An Unfiltered Response to Colorism in Instagram Filters

Medha Sarkar with and without Snapchat filter.
Medha Sarkar with and without Snapchat filter.

I have a small addiction to Instagram filters.  I can and have spent too much time finding the craziest filters possible.  There are filters that make you look like cartoons, princesses, and even pirates.  My favorite one is a filter that tints the screen a deep pink and makes it look like glitter is dripping down your face.  But as I explore the vast jungle of filters, it is inevitable that there are some marshes… 

Those marshes come in the form of filters that vastly change your appearance.  I encountered one of those filters on a Wednesday afternoon when I was supposed to be doing homework.  

I was extraordinarily tired from a long day of school and I decided to take a break from the seemingly endless pile of homework by scrolling through some filters.  There were the normal ones, the ones that put strawberries on your cheeks or the ones that make it look like you have rainbow hair.  Then I stumbled upon a filter that made me freeze.  

I had this image in my mind of the creator of this filter sitting down with their phone, sipping a cup of coffee, and then thinking aloud, “How colorist can we be today?” 

This image had pale white skin with red-tinted lips that would make Snow White jealous.  My nose was slimmed down and my jaw was reduced.  As I stared in shock at the image on my screen, a thousand words just rushed into my head.  I subconsciously reached for my computer, angrily typed “blogspot.com” into the search bar, and began to write this.  

Medha Sarkar with an Instagram filter that lightens her skin and changes her nose.
Medha Sarkar with an Instagram filter that lightens her skin and changes her nose.

Now some readers might be asking why an Instagram filter would make my blood boil.  Why didn’t I just scroll to the next filter and forget that it didn’t exist?  

Because that image was clearly meant to make me beautiful.  It was meant to make me achieve that beauty standard – that beauty standard is being white.  The pale skin?  White.  The red lips?  White.  The slim nose?  White.  This filter is telling me that in order to be portrayed as beautiful or pretty, I have to aspire to be a white person.  This isn’t entirely Instagram’s fault though.  Society has decided that looking like white people is the goal.  And it isn’t limited to filters or even appearance.  

I remember when I first moved to a majority-white town, I began to realize that to be a part of the community, you had to throw away all semblance of uniqueness – culture was one of those things.  To gain the acceptance of the community you had to reject your culture. 

One time in my third-grade class, I decided to show some friends the pirouettes I had learned from my Indian Kathak dance lessons.  As I turned around, one of them turned and looked at their friend and began to snicker.  When I asked them why they did that, they said my turns look weird.  When I would bring in food from home, the word “exotic” would be mentioned at least once.  When I would insist that they pronounce my name right, they would give up after two tries and continue to use the white version of my name.  I saw it happen with the other Indian kids at my school. They would introduce themselves with the white version of their name, bring Lunchables to school instead of idlis or sambar, and pursued ballet or “white” activities instead of Hindustani singing or Bharatnatyam.  All of our culture swept under the rug for the sake of the community.  

This is an issue far bigger than filters.  You have to plant a small seed in order to produce a tree.  That can be taking an extra few minutes to try and pronounce someone’s name or treating all food like food, no matter the look or smell.  You can appreciate the culture somebody comes from because it is what makes them radiate.  And you can make that filter you are creating more inclusive by removing the white skin, nose trimmer, and lip tint on it.  It would make all of our lives a little better.


Medha Sarkar is a student starting at Los Gatos High School in the Fall.  She enjoys writing, music, and having a good laugh.


 

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