Snapchat: Beautification or Caucasian?

Snapchat users are concerned the app’s filters are making people look whiter.

Whilst snapchat filters are often revered for their ability to ‘beautify’ and ‘glamorise’ users with virtual makeup, covering blemishes and adding flower crowns, users have noticed some filters favour white complexions.

Avid snapchat user John Brann said, “those filters definitely make my face whiter…I doubt Snapchat will ever admit to it but their filters are implicitly racist…”

Users have also noticed filters enlargen the eyes, slim the nose and the jaw.

Snapchat user Mariah Zouroudis questions, “why do filters try to make me thinner and whiter?”

1994 leader of the research team that produced ‘Racism Ethnicity and the Media’ and Professor of Sociology Andrew Jakubowicz said, “There are all sorts of negative even if unintended consequences in societies where racial hierarchies exist and are valorised in the everyday world. A similar issue to this emerged when colour movies began…the film stock was graded for European white skins and completely obliterated detail in black faces.”

Whilst the film stock problem was eventually rectified, Snapchat hasn’t made any changes to their ‘whitewashing filters’ and Jakubowicz thinks he knows the reason why, “it took many years for the film stock ‘technical’ problem to be viewed as political, hence it took many years for the problem to be addressed.”

Jakubowicz added, “it didn’t mean once we could see black actors that the problems of racism were resolved as we saw in the black boycott of the Oscars discussed last year.”

Whilst Snapchat refrained from commenting, users certainly haven’t.

Users question why the design of social media shows animosity for multiculturalism, when the average number of snaps per second is 9000, and these snaps come from people of all different cultures and backgrounds.

Photo: Young girl before and after flower crown snapchat filter

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For those who’ve come across the sea. We’ve boundless plains to share…. just not in our entertainment industry!

A lack of cultural diversity in Australia’s media and entertainment industry is impeding on the industry’s growth, PwC’s recent report says.

According to PwC, the average employee in our media and entertainment sector is 27, male, Caucasian, living in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs or the Inner West. In radio, homogeneity is even more pronounced, with 75% of on-air talent being male, white and over the age of 35.

TV Presenter Michael Casey said, “because of the lack of cultural diversity, minorities are often forced to develop their own ‘niche’ in the media industry…hence the development of channels such as SBS, National Indigenous Television (NITV) and Al Jazeera…”

PwC also reports 82.7% of the national entertainment and media workforce are monolingual, speaking only English at home. Of those people, 37% live in Sydney.

Kasey didn’t find this at all surprising, “the perception of the Anglo-Saxon is the typical stereotype…even as a second and third generation individual. Even though my boss has a Greek background, he uses a typical Anglo-Saxon name…it’s just a more accepted name in the industry.”

Despite multiple studies demonstrating diversity improves business outcomes for the industry, the most significant study of diversity on Australian screens since television started in 1965 says media is still not reflecting a multicultural Australia.

Screen Australia’s study analysed all 199 dramas that aired between 2011 and 2015. The study revealed that although 32% of Australians have backgrounds other than Anglo-Celctic, only 18% of main characters were non Anglo-Celctic.

Survey and consultations of Screen Australia noted that the high cost of drama, along with the imperative to attract broad audiences made investing in untested diverse talents and stories risky.

Casey added, “unfortunately careers in this industry aren’t typically or actively promoted to multiple people of different backgrounds”.

Only indigenous media representation bucked the trend. Whilst Broadcast in Colour’s 2002 study found only 2 Indigenous Australians were sustaining roles on TV in 1999, Screen Australia found currently 5% of main characters are Indigenous.

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Appreciation vs. Appropriation

The question of cultural appropriation vs appreciation is attracting more controversy than ever before, evidence suggests.

Whilst there has been recent uproar regarding the widespread adoption of cultural dress at music festivals, not everyone feels cultural appropriation is something to be concerned about.

Cultural philosopher Steve Patterson disagrees with the negative stigma associated with cultural ‘appropriation’, “to copy a culture is to compliment that culture…it’s something that should be celebrated”.

Patterson also disagrees with the view that cultural appropriation removes the worth of one’s cultural identity, “I see an individual’s humanity as being more fundamental than their group identity…people don’t always understand that when most people copy a culture they aren’t intending to be racist.”

19-year-old Australian born Punjabi Sikh Simran Kaur didn’t completely agree with Patterson, “…traditional dress represents a huge part of my identity…it’s the way I express my beliefs and values”.

For Kaur, the problem with cultural appropriation is that it involves people adopting her traditional dress in wrong contexts. Kaur said, “sometimes wearing certain garb can be interpreted in the wrong way…it might be interpreted as a form of mockery”.

However, like Patterson, she realises in many instances people who ‘appropriate’ cultures do not do so maliciously, “it is about individuals embracing cultures…it is about allowing two cultures to come together and diminish the barriers between them.”

What Kaur and Patterson can agree on is that there is a lack of education around the symbolic connotations of certain culturally unique dress, and addressing this lack of education might be a step forward to solving the problem.

Kaur was especially concerned with this issue, “it’s a problem when they don’t understand the history and sacred nature of the thing they choose to wear…they use it at their own convenience…”.

Australia is a multicultural nation and is home to a myriad of different cultural traditions, customs and dress. But there is a fine line between appreciating a culture and appropriating one.

Photo: 19 year old Simran Kaur in traditional Punjabi Sikh fashion

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