TikTok’s latest trendy beauty filter, Teenage Look, returns users to their younger selves

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

TikTok users of a certain age are getting a big dose of nostalgia with a new trending filter that allegedly turns back the clock to your teenage self.

The Teenage Look, which mostly works by smoothing out wrinkles, has quickly racked up 3.4 million views to date, often set to the tune from The Verve Pipe’s 1996 alt heartbreak “The Freshmen.” However, while baby face filters and aging filters have made the rounds on social media platforms for the simple novelty of seeing yourself momentarily travel back in time, many of the teen filter posts featuring the top preferences are dark, as users say they get a flashback to some of their most formative years.

“If you’re young and you’re wondering why us old people are freaking out about this filter, it’s because 20, 30 years from now in your head you’ll still think you look like this,” TikTok user mandertok says in one video, featuring filter on to look younger. “And then there’s going to be some kind of filter that makes you realize you look like this now,” he continues, pointing to the split screen of his real, visibly older self.

While some TikTokers keep it open by showing real photos of their teenage selves (hello, ex-kids with bad hair) others use the filter to talk about their lack of confidence in high school or difficult experiences they faced, using split screens of before and after to give life advice to their ‘younger’ selves.

While many of the posts with tears and shocked faces may be performative for the sake of virality (it is TikTok, after all), there’s something unsettling about being able to see a face that hasn’t looked back at you in a mirror for quite some time. Some users have discussed how the filter fueled old feelings related to trauma they experienced during those years, while others said it gives trans and non-binary people a chance to see a younger self that matches their gender identity.

“Okay, if you’re someone who has changed the way they present themselves as an adult, or changed in some way, and you want to have a moment, say hello to the 12-year-old who probably didn’t. to exist,” user worriersmusic said in a video.
However, filters have regularly been widely criticized for exacerbating self-esteem issues, and an anti-aging filter in an anti-aging society, particularly for women, seems set to perpetuate this problem. A small study from 2019 linked the use of social media filters to higher acceptance of cosmetic surgery, while researchers from the Harvard Business Review found in 2021 that people with high confidence in their appearance can actually be more agitated by seeing “improvements” in their person in relation to those who already had insecurities. And while the Teen Look filter may not always be accurate in showing an older self, as many users have noted, it’s more natural than many of the uncanny valley or soft focus beauty filters out there.

When applying the filter, some users also commented that signs of age appear more prominently in the unfiltered image.

“Seriously, they make ‘now’ look worse to make it more dramatic, right? Right?!” mandertok half-jokingly wrote in the caption of the video.

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