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What adland needs to know about the dangers of digital distortion

Ila De Mello Kamath, Global Strategy Partner at Ogilvy, on the phenomenon of not-so-innocent ‘selfie’ filters

Ila De Mello Kamath, Ogilvy

Global Strategy Partner

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The classic pose, the classic pout, the classic head tilt… It’s surprising to think that ten years ago, the notion of the ‘selfie’ didn’t exist. Today, it has defined the image of a generation.

Sadly, what working on Dove’s new ‘Reverse Selfie’ campaign has shown is that photo-edited selfies are also destroying self-esteem. The campaign, and the research behind it, highlights the widespread damage caused by the trend for heavily-edited selfies, a different enemy to the unrealistic beauty ideals once perpetuated by the ad industry and the media.

Our film begins with an image that a young woman has posted of herself on social media. The action rewinds, reversing the tweaks and staging she has undergone, revealing the shockingly young girl whose image it actually is. 

We see her impossibly full, perfectly coiffed locks disappear, then the tweaks to her chin, nose and eyes. Touch-ups used to remove a blemish disappear next, then her lips are un-plumped, hairspray and make-up removed, revealing a girl barely into her teens.

This campaign sought to address the issue of today’s digital-distortion, now that social media has become a part of our everyday lives, and tools once only available to the professionals are now accessible at the touch of a button and without regulation to everyone.

Today it is not the beauty industry doing the most damage to our self-esteem, it’s self-imposed digital distortion, selfie apps and filters that pose some of the greatest threats.

Ila De Mello Kamath, Global Strategy Partner at Ogilvy

The toxic side of social media

Social media, for all its advantages, lies behind a dramatic fall in women’s beauty confidence globally. In the US alone, beauty confidence has dropped from 85% to 55% over five years, according to The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report. The same report shows that six out of ten women agree that social media creates more anxiety around the need to look a certain way.

What’s more, digital media’s ability to enable us to edit our lives favourably has made what was once a simple way to dream, an always-on pressure. As we are inundated with more and more tools and filters to alter the way we look, we have more and more ways to look ‘just that little bit better’. 

Social media has democratised many things, and this includes beauty pressures. It is no longer supermodels that young people want to look like; they aspire to the ‘perfect’ selfie images posted by their friends and peers. 

A year of increased screen-time during lock-down has only made this pressure more acute. Today it is not the beauty industry doing the most damage to our self-esteem, it’s self-imposed digital distortion, selfie apps and filters that pose some of the greatest threats. 

The research behind our campaign for Dove revealed the true extent of this problem: 80% of girls have downloaded a filter or app by the age of 13 and more than half have applied a filter or used an app to change the way they look on their photos by the time they reach 11. A whopping 70% of girls try to change or hide at least one body-part or feature before posting a photo of themselves.

I find myself slightly surprised, thinking back to the pressures of ‘heroin chic’, that they were somewhat easier to escape than the pressure of presenting the perfect selfie to the world, across today’s numerous, digital screens. Where once you could close a magazine, now you are fed images of your friends 24/7 looking every bit as glamorous as the supermodels of old; Where once you knew you couldn’t grow an extra few inches even if you wanted to, now the tools are there to transform you into whoever you want to be. 

We know that those who distort their photos more regularly tend to have lower body-esteem compared to those who don’t distort their photos.

Ila De Mello Kamath, Global Strategy Partner at Ogilvy

The rise of selfie-dysmorphia

The sad truth is that this ability to change the way we look, to edit ourselves and the images we use to express ourselves, is not a problem that exists solely in the digital world. It affects us in the real world. We know that those who distort their photos more regularly tend to have lower body-esteem compared to those who don’t distort their photos.

Sadly, filters are not harmless fun. They are leading to selfie-dysmorphia and a rise in under-age plastic surgery. In fact, 55% of surgeons surveyed in the 2017 American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons reported having heard girls asking to look like their selfies. Many parents are blissfully unaware of what their children are doing with these apps and filters. Most of us neither know that our children are able to edit their images so easily, nor are we aware of the extent to which this is now happening. 

And for concerned parents out there; yes, I am afraid it is something to worry about. But, you are not alone in this. This is an issue for all of society and for the media, too. It’s time to have these conversations with ourselves and with our children. It’s time to recognise the danger of the innocent selfie and put a stop to this new selfie-insanity.

Guest Author

Ila De Mello Kamath, Ogilvy

Global Strategy Partner,

About

Ila is currently Global Strategy Partner on Dove at Ogilvy. She was most recently a Founding Partner at Jolly Rebellion whose mantra Make Good Trouble just about sums up her passion for purposefully disruptive creative ideas. She has been Head of Planning at Brothers & Sisters and The Good Agency but cut her teeth at AMV BBDO where she was one of the UK’s most awarded planners.

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