Glow Up, Own Up: Should We All Be Honest About Photo Filters?

A new law in Norway asks influencers to label any retouched images – or face fines, even prison.

We’re quick to declare when a photo has #NoFilter, but when we’ve added a sweet hint of Clarendon or a smidge of Valencia? Nada. But should we tell the world when we’ve edited our pictures?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering since reading news of a new law in Norway, which says influencers must declare when a photo has been modified.

The new requirements apply to any paid posts across all social media platforms and state that influencers must attach a disclaimer label to retouched images – or risk a fine. The idea is for influencers to be more open about how they’ve edited an image, including any digital changes to their appearance.

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In an era of “tweakments” – with a growing number of young women, in particular, seeking Botox and lip fillers – the move is designed to combat the body image pressure felt by some social media users.

Dr Beth Bell, a senior lecturer in psychology at York St John University, previously told HuffPost UK that it’s “human nature” to want to look like others. But young women are met with “increasingly complex, airbrushed and cosmetically-enhanced facial beauty ideals” when browsing social media.

“Flawless skin, no wrinkles, big lips, bright eyes and defined cheekbones have been popularised by celebrities [such as] the Kardashians,” she said.

This could be leaving more young women unhappy about their appearance, she believes, amid “increased facial scrutiny in society due to social media”.

In 2020, conservative politician Dr Luke Evans – a registered GP and MP for Hinckley and Bosworth – claimed filters are “creating an unrealistic and unachievable aspiration”. He raised a bill for a similar law to Norway in the UK, but it didn’t pass.

I’ll admit to editing a sunset or beach scene without a second thought, and selecting filters that show my skin in its least shiny or least wrinkly state. But I’m yet to venture into the world of appearance editing apps, like FaceTune. Apparently, though, I’m in the minority.

The app – which allows users to alter everything from their waistline to their lip size – has been downloaded more than 160 million times and reportedly has one million to 1.5 million retouched photos exported every single day.

“Pretty much every single influencer uses Facetune, except for the handful of body-positive ones who go out of their way to talk about why it can be toxic,” Dana Omari, 31, the social media consultant behind @igfamousbydana previously told HuffPost. “To the untrained eye, it can be hard to tell [when someone has used Facetune], but just little tweaks here and there can give them a totally different appearance,” she added. “Anyone can change their entire body or face in a couple minutes.”

But will adding the labels in Norway make a difference? And should us mere mortals outside of the influencing world follow suit?

Sophia Choukas-Bradley, an assistant professor in the psychological and brain sciences department at the University of Delaware, who studies the effects of social media on adolescents, is unconvinced.

“It’s a Band-Aid for a gaping wound, and it seems like a public performative statement that doesn’t address the root systemic problem,” she told the Washington Post. “Making big moves without understanding all the consequences has historically led to unintended side effects.”

Instagram is a highlights reel, we’ve long known that, and I (probably) won’t start telling the world when I’ve brightened the odd bunch of flowers. But will I think twice about smoothing out a wrinkle or two now?

Absolutely. It won’t fix the problem, but it might help.