Augmented reality (AR) filters, or, more commonly, face filters, are now all over our Instagram stories. Not only do we have access to the typical and predictable ones made by in-house creators at Instagram, but we can now also use more experimental ones, created by independent artists that share the filters on the platform.
Previously only available for Facebook and beta testers, the software Spark AR Studio that lets you create custom face filters and other effects for Instagram is now available to all users. This is the chance for up-and-coming visual artists to post their own filters on the platform, and the perfect way for them to reach a bigger audience. One of the most successful AR filter creators, Jade Roche, also known as @ramenpolanski, started creating them just for fun when she first saw that the Spark AR Studio software was available to anyone, thinking, “Really, can we do that?”
Face filters boomed on Instagram after the ‘Beauty3000’ filter was released by Johanna Jaskowska aka @johwska. Her most famous creation was a phosphorescent mask that wraps around the face of anyone using the filter, making them look almost robot-like with perfect skin and pastel reflections. Not long afterwards, this new aesthetic took over Instagram as more people started using ‘independent’ filters, including the ones of Jade Roche.
At 28, the French artist already has an impressive career resume. She’s a photographer, video maker, and graphic designer, but, mostly, she describes herself as a visual artist. Roche has worked with the famous French music label Ed Banger Records, and also helped to organise Corsica’s popular summer festival Calvi on the rocks. “I’ve always been into visuals, whether it is photography, video, or more recently digital. It gives everybody easy access to software that allow people to create whatever they want.” The first filter Roche created, called ‘LA TOUR EIFFEL’, is a face mask that simply adds the Eiffel Tower on the user’s face.
Since releasing that first viral filter, Roche has been experimenting with new and more complex ideas, like her most famous one called ‘PSYCHO’, a filter that circles the user’s silhouette in a multicoloured line instead of just covering their face as most filters do. A few months ago, at Paris Fashion Week, many celebrities used ‘PSYCHO’ as well as some of Roche’s other creations, with big names like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and SZA adapting it repeatedly, shining a light on Roche’s talent as well as her Instagram account. Talking about her newborn ‘fame’, the artist stays humble, “It’s like if I had created a new fashion brand and gave some free clothes to my friend and it somehow ended up on someone famous.”
But creating fun filters for Instagram users requires more than imagination, psychedelic inspiration, and coding skills, all of which Roche has plenty of. It also demands from the creator an understanding of the platform, its users, and what they want. “I’m a 28-year-old girl who lives in Paris, I use Instagram and Facebook a lot. That means that the people I’m creating for are just like me. I create filters because I would use them myself.”
Most AR filter creators on Instagram are software developers, whereas Roche comes from a creative background, meaning she’s got “the visual skills more than the technique”, which explains some of her more surprising designs for Instagram. “I think more about how it’s going to be received on social media, and how people are going to use it than about the filter looking perfect”.
We live in a constant obsession over our social media appearance, and so it would make sense for filters to give us an opportunity to transform our faces and pretend to be someone else. Talking about our selfie culture, Roche maintains a positive outlook, “Filters give us an occasion to reinvent ourselves; some use them to ‘ameliorate’ themselves, but filters are just an excuse to post a selfie. I find selfies amazing. Something big is going to happen in the future. Filters only boost people’s need to post on Instagram.”
It seems that Roche is right. Even though filters push us to give in to today’s selfie craze, creators of this new aesthetic also refute the message that previous filters were spreading, which encouraged young girls to look ‘perfect’, to have full lips or hide their real nose with a fake dog nose. Most of the ‘independent’ filters don’t perpetuate traditional beauty standards. They’re more creative and experimental, and are not created to make Instagram influencers look more beautiful. Shimmering masks and rainbow-coloured backgrounds are mixed with darker designs, some particularly otherworldly—a new aesthetic that people are slowly adopting.
Talking to Screen Shot, @fvckrender, another face filters creator, says he wants to step back from making Instagram filters, “I’ve stopped making them because I didn’t like the attraction it brought to my profile, I want people to enjoy my work, not just my filters”. Unlike Roche, @fvckrender’s opinion on selfies and how important they’ve become to us is not enthusiastic, “I think the selfie addiction is a real problem, and depending on the creators, it can be more damaging or less damaging with the face filters added on top of that, this is why most of my face filters have a self-help meaning behind them.”
The rise of augmented reality filter creators and their newly found ‘fame’ could be an indication of what’s to come for Instagram and its influencers. As a new important part of Instagram, some of these artists are slowly beginning to resemble influencers. “There’s almost a new market with filters and filter creators, where the creators’ profiles look like the new version of influencers,” says Roche, adding, though, that “It’s hard to know for sure.”
From the ‘like’ feature possibly disappearing to influencers wearing digital clothing, there are numerous possibilities concerning the future of Instagram. What about filters? Roche dreams of filters that would allow users go into a virtual room, grab items on the screen, and look at them from every angle, “Imagine not having to get out of your house at all!”
Augmented reality filter creators are still testing most of their work out. With the Spark AR Studio software now being available to all users, it raises the question of exactly how big the trend could become. Until then, Roche has her future planned out, creating filters as a hobby and freelancing the rest of the time. “Wherever this is going, clearly, it’s not changing my life, but it accelerates things by giving me visibility.”
Lightricks, the company mostly known for its app Facetune, just raised $135 million to expand its popular selfie-perfecting products. With the company valued at over £1 billion, it is safe to say that face-editing apps are here to stay.
Lightricks was one of the first companies to implement a subscription price for its mobile applications, initially costing $3.99 in 2013. Facetune 2, although free to download, has a $5.99 fee per month to access all unlimited features and content (alternatively, you can get a one-off purchase for $69.99). The app has an estimated monthly revenue of $3 million. In 2017, Facetune was the most downloaded app, with celebrities like Khloe Kardashian, James Charles and Tana Mongeu expressing enthusiasm over using it. Facetune even sponsored one episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race in season 11, gaining increased popularity among the LGBTQ+ community.
Photo editing and air-brushing is not a new trend or a new idea, but what makes Facetune so popular is the simplicity of it. Unlike Photoshop, Facetune only offers a handful of tools that are easy to use, letting users digitally manipulate their image in minutes and allowing anyone to create a digital persona, far from their real selves. In more than 5 years, the app became a catalyst in creating the ‘Instagram face’ aesthetic, as well as becoming the centre of conversation when discussing the discrepancy between our crafted online selves and reality.
While there is nothing wrong with people wanting to use these apps, the criticism around the topic is more than understandable. The increased use of apps like Snapchat and Facetune has been flagged as a potential cause for body dysmorphia—there’s even a new phenomenon called the “Snapchat dysmorphia”, described as people requesting surgery to appear like the edited version of themselves under the Snapchat filters.
Just recently, Qiaobiluo Dianxia, a vlogger from China known as Your Highness Qiaobilou was exposed to be 58 years old, despite posing as a young woman. She was masking her face behind a filter during a live stream on Douyu, when a technical glitch revealed her true identity to 100,000 fans. Before the internet starts accusing Dianxia of ‘deception’, it is important to consider what could have motivated her to do this. According to China’s Global Times, Dianxia was “worshiped as a cute goddess”, with some of her fans giving her over £11, 000 during streaming sessions. Sadly, digital filters and Facetune retouching remind us that we exist in a culture that praises unreachable, non-existent perfection and favours outdated ‘traditional’ beauty standards, which predominantly impact young women.
And it is true—ageism is extremely prevalent in this. Would Dianxia have an online career as successful had she used her true identity? Probably not. Therefore, before you cancel yet another woman for ‘deceiving’ you by failing to live up to these unattainable and frankly narrow-minded standards, think why she got there in the first place.
Even when it comes to job applications, companies have begun asking people to stop uploading photographs where they appeared to be using such filters. Since Snapchat came out with filters in 2015 (remember the dog filter that went viral for years after that?), face filters have evolved dramatically. In 2019, we see a shift from the traditional ‘Instagram face’ aesthetic to a much more futuristic, robotic-cyborg one. With filters like Beauty3000 taking over and going viral, it does seem that we are shifting towards a new digital existence. Traditional notions of beauty and its standards might be slowly changing, making it hard to predict how long the popularity of apps like Facetune will exist for, but, for now, it is still very much prevalent.
With online forums such as r/instagramreality exposing the differences between people’s constructed faces with the real ones, there are countless arguments that it is apps like Facetune that allow for deception in the first place. Yes, we, as a generation so fixated on our social media image have brought this upon ourselves, but why do we have the need to withhold this fake image? Most importantly, why do we have to shame others for choosing to put on this fake persona, if it makes them happy and confident? We can’t blame all our human insecurities on technology and Instagram alone—it is an issue deeply rooted in our society.