Unveiling the Beauty Standards: A Comparative Analysis of Western and Eastern AR Filters
Face filters have become an integral part of selfie culture. Whether it's the desire for flawless skin, exaggerated features, or a touch of whimsy, augmented reality (AR) beautifying filters aren’t going anywhere. While there has been extensive research on the impact of AR filters on body image, I aim to delve deeper into how these filters put beauty standards on full display by comparing AR filters influenced by both the Western and Eastern cultures.
Augmented reality filters often rely on computer vision to detect facial landmarks, tracking, and motion detection to ensure the filter stays aligned in videos. They occasionally utilize machine learning to train the filter on a diverse set of facial features. Once considered a gimmick or a joke, they are now as commonly used as makeup. The use of an augmented reality filter is the defining element of the digital persona of a young woman.
I have previously written about the strenuous beauty standards expected of women in places like Japan and Korea. The early adoption and widespread use of AR filters are a symptom of this phenomenon. They emerged roughly five to ten years earlier than their Western counterparts. If we include widely used photobooth technologies like purikura, which employed a rudimentary form of AR filters, one could argue for a span of nearly two decades.
Back in the mid-2010s, during my time in Japan, I witnessed the burgeoning AR filter hype firsthand. One popular app that stood out was called Snow.
(Me with an Asian AR filter on Instagram)
The filters most popular on Snow would not gain popularity in the West. They look odd and appear to be of alien origin. What most of these features have in common is the enlargement of eyes, slight trad-ish makeup and most important: skin lightening. These filters emphasize the exaggeration of the user’s existing features, creating a hyper-realistic effect.
(Me with an American AR filter on Instagram)
In contrast, Western face filters adopt a different aesthetic, often influenced by Hollywood glamour and bold makeup trends. American AR Filters commonly feature pigmented makeup, including sultry lipstick and bronzer. I found this difference to be intriguing upon consideration—these looks are almost the opposite of one another. Asian filters distort reality while American / Western filters are create another reality all together.
This distinction can be observed in other art forms or interior design as well—Japanese and Korean art/design rely on playing with the natural world, whereas their American counterpart drastically changes it.
There is plenty of discussion to be had on whether filters are causing body dysmorphia among young women. Instead of rejecting technology in the realm of body enhancement—whether digital or physical—I believe we should examine our society as a whole.
In an attempt to make sense of "selfie" culture, many critics have taken an anti-technology stance. They decry that filters create feelings of insecurity in young women. I challenge this perspective. How about we consider how this technology reflects our existing world?
Let’s challenge our perceptions of beauty and analyze how much of it is influenced by our biology and culture. Tech merely hold a mirror to it.