Snapchat is one of the more recent forms of entertainment media, and one that is widely used by younger generations. There are many appealing features such as the fact that a user can send a photo that lasts for up to 10 seconds and then disappears, or attach a geotag and current temperature to display their whereabouts.
Perhaps one of the most recent fads is the usage of Snapchat lenses, most commonly referred to as “filters,” that a user can apply to his or her face to add an animated appearance. On an average day there are about 15 filters, and they differ from day-to-day. Below are a few examples of recent Snap filters:
Most users find these entertaining and use them to send to their friends. A user can take both a picture or a video using the filter, and some even change your voice.
With filters that alter a user’s face, there are subliminal hints of both feminine beauty standards for women and masculinity standards for men. So just as Americans understand cultural and social norms through TV and movies, so too can Snapchat influence the way people think they should act. There are some filters that I would consider gender-less, like the filters that just alter a person’s face without adding or changing the assumed gender. However, many filters are either extremely feminine or extremely masculine.
The feminine filters tend to widen the eyes, gloss them over, add some sort of make-up (blush, lipstick, eyeshadow, long lashes, etc.), slim the face, and will typically involve glitter, flowers, or an overall fabulous tone. Even some of the animal filters are feminized.
The masculine filters tend to accentuate facial hair, a prominent jaw line and a really low-pitch voice.
By having these filters it can influence the way that users see themselves, distort their self-image, and reinforce the common way of thinking of genders in terms of only men and women. It can perpetuate stereotypes of gender and reinforce beauty standards that are typically Euro-centric, meaning the standard of beauty in America is held by white people.
Which leads to an entirely bigger issue: Snapchat’s filters whitewash user’s faces.
Not every filter does this, but as seen in the photos above (specifically the flower crown), there is a clear and distinct lightening of the skin. There has been much controversy surrounding this because it is essentially sending a message to users saying that being beautiful means having light skin. The Huffington Post writes “Snapchat’s beauty filters were meant to enhance features that were assumed to be desirable,” which is why this is problematic to the socialization of its users. Snapchat is one platform of many subliminally telling users to think that altering a skin tone or facial feature will allow them to achieve “real” beauty.
In a small sector of this large-scale problem, is the intersection where gender and race meet. It is one thing to look at these whitening filters through the lens of a white woman and to analyze the effects it would have on her – with the pore-less, plastic looking skin and the wide, glossy eyes, demonstrating a version of herself that she will never be able to achieve.
It is another thing to look at the same filter through the lens of a black woman. While it is still making her look like she has a plastic, perfectly groomed face, it is also making her skin tone lighter, whether she wants it to or not.
So while the whitening filters make both white and black user’s face lighter, the message is different for each woman. The white woman may not even notice that it lightens her face because she it is not something that effects her life directly, whereas the black woman may notice right away that the filter is some sort of attempt to homogenize her into the “dominant” group in America – white people. By using the filter, she has no choice to representher own skin tone so she either has to embrace it or not use it at all.
Noticing small details like this in the entertainment media we consume can be the difference between prejudice and understanding. By recognizing the man-made social scripts we are taught, we can begin to learn that perhaps they don’t exist at all.