Angela Scott
August 19, 2019

Danger: Snapchat Filters Teach Girls that Lighter Skin is “Better”

When Snapchat filters first came into our (and our kids’) lives, it was an exciting way to spice up our selfies. Rainbows coming out of our mouths? Yes, please! Little puppy ears and a little nose? Adorable! But over time, some filters started to come out that made us look a little… too “perfect.” And what’s the harm in wanting big Bambi-like eyes, dewy skin, blue eyes, and a dainty nose? Well, there’s the fact that it’s a Photoshop-esque version of you, but more so, it’s a racist Photoshop-esque version of you. 

Here’s the deal: the beauty industry has been operating under a racist agenda for quite some time. People of color, especially women, often have their skin whitened in magazine shoot edits. Meanwhile, the perfect nose is considered dainty, narrow, and straight — a Western European (aka white) facial feature. Lately, Snapchat seems like it’s offering a much cheaper and immediate options to look flawless: dainty-nosed, bright-eyed, and glowy. But this look isn’t flawless, it’s racist. We just think it’s flawless because our perceptions of flaws are racialized. 

So what does this mean for our kids? It makes them vulnerable to internalizing racist beauty standards, and frankly, all of our kids deserve far better. So let’s have a worthy conversation with the Snapchat filter-lovers in our lives that looks something like this:

  1. Why do you like this filter and how does it make you feel?
  2. Why do you think this filter makes you feel prettier more confident?
  3. What are the implications of feeling prettier or more confident with bigger bluer eyes, a smaller nose, and lightened skin? 
  4. What do you think this messaging is saying to girls and women of color? (You want her to land on the fact that these filters make girls of color feel “less than.”) Add: What can we do to change this (write Snapchat? Post about it? Stop using these filters?)
  5. What are some ways we can make ourselves feel beautiful without adopting those features?

Are these conversations uncomfortable? Yes, they can be awkward and depressing at best. But they are also essential. We know from teaching thousands of girls at MEDIAGIRLS, that if we don’t talk about this undermining message, girls start to believe it. Girls of color absorb the message that lighter skin and straighter hair is fundamentally “better.” This is obviously not okay, and it if we’re going to break this destructive media cycle, it means we all have to push back together. So uncomfortable or not, it’s time to start the conversation with all girls no matter their race.

Michal Shvimer, editorial volunteer for MEDIAGIRLS, is a rising junior at Boston University studying Journalism with a minor in International Relations.
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