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Your phone thinks you’re ugly

Thanks for the thought, Apple, but you can keep your filters

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By Emily Baker on

A couple of months ago, I edited a selfie using the Facetune app and no one even noticed. Despite what it sounds like, this wasn’t a vanity project, it was a delve into the world of what doctors are calling “Snapchat dysmorphia” – a phenomenon in which people’s perception of their own beauty is changed and moulded by the filters offered on the 188-million-user strong platform. And, now, rather than having to download a third-party app, your phone will do it for you straight through the camera. Without asking.

According to owners of the new iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max, the camera app is automatically smoothing and brightening skin, removing blemishes and generally making their selfies more “beautiful”. In other words, Apple thinks we all need a bit of help in the looks department.

iPhone XS owners have been comparing selfies taken on their new phones compared with older photos on a Reddit thread, where many have noticed the differences. “No wonder why I liked that selfie I took the other day,” joked one commenter, while another one suggested the move was a marketing strategy by Apple to make the new iPhone’s camera look better than older models: “This is all marketing so when people compare pictures of themselves from two phones and immediately think the iPhone camera is better because they look better.” It’s not an outrageous theory.

Personally, I have no issue with people editing their selfies if they want to and – crucially – being honest about doing so. Issues with the practice only arise, at least for me, when celebrities and influencers (most of whom make money from looking a certain way on Instagram) deceive their followers into believing they are looking at a real human person with a bum that big and a waist that small. When Apple decide to automatically beautify selfies, they’re just as culpable as the misleading Instagram influencers. Worse, they’re also incriminating unwitting selfie-takers in the act.

When Apple decide to automatically beautify selfies, they’re just as culpable as the misleading Instagram influencers. Worse, they’re also incriminating unwitting selfie-takers in the act

True, Apple aren’t the only tech company guilty of implementing such a filter. When Samsung released the Galaxy S2, in 2011, it came equipped with a not-so subtly named “beauty filter” and has been a mainstay of Galaxy generations ever since. When you turn on the front camera of Huawei’s P20 smartphone, a slider appears on which you can decide how much of a beautifying filter you want – it automatically chooses a five (out of 10). The difference is the user must decide to turn these filters on. In not allowing owners to turn the beautifying feature all the way off, Apple have made that choice for us.

The camera feature seems very out of step with the way society views retouching – every time a celebrity is on a magazine cover having eschewed Photoshop, we celebrate both the publication and the woman (and it is always a woman). American drugstore CVS have even decided to ban all retouched, manipulated and Photoshopped images in their stores. Natural, flaws-out faces are finally becoming de rigueur, and rightly so, too, so why is Apple – supposedly one of the most forward-thinking companies of our time – not on board?

It’s apparently aware of the complaints and is “looking into the situation”, and many claim the smoothing effects are just due to the automatic effects that the iPhone X applies in low-light pictures. If this is true, then it’s a mistake on Apple’s part – but it still needs to be fixed. A dark picture isn’t worth the damage that perfected, edited selfies are having.

But the blame doesn’t lie solely with Apple, or any one tech company, for that matter. Anyone on Instagram, or Snapchat, who surreptitiously edits their photos must have a little accountability – yes, that includes me. Recently, Instagram and the Advertising Standards Authority have cracked down on the way influencers are allowed to sell us products online – is it outrageous to suggest a similar system for edited selfies?


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