How An Instagram Filter Got Accused of Racism

Examining Nylon’s “Lark” Controversy

By Dennise DeJesus

Is filtering a picture racist?

As we progress in society, one should question why this is an issue. Our definition of beauty constantly changes.

One method of these changes find themselves in the edited photos we see on billboards and magazines, photos that suggest their subject is the epitome of ultimate beauty. The edits are often focused on altering one’s skin color or weight, and, as a result, receive waves of backlash.

In early August, I created my own wave when my favorite Instagrammer found a problem with this notion. Jenny, whose operates under the handle @shelovesdresses, criticized Nylon Magazine’s use of her photo on their shop Instagram page @nylonshop.

She was pictured on the shop’s account in a product shirt with the caption “Praying for My Haters.” Jenny is a Filipino-Chinese American activist for feminism and human rights.

The photo was reposted on the shop account, allegedly filtered with the popular Instagram filter Lark. Instagram feeds exploded, prompting Jenny to urge her followers to petition that the filtered photo to be taken down.

I first wondered why this was a big deal. As a normal bystander and a often on the Internet, using a filter on an app like Instagram is second nature. If one wanted to enhance a photo, it can all be done in seconds, with one of the 20-plus filters available. But as I read responses to @shelovesdresses’s Instagram, I began understanding why this was a big deal.

Jenny’s outrage with Nylon was that the filter lightened her skin. Users tested the photo with the filter but found that it did not do what Jenny suggested and that her photo could have instead been photo-shopped.

Curious, I decided to test the filter myself. Taking a screen shot of the original, I tested the photo with the Lark filter. Though the filter lightened her skin, it didn’t resemble the edit in question.

Other filters brightened Jenny’s face more than Lark did, but the discoloration did not match the photo either. Though Lark came the closest, I concluded that another program was used.

It took days before Nylon released an apology. Along with the release of the apology, Nylon released an article called “Are Instagram Filters Racist? Are We Making it Worse by Using One?” The article was the “general apology” to Jenny from the company.

Though the article explained how vintage filters were considered racist due to their low-quality nature in the 1970s, it did not fit the aesthetic of what the company tried to explain. Nylon claimed to use a universal filter for every photo in order to fit a certain theme. But the article seemed to want a person’s opinion, rather than explain the situation completely. The article also referenced the apology released by Katherine Martinez of Nylon Shop, which was listed in the official Instagram account.

“It pains me to think that you felt this way. We put all of our photos through one of several Instagram filters (in this case it was Lark) to unify the overall look and feel of our feed when #regramming from other accounts—often celebrating fans of ours.

Most Instagram filters tend to blow things out in a “vintage” fashion and if you’ll notice it is the entire image (t-shirt included) [that] appears lighter. We have now enacted a policy not to put anyone’s reposted images through filters so as not to lead to any misconceptions.”

When I first read the apology, I felt it lacked sincerity. When Martinez wrote in the beginning of the letter, “as a woman of color myself,” it was as if it screamed “sympathy.” I scoffed at the idea that they would actually get rid of the photo, assuming that they would not keep their word. Usually companies would keep a front and become shady as the controversy dies.

But looking at the featured updated posts on the account, Jenny’s criticism was answered with Nylon’s response. The re-posted pictures now do not contain any filters whatsoever. I could honestly commend Nylon for keeping its word. But, regarding how Jenny’s issue was handled, it was not great on the company’s part.

Despite the unsolicited use of a photo, the company seems to be taking a step towards handling future incidents and keeping each image as close to the original as possible.


Categories: Opinion

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