TikTok launched a beguiling new filter last week that promises to turn every user into the most flawless version of themselves.

While some social-media influencers reveled in their goddess-like transformations, many users recoiled at the dramatic disparity between their real and artificial appearances.

“Catfishing to the next level,” female TikToker Malene Pedersen captioned on a video of her trying out the filter, which TikTok calls “Bold Glamour.”

“This filter makes me feel ugly in real life,” another wrote on her video.

“It hurt when I took it off,” a TikToker named Valentina said.

The disturbed reactions are a harbinger of what’s to come, according to several developmental psychologists who predict that the artificial-intelligence-driven technology will be catastrophic for the mental and physical wellbeing of young girls, who already harshly judge themselves against unattainable aesthetic standards.

While many early social-media effects were comical or obviously contrived — perhaps giving the user dog ears or costume-like makeup — the new TikTok filter removes all facial imperfections without the glitches and other clues that previously revealed the unreality of filtered images. It leaves a contoured, chiseled visage with more proportionate features, plumping the lips, shrinking the nose, eliminating blemishes, evening the skin tone, and adding eyeshadow, blush, and other touch-ups.

The filter is likely to raise the already sky-high bar for beauty, and young girls will be hardest hit, according to Dr. Silja Kosola, a professor in adolescent medicine at the Pediatric Research Center at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

Social comparison is natural for female adolescents, but social media makes them feel constantly inadequate. The filter will likely exacerbate that, she said.

“You see a perfect life, you see these perfect people, and you look at yourself in your mirror with your pimples and what goes with being a teen and it drags you down,” Kosola said. “Social-media use has also driven young people to perfection in other areas of life.”

Social-media effects that enhance physical attractiveness are narrowing the perceived range of typical and achievable body types in the minds of young girls, she added.

“Instead of the spectrum of what we used to see as normal, it’s now narrowing into something that’s impossible for 90 percent of the people on this earth,” she said.

Dr. Mitch Prinstein, chief science officer at the American Psychological Association and former director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina, said evaluating how others think of you — a process psychologists call “reflected appraisal” — is how kids develop a sense of worth.

But social media has “hijacked” this normal psychological process, he said, creating “unrealistic expectations of what we look like and how we portray ourselves and an actual quantitative rating system that gives explicit feedback on that.”

The approval-seeking among adolescents is rooted in biology, Prinstein said. At the beginning of puberty, the brain produces extra receptors for neurotransmitters oxytocin, which makes kids crave social bonding, and dopamine, which makes it feel good to do so, making it intrinsically reinforcing to spend time with peers.

But while kids used to have a healthy dose of social interaction, they’re now bombarded with it on social media, Prinstein said.

“We have 24/7 365 access to peers on social media. Like mice in a box, we are now literally able to bar press for dopamine as much as we want. That’s super concerning,” he noted.

Kids can’t resist the temptation of the dopamine hits because the part of the brain that controls the ability to inhibit behavior isn’t fully developed until around the age of 25, he added. Using social media is therefore more automatic than deliberative for youth as it draws on cravings, instincts, and habit rather than decision-making.

“These kids are driving without a full brake pedal. Because of the oxytocin and the dopamine, kids are very attuned to a certain kind of popularity at this age, about status, dominance, and who has the most power,” Prinstein said. “One of the strongest correlates of that is physical attractiveness. Kids are going to want to care about physical attractiveness because that will give them the most visibility and clout.”

Society already places far too much emphasis on aesthetics, particularly for females, Prinstein said. Adding a beauty filter designed to make the user more stereotypically attractive is a recipe for disaster for young girls, he said.

“Girls are more likely to post whole body selfies than boys are. Girls are already getting tons of images in the media emphasizing some sort of unrealistic beauty ideal and equating that with a sense of value,” he noted. “There’s no filter that makes people seem smarter or kinder. This is a very clear message is that this is quality you would want to enhance and then post.”

Rindie Eagle, a licensed professional clinical counselor in Minnesota, said the beauty filter will further polarize perfection and reality and therefore injure young girls’ self-confidence.

“It’s been my experience that the pictures most teens post on social media already negatively impact self-esteem,” she said. “Once in school, those pictures are often used as a ‘weapon’ to bully and body-shame the teen. It stands to reason that the gap between the filtered picture and reality would be used against the teen as well.”

The filter is likely to undermine young girls’ body image too, New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt said.

“The photos she sees of other girls and women are carefully curated and edited to look good, so all girls come to feel that they are below average. And that was before Facetune and other filter programs became common,” Haidt said. “This latest round of AI filters is likely to continue the trend.”

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.

As social media has become more advanced, girls have suffered more from anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.

Over 60 percent of teenage girls in America felt persistent sadness or hopelessness in 2021— the highest rate in a decade, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month. Thirty percent of girls seriously considered attempting suicide.

Idealistic depictions of beauty on social media may be connected to the recent rise of eating disorders among youth, Kosola said. The filter may drive young girls to seek plastic surgery.

Kosola said she knows a gynecologist in Finland whose practice has received many referrals from young women who are dissatisfied with their fully functioning female anatomy and want cosmetic modifications.

“They are so unhappy with their bodies. They want the perfect hips. They even want the perfect labia,” she said. “Young people now want Botox and lip fillers, even though they’re at the prime of their beauty.”

Years ago, Prinstein conducted research examining children’s relationship with body image. Shown silhouettes of various shapes and sizes, some female sixth graders were asked to identify which one matched them on a one through nine scale, he said. Many of the girls, who were pre-pubertal, picked three, which is a slenderer, juvenile body. However, when asked what body they aspired to, many picked an even smaller and thinner frame, he said.

“This demonstrated the remarkable pressure that even ten and eleven-year-old girls feel. Enough to feel uncomfortable in their pre-pubertal bodies. Not that they’re going to grow up to develop more curves but just the opposite,” Prinstein said.

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TikTok’s New Filter Will Exacerbate Girls’ Mental-Health Spiral, Experts Predict

A new filter called ‘Bold Glamour’ removes facial imperfections, creating an impossible beauty ... READ MORE


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