Snapchat beauty filters are the ‘Rickroll’ of 2016. Omnipresent, inescapable and hiding in plain sight - even for Snapchat-shunners. It’s near-impossible to peruse Facebook, scroll through Instagram or swipe across Tinder without clocking a fake ‘fairy’ or ‘flower crown’.
In a digital landscape where Living Your Best Life is king, where our online presence consists only of carefully curated snapshots - never the bigger picture - it’s not hard to see why we’re all posting them (I’ve been guilty on more than one occasion, and on more than one social media platform).
The concept of enhancing your own selfies is nothing new, around since the dawn of Myspace for those willing to pay a hefty price tag for Photoshop. Today, it’s all-too-easily accessible thanks to software like the £2.99 ‘FaceTune’, currently number 12 on the iTunes paid app chart.
But Snapchat blends reality with digital fantasy in a never-before seen way. Using filters on the app is comparable to looking in a mirror: move the phone around and at every angle you’re still in filter character. It’s you, but it’s not you.
Once you’ve seen how different your face could look, it can be hard to switch back to the regular camera, even a regular mirror, without a moment of slight deflation: ‘You looked better on Snapchat’.
Making a direct link between the rising rates of plastic surgery and Snapchat alone would be unfounded, but the ‘social media effect’ on cosmetic procedures is a well-documented phenomenon.
Leading Harley Street plastic surgeon Dr Massimiliano Marcellino tells me around 10 out of 15 consultation patients will arrive with an iPhone packed with Instagram ‘#goals’. Recently he’s noticed they’re bringing in Snapchat filters for reference too.
But is the effect of face-altering technology really possible to recreate with the surgeon’s scalpel?
“The answer is, in theory, yes,” Marcellino says. “It depends on the grade of the modification, because there are always limitations. In principle though, it is possible thanks to advancements in facial plastic surgery.”
So, down to the scary part: The rundown of what exactly Dr Marcellino would have to do to transform me into my ‘Snapchat self’. And even more scary, how much it would all cost.
Botox - £200 to £300
Marcellino tells me the filters are raising the tail of my eyebrows around half an inch and that this can be achieved in younger clients, like me, with an injection of Botox. “Just a little though,” he says, advising to keep things looking natural.
Or Brow Lift - £7,000
Despite seeing an increase in requests for brow lifts, Marcellino says it’s still an uncommon procedure in patients under 50.
“This is a big surgery and normally we wouldn’t recommend this unless there was droopiness of the eyelid,” he explains.
“If you want to open the eye you need to raise the eyebrow - technically speaking this is very easy to do with Snapchat, but more difficult to do with surgery.”
Juvéderm Voluma - £900
Snapchat’s ‘beauty’ filters digitally slim the face, but the same effect in real life would require what’s known as ‘jawline feminisation surgery’. It’s extreme - involving removing a piece of bone from the jaw, costs £17,000, and very rare. Marcellino says he performs one a year, usually on male-to-female transgender patients.
As I already have a small jaw, this isn’t an option. But there are other ways to create the same inverted-triangular face-shape so popular on the app.
“If you can’t reduce the jaw, you need to enhance the cheeks,” Marcellino says. “This can be done with an injection of Voluma filler, [he gestures to the apple of my cheek and along my cheekbone], to create the same proportions.”
Or Lipofilling - from £9,000
For older clients, or those looking for something more permanent (fillers have to be topped up every six months to a year), Marcellino recommends a fat graft, otherwise known as ‘lipofilling’.
“We mix fat with your own stem cells,” he says. “It’s more natural as it’s your own tissue.”
Juvéderm Volbella - £300 to £400
Assessing my lips in the before and after Snapchat photos, Marcellino comes to the conclusion that “they’re not that much bigger” with the filters. He suggests Volbella, a relatively new treatment designed to “refresh and hydrate” the lips.
Providing only around 5% of the volume of standard fillers, it’s a more conservative approach to lip enhancement. “You can define, you can change the shape or you can enhance the volume with this,” he explains.
Restylane Vital - £120
“Snapchat changes the texture of the skin. It’s easy to do with injections,” Marcellino tells me. “We do it a lot before weddings. It’s instant, just like the app.”
He advises using the Restylane branded skin-booster Vital, injected all over the face just below the dermis, to smooth and hydrate skin.
What takes seconds on Snapchat could cost upwards of £25,000 and weeks of recovery time. Despite the extensive list, Dr Marcellino is firm that, given my age, he would only perform the non surgical options on me - totalling at around £2,000. I have to admit, I’m pretty tempted - and I’m not alone.
According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, a record number of Britons (51,000 to be exact) underwent cosmetic procedures last year. The face of surgery is growing ever-younger too - around 70% of 18- to 24-year-olds in the UK would consider having a procedure.
Marcellino links these statistics to the rise of “generation selfie” (unsurprisingly, the highest age bracket of Snapchat users in the US is also 18 to 24), and says surgeons must take measures to protect young clients - such as expectation management and cooling-off periods before procedures.
“During our teens and 20s, our bodies are still changing and it’s important that any patient demonstrates that they have seriously considered the implications of surgery before proceeding,” he says.
“It shouldn’t be a decision based on wanting to look like a celebrity or peer or to achieve an unrealistic aesthetic - these should be red flags to any surgeon.”
He strongly advises that even ‘minor’ cosmetic procedures like fillers must always be carried out by a plastic surgeon, and social media should be completely removed from the equation.
“We would have a discussion in the mirror,” he says, “not through Snapchat as it’s giving somewhat of a false illusion.”
But for every Snapchat user revelling in this ‘false illusion’, there’s another calling out the app for promoting just one standard of beauty. Accusations of “whitewashing” have caused the biggest backlash so far.
The app’s Founder Evan Spiegel is yet to release a statement about the furore, so whether the skin-lightening effect is deliberate or not is still unknown. One thing is certain though: ‘beauty’ filters are designed to enhance facial features assumed to be most desirable.
In an era when society’s definition of beauty is finally broadening and being challenged, it’s no wonder some people - like psychologist Elaine Slater - see the concept of filters as a step backwards for body image.
“Our cultural climate promotes a belief that the body is almost infinitely modifiable,” Slater tells me. “It is as if the body has become a canvas to be fixed, remade, enhanced, reshaped and updated.”
Slater believes over-exposure to images of ‘perfection’ on social media, along with the pressure to achieve it, often lead to a distorted sense of self.
“Ultimately the message is you ‘should’ look like someone else,” she says. “Losing our sense of individuality in this way reduces self-esteem, causes self-hatred, self-devaluation, self-loathing, insecurity, a sense of shame, increases the risk of depression and lowers body confidence.”
Confirming her views, a new government study has revealed that depression and anxiety among teenage girls are soaring amid pressures from social media. Dove’s 2016 Global Beauty and Confidence Report, released in June, also cited “an unrealistic standard of beauty” as the reason UK women have one of the lowest body confidence scores in the world (only 20% of us say we like the way we look).
Surgery alone can’t solve it, so how do we tackle the problem?
According to philosopher Dr Michael Laitman, a deep-rooted desire to feel beautiful is simply part of being human: “When someone tells us we’re beautiful, it means they like us and that fills us up immensely. All we want is love.”
Innate emotional needs aren’t going anywhere, but we can shift our concept of what it means to be beautiful. “We need to acknowledge and value women beyond just their appearance,” Slater tells me.
“Intellect, emotional intelligence, professional success, loving relationships, creativity, capacity for empathy and compassion, resilience and strength, loyalty and leadership, kindness and love, health and fitness are all other measures by which we can define our self worth.”
It may not be as simple as opening an app, but maybe it’s time we broke the ‘fairy filter’ spell and created our own unique magic in our real lives.