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Unfiltered, the goal versus the reality.
Back in April this year, major advertising company Ogilvy U.K. made the decision not to feature any influencers using filters to alter their appearance.
Ogilvy UK will no longer work with influencers who distort or retouch their bodies or faces for brand campaigns in a bid to combat social media’s “systemic” mental health harms.
While this is an admirable step in combatting the choreographed reality to which we are increasingly exposed, I wonder if it is struggling against an increasing number of filters and apps that attempt to alter our appearance in an overly critical world.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Ogilvy for its stand however I fear that Instagram filters are the tip of the iceberg. What will life be like in the Metaverse? We can be who or whatever we like with virtual reality avatars, removing blemishes and perceived imperfections.
Perhaps it will be like the 2009 Bruce Willis movie Surrogates where we sit in our gaming chairs slowly reducing muscle mass and decaying while living our lives through our alter ego avatars who engage in the real world for us. To be fair, if we end up living like this, infectious pandemics might struggle to get a foothold.
Altering our appearance for an audience is not a new phenomenon, and people have been accentuating the positives and hiding the blemishes for thousands of years. Makeup itself is a type of social media filter. Egyptians were believed to use makeup as early as 3000 BC.
In the days before digital manipulation, there were many tricks and strategies used by actors in the theatre to alter their appearance. Since the invention of television, presenters and actors use makeup to improve their appearance. The makeup reduces the harsh reflections from studio lighting and makes them appear less shiny and more natural.
Advertisers have often gone to great lengths to have a model's hair a certain way, the skin a certain tone, the eye makeup a certain way, just to sell that car or cigarette.
I recall my mother quickly adjusting collars and running a hairbrush over my head before the camera clicked on a family photo. That at a basic level is putting our best image forward.
Surely the plethora of Instagram filters and other image filter apps are simply replicating the work of the makeup artist (or their mothers) and helping people present themselves more favourably to their audience.
If you have ever met a television personality, it can be quite jarring to see them without makeup and lighting. Not because the difference is so large, but because it is slight enough to be unsettling. Someone you recognise and may have seen on tv many times, standing before you might have freckles or skin tones that you were not aware of. Cleverly disguised by makeup to appear more even under studio lights, this carefully altered reality is the image we are used to, not the real person standing in front of us.
Why are we afraid to present ourselves as we really are?
In thinking about this highly filtered and altered world, it struck me that there is often a disconnect between the goal and the reality. Interestingly there are two ways to look at this disconnect.
On one hand, the goal is to look beautiful and perfect versus the reality that very few, are gifted with perfect looks.
Conversely, the goal is to be real and unfiltered when in reality the world we live in is more likely to be altered and manipulated.
As a naturist, my preference is for a natural and unfiltered look, but I accept that we all try and put our best image forward. I no longer need a hairbrush, but I will still check my appearance in a mirror before visiting a business client or going out socially, making minor adjustments where necessary to present as best I can.
Filters are here to stay and I believe are just an evolution of thousands of years of wanting to show our better side.
The mental health harms that come from trying to compete in an increasingly critical world are real. Ogilvy’s decision not to engage influencers who use filters to alter their appearance is a brave decision they are entitled to make.
We should be careful not to assume that everyone using a filter is suffering from mental harm. Filtered or unfiltered the message should be the same, no one should be shamed or criticised for presenting an unfiltered image. Conversely, neither should they be challenged for filtering their image if that is how they wish to present it, so long as it is that person's choice to do so.
The mental health harm may be a result of society's judgmental attitudes and a propensity to voice criticisms freely, without any thought about the impact of such comments, rather than by the use of filters themselves.
Thank you for reading, have a comfortable day.