FROM FILLERS TO FILTERS:
THE EVOLUTION OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND OUR IDENTITIES

Talking personal brands, snapchat dysmorphia and our ever changing perception of self and beauty with artist Tabitha Swanson.

The pressure to up keep and present yourself or, more to the point, your virtual self on social media platforms has never felt so present and so persistent as it does in 2020. A few months ago (pre lockdown 2.0) when I was away with friends, a bunch of us were just relaxing in the countryside with piña coladas in hand before one of them suddenly burst out “I need to decide on a font for my personal brand!” Online and offline boundaries are not just blurry, they are in fact broken – and guess what – it’s doing things to all of us. 

To dissect and discuss all of this, I sat down with Tabitha Swanson, a multi-disciplinary designer, filter maker and creative technologist based in Berlin, who was recently named one of Italy’s top 20 artists in 2020 by i_D. Together we explored the expansion of self- expression, as an artist and a human online, while also discussing criticisms of filtered reality.

Do you see face filters as a way to disrupt how art is consumed?

It has made virtual reality accessible to everyone and democratised. Before we thought of these technologies, they could only be access with goggles or headsets, but now that it’s been dispersed as such a wide scale thing… Anyone can use it. Anyone can make it. 

How do you think face filters are empowering artists? 

You can explore, you can take your art to another level and you can share in a way that people can interact with it. This was much harder before, like it’s much harder to interact with a painting or a video that you’re watching, but with augmented or virtual reality you have ways you can interact with the elements and you’re allowing a connection between the viewer and the artist, that’s harder.

There has been a lot of censorship recently on Instagram, with not only nipples being banned but also certain words blacklisted, have you experienced censorship and what is your opinion on censorship on social media in general? Is it necessary or is impeding on our freedom of expression?

Kinky Magazine, which is Berlin based, had 90% of their posts on Instagram affected, or now you’re not even allowed to use the eggplant emoji and the peach emoji together, censoring emojis is just nuts. It’s super tricky, because we don’t want white supremacists posting nazism or racist groups, but I do think these platforms need to employ an ethics team and a sensitivity team that is a little more educated. Because right now we’re seeing a much more conservation, totalitarian approach for example banning things across the board like plastic surgery filters, which is also a controversial topic. By banning these filters, are they saying that all plastic surgery is bad? Is this a sort of body shaming? This is also a topic within the trans community because a lot of people get female feminisation sugery for example, so that is plastic surgery and it’s helping people. That is effective surgery.

Instagram are moderating some of the face altering filters – after a rise in plastic surgery, coining ‘snapchat dysmorphia’ – what are your thoughts on plastic surgery? Do you think Instagram needs to be moderating these filters?

The thing is, these plastic surgery filters, they’re super popular. They’re getting millions and millions and sometimes close to a billion users. Obviously people want them and if they don’t want to see them, they can just not use them… I think that the pressure that beauty standards have on people is detrimental, but cutting off plastic surgery inspired filters is not the answer. The filters are showing different body types and sizes. People evolve and are always beautiful.

What role is social media playing in our perception of beauty, both online and offline, in your opinion?

I think social media and filters are giving us the chance to explore beauty in different ways instantaneously. The topic of virtual identity vs real world identity is extremely interesting. We”re allowed to try out different things, be different people, be animals. This can be a very powerful tool. We do need to make sure we’re representing all different people and changing beauty standards. 

I want to talk about Digi gxl, the collective you’re apart of. How do you define the community and your connection to it and also to the others artists apart of it?

Digi gxl is a community of femme, trans, non binary, intersex people and we are a worldwide collective. We work in a few different realms but mostly 3D, some virtual reality, augmented reality, a bit of creative coding. A lot of us do different things across the board with digital media. For me the community has been life changing… To have a community and group of people who are so open to sharing, doing the same thing and who have such a drive to learn and who are curious. Having politic and social values that are similiar and about making change has been really important and an important addition to my life. 

Digi gxl had a 2 week long residency recently and I attended a panel event you curated, discussing identity and embodient in the digital age, which I found fascinating. How do you think social media has affected the way we present ourselves today?

Online you can create your ideal self a bit more easily, which you need to take with a grain of salt, because obviously you’re only presenting the good stuff that you wanna show and maybe you’re not showing the bad stuff and the stuff you wanna work on. I think it’s interesting to look at it as your ideal stuff, with things you still wanna work on and know that being human is being better. Your experiences don’t disappear when you go online. I feel like social media gets a bad wrap. 

Our friend and fellow Digi Gxl Dani, who was also on the panel, is an Intersex advocate and spoke about social media as a positive place where she could connect with people who were going through the same things as her. Over on Dani’s Instagram, @inter_sexy she is educating others on what it means to be intersex and representing those who usually are under represented. What has been the best thing about social media for you, T?

The best thing has been community. Finding communities and ways to learn, that”s been a big thing, anything you want to learn… You can connect with people easily. The flip side I think is that this sometimes can lead us to echo chambers, like what we have seen with the INCEL movement, white supremacist movements and other communities on there… Overall, you can connect in a way that just isn’t possible in real life, geographically speaking. Every community is so different and it’s hard to standardise. Digi gxl have a code of conduct. Usually you’re invited to join by someone from in the group, or you can apply. We want it to be a safe space and for everyone to be on the same page. Changing the gal to gxl in Digi gxl was an act of inclusivity for our trans community. 

Words by Elise Mireille

Find Your
Closest Store

Use our store finder to locate your closest tmrw stockist.