Beauty Filters: Empowering or Enslaving?

"Beauty filters are double-edged swords that empower us by celebrating confidence, while enslaving us by reinforcing unrealistic beauty standards."  

We live in a world obsessed with beauty.

Want proof? Try this experiment here. Scroll through your social media account and see how many of the following you can spot:

  1. #ootd
  2. A beauty guru
  3. Make-up tips
  4. Age-defying secrets
  5. #fitspo
  6. Weight loss goals
  7. Gym regimes for getting ripped
  8. #VSCO
  9. A bikini selfie
  10. A topless gym selfie

From the #ThighGapChallenge to the #KylieJennerLipChallenge, it’s obvious we can’t get enough of these images. Even if we never hop on board these trends ourselves, there’s something about them that fascinates us.  

Some argue that these are unhealthy because they objectify women, and promote unrealistic beauty standards that often lead to poor self-esteem and eating disorders. Others argue that these empower women, because make-up, beauty filters and diet pills give confidence and a sense of control to some who might not otherwise have the chance. Today, we explore both sides the double-edged sword that is beauty.

Beauty as empowerment

Makeup and fashion can be an incredibly empowering tool for women. Cancer survivors have testified how important their makeup routine was for sustaining their mental health and self-esteem throughout their battle with chemotherapy. It is so important to be able to wake up in the morning, put on your makeup and wig, and see the image of the your old self just as you’ve always known her: with her ample lashes and confident red lip. It restores a sense of normality and control to know that that sallow sunken lady you saw in the mirror last night can easily be transformed with the help of make-up.

Katie Rose with and without makeup

Beauty2thestreetz is a charitable project that offers free make-up, hair wash and colour services to the homeless women on the streets of Los Angeles. Its founder, Shirley Raines, started this project in the belief that these services are just as important as other basic necessities like food and shelter. Living on the streets can dehumanise a person and make them feel as if they are nothing more than a dirty and unsightly eyesore. When they are able to look into the mirror and see the presentable and dignified person they used to be, they will be able to feel like themselves again – be able to smile and love themselves. 

Raines gives homeless lady a make-over

Beauty as disempowerment

On the other hand, beauty may sometimes be immensely destructive to women. In her interview, Jameela Jamil opens up about how she’d struggled with a severe eating disorder all through her teens. She attributes this to images she was constantly bombarded with in the media- celebrities’ weight loss journeys and stick-thin figures. These images incessantly celebrated women’s appearances over their other personal qualities, and told her that to be a successful woman is to be skinny and pretty.

“I still felt like I would never be good enough unless I weighed six and a half stone.” – Jameela Jamil

At photoshoots, editors lightened her skin and sharpened her nose, telling her that these were all the ‘imperfections’ she needed to be rid of in order to fit the acceptable standard of beauty. Each airbrushed photo we post on instagram, which, though empowering to our confidence, may be disempowering to another woman.

“I never thought that having acne and being happy, being proud of myself was (possible). Those two didn’t go together”

In an experiment that studied how the media’s unrealistic beauty standards affected real women, Em Ford examined a number of participants who had struggled with weight-issues and acne problems in the past. Partnering with Professor Walsh, who specialises in Human Brain Research, Ford had these women put in an MRI scanner so that their brain activity could be monitored as they were shown various pictures of perfectly airbrushed women from magazines. The brain scans revealed that every single participant had responded with strong feelings of anxiety when shown these images. The patterns of brain responses, Walsh explained, matched those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) victims’, and suggested that these images activated memories of past fears and insecurities. They were reminded all their ‘imperfections’ and how far they fell short of that ideal standard of beauty. Such was the extent of the trauma that was inflicted by these seemingly innocent pictures in the media. 

Each time we post a perfectly airbrushed selfie, are we reinforcing that beauty standard and putting further pressure on the women who can’t attain it?

Beauty as Empowering Empowerment:

Don’t let your empowerment disempower other women.

It’s great to celebrate your individuality, and it’s even greater when you invite your neighbours to that party, and blast your music loud so you share the good vibes with the whole neighbourhood. However, if you realise that that music is doing more harm than good to your neighbour – perhaps they are going through a tough time and just need some quiet—turn your music down and party differently.

What’s not to love about a headphone party? Or a baking fiesta? Better yet, bring a cookie and a listening ear – you might make their day.

Your individuality is in no way being suppressed when you celebrate it in a different way. In fact, these baking parties open up new opportunities for genuine conversations and authentic relationships, and they might just be a better way of celebrating beauty – both yours and your neighbours’.


Credits to these lovely sisters: Jameela Jamil’s interview , Em Ford’s ‘Redefining Beauty’ experiment , Katie Rose’s ‘Makeup for chemo patients’ video  ,  Beauty2thestreetz 

This post is brought to you by Aestheletic. We believe in celebrating beauty respectfully – we bring our oil paintings to you as urban wear, made from eco-friendly materials.