TikTok’s inverted filter has been involved in a number of trends over the past few months. Though most filters fade into obscurity rather quickly, this one has been sticking around — seemingly because of its emotional impact.
The filter flips the selfie camera around so the image you see on-screen is “how other people see you,” rather than what you typically see in the mirror.
This has made some people genuinely cry, as turning the filter on and off may reveal that a user’s face is not symmetrical, and, by their standards, make them feel ugly and lower their self-esteem.
Multiple studies have found that people with symmetrical faces are generally seen as more attractive, though that is not a requirement for attractiveness.
With so many negative reactions to this filter on TikTok, it’s easy to dismiss it. However, a number of TikTok users have said that the filter has helped ease their body dysmorphic disorder.
According to the Mayo Clinic, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance. It impacts roughly 1 in 50 people, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened symptoms of BDD.
People with the disorder intensely focus on their appearance and body image, repeatedly checking the mirror, grooming or seeking reassurance. The perceived flaws in their appearance are often nonexistent or minor, so getting reassurance from others that they do not have said flaws is easy. That reassurance fades, though, and the need for it becomes constant.
TikTok user @asmith7500 shared a clip of herself looking at her body in the inverted filter, which showed her a perspective she doesn’t see in the mirror. She gasped and smiled.
“I’ve never seen myself this way. It was just so much at once,” she said. The post has been liked nearly 2 million times and received thousands of encouraging comments assuring her that she is beautiful.
User @.voyde shared a similar video, explaining her experience with body dysmorphia and rejoicing when she saw herself in the inverted filter.
“I’m skinny!” she wrote on the screen as footage showed her jumping up and down with joy. More than half a million people liked it, and over 4,000 commented.
Dr. Samantha Glickman, a clinical instructor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told In The Know that social media can portray unrealistic standards that “might elicit even greater doubt in those already predisposed to questioning themselves.”
Can social media help fight BDD, as suggested in those viral TikToks, though?
Dr. Glickman said that, indeed, people with body dysmorphia seek reassurance from people about their appearance, and this can take place on social media as well. It’s not good in the long run, though.
“These practices can maintain negative thinking patterns as well as reliance on checking behaviors,” she said. “[They] might cause a quick reduction in anxiety, but maintain their symptoms over time.”
One look at yourself in the inverted filter is not going to cure BDD — it just reinforces reliance on others to cope with it.
“The issue isn’t the image of themselves on a screen, the issue is their perception of themselves,” Dr. Glickman added. “This is something that is largely tackled through challenging difficult thoughts and exposure work.”
Dr. Glickman recommended cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, in which therapists might discourage patients from checking their image in the mirror in response to thoughts about perceived flaws, and learn to challenge negative thoughts in favor of more flexible thinking patterns.
Additionally, rejoicing in finding yourself “skinny,” as TikTokers did above, reinforces the belief that being fat is a bad thing, which is fatphobic. That line of thinking upholds a number of internal and societal issues.
Risa Berrin, the executive director and founder of Health Information Project (HIP), said the organization found that kids rely heavily on the thoughts of other kids when it comes to their physical health. Posting this kind of video on TikTok isn’t just seeing yourself from a new perspective — it’s opening yourself to compliments from your peers.
Fortunately, with the power of peer pressure in mind, HIP used what is “usually an agent for bad behavior” for good.
Berrin said that instead of going to a friend’s older brother (or random TikTok commenters) for feedback on your health, it’s best for young people to go to school counselors, trusted teachers, physicians, nurses and psychologists.
Young people with BDD, and adults as well, should seek a professional to help with the disorder rather than a social media hack or other TikTok users.
As for the inverted filter, well … it might just be best to let that trend pass.
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