RaceSex & Gender

filters that lighten the skin, contouring: is social media beauty culture harmful to poc?

August 17, 2018
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I’ll admit, as a budding make-up guru, I know trends in feature accentuation come and go. What’s also true is that creating ambitious, Euro-Asian features using technique and product is a constant theme. Whether it’s all the rage to have the most impossibly high cheekbones using highlighter, slimming the nose with contour, softening the jaw with bronzer, ‘cutting’ mono lids to appear less ethnic, slimming out facial fat, or flat-out skin whitening, western beauty standards are steeped in white supremacy.


There are few exceptions, however, to the devaluing of African and ethnic features, as we’ve seen over the last couple of years with full lips. Full lips have been sexy on Angelina Jolie for 20 plus years while black women were bullied and humiliated for the same traits. Likewise, when white women like Kylie Jenner decided that, hmmm, having lips is actually super sexy, they became the standard for which non-Black women and society at large appreciated sexy lip fullness. Not the communities where that trait natural occurs in nature.

Companies like Morphe sell a trio of makeup brushes specifically for nose contouring—a shadow play illusion to make the nose appear smaller, more pixie-like. The opposite of my naturally broad, bear-like West African nose. Big noses aren’t in style yet. Because, unlike large lips, they can’t be hyper-sexualized. Society values blackness when it can be hyper-sexualized or diluted. And in the meantime, some black make-up artists are using “extreme contouring” and other techniques to fit into the “Instagram aesthetic”.

Which brings us to social media filters on apps like Snapchat and Instagram and the fact that so many of them seem to play into the promotion of western idealization of beauty as the universal standard for attractiveness. Often times these filters first and foremost wash out non-white complexations, think digital skin brightening cream, creating a skin lightening effect. The beauty filters on Instagram will even help chisel your features, creating sharper, more Nordic facial angles. Whereas Snapchat filters will change your complexion by several shades.  And whether we realize it or not, over time being exposed to these idels can be harmful AF.