kids

HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: My daughter is busy changing her face. She's 11.

My daughter doesn't have any lines on her face. She's 11. 

But when she gets her hands on a mobile phone, she takes pictures of herself and then runs them through a filter app that makes her already-smooth skin look almost alien, otherworldly, 2D.

The app also makes her lips plumper and pinker, and her lashes darker and longer. More fluttery. 

Watch: How to improve your daughter's relationship with body image. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

Her eyes take on an extra twinkle, and change shade, ever so slightly, from the grey-blue she was born with to a darker, deeper, periwinkle blue that, presumably, has been algorithmically proven to be more pleasing. 

It freaks me out, when I pick up a phone and see those pictures on the photo reel. 

Who is that girl? She looks like my daughter. But she's not. She's a simulation of my daughter, tweaked and smoothed just enough to look right at home on... Instagram?  

A few weeks ago I wrote about the privilege of parenting a child who is alive, well, and in my arms every night. 

I wrote about how the luxury of freaking out about phone filters when there are children not safe in their parents' care feels small, ridiculous. 

And yet. 

When my daughter asked me to download a filter app for the phone she's allowed to use at home, I thought it was for puppy noses and alien antennae and butterflies flitting around her ears. And it was. But it was also about the Instagram aesthetic - the one that many of us marinate in daily.

I saw a video last week from the co-founder of Keep It Cleaner, Laura Henshaw, where she showed herself applying ever-so subtle filters to her already conventionally beautiful face: to thin her nose just ever so, to plump her cheeks just a tiny bit, widen her eyes by an almost imperceptible fraction, clear a pimple, even her skin tone. 

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To Gen X me, who thought filters were those things that deepen the colour on your feed posts (Ludwig, anyone?), it was astonishingly nuanced - and quick.

Image: Instagram / @laura_henshaw 

Image: Instagram / @laura_henshaw 

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And every face I see on my feed might be that simulated face, really, the acceptable influencer equivalent of a puppy nose and a butterfly crown. 

If everyone's doing it and everyone knows everyone's doing it, where's the harm, right? 

It's fun, it's flattering, it's just the same as me taking five pictures of myself and choosing the one with the fewest chins, right? 

And yet. 

Instagram is working on a Kids' version.

You have to be 13, legally, to use the app that one billion people open daily. You have to prove it. Looking at pictures does not typically come with an age limit. But the people who make apps and design algorithms far smarter than any of us, know that this power to unleash comparison culture should not be used lightly. 

Unless, you know, it's specifically FOR children. Then... it's fine.

Holly talks social media and kids on our parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess. Post continues below.

Instagram for kids, apparently, will not carry ads. But it isn't clear whether it will deal with privacy concerns, be able to remove content from the app permanently, deal with systemic bullying or improve the reporting on inappropriate and abusive content.

In the US, 44 different states' legal bosses have asked Facebook (who owns Instagram) to abandon the plans for Instagram for Kids, asking, in short, that with all the concerns listed above, is this a product that anyone actually needs? Or even, you know, asked for?

Has any parent - or child - for that matter, ever said that there isn't ENOUGH pressure on children to measure up to an impossible ideal? Or that they need MORE tools for distraction? Or that it really benefits their kid to be able to see what their friends are doing without them at any possible moment? Or that they need MORE encouragement to focus on their changing, maturing faces and bodies, and all the millions of ways they compare to other people's faces and bodies? 

Is anyone asking for MORE unfiltered, unverified information about everything from COVID to Gaza to tricks dogs can do for treats, fed to their children on a 24-hour cycle? 

And yet. 

I've deleted the face-changing app from the family phone. My daughter doesn't need it. She'd moved on and forgotten about it, anyway, by the time I realised what she was using it for. 

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But I've been looking at those pictures. They represent something to me, a niggling reminder to stay vigilant.

My girl, in my eyes, is a stunning creature. 

I don't mean that she is literally, objectively beautiful. I mean that what I see when I look at her skin, her eyes, her arms and legs, her hair, her smile... I see love. 

What she is beginning to see, and what the world will continue to show her, is not love. It's lack.

And the businesses lurking in my phone are not the only ones offering to rush in and fill that lack. To fix it, fill it, plump it, smooth it over. 

But they might be the only ones plotting to do it by stealth, under my nose, one hilarious dog-ear filter at a time.

Have no idea about filters or what your kids are really doing online? Introducing the Safe on Social Toolkit: the digital ‘survival kit’ of everything parents and teachers need to know to keep kids safe on social media right now. Get the toolkit now at www.safeonsocialtoolkit.com

Feature Image: Supplied.