Along with the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 announcement, Google is making some changes to its photo editing methods. The company has introduced a design framework that will make photo filters and enhancements automatically disabled. This way your phone won’t make you “more beautiful” by default anymore, and it’s all a part of the efforts to improve your mental health rather than your selfies.
Two years ago, Apple came under fire for automatically enabling “beauty mode” without the possibility to turn it off. The company said it was a bug and fixed it in one of the iOS updates. But the truth is that this wasn’t just an iPhone problem. Many phones have the “beauty mode” enabled by default. What’s more, their software uses terms like “enhancement,” “beautification,” or “touch up” which imply that your natural look isn’t beautiful enough. These are some of the things Google wants to fight against.
“We set out to better understand the effect filtered selfies might have on people’s wellbeing—especially when filters are on by default,” Google Product Manager Vinit Modi wrote in a blog post.
“We conducted multiple studies and spoke with child and mental health experts from around the world, and found that when you’re not aware that a camera or photo app has applied a filter, the photos can negatively impact mental wellbeing. These default filters can quietly set a beauty standard that some people compare themselves against.”
To combat this negative impact, for starters, Google will make face retouches turned off by default. You can already see the change in the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5, where face retouching options are available in the camera app, but they’re not turned on by default. Google has shared its design framework with partners, so this will become a part of other apps too. One of such apps is Snapchat. “Their default camera experience is always unfiltered, and you have the option to opt-in to lenses,” Google writes. “Lens Studio also uses value-neutral terms for its facial retouching feature, and is committed to continuing to make improvements in this area.”
Another change that you’ll see are value-free, descriptive icons and labels for face retouching options. In other words, if you still want to retouch your selfie, the editing options won’t refer to your altered selfies as “natural,” but the effect will rather be dubbed “subtle.” In addition, when you use retouching tools, “you’ll see more information about how each setting is applied and what changes it makes to your image,” Modi explains.
According to a study, 55% of cosmetic surgery patients want to look better in selfies. Similarly, more and more people undergo cosmetic surgery so they could look more like their Snapchat selfies. These data are pretty concerning. On the other hand, there are folks who are perfectly happy with their looks and who are aware that there’s no such thing is flawless skin or body. And yet, automatically enabled editing tool implies that their “imperfect” bodies or skin aren’t good enough. That’s why it’s important to have these tools disabled by default. It may not be a big step – but it’s a step forward and hopefully a step towards helping people embrace themselves in all their perfectly imperfect beauty.