We Asked 10 Different People Why (And How) They Edit Their Instagram Photos

Instagram editing. Heaps of us do it, but not many people fess up to it.

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When it comes to tweaking the photos we upload, some of us just slap on any old filter and up it goes. Others spend hours using apps to edit everything from brightening their teeth to making their arms skinner, and just hope no one notices their tweaks.

The thing is, we know Instagram can be bad for our mental health. A study of 1,500 young people in 2017 ranked Instagram higher than Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in terms of being associated with high levels of anxiety and depression, and we even have a new type of illness to describe social media-influenced body anxiety: Snapchat dysmorphia.

Dr Neelam Vashi, who coined the term when his study was published in the JAMA Facial Plastic Viewpoint last year, said patients were seeking out surgery to help them appear like the filtered versions of themselves.

“A little adjusting on FaceTune can smoothen out skin, and make teeth look whiter and eyes and lips bigger,” he said. “A quick share on Instagram and the likes and comments start rolling in.”

Recently, Instagram announced it would be cracking down on ‘plastic surgery filters’, but that doesn’t take that some of the most popular ‘obvious’ filters – like the hearts or the puppy dog ears – also make subtle adjustments to your face. As one friend said to me, “It’s ridiculous – we shouldn’t be expected to see a puppy filter as a beauty filter as well.”


A decade ago, we were having the photoshop conversation about magazines covers. In 2008, model and publishing associations were urging editors to stop photoshopping models and celebs into unrealistic, unachievable, or frankly inhuman forms. Now, it’s Instagram, but instead of models it’s your friends and family and instead of expensive software, it’s a $1.99 app.

With that in mind, I decided to ask friends, colleagues and strangers if they edited their images and why. Some told me they were firmly against it, while others insisted it was only to make the photo ‘pop’. However, plenty spoke of their anxiety and shame about certain perceived imperfections or simply a desire to look better than they were.

(Also a note – many of the people who answered our callouts are white. Obviously, people of colour might have different experiences here, so if you would like to be included, anonymously if you prefer, please get in touch: alex.bruce-smith@pedestriangroup.com.au.)

Personally, I spend AGES and ages selecting exactly which Lightroom preset I’m going to use, but apart from that, I don’t edit my pics much at all. That’s not out of some moral high ground, either – I just don’t know how to do it and assume I’d fuck it up.

This one, for example, probably could have used a little blemish eraser, but DID I BOTHER WITH IT? No, and now I have to live with it.

For those who edit their photos, here’s what everyone else said:

Anonymous woman, 25

“Influencers have raised the standard, and there’s pressure to upload perfect images.”

Uses: Lightroom, FaceApp, FaceTune

“I bought filter presets for Adobe Lightroom that make a huge difference! Sadly, I also use FaceApp (puts make up on your face) and face tune to whiten teeth… it becomes quite addicting.

“I think Instagram has escalated to a point where I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting an unedited photo up. Influencers, and just people in general, have raised the standard and there’s pressure to upload perfect images. I’ve noticed lately there’s also more emphasis on a ‘theme’, which is where the presets help setting a colour palette.

“I’ve definitely played around with FaceTune, making my nose smaller, teeth whiter etc, which can be quite addictive when you realise all the things you can do. FaceApp is so easy to use that I couldn’t image putting up a photo without it.”

Jemima Skelley

“I want my Insta to have that ~goals af~ aesthetic.”

Uses: Lightroom

“I edit the colours/brightness in my photos a lot. I don’t FaceTune or anything but I want my Insta to have that ~goals af~ aesthetic so I really try to make the pics pop as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll add a fake sun flare or turn dark blue water into turquoise water. I feel like if I don’t my photos look boring and then…what’s the point in uploading? That’s sad lol but hey that’s the game.”

Anonymous woman, early 20s

“I don’t hate how I look as a person, but I do hate how I photograph.”

Uses: AirBrush

“I edit every single image of myself that I upload. We’re talking Instagram stories, posts, the Facebook profile I change once every like, five years. I use the AirBrush app on my phone to give myself a slight tan, whiten my teeth if necessary, smooth out the wrinkles I get under my eyes when I smile, and edit out any pimples. I can make my lashes look longer and add blush to my cheeks if my makeup wasn’t photographing great, and even reshape my face in certain places to make it slimmer. When you say it all together it sounds dramatic, but the end result is really just a whole lot of subtle changes that make all the difference to me. I’ve gotten it down to a pretty fine science, as far as I’m aware people don’t notice the photos are edited.

“Because I do all this I rarely use filters of any kind on the photo. We’re going for fake effortless beauty, and filters are usually super obvious. I don’t hate how I look as a person, but I do hate how I photograph. I admit to editing to my close friends because, really who cares, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want followers who see me less in real life to think that’s genuinely just how I naturally look in photos.”

Joan Westenberg

“Now that I am openly an authentic version of myself, I want to present that in the best possible way.”


Uses: Adobe Lightroom on iPad

“Beyond anything else, I am self conscious of the way that myself, my work and my life are perceived and critiqued by other people. There is a weight to sharing any part of yourself, when you’re openly transgender. It’s the weight of expectation, it’s the weight of potential harassment. I take extra care in order to guard against those things.

“But there’s something else there too; I have spent so long living in a way that did not reflect how I felt, and now that I am openly an authentic version of myself, I want to present that in the best possible way. I am proud of the life I live. The full joy of the experiences I post about, from breakfast to shoe shopping to just sitting in a cafe and writing. Proud enough that I want to present them the best way that I can.

“When I edit, I don’t edit to change the nature of my images or how I present myself. I’m not using photoshop or apps to change my face or body. I am editing solely for lighting, texture, balance and composition. I just want my photos to be good photos.”

David Adams

“I feel we will look back at our attempts to digitally ‘age’ our photos and cringe.”

Uses: VSCO

“I am an infrequent insta poster because my life is simply not that interesting, but I did notice something weird: I would run my photos through VSCO and add a film grain filter to give them a more ‘analogue’ quality, which I eventually realised was very naff and perhaps even ‘faker’ than just posting the photos as-is.

“I feel we will look back at our attempts to digitally ‘age’ our photos like that, with vignettes and analogue-emulating filters, and cringe.”

Steph [asked for last name not to be included]

“As a general rule, I don’t touch my face at all.”

Uses: AirBrush, Snapchat

“I definitely do a bit of an edit on mine, though I’m careful not to make it too different to what I normally look like because I’m paranoid someone would ever call me out. As a general rule I don’t touch my face at all, but I’ll whack a filter on to fix any colour balance issues, and if I’m having a particularly bad self-esteem day I might use tools like AirBrush to make my arms a bit skinnier.

“Having said that, when I was younger I would take all my photos on Snapchat with the ~beauty filters, download them from there, then put them on Instagram and whack a filter over the top.

Georgia Rajic

“I just wanted to look like this fake image I had of myself in my head that was unrealistic.”

Used to use: VSCO, FaceTune

“I used to edit my photos a lot. I stopped about six months ago but would purposefully make myself look skinnier, my face clearer and remove skin imperfections on my body.

“I was coming off a break up, feeling self conscious. But I literally just wanted to look the best possible I could. Not even just to get likes, I just wanted to look like this fake image I had of myself in my head that was unrealistic.

“I really started editing my photos in 2017 after I broke my leg. It gave me a feeling of control over my body that I thought I lost. Even if I couldn’t walk/was on crutches and watching my leg muscles disappear before my eyes, at least I could edit my face etc and feel good about myself.

“I purposely don’t edit my photos now because I’m like fuck it, I don’t actually look like that and I rather look like my Instagram.”

Jaime Wiggins

“I create my own presets to apply to pictures to make them pop.”

Uses: Lightroom

“In regards to filters – yes I use them! I use Lightroom and create my own presets to apply to pictures to make them pop, not to edit the way I or any look in the picture but to make it brighter lighter and have more colour! It’s also so easy to then upload straight to Instagram.

“They are really shit presets I just copy and paste them (an influencer friend of mine taught me lol – it’s only a new skill I’ve adapted).”

Anonymous woman, early 30s

“It’s really easy to keep editing and suddenly you don’t look at all like your real self.”

Uses: FaceTune

“My policy is that I always still have to look like myself. My sister is usually my touchpoint on this – if she says, “Why does your chin look weird?” or “Why is your mouth so wide?” I know I’ve gone too hard. I’ll only use it when I feel like the photo angle has made my face look weird/body look strange. Basically, I’ll turn a shitty photo of myself into a great photo of myself – not morph my body or face to look completely different to how I look in real life.

“But I do think it’s a fine line – it’s really easy to keep editing and suddenly you don’t look at all like your real self. I think that’s why I always run my editing by my sister, so I keep a reality check on that stuff. I’ve definitely seen people who heavily edit and end up looking cartoonish.”

Eliza Barr


“The frame of mind where only [perfection] makes us beautiful should be challenged.”

Uses: VSCO, Lightroom, Huji

“I use VSCO or Lightroom for minor colour correction, occasionally Huji for decorative purposes. I never photoshop/etc because eventually folks will see all of us in real life, lol. And I think we need to resist the concept that beauty is some unattainable ideal of flawlessness. Like: maybe this is too deep but this frame of mind where only immaculate complexions/teeth/tans/whatever make us beautiful should be challenged and disrupted every single day. ”

If you would like to speak with someone about body image or eating disorders, please call The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or down in general, you can call BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636.

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