3 min read

TikTok Filters as a Storytelling Device

TikTok Filters as a Storytelling Device

TikTok, a dynamic platform where users seamlessly transition from glamorous transformations to playful experiments, owes much of its creative prowess to the enchanting world of filters.

These digital tools have become an essential part of the TikTok experience, coaxing engaging life stories from users.

However, the influence of filters extends beyond TikTok, tracing its roots through a captivating history within social media culture and storytelling practices.

The Evolution of Filters

The journey of filters began with Photoshop, which made its debut in 1990, granting users the ability to manipulate images.

As the early 2000s unfolded, discussions centered around the extensive editing employed in advertisements and commercials, raising eyebrows at the level of image enhancement.

Fast-forward to the 2010s, and the era of Facetune emerged.

Facetune, an app designed for photo retouching, provided a quick, user-friendly, and affordable means for everyday individuals to edit their pictures.

In 2017, Instagram introduced face-altering filters, initially featuring whimsical additions like bunny ears and exaggerated facial features (reminiscent of Snapchat filters).

These playful filters eventually evolved to "perfect" facial features, often adhering to Western beauty ideals by slimming faces, defining jawlines, enlarging eyes, and whitening teeth.

While early versions of these filters felt unrealistic and "fake," recent iterations have achieved a level of subtlety that makes alterations nearly imperceptible.

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The Role of Filters as Storytelling Tools

Filters on TikTok go far beyond simple face enhancements.

They encompass a wide array of transformations, from adding sun-kissed freckles to simulating lip injections, and even altering elements like skin, eyes, hair, makeup, and age.

When users create videos on TikTok, they are prompted with an editing screen offering options for voice filters, sound enhancements, visual filters, and more.

These editing tools are referred to as platform "affordances," and they significantly influence how the platform is used.

Platform affordances dictate user interactions on TikTok, shaping the way people engage with the platform and with each other. They encompass elements like the "For You" page, the ability to like and comment, watch live videos, and send creators gifts. They define the essence of the platform itself.

Aimée Morrison, an associate professor of language and literature at the University of Waterloo, emphasizes the importance of considering the "prompts that coax and restrict user actions" on TikTok.

These prompts, or affordances, wield considerable influence in shaping life stories online, just as much as the creators themselves.

In TikTok videos that incorporate filters as part of the narrative, the filter becomes an integral component, transcending its role as a mere storytelling device.

Trending filters and formats are suggested to users on TikTok, along with trending audio, encouraging users to create content in specific ways. These filters do not operate in isolation; trending formats and audios also play pivotal roles in determining the types of stories that emerge.

The Power of Filters in Storytelling

Filters serve as catalysts for storytelling on TikTok, prompting creators to discuss unique topics, adopt specific appearances, or share personal stories. For instance, a filter might predict what someone's "girl dinner" will be, leading creators to react and reuse the filter until it accurately predicts their food preferences. This seemingly straightforward filter actually coaxes a life story from the creator, providing the audience with insights into their personality.

Make-up and hair filters are often used by creators to distinguish between characters in a story, even when all characters are portrayed by the same person. By altering their appearance with filters, creators can quickly convey which character is speaking.

Consider the example of popular creator Kendra Matthies, a makeup artist who tells stories about doing makeup for weddings. Kendra utilizes different makeup filters to play various roles in the story, including the bride, bridesmaids, the future mother-in-law, and herself, all without the need for physical costume changes.

Exploring Aging Through Filters

One trending filter on TikTok, known as "Aged," shows creators how they would appear at an older age. A dermatologist on the platform, Dr. Joyce Dermatologist (@teawithmd), used this filter to discuss the accuracy of the aging process portrayed by the filter.

This sparked a trend, with millions of users creating videos using this filter. These videos often explore the theme of aging, often with a humorous twist. For instance, TikTok creator @turquoiseprince playfully embraced the filter, comparing the result to their dad's appearance.

Like all things online, this filter trend has inspired memes and parodies. Another filter titled "old but crispy baby" provides a less flattering look at aging, leading creators to react with exaggerated and "creepy" portrayals of the aging process.

TikTok Filters and the Future

Filters continue to evolve and become more deeply ingrained in social media culture. While some may criticize their use for promoting unrealistic beauty standards, it's undeniable that filters offer compelling storytelling capabilities that enrich the online narrative landscape.

Bottom line: TikTok filters have transformed the way we tell stories online, from playful transformations to thought-provoking explorations of aging. These digital tools, deeply rooted in social media culture, serve as catalysts for creativity and storytelling, coaxing captivating narratives from users across the platform.

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