04/29/2015 05:29 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

I Don't Need an Instagram Filter to Be Beautiful

I apply 20 different filters to my image. I suddenly transform into 20 different versions of myself, the skinny geek from Florida who was never into selfies, Instagram or exposing social media in general. However, once I got an iPhone and realized the addicting power that Twitter and Facebook held over me, I was a goner, applying filters here and there like they were free samples at Sam's Club.

I think it's incredible how one simple picture can be distorted so that I can instantly become sexy, playful, sweet or retro. On one hand, it boosts my self-confidence 1,000 percent, but on the other, it forces me to think about societal issues. If I perused my Instagram right now, I would find an eclectic soup of landscapes, pictures with family, the occasional selfie and artwork. I would also discover that a filter was used on nearly every single image, even the ones that feature cats, book covers and my calculator with a graph that looked uncannily like the Tower of Sauron.

What does this sudden, culture-wide obsession with fabrication say about us? We are becoming shallow, more enamored with ourselves and unaware of the world around us. We are too busy filtering a picture than actually absorbing and enjoying what is happening right before our eyes. We, specifically the younger generation, also have a warped view of what people truly look like. Initially, I thought filters converted my face into that of a supermodel. Now, their power disgusts me because all those pictures are a blatant lie. My skin tone is not even, my teeth aren't whiter than Luke Bryan's and my hair is not luscious or frizz-free. But with one tap of Sutro, all imperfections are magically erased. Take, for example, the headshot below of me with absolutely zero filters applied.


I look ordinary, my eye bags may be a bit under-concealed, but overall, I look simple and like a normal teenage girl. However, once the X-PRO II filter is slapped on, I resemble an ethnic temptress with a halo of light behind my black hair and bottomless eyes.


Apply Inkwell and I become a sentimental reincarnation of someone's grandmother in her prime.


Apply Sutro, and look, I'm a doomed character from the opening credits of The Walking Dead.


I find it unsettling how with drastic lighting and contrast changes, my true persona is flung out the window and I can change how others perceive me. This desire for societal perfection does nothing to help modern teenage girls -- we are constantly bombarded with images of perfect Victoria Secret models and fashion ads where the girls' waists resemble toothbrush handles more than real waists. Making those unreal waists black and white with heightened lighting does nothing to help our self esteem. On another note, even the wording of Instagram itself calls its motives into question. For pictures that do not have filters, they are deemed simply "Normal." I find this label rather offensive because the user is almost naturally inclined to apply a filter to avoid being called that. Is Instagram trying to insinuate that my face is so normal that it needs a digital pick-me-up? Anyways, what sounds better -- Normal or Nashville? Personally, I rather use the name of a rocking city than something used to characterize blood pressure and hair growth.

Also, as stupid as this might sound, I have actually argued over which Instagram filter looked the best. After taking a few silly pictures with my sister, we ended up fighting because neither of us liked the way we looked in certain filters. I looked better in this image, she in the other one, etc. I couldn't help but think, "is this what fighting between sisters has come to?" If I ever disagree over the use of Hudson or Valencia again, I swear that I have become as superficial as the celebrities in Hollywood. The scary thought is that I was never obsessed with social media -- I only got these accounts because I became a writer and a blogger. I'm not saying all filters should be banished to Mordor -- only the reasons why we use them should. Selfies to boost one's confidence are not art, but digitally created landscapes or manipulated professional photographs are. So before you go to slather on Valencia, Sierra or Perpetua, just remember that the real you doesn't have some cookie cutter filter applied to it. You are fantastically "Normal."

Follow Mackenzie Patel on Instagram: Mackenzie_Patel

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