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The Problem with TikTok’s New Face-Altering Filter

A new TikTok filter creates a movie-star version of your face. This sucks for women our age who already feel so much pressure to look younger.

These are not good days for TikTok. Oh, yes, you can say the social media platform is doing just fine financially. In the last quarter of 2022, TikTok generated $350 million in revenue—$205 million more than Facebook. But the U.S. government is considering banning Chinese-owned TikTok because it is suspected as being a vehicle for China to spy on the U.S. The CEO recently endured hours of hard questioning before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Noses are thinned, chins are more sculpted, cheeks are raised, skin is smoothed.

But TikTok is also getting slammed from a different quarter over its new Bold Glamour filter, which has been downloaded more than 16 million times since its launch last month. This filter goes far beyond putting a face-altering layer over someone’s image. Noses are thinned, chins are more sculpted, cheeks are raised, skin is smoothed, and eyes are brightened, as a process known as machine learning remaps people’s faces. The effect is so uncannily persuasive in creating movie-star versions of ourselves that, unless closely inspected, it can go undetected.

“It is different,” Luke Hurd, an augmented reality consultant who has worked on filters for Instagram and Snapchat, told NPR. “There are a lot of times where you have to look down in a corner and see, ‘Is there a filter on this person?’ And lately it’s been yes.”

Hurd said the filter is using a type of AI known as a “generative adversarial network,” which is a technical way of saying it compares your face to a database of endless other faces and spits out a whole new airbrushed-looking you.

“It is simply taking images that have been fed into it and targeting parts of your face and then trying to essentially match them,” he said.

Read More: This Photoshop Detective Takes on Unfair Anti-Reality Tricks

Why the Outrage over Bold Glamour?

The problem with Bold Glamour, according to many, is that the blurring of reality and fiction can have a lasting impact on your sense of self. This is especially worrisome in young people, but also for women our age, who already feel pressure to hang on to our youthful looks.

“Your own face that you see in the mirror suddenly looks ugly to you,” says Renee Engeln, the director of the Body and Media Lab at Northwestern University. It doesn’t look good enough. It looks like something you need to change. It makes you more interested in plastic surgery and other procedures.”

Dove Is Fighting Back

The personal care brand Dove is taking a stand against Bold Glamour and the unrealistic beauty standards it perpetuates in an influencer-led campaign from advertising tycoon David Ogilvy.

Part of the long-running Dove Self-Esteem Project, the #TurnYourBack effort kicked off March 9 with a TikTok post from Dove. Stating “no filter should tell you how to look,” it shows women turning away from the camera and walking off screen. Paid posts from influencers including Hira Mustafa and Nadya Okamoto echo Dove’s message, encouraging others to avoid digital distortion.

This is especially worrisome in young people, but also in women our age, who already feel pressure to hang on to our youthful looks.

We applaud Dove for fighting against such a persuasive and potentially insidious force. But this is what we’ve come to expect from Dove. Since the launch of its much-lauded “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004, Dove has become synonymous with raising women’s self-esteem.

Dove is going one step forward and calling on other brands to resist digitally distorted images in their ads. “When you speak to a client or you are in a company, make sure that the imagery you are putting out is not full of distortion,” Firdaous El Honsali, Dove’s global vice president of external communications and sustainability, told AdWeek. “Do not put it out.”

And for all of us, do not put Bold Glamour on or allow women you love to do so.

Read More: This Changes Everything Documentary Spotlights Hollywood’s “Female Problem”

By NextTribe Editors


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