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Face Filter Apps Are a Huge Market, But Where Do We Go from Here - Will Your Grandchildren Recognize Your Snaps?

Face Filter Apps Are a Huge Market, But Where Do We Go from Here - Will Your Grandchildren Recognize Your Snaps?

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Jun. 1 2022, Published 1:37 p.m. ET

In the social media-heavy world of 2022, there's a heavy divide between those who believe images should be natural and unfiltered, and those who believe a little filtering never hurt anybody.

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But there's a huge market for apps that provide face filtering, so regardless of where you fall in the debate it's clear that it's a product in high demand. However, the advent of Facetune and other apps that specifically improve appearance go beyond the daily argument about whether it's best to go au naturale or tweak your imperfections, and start to stray into philosophical questions.

Is it right or fair to edit your own appearance to the degree that someone meeting you might not recognize you in person? Will our grandchildren recognize us or see in themselves familiar family traits that we've edited out of pictures, 40 years from now?

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Where does humanity go from here: do we dive more deeply into the world of beauty perfection, or do we keep filters just for fun and jump back into celebrating the human form and face in all its diversity and imperfection?

Natural Beauty - or Beauty Perfection?

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Scroll through almost any celebrity or influencer social media, and you see perfection. Unless they're specifically a natural beauty advocate, it's almost expected that celebs and public figures are going to filter or edit their online images to provide a perfect product for viewers.

But when it comes to advertising consumable products, there are rules governing just how much editing and false promises a company can engage in. Should that same restriction extend to human products like influencers?

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Whether a person is the type to slap a beauty filter on or something more artistic, every edited photo is somewhat of a lie. It's a suggestion that the person on the other side of the screen is perfect in ways they are not, and it's causing problems in the online dating world. The age-old complaint of men who think women look too different with makeup is now finding a new arena: edited photos.

But that leaves the question - can natural beauty coincide peacefully with highly edited photos, or does society need to take a stance in one favor or the other? There's no easy answer, but the market is choosing for us the more people continue to ride the fence.

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Face Filter Market is Booming

Currently, apps that provide beauty filters are in hot demand. Lightricks, the company behind Facetune and several other editing apps, recently raised $130M in secondary funding, valuating the company at just over $1B. Facetune has been downloaded over 60 million times and solely provides beauty editing and enhancement features.

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Apps like Snapchat, Instagram and other face-editing programs continue to be in hot demand, especially as pandemic-related shutdowns launch and re-launch. More people at home means more people posting on social media, and the face filter market has followed the trend upward.

But even as demand increases, experts worry about what this is doing to those who are image-conscious and vulnerable to the impacts of overly edited images. In the '90's, there was a major pushback against the trend for models to be skinnier and skinnier; it was driving a rise in eating disorders among teens and an unachievable beauty standard that has had ripple effects for decades. When it comes to editing images, the same pushback is coming. Teen girls especially are vulnerable to the unrealistic and idealistic images being presented by beauty filters, and it's driving them to depression and anxiety about their own images, especially when they returned to the real world after pandemic restrictions and couldn't bring their comforting filters with them.

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It's a worrying trend where people are being constantly bombarded with edited images and being pressured into chasing perfection, in some cases even getting surgery to look more like the perfect selfie they obsess over.

MIT Technology Review explains, "The face filters that have become commonplace across social media are perhaps the most widespread use of augmented reality. Researchers don’t yet understand the impact that sustained use of augmented reality may have, but they do know there are real risks—and with face filters, young girls are the ones taking that risk. They are subjects in an experiment that will show how the technology changes the way we form our identities, represent ourselves, and relate to others. And it’s all happening without much oversight."

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According to MIT Technology Review, Facebook boasts that 600 million users have used at least one of their AR effects, and have called the beauty filters a "popular technology." And Snapchat says that 200 million users are engaging with their beauty and other AR-related lenses. MIT adds, "Another measure of popularity might be how many filters exist. The majority of filters on Facebook’s various products are created by third-party users, and in the first year its tools were available, more than 400,000 creators released a total of over 1.2 million effects. By September 2020, more than 150 creator accounts had each passed the milestone of 1 billion views."

Where Do We Go From Here?

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As it becomes clear that despite the rhetoric around natural beauty and body positivity, beauty filters and enhancements are continuing to grow in popularity, society has to grapple with what it means to be human and imperfect.

With more money being invested into virtual reality and augmented reality technology, it's become obvious that corporations expect at least a good portion of human interaction to move online - which means that the faces we want to present to the world are the ones people will see, regardless of the reality behind the filters.

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Selfie culture has already changed the images we're logging for future generations and may provide interesting dilemmas down the road. For instance; it's easy to look at an image of your grandmother from the '60's and see the family nose or curly hair; you can look and recognize the splash of freckles across your face, or the way everyone in your family has the same-shaped lips.

But when kids 30 or 40 years down the line look at pictures of their grandparents, what will they see? Will they see edited-on features, flawless noses and lips, and skin with no blemishes? Will being imperfect become unacceptable and outcast?

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Or will society find a balance where people embrace their natural beauty and reject the obsessive quest for perfection? For now, society is on a fast-track to a world where faces must be flawless - but like all obsessive movements that cause harm, there's likely to be a swing to the pendulum sooner or later.

The trick will be finding a way to keep the vulnerable safe from the obsessive face filter selfie culture, while also recognizing that human experience is expanding, and the world is ready to embrace self-expression and beauty as art - while holding onto the diversity in looks and imperfections that make human beings themselves beautiful. So grab that filter when you're feeling fun, but don't forget the beauty beneath.

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