Photo filters are keeping colorism alive

Many people use filters on social media to ‘beautify’ their pictures. In this article, Tate Ryan-Mosley discusses how these beauty filters can perpetuate colorism. Colorism has a long and complicated history, but can be summarised as a preference for whiter skin as opposed to darker skin. Ryan-Mosley explains that “though related to racism, it’s distinct in that it can affect people regardless of their race, and can have different effects on people of the same background.” The harmful effects of colorism, ranging from discrimination to mental health issues or the use of toxic skin-lightening products, are found across races and cultures.

The article lists a slew of different ways in which beauty filters available on the popular platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook or the Chinese Douyin perpetuate these harmful standards of beauty. To start, as we wrote earlier, many cameras are still incapable of capturing the real range of skin tones. Further, many of these filters whiten faces when ‘beautifying’ them. This ingrains and perpetuates colorist ideas of beauty. On top of that, there are myriad examples of social media promoting whiter faces over darker ones(see here and here), contributing even further to colorism and to narrowing beauty standards. As a result, forms of colorism have become part of the social media environment:

Recommendations based on user preferences often reflect the biases of the world—in this case, the diversity problems that have long been apparent in media and modeling. Those biases have in turn shaped the world of online influencers, so that many of the most popular images are, by default, of people with lighter skin.

See: How digital beauty filters perpetuate colorism at MIT Technology Review.

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