When it's time to post that selfie, we're usually more than happy to use an Instagram filter, or even a photo-editing app like FaceTune. Hey, why not give our pouts or pecks a bit of a boost? And yet, when it comes to others' photos, we tend to be skeptical that they're using photo filtering to project an image that is inauthentic or even deceptive.
A new survey by TruePic found that 93 percent of the 2,133 U.S. adults polled suspect that others have posted edited photos on websites. Of this group, 58 percent said they distrust dating sites because of edited photos, 48 percent said they distrust fitness or weight loss photos, and 46 percent doubt social media images.
When reviewing other findings of the survey, an apparent double standard emerges: 82 percent of those consulted said they've shared a photo online, with 64 percent of that group admitting to editing their online pics. So, let's get this straight: It's okay if I use snazzy filters, but not okay if you do? Are we all a bunch of hypocrites? To an extent, yes, but really, it goes deeper than that.
Everybody’s Doing It
There are likely social pressures at play. Even if we do appreciate the enhancing benefits of filters and editing for our own images, we may not particularly relish the idea that we must look "better" than we do in real life in order to rack up those likes.
"When following your friends on Instagram and Facebook, you know their photos are all being edited to make them look better, and make their lives look more exciting — and if you're not doing that, it's almost like you're not competing," Jeff McGregor, CEO of TruePic told NBC News. "Not [using photo editing] yourself may put you at a social disadvantage. There's this herd mentality and it's created a negative dynamic. You shouldn't feel like you have to alter your own appearance just to be accepted."
I Know I'm Real, But Are You?
Social pressure and competitive forces may be factors, but there's another compelling argument to be made for our complicated relationship with photo editing and why we love it for ourselves but not for others. It has to do with the idea of authenticity and the fact that while we can vouch for the authenticity of our own photos, we can't vouch for the authenticity of a photo of a sofa on Craigslist.
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"When you are improving or finessing your own images, you know that you're starting out with an authentic image and just enhancing it," said Julie Cottineau, founder and CEO of BrandTwist, and author of Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands. "But when you're looking at someone else's image, you question it because you don't know how real it was to begin with. Anything could have been done to it."
How Brands Can Be More Authentic
TruePic's survey suggests that certain brands are especially at risk for having their imagery doubted. The stakes are high for, say, a fitness brand using online imagery (which arguably they must do if they want to even get off the ground), because so many consumers automatically don't believe that those pics are real. If they don’t buy into the imagery, how will they buy into the brand?
The answer isn't necessarily for the company to ditch photo editing altogether, but perhaps to break away from the "before and after" model that has been so popular in the industry.
"Try a series of photos," suggests Cottineau. "Take consumers along the journey: month 1, month 2, a good day, a bad day. It's about building an authentic relationship, and to do that you need to let viewers in behind the scenes a bit."
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And most importantly, brands need to be able to make good on their products’ promise.
"No amount of photo filtering will save a brand that does not fundamentally do what it promises," added Cottineau.
Dating Without a Filter
According to TruePic's survey, Americans are most distrusting of dating site pics, suspecting their prospective match's photos have been edited.
Eric Resnick, owner of ProfileHelper.com, makes the brutal but sensible recommendation that online daters nix filters altogether.
"Photo filters are a bad idea when it comes to online dating," said Resnick. "Yes, they may get you more emails and even more first dates, but if you are using the filters to make you look more attractive than you are in real life, you aren't going to get past those first dates. [And] if your photos are filtered to make you look different than you really do, you can come across as dishonest and insecure."
Well, no one wants to seem dishonest or insecure, but drawing on McGregor’s point, photo filtering has become something of a social media norm. And even if it's superficial, we often want to look our best when seeking a date, even if that best is something that doesn't precisely exist in real life (or real lighting). How can we manage lustrous pics without photo editing?
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Relationship and etiquette expert April Masini suggests that it all comes down to having a variety of images on display, so that you can show off multiple angles, as well as your sense of style.
"I always advise to use several images," said Masini. "Include a head shot, a half body shot and a full body shot. You don’t need to wear a bathing suit — but you should wear something in these photos that presents a fair image of who you are. I haven’t met a guy who doesn’t look good in a tuxedo, so use those tux and suit photos if you have them, but balance them with a casual or sporty shot showing who you are when you’re not at a black tie event."
Millennials Forgive the Filters
But then again, some feel that a little bit of photo editing doesn't do any harm.
"Personally, I don't see anything wrong with filters on a social level," said Alexis Sheehy, owner of Shopnym.com. "I've done it to many pictures to clear up a mark or change the lighting. From a brand perspective, I've run social media accounts for lifestyle brands and have edited photos. As long as you are not misrepresenting the product, I don't see anything wrong with cleaning up images."
Sheehy, 25 years old, may speak for many millennials, an age group that TruePic found to be more trusting of sites with edited photos than older generations.
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"Growing up with the internet, I feel that millennials have a better understanding of what type of edits are being done," said Sheehy. 'We know the limitations of editing apps. Older generations who are unfamiliar with the technology may have no idea how these photos are being edited. Therefore, they may assume there is more ‘deception' occurring than actually is taking place."