The mental health impact of editing your selfies – #nofilter

5-10 years ago, mainstream media had a lot to answer for in terms of portraying unrealistic body image ideals. However, the tables started to turn and it became common knowledge that celebrities appearing in magazines and ad campaigns were digitally modified so that they appeared to have no imperfections, blemishes, cellulite, lumps or bumps regardless of their shape or size – just perfectly edited toned, tanned torsos.  We started to not compare ourselves as much or have unrealistic expectations as we were fully aware these images literally weren’t real and looked at them with a critical eye.

Fast forward to 2016 and now we can easily digitally modify ourselves without having any tech knowledge or forking out for a fancy photo editing suite. Thanks to Snapchat, Instagram and other apps, hardly a photo goes uploaded without having at least one filter applied or edit made. These ‘beautifully’ digitally modified images are circulated 24/7 via social media, and no longer limited to just celebrities.

This isn’t an attack on filters, or even editing photos, they can be fun (hello Snapchat dog filter!) but I think we need to acknowledge how detrimental the use of them could be, and how important it is for our mental health, to take a break from them every now and again. How are we going to be happy with what we look like in real life – if we’re constantly editing every photo of ourselves to make us more satisfied with how others see us online?

Constantly seeing filtered images, or filtering images of ourselves, could have significant negative consequences to both our mental and physical health:

Mental Health

A big concern with this addiction to filters and editing of photos are the negative effects they could have on mental health, especially of the younger generation. The most popular Snapchat filters literally distort your face. They make it slimmer, give you higher cheekbones, even out your skin tone and even change your skin colour. Results that no amount of healthy eating, or working out could achieve. There is a study being conducted to screen for depression and mental illness by analysing use of Instagram filters, indicating that how we manipulate our photos says a lot about our state of mental health. Is it any wonder why when these pictures we think we look better in are unrealistic.

Less Exercise

If we can make ourselves look a certain way online, quickly and easily, does this mean we’ll stop putting as much focus on our health offline when we can so easily fake it?

Focusing on Extrinsic Motivation rather than Intrinsic Motivation

Exercising because you want to look like your favourite Instagram Fitspo looks in their photos, isn’t going to achieve the long term health and well-being results that intrinsic motivation will. According to Accredited Exercise Physiologist Carly Ryan, exercising so you can look a certain way because you think you should is a form of  extrinsic motivation (i.e. you are doing it for external rewards). Unfortunately, this kind of motivation doesn’t last in the long term. It is important to find internal drivers to exercise (i.e. intrinsic motivation) such as how exercise makes you feel and the positive effects it has on your mind and body. This is very important in helping you be physically active across your life.

Putting us off certain types of Exercise

We’ve all seen the way people edit their photos to make it look like they’re doing the perfect headstand in a scenic, empty park,  yes? If not then you might still be under the impression that there’s no way you can ever do that – so you don’t even try! Well neither can a lot of people! It’s easy to manipulate a photo so that it looks like they’re perfectly posed. Or even for those who have mastered their workout, everyone starts somewhere, so don’t be put off by being a beginner.


Let’s ease off the filters and let the unedited versions of ourselves be something that we share, at least then if you are someones motivation, you’re the real you!

Consulting an appropriately qualified exercise professional may be the first step in you reaching your healthy target in real life.