I loathe social media selfie filters. As the mother of a soon-to-be fourteen-year-old girl, it is soul-wrenching to watch my daughter’s internal struggle as she holds to her face an image of her “perfect” self (compliments of the filter du jour), then scowl at the “flawed” person peering back at her in the mirror. These filters, she says, give her higher cheekbones, a slimmer face, fuller lips and amazing porcelain skin. Impossible perfection. These filters are the reflection of someone else’s interpretation of beauty, and I constantly remind her that beauty should be defined on her own terms, not anyone else’s.
One evening, after yet another exhausting debate about the good versus bad of these filters, I collapsed onto the couch, so thankful I didn’t have to deal with a “filtered life” on top of everything else. As I lay there applauding myself, I realized filters have many lenses—some aided by technology and some by the human eye. I then remembered the woman at the retail conference, and a feeling of shame overcame me…even after all these years.
I saw her standing at the top of the escalator platform as I made my way up. She was dressed in a well-tailored skirt suit, wore stilettos, and her hair was angled at her chin. She was one of the most stunning women I had ever seen; she radiated power and confidence. What happened in the next 30 seconds as I exited the escalator was one of those “life-defining moments.” Her eyes were locked on my shoes, her gaze went slowly upward toward my dress, landing on my hair. She pursed her mouth and sighed deeply as she took all of me in. She did not approve. When our eyes met, she flashed a dazzling smile, unaware that I knew. I was ashamed. I ran to the restroom, locked myself into a stall and cried. Really, that happened. Was it the at-home manicure? Was it the discount red patent leather shoes? Maybe it was the dress that was too tight in the middle because I had gained 10 pounds. I will never know. But, I do know that I began seeing myself through her filter. I began to dislike me, and the journey back to self-acceptance has been hard.
After that incident, I started paying careful attention to the filters we women put on each other. It seems to happen without plan or effort. I notice women standing in airport lines, instantly judging another’s outfit of choice. I notice women at conferences glancing at sideways at other women, undeniably disapproving of something offensive about the other. I notice how often women filter other women.
I believe most women aren’t aware they are doing it. I wasn’t. I caught myself—actually, my daughter caught me—throwing a “you have to be kidding” glance at a young woman in a coffee shop. I was ashamed, and I was mad. Mad that I allowed an unfortunate incident that happened years before to shape my character and self-worth. Ashamed that I felt I had the right to define for anyone what beautiful is.
Filtering others only allows us to see what we perceive as being imperfect, what we feel must be changed to fit our definition of good and right. In doing so, we miss what is most important: the human spirit. That young woman in the coffee shop was a classical pianist I later learned, but my filter of her didn’t take into account any of her talents or accomplishments, only her physical appearance.
I used that as a teachable moment for not only my daughter but also for me. I now make a conscious effort to unfilter people as our lives cross, to find something uniquely wonderful and special and beautiful about them. And when I can, I tell them. I have witnessed incredible things happen when people are (and feel) valued for their talents, for what makes them different.
Unfilter your life, one encounter at a time. Embrace the perfectly imperfect all around you. And should you ever find yourself at a conference or in the airport glancing sideways at a forty-something-year-old woman dressed in pink with a glittered nail polish manicure, overly large pearl earrings and an obvious love of bright lipstick, please take a moment to introduce yourself to me! No filters needed!