asking a surgeon to perform the miracle is what is known as selfie dysmorphia or Snapchat dysmorphia. A behavior that can degenerate into disorder, if the person ends up refusing to look as he is and is stubborn in transforming his face or body in that selfie passed by so many filters and touch-ups without noticing that that beauty is fictitious.
A fictitious beauty has been imposed on the networks that the youngest want to turn into real
David Vázquez Vecilla, plastic surgeon at the Martín del Yerro Clinic, confirms the new reality. “Coinciding with the increased use of filters in these channels, it is now very common for patients to arrive at the consultation with the capture of a photo of their face, passed through many filters, to ask that their face resemble that retouched image.”
Lips with perfect silhouettes and prominent cheekbones are the most demanded operations, says Dr. Vázquez. This plastic surgeon reveals that what is happening now is a mixture between what happened long ago and this new reality brought about by the deceit of those filters. “Many of these patients still take as a reference the face of a character they admire, but now they no longer come to the office with that image alone. They bring a very retouched photo of their own in which they have added to their physique, with this technology, features of that face or look so admired with which they dream”, adds David Vázquez.
The Deceptive Filter Power Business
“The power of the filter is such that many of the most demanded aesthetic treatments arise from digital trends,” reveals Alexia Herms, an expert in digital marketing. An example of a trend on Instagram turned into a successful aesthetic retouching is the Foxy eyes, based on perfect eyebrows and torn looks. The Kardashians and their sisters are, in part, “responsible for this popular beauty trend that we can all access,” adds Herms. And another revelation that is still worrying. Influencers and celebrities are “the great prescribers of that unreality, since many of them have their own Instagram filters that embellish the face in its entirety and even change the perception of reality”. So they are monetizing their filters “with that fictitious digital beauty, as a claim to launch makeup collections that promise to make you look just as perfect as in the world of Instagram”, warns Herms. Would this be considered misleading advertising? Is it lawful for an influencer to recommend beauty products using filters that alter the reality of their skin? Yes to the former and no to the latter, this digital marketing expert replies. “Misleading advertising in the 2.0 era is called a filter and is present in many of the posts we see on Instagram,” he adds. But the thing does not end there, continues Alexia Herms: “Some influencers require brands to retouch photos before being published, thus promoting an image of themselves away from reality. Many times they are the ones who retouch the content and demand, by contract, to have control of any photo of her that is published “so as not to lose the power of that image of her alter ego retouched on Instagram”, adds Herms. The model Ariadne Artiles has – it is another example – her own filter called Pura Vida on Instagram, and Pelayo Diaz sweeps away hers, called Subtitles. “In fact, the weird thing nowadays is to see someone who doesn’t use filters or effects and shows up as is.”
Can surgery sculpt those unreal faces obtained from filters? “Sometimes yes and sometimes no,” this plastic surgeon replies. It all depends on the degree of modificationn desired and the anatomical part that you want to change. And there is an added problem, because now it costs more to convince that patient that that photo of him, perfect after going through so many filters, is impossible to achieve with surgery. “The important thing, when that happens, is to be realistic and make that person see that sometimes a filter does not praise the natural beauty that many surgeons want to maintain,” adds Dr. Vázquez. This dysmorphia of the selfie taken to the extreme in aesthetic clinics would be comparable, saving distances, to other behaviors that also seek to alter reality – those are already more studied – when something is posted on social networks.
This is explained by Ferran Lalueza, Professor of Communication and Social Media at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). “Through social media we explain a seemingly real story, the story of our daily lives. However, the truth is that it is almost always a fictional story.” He continues: “The first bias comes from the selection we make when we decide what we count and what we silence. This selection acts as an authentic sieve that tends to show the sweetest moments and to ignore both the problematic situations and the most anodyne aspects of our existence. Thus, from the outset we would already distort reality by mere omission, even if we were strictly faithful to the facts that we did decide to expose. But we don’t usually are.”
Plastic surgery clinics note an increase in patients asking for the face of their most manipulated photos
Lalueza believes that it is increasingly difficult for us to “resist the temptation to embellish the story so that it resembles as much as possible the way we would like to be perceived by others. Sometimes, we adorn it with the words that contextualize and interpret an image and, very often, – here this professor already enters the subject of retouched photos – we make it up with the manipulation of that image that we want others to see”.
Conveying so much unreality is now easier than ever, “with the embellishment filters made available to us.” Lalueza considers that it is still “depressing” the fact that “that story of our day to day through the networks (including the photos passed through filters) is increasingly far from the real daily life”.
Laws to prevent retouched images in advertising
Norway has just passed a law requiring Instagrammers and brands to indicate whether images they post for commercial purposes are filter-through or have gone through Photoshop. It is not the first country to take this step. Since 2017 a French law obliges fashion publications to indicate when photographs have been retouched. And last February triumphed in the United Kingdom the campaign #Filterdrop (out filters) initiated by the makeup artist and model Sasha Pallari, who denounced the lack of reality in the content published on social networks. “In Spain we are still not very mature in this aspect. And although here the use of filters and photo retouching are also a reality, there is no regulation to control the authenticity of the content generated by brands and influencers, “says Alexia Herms, expert in digital marketing. Although there are already beginning to be movements to denounce these practices. Instagram profiles such as the popular Fake Beauty, “puts celebrities and their touch-ups in evidence in each of their annotations,” adds Herms. They are also detected, says this expert in digital marketing, “movements in some brands that begin to demand a more real and authentic influencer marketing, thus rejecting photos with extreme touch-ups that promote an unreal beauty”. Should Spanish influencers indicate when content has been retouched? Now nobody is forcing them to do so. “And the reality is that Instagram is an image network, in which visual excellence is rewarded with many likes,” stresses Herms. He believes that “it is legitimate for us to show our best face, but we should avoid promoting our false self.” The essence of social media is authenticity, so “if we alter it too much we break that basic principle of these platforms and, most importantly, we deceive our own followers.” The recommendation of this marketing expert: “Fewer filters and more likes. Less posturing and more legislation.”
A photo retouched with so many filters is still false – says Alexia Herms, an expert in digital marketing. The current reality with so much retouching in the images clashes, says Lalueza, “with the times of those fair mirrors that distorted our face and body”. After seeing myself reflected in one of them, it was a relief to return to the real look. Now, with so much filtro, the tables have been turned and the great danger is in “that the most grotesque image of ourselves is no longer that of those fair mirrors, but the real one, the one we have. And that happens after we liked it so much in one of those retouched photos, “warns the UOC professor.
Alexia Herms points out that this dysmorphia of the selfie is suffered by the younger generations. And especially on platforms like Instagram, “in which the image is everything: there are imposed canons of beauty defined by filters, retouching applications and sometimes a lot of photoshop. It’s a fictional beauty based on digital makeup, with wasp waists, perfect skin, bulky lips and ripped eyes.” And the most worrying thing, for Herms, “is that no one is putting limits on this very false practice.”