FUJIFILM Presents… #UNFILTERED – A portrait project exploring the differences between selfies, filters and reality

Fujifilm Presents: UNFILTERED

#UNFILTERED explores the effects of social media and filters on young women’s self-image.

We asked each woman to take a phone selfie, comparing their chosen and controlled angles with an unretouched portrait taken by the photographer using a lens that closely mimics the angles and detail seen by the human eye.

Viewers are invited to consider the similarities and differences between how each woman prefers to portray herself and how an impartial stranger/photographer sees them.⁠

We also interviewed each woman about her personal experiences with selfies and whether their self-confidence was affected in any way by the wide availability of filters to enhance appearances. These interviews give a diverse and honest insight into the subjects’ experiences.


Why is a project focusing on selfies relevant?

With just one day to go before the FUJIFILM GFX Challenge Grant Application deadline in early 2022, the clear idea of this project came to me in the shower, as many ideas tend to. It had been formulating in my head for a long time, but this was the moment it all came together as a specific plan. I’d been ruminating over the prevalence of self-hating comments I encounter in my job and daily life, on- and offline, coming from millennial and Gen Z women. I’m 33 years old myself, and find it concerning on a societal level; especially since the advent of Zoom where people are staring at their own (mirrored) face for potentially hours each day, picking their flaws apart.

The below quote illustrates my point – I recommend reading the full article which is quite an eye opener:

77% of girls studied in Dove’s latest study reported trying to change or hide at least one part of their body before posting a photo of themselves and 50% believed they didn’t look good enough without photo editing. “This suggests that the cumulative effect of filters and digital distortion over time is creating low self-worth among girls and young women.”

Instagram Face’ To ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’: How Beauty Filters Are Changing The Way We See Ourselves, Anna Haines / Forbes online

I quickly wrote up the 1,500 word proposal including budget and detailed timeline, and submitted it that day. I made it to the second round of global selections! In the end the project was declined before the final round, as I found out through email – but shortly after I received the bad news, the amazing team at FUJIFILM UK reached out and offered to help make it happen anyway, albeit with a somewhat smaller scope than originally planned.

Selecting the participants

The shoot was going to take place over 2 days in July 2022, in London at the FUJIFILM House of Photography. Through a mixture of my personal connections, online forums and social media calls for participants, with the help of a short form to assess everyone’s suitability, I selected 12 applicants (out of nearly 30 applications) to take part, with one hour timeslots each. We didn’t ask for pictures so I didn’t know what anyone looked like; the most important aspect was their answer for “why do you want to participate in this project?”. The ladies I chose seemed either passionate about self-love and acceptance, were heavy selfie takers/filter users, or admitted to struggling with their self-image and wanted to step outside their comfort zone. I wanted to represent a good range of all these facets of selfie culture through the photos.

I knew there would inevitably be people who cancelled in advance or didn’t turn up — that’s just how it tends to go when you crowdsource something — so the plan was to hit the busy Covent Garden streets and find random strangers to jump in if that happened. In the end, we had an even split of 6 pre-scheduled participants and 6 who were asked on the day. I have to applaud them for their openness to do a random photo shoot, by a photographer they’d just met and didn’t know anything about!

Gear and lighting setup details

For this project, FUJIFILM kindly lent me the fantastic medium format Fujifilm GFX100S camera, with the Fujinon GF 63mm F2.8 R WR lens which is the closest to the human eye’s field of view. I had these items for a month to really test them and see whether they would work for the shoot. At first I considered using my trusty Fujifilm X-T3 camera with the Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4 lens, but the detail and tonal range captured by the GFX100S absolutely blew me away after a few test shoots. I knew I wanted to shoot everyone in a studio, with controlled light and capture the imperfections that make people real, so this was perfect for my needs.

As for the lighting, I like to keep things simple and classic for portraiture. I had a large octabox on a boom around 45 degrees to camera left, raised above the subject’s eye level, feathered in front of them to avoid hotspots, and then I added a white poly board on camera right for filling in the shadows on that side. The background is a textured grey-green vinyl one available at the studio.

Portraits vs Selfies

Below are the final photos, with slight adjustments to colour and contrast. No retouching was done to any part of the subjects’ appearance.

You can also read the full interviews below the excerpts to find out more about each participant’s thoughts about selfies, filters and their own self-esteem.


Laila

“The only way I can represent myself in a comfortable way is when I’m in control. On social media, there is no personality and looks are the only way you can represent yourself.

Laila, 29
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I was around 13. Now I’m nearly 30, so that was right when social media became a thing. Teenagers of today were born with it. I use social media every day now. I like the image-based platforms the most. Those are the most entertaining.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: I do really think about the way I appear on social media. You’re building a type of brand. I suppose that depends on whether you’re using it personally, or trying to represent something else, like a particular image. For me, there’s so much thought behind every single post. Considering my profession, it’s important how people perceive me. That definitely applies to selfies. I don’t spend long making them, though. I’ve grown out of caring too much about putting on makeup. So I do present myself in the best way possible, but I also don’t care enough to go beyond that anymore. If I have a spot, or slightly smudged makeup, or messy hair, that’s still beautiful.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I don’t like pictures other people take of me. I actually don’t like the way I look. The only way I can represent myself in a comfortable way is when I’m in control. I’m fully aware that I don’t look like that in real life. If anyone does see me in rea life and compare me to my selfies, I guess I just hope there is similarity. It’s a weird one. In real life, I don’t think about my looks often, because I care more about my personality. On social media, there is no personality and looks are the only way you can represent yourself.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: I don’t think they’re real. I know from experience how to pose and make a nice post. I think most people show themselves in the most beautiful way possible. I do think it can be uplifting for a lot of people, though. It’s a nice confidence boost, though it is a little weird at the age we are now to be in that circumstance.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: Yes I have.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: Yes, but you never know the reality of it. People often try to make it look seamless.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: I feel I’m fairly detached from it. I don’t compare myself. If I do edit my photos, I suppose it boosts my self-worth a little bit, but I know it’s not true. It’s only a boost for five minutes. Other people editing their photos doesn’t bother me, because you know it’s not reality.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: I positioned my face differently, in what I personally see as a more flattering way. I think they’re fairly similar. The portraits I prefer are the ones that are closest to my selfie.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: Neutral. I got what I expected, I’d say. I still don’t quite like myself in the portrait, but I like the photo itself.


Cheri

“Most often other people’s selfies look good, but I wonder what’s been done to them. You see people in reality and they don’t look like that.

Cheri, 43
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I started around four years ago. I only have one platform now and I don’t use it very much. I stopped understanding the other platforms and they weren’t based around real-life friendships. I don’t really have an interest in social media. It feels like everyone is just watching everyone else’s lives.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: I might be a little bit more conscious, but I’m a little bit older, so not massively. I worry for my daughter more. That’s very much the culture now.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I don’t take many selfies. The last might have been last month. I do prefer selfies though. You can take loads and choose the one you like most, then put a filter of some kind on it. Not anything to change my appearance, but to make it black and white, for example.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: Most often they look good, but I wonder what’s been done to it. You see people in reality and they don’t look like that.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: I haven’t used them personally, I never have.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: I do see people with filters that add glasses or freckles. I don’t think you can always tell with filters that change someone’s jawline, or fullness of their lips, or size of their eyes. It’s hard to tell, until they talk about it or you see them in person.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: I usually prefer selfies, but I like the photo more this time.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: I think with the posed photo, I’m sitting upright and look confident. It’s also clearly a much better quality. The selfie looks much more uncertain. You weren’t there to give me direction.


Isabella

“I grew up in the ballet world, so from a very young age, my friends and I had a very hyper-focused vision of body image. We’d look through magazines and talk about the dancers with their beautiful cheekbones and say, ‘if only we could change that about ourselves.’

Isabella, 25
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I was around 12, but slightly older with the photo-based platforms. I used it every day now. My job is in social media, but personally I’ll look when I wake up, before bed and probably on my lunch break.

Q: How do you feel about your appearance?

A: I grew up in the ballet world, so from a very young age, my friends and I did have a very hyper-focused vision of body image. We’d look through magazines and talk about the dancers with their beautiful cheekbones and say, ‘if only we could change that about ourselves.’ For me, there was at least some level of acceptance around thinking, ‘this is what I look like, I can’t change it.’

Now, when I look at photos of my face, I feel fine about them at the time. But the more I look, the more problems I find. I always wish I’d edited the dark circles under my eyes or made my teeth look whiter. By the time I look at it for a tenth time, I hate it and wish I’d never posted it.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: When social media came out, it was a dream come true. We could make the image in our heads a reality. By contorting the photos, we could look exactly how we wanted. It became some sort of warped Holy Grail. You start to get obsessed and take it too far, wondering ‘can I make my hair even thicker, or can I change my eyebrows.’ Before you know it, that person doesn’t even look like you.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I like that you can smooth everything out in selfies, but I don’t like selfies that look animated. I think the goal is to take the perfect edited selfie that looks real. That’s always going to be my preference. But there’s a candid look you’ll never achieve with selfies. If I could look the way I look in selfies, but with the candid element of photos my friends take, I’d love that.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: Ironically, if I see a selfie that’s been highly edited, I find it cringey, even though I edit my own selfies. But if I know the person in real life and know they don’t look that way I want to tell them, ‘no, you’re already so pretty.’ It’s easy to look at someone else and see a nice smile and nice eyes and think, ‘you didn’t need to do all that.’ The editing takes away from the natural beauty. I always think that about people and maybe they think it about me, but it’s hard to think it about yourself. People love women supporting women, but it’s easy to forget that one of those women you support is you.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: Yes. Real photo editing software as well as in-app filters. The one I use most gets rid of dark circles, which I feel is my main issue.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: If it’s someone I see in real life, I can usually tell something is slightly different. I don’t judge, because we all do it, but it is noticeable.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: I think there’s a bit of both. If I take a selfie and edit it a little into something I really like, it’s a confidence boost. It does make you feel good. But also I miss the days before phones, when my friends would take pictures of me with a camera and I wasn’t worried about the way I looked. It’s not an obsession, but it is something I do very often. So, I do wish we could get back to more of an unfiltered look with all photos, just to have less stress around them. While everyone else is doing it, that’s hard. You don’t want to be posting natural photos where you don’t look your best when all your friends still look amazing. It feels like it would have to be an all or nothing for everyone.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: I feel like the portraits capture more of my personality. They look more like me. In the selfies, I might look pretty, but in the portraits, I look like me. It is harder to achieve all the time, though. If a friend is taking a quick snapshot of me, I’m not always photogenic. The selfie is more stable. I know I can take it and make it look how I want. I almost trust the selfie more, or feel more confident with it. But I do love the photos.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: I like these. I look quite graceful, I think. They remind me of my ballet days and feeling elegant.


Ayumi

“I do feel there’s an expectation to present yourself a certain way. The picture has to be good and it has to look like you’re having fun. It has definitely become a lot of work.

Ayumi, 30
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I was around 18. I use it pretty frequently still now.

Q: How do you feel about your appearance?

A: I feel content. It could always be better, but I don’t feel very insecure.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: In some ways. We can choose what we look like, but we never know what other people will think about it. But you can build your own appearance in a way. I do feel there’s an expectation to present yourself a certain way. The picture has to be good and it has to look like you’re having fun. It’s not so much a pressure on me, but it has definitely become a lot of work. One time, I would just post whatever photos I had made with friends. Now, I think about it a lot more. I always edit the photos I post and I have lots that I haven’t posted, because I don’t feel they’re good enough. I think about what I’ve posted recently and how they will look on my feed before posting anything new. It’s different now to how it was ten years ago.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I think it depends. When someone else takes a photo of you, it’s the most natural. So if you look good in that moment, it’s the best result. But, in those photos, often you don’t look the way you want to look. Selfies are usually always the same. It’s just your face, without capturing much of the occasion. Selfies with friends are fun, but I don’t want to take many selfies of just me.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: There’s always an audience in mind. When you post scenery or something, it’s just about sharing the photo. I don’t think you often actually take a selfie for yourself. It could just be to show you’re having a good time or it could be to get someone’s attention. If you put on makeup and wear a nice outfit, it could be because of that as well. I do follow a lot of influencers and I’m not really interested in their selfies. I’d rather see the whole scene, or at least the outfit or their makeup, if that’s what matters.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: Yes.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: Yes. You never seen them editing the photos, but I can usually tell if something has been done. People edit perfect skin and better features. Then if it’s a selfie, you can see if a filter has been used.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: I guess both. It’s always nice to be able to edit a photo you wanted to like, if it didn’t turn out well. You don’t have to worry too much about your appearance when you take pictures, if you know you’re going to edit later on. Otherwise, you’d feel like you always have to look perfect. On the other hand, I sometimes see a photo I took a long time ago and think I look good, but actually it’s edited and I never looked exactly that way. I might think I don’t look as good anymore. So, it’s good to not feel self-conscious in every moment, but if you keep editing, it might not even look like you anymore.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: The photo is more realistic and natural. It’s posed, but still looks more natural than the selfie. It’s kind of close to how I see myself in the selfie, but not the same.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: With a selfie, I feel like you never know which one is best. I always take more and I’m not sure when I’m really satisfied with how I look. With the photo, there might be things about myself that I don’t like, but you can still tell it’s a much better picture. In selfies, I don’t laugh or smile much. It feels weird. The smile I’m making in the photos would be much more subtle in a selfie.


Alexandra

“You can see all my imperfections here, which you can’t in the selfie, but this is my face. This is how I look. This is what I see in the mirror.

Alexandra, 31
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I was around 16. I used to use it a lot more, but now I’m trying to use it less.

Q: How do you feel about your appearance?

A: I’m happy as it is. I’m not too critical of myself. This is how it is. This is what I was given.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: When you’re looking at other people, you do compare yourself. I think as you get older you stop caring so much about it. That’s the stage I’m at now. I definitely cared more when I was younger.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I prefer photos other people take of me. The selfie camera is not good. It makes my nose look huge and the proportions are all wrong. I used to experiment with selfies when everybody was, but I think it’s much better when a professional photo is taken.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: It makes me cringe a little bit. I suppose younger people are still doing it, because they haven’t experienced it yet. I don’t follow many people because of their content – it’s because we’re friends. I used to follow some influencers, but much fewer now. I only follow the few influencers that I’m really interested in what they’re saying now.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: I did when they were a new thing, but not anymore.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: Oh yes, it’s definitely something you notice.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: Probably negative. Everyone looks better in filtered photos than they actually are in real life. Now that I’m older, it’s not as important anymore. It’s easier to ignore these things. For younger people, I think it’s a lot more difficult. I don’t agree that changes should be made to photos automatically. Some people can’t tell the difference, or don’t pay attention enough to see.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: I like the professional portrait. The lighting is very different, but it also looks more real. I only put a very light filter on my skin in the selfie, but the other photo looks much more real.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: It’s real. You can see all my imperfections here, which you can’t in the selfie, but this is my face. This is how I look. This is what I see in the mirror.


Esther

“Mostly, I just want to be okay with how I am, rather than how I am with a filter.

Esther, 21
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I was around 14. My parents were quite strict with it, so I waited until they said it was okay. I mostly used the platform that was most popular at school at the time. I don’t use it as much now. Once you have a break, you realise how much better your life is without it. It is helpful in a lot of ways though. Now I’ve left uni, it’s great for keeping in touch with friends.

Q: How do you feel about your appearance?

A: I think everyone has a journey growing up. You’re always going to find faults, especially as a woman.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: There’s definitely a pressure there. At 21, I’m trying not to let it get in the way of living life. You can’t change the way you look, so there’s no point being sad about it. I think I’m beautiful, as everyone is in their own way.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I’m not much of a selfie taker. Occasionally in the mirror, if I’ve got a nice outfit on. But I usually take photos with my friends. I don’t have many on my own. I love photos as memories, though, to look back on. I don’t want to waste loads of time taking selfies. I’d rather be out doing the thing. In either kind of photo, I’ll consider whether I look good or bad, but I don’t have a preference between selfies and other people’s photos of me.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: If it’s a friend, I’m excited that they’re looking good. I’m not the kind of person to let someone’s shine diminish my own, though. It’s not like I feel ugly because they look amazing. I’m just happy for them. When I was around 16, I did unfollow a lot of influencers posting bikini photos with perfect bodies, but I feel like I’m past that now. I don’t consciously avoid those things, but I do like to fill my accounts with a lot of positive things, not just beautiful faces. There are food blogs, fitness inspiration, singing inspiration and all of my friends.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: I have, but I try to avoid the ones that totally change your appearance. I feel the more you use those, the harder it is to love the way you actually look, when you see yourself in the mirror. So, mostly, I just want to be okay with how I am, rather than how I am with a filter.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: My sister used to drastically edit her face and whole body shape, which made me sad, because she was already so stunning.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: I think changing the colour or look of an image isn’t bad, but I think the face-changing apps create a bad atmosphere and poor sense of self-image. Especially for people who are young and still finding their way. I don’t think it’s great.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: I don’t prefer the way I look in either, but they are different. I can see I sat more seriously for the portrait, because I knew it was a real camera. The selfie is more casual.


Megan

“When you’re looking at people’s images, even though you know they’re their most perfect images, it’s still hard not to get influenced by what you see. I try to remind myself that you’re not seeing all the ones that were deleted. But it’s also hard when you think someone’s best is still 10x better than your best.

Megan, 26
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I was 12 or 13. I use it a lot. Probably an unhealthy amount. My screentime is insane.

Q: How do you feel about your appearance?

A: I don’t feel I’m very good looking and I do liberally use filters. I don’t post very much anymore, other than photos of friends, because I know they won’t be as good as everyone else’s. I attach a lot of importance to my appearance. I know I need to get over that at 26, but I went to an all-girls school and it was a massive thing there. It’s how you made friends and formed social circles, it’s how you find romantic partners now. Dating now is all on apps, where the first thing you see is someone’s face. I don’t use them very much, because I don’t think I have nice photos. I also don’t like judging people based on their appearance and saying no to people, because I know the same thing is happening to me.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: I think when you’re looking at people’s images, even though you know they’re their most perfect images, it’s still hard not to get influenced by what you see.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I don’t take selfies anymore. I don’t think you’ll find a single picture of me without friends around on social media. I’m not a good selfie taker, either. I don’t think I know my angles very well. I do like to control the photos I’m in, but I think it’s really nice when you unexpectedly get a nice candid photo someone else has taken. That’s when it hits me that maybe I can look okay in photos sometimes.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: I think they look really nice. I know they’re showing us their best angles, but I still get jealous I don’t look like that sometimes. I try to remind myself that you’re not seeing all the ones that were deleted. I know friends who have left social media because of the effect it’s had on their self-esteem. But it’s also hard when you think someone’s best is still 10x better than your best.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: Yes, a lot. So many. I prefer the ones that let you manipulate features on your own, rather than choosing from set options. It gives you more control and feels more natural. I want a no filter filtered look. I don’t want people to know I’m using them.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: I do, because I use them so much myself. It’s not that I point our other people’s imperfections, but because I’m so used to picking out many of my own, I look at the same areas. There are some signs that many people wouldn’t look for.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: Negative, because it illustrates what a more perfect you would look like. You see what you’d look like with a smaller nose or different shaped face, which are things you can’t change. Cosmetic surgery is really expensive and it can’t do what a filter can. It’s an unrealistic expectation.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: I don’t mind my face in some, but I’m very body conscious and I feel I look very wide in them all. My baggy top doesn’t help, but a clingy top would show everything off. I like the more natural looking ones most. In a selfie, I’d never laugh with my teeth on show like this.


Rachel

“Selfies are a very raw picture. I see many very beautiful girls who edit theirs. It seems kind of backwards. But I think they’re reaching for perfection while I’m just trying to be me.

Rachel, 19
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I started a secret profile in 6th grade. I’ve used social media ever since. I’ve tried to cut back since being in college, but there’s one platform that I’m always on. It’s my highest screentime and I’ll just sit and scroll. I barely upload anything. I just like to look and it’s how I communicate with a lot of people, seeing as I’m so far from home.

Q: How do you feel about your appearance?

A: In high school, I had an awful self-image. All the girls were sporty and fit but I just wasn’t that type of person. More recently I’ve thrown all that out the window. I’m much more confident in myself now.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: Yeah. I don’t like social media so I don’t know why I still use it so much. I feel left out a lot when I see people out doing things with their friends. With my self-image, social media definitely hindered it and it took a long time to get to where I’m at now. I just stopped caring what other people thought, which is actually one of the reasons I stopped posting as much.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I take selfies to send to friends often. I honestly like when other people take the pictures more. When I’m taking a selfie, I’m trying my best to look a certain way and I’m so worried about what I’m looking like because I can see it. When someone else takes the picture, it’s about how they see me, not how I see me.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: I feel like they’re often very brave. Selfies are a very raw picture. It’s just of you with nothing else in it. I’d never post a selfie. But I don’t think other people’s have a positive or negative effect on me.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: Never. I guess I understand why people do, but I would never.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: Sometimes it’s pretty obvious. Sometimes people are really good at it, so you can’t tell and you think that’s what they really look like.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: I’d say positive. I’ve never felt a need to edit my photos, but I see many very beautiful girls who do edit their photos. It seems kind of backwards. But I think they’re reaching for perfection while I’m just trying to be me.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: I definitely like the portraits better. It took me three or four selfies until I got one I liked, because I was totally judging my face and thinking about what didn’t look good. I also liked that you were posing me. It made me feel more confident.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: This was very cool. I really enjoyed being photographed. I’ve never done anything like this before. I think it’s something people don’t think about enough, how our portrayal on social media is so different to real life.


Ginger

“There are unattainable standards that people are putting out and that’s kind of terrifying. I have body dysmorphia, so I can’t really register what I look like within my brain.

Ginger, 19
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I was probably 13. It was when my parents let me. I use it for everything now. It’s my main contact with a lot of people. I like to think I don’t use it in too much of a destructive way. It can be useful and fun.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: Yeah. I think there’s a huge amount of ideal body and ideal look floating around social media. I’ve always had trouble with my body image. A lot of people tend to blame that on social media and influencers who in real life probably don’t look like that. But, you still look at them and wonder why you don’t look like that. But that’s alongside a combination of other things.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: If I ever take a selfie, it’s with friends. Rarely I’ll take a photo in the mirror, but I barely ever take photos of myself with the front camera. I do prefer the way I look in selfies, though, because there’s more control. I actually hate having my photo taken, especially if I’m not aware of it.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: I feel okay. Good for them. They’re usually friends or acquaintances. It’s nice to see people and see how they’ve changed. But I don’t have any strong feelings towards the selfie itself. I hope they’re taking them because they were feeling good in the moment, but I suppose there’s always a certain amount of validation going on.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: Not to edit the content, only colours and filters.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: Yes. Weirdly, I find it’s most obvious with people who are massively in the public eye.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: If anything, negative. Nothing really has a positive effect on my self-image. But they are unattainable standards that people are putting out and that’s kind of terrifying.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: In the selfie, purely because I had control over what I looked like.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: I have body dysmorphia, so I can’t really register what I look like within my brain. I see that I look one way or another, but one idea never sticks. It’s weird to compare the differences between the photos.


Swathi

“I don’t think I’m perfect, but I’ve accepted everything I’ve got.

Swathi, 35
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: Probably 16. Now it’s probably once every few days. I don’t really have the time and I don’t see much benefit to it. I’ll scroll and check in with friends, but nothing more than that.

Q: How do you feel about your appearance?

A: Fine. I’m just older and more content with myself. I don’t think I’m perfect, but I’ve accepted everything I’ve got. There was no dramatic change, just gradual around my mid to late 20s.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: Not so much me. Not now, anyway. When I look back to when I was younger, when I’d take many more pictures that I’d upload, definitely.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: If I think about it, I probably prefer selfies. You know your angles. When someone else is the photographer, it’s up to them. I do think I have a better side. I’m more conscious of one side. When people photograph me from that side, I’m not a fan of that.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: I don’t think I have a judgement when I see selfies at all. If it’s of my friends, it’s usually a group of them. I can’t think of the last time I took a selfie of just myself. If I were to, I’d just take a few and be done. When I was younger, I’d take a lot more.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: Yes. Sometimes I’ll use apps that can do some pretty serious stuff, but mostly when I use them it’s just something that can smooth the skin.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: I assume it, but I can’t look at a picture and pick it out. I’m not sure I’d ever look at something long enough to know. I’m also aware that certain influencers won’t be taking standard selfies at all, with a natural face in natural lighting. They might have photographers and there’s lots you can do post-photo.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: I don’t think it has a negative impact on me myself. The most I’ll ever do is smooth an image out a little bit, if the lighting is weird or whatever. Mostly I take selfies with other people, so I’d do the whole photo. But it also comes down to the individual. I have friends and family with self-esteem issues and I know it can have quite an impact if they’re using software that changes quite a lot about them.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: I don’t think I have a preference. I find both fine. I definitely look happier in the selfie.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: I don’t mind them. I look serious.


Kat

“I’ve used some filters every now and then. It’s usually smoothing filters. Being in the photo industry, we tend to know what’s real and what’s not, so I have the knowledge that other people are doing it, and I know what I’m seeing isn’t always real.

Kat, 27
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I was around 13 with the first platforms. When some of today’s popular ones came out later, we were using them straight away, which would have been secondary school. Now I use them all the time.

Q: How do you feel about your appearance?

A: When I was younger, I cared about it a lot more. As you get older, I feel you pull away from it a little bit. Now it’s not too bad, but I can understand why it affects people so badly.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: Social media was a big influence when I was young.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I think I’m more comfortable with selfies because I can see it happening. When other people are taking pictures of me I’m always thinking, ‘oh my gosh what’s it going to look like.’ It’s usually a surprise if I see it and like it, whereas with a selfie I know I’ll like it.

Q: How do you feel when you see other people’s selfies on social media?

A: I usually view it as a nice thing. If you’re taking a selfie, you’re usually happy with your appearance and feeling confident. Good on them for that. I try not to follow any influencers focused just on appearance, but I do follow a lot of people who regularly post selfies.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: Yes. I try not to very much, but I’ve done some every now and then. It’s usually smoothing filters.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: Yes. Being in the photo industry, we tend to know what’s real and what’s not.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: I think it’s a bit of both. I have the knowledge that other people are doing it, so I know what I’m seeing isn’t always real. Sometimes you do overlook that and just think other people look great, without considering what it’s taken to get that image. There’s a positive and a negative to it.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: It’s hard to say, because with the selfie I know exactly what I’m getting. But these are nice. I don’t hate them, which is great.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: I always feel a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera, but this time it was very fine. I felt very comfortable.


Xin Yi

“People have the right to change their own photos to feel how they want it to feel, even if it’s very different to the original.

Xin Yi, 21
UNFILTERED portrait project by Barbara Asboth

Q: How old were you when you started using social media and how much do you use it now?

A: I think probably in junior high school. Now the app [note: it’s a popular Chinese one] I use most is photo-based. I use that every day.

Q: How do you feel about your appearance?

A: I’m quite happy with it. I know many girls are very anxious about their body and face, but I feel we need to be confident.

Q: Has social media ever influenced the way you feel about yourself?

A: It has both good effects and bad effects. I think when I was younger it made me a bit more anxious too. I’m older now and know more, so it doesn’t matter as much. But I think it turns up any feelings you have on one side or the other.

Q: Do you prefer selfies or photos other people make of you?

A: I think in the past I’ve only done selfies. Now I ask friends to photograph me. I’ve also been photographed professionally a few times. I liked the professional photos, but I also like selfies. I think a selfie or photos a friend would take are the most accurate photos of me in daily life. Professional photography has been for special events.

Q: Have you ever used apps or filters to edit your selfies?

A: Yes, definitely. My phone can directly do it without an app now. Also sometimes I use filters in apps.

Q: When you’re on social media, do you notice people who have done the same?

A: I think more people edit their photos than not.

Q: Has this capability been positive or negative for your self-image?

A: I think it’s nice. Not just me, but people have the right to change their own photos to feel how they want it to feel, even if it’s very different to the original. Between China and the UK, selfies do look a little bit different. Recently in China it was popular to make the skin very smooth, but I think that’s getting better now. Here, I think people fix their features more. I think it’s better to not do too much. I hope people can be confident with some of their faults.

Q: Which of the photos do you like more? The camera with a lens that mimics the human eye, or the selfie?

A: Definitely the photos. They look much more clear, true and real.

Q: How does the portrait make you feel about yourself?

A: I think it’s the true, real me. I’ve been asking people to take photos of me more, instead of just taking selfies.


Did your first impression of the person change, depending on whether you viewed the portrait or the selfie? How were they different?

Do you have experience with pressure to look perfect in selfies? Have you tried filters and how did you find them?


Behind the scenes

Enjoy these BTS shots, all taken by James Greenhalgh who was assisting on the day – a big thank you to him for capturing these!


Final thoughts and thank yous

I would like to say a huge thank you to the FUJIFILM UK team (Andreas, Elle, Sarah, James, and the HoP team) for picking this project up, supporting throughout and facilitating on the shoot days. And of course, thank you to the 12 ladies who braved the unfiltered shoot and shared their thoughts with us in the interviews. I sincerely believe we did something relevant and worthwhile by focusing on this issue of self-image online, that affects so many women and girls in today’s times.

And thank you, reader, for getting this far! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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