An Intrepid Journey Into the World of Snapchat Filters (CW: Selfies)

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There are several reasons to love Snapchat: being able to follow your favorite celebrities throughout their day, Snapcash hitting your bank account immediately if someone sends it to you, and the comfort of knowing that your nudes can only be viewed once (and if that bastard screenshots it, you will be promptly notified.) But what might trump all of these features is the filter options. If you’re not a Snapchat devotee, it works like this: after taking a photo or video on the app, a few swipes will allow you to rep your general location (or plug a brand) via a funky design element that is overlaid onto your existing media.

One of the cool SoHo geofilters we get to use at the Flavorwire office.

And if you plan on capturing your or someone else’s face in your shot, you can press and hold the face in question (on your phone, not their actual face please) in order to open a wealth of selfie filters. These ever-evolving filters let you distort your face in all sorts of ways, from the addition of a flower crown to turning your mug into that of an actual monster. You can literally swap faces with your friend, with some hilariously creepy results.

Tom (Editor-In-Chief at Flavorwire) and I face swapped! [See how far we’ll go in the service of journalism?! – Ed.]

Filters are not new in the broader social media landscape. Instagram has been known for its image enhancing filters since its inception. But the creative, playful animation that has been integrated into Snapchat’s platform has made it a staple in today’s online culture. If your friend’s profile picture on Facebook has her sporting a digital mustache and glasses, or a fictive face best fit for a drag queen, she probably made the image using a Snapchat filter. This fabulously frivolous feature has become a favorite way to waste time on lazy off-days and some of them have become so popular that they’ve developed a reputation of their own.

The dog filter, which adds floppy puppy ears, an adorable snout, and a long tongue that laps every time you open you open your mouth, seems to be a user favorite. Particularly popular among female users, this particular feature has been labeled the “hoe filter.” Obviously, the reasoning behind such a moniker is that anything women do without the explicit permission of heteronormative patriarchy gets us labeled as hoes. When women began to flood their timelines and stories with puppy features, the assessment through the lens of maleness was that it was stupid. But women have not from using it to balance out super sexy selfies or playfully hanging with their friends.

And other filters have brought Snapchat some criticism that was more impactful in nature. For example, another fan favorite are the glitzy filters that add flower crowns, halos of pink hearts, and dewy eyes to your selfie. They make you instantly and femininely “pretty” with subtle details that include thinning out your noses and jaws while lightening your skin. Snapchat has come under fire for these filters, which essentially whitewash users into an idea of feminine attractiveness that is intrinsically linked to Eurocentric features.

I have pretty good skin, but never this good.

In a similar vein, Snapchat was criticized for supporting blackface with a Bob Marley filter they released on April 20, the national stoner holiday. Snapchat failed to comment on these concerns, but did address accusations that they were ripping off popular makeup artists to come up with new filters. After being called out by two different artists, Snapchat fessed up to their mistake and claimed to be addressing the issue internally. But as was the case with the dog filter, a little controversy hasn’t caused filters to go away entirely or become any less trendy.

But why? What is it about this innovation, that seems completely immature in theory, that we love so much? What does it say about our culture that the selfie has evolved into digitally rendered cat makeup? The only comparison that comes to mind is the allure of those distortion mirrors that are usually found at the circus. We are fascinated about what our bodies, or in this case, our faces will look like if it deviates from the human blueprint we were given.

It’s an up close glimpse into our very own sci-fi fantasy, one where we write the script. Snapchat is an innovative platform that encourages creativity (seriously, you should see some of the doodles people create) and they have enabled a bunch of features for us to let those juices flow. Their filters support that by letting us put ourselves right in the middle.