This New Trend Has Gone Viral on Instagram—but It's Actually Dangerous to Your Mental Health

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You’ve probably seen it: Your favorite blogger posts side-by-side images where the first is an average-looking shot of them on a cloudy day or in a dimly lit cafe and the second is the same image, but whoa, it somehow looks 1,000 times better. The colors are more vibrant, the light is shining in just the right way, and the person in the photo looks like a supermodel. The caption? “Check out my Lightroom Presets!”

lightroom-presets-lyss-LA-before-after lightroom-presets-lyss-LA-before-after is, here's the scoop: It’s a predetermined position for all, or some, of the photo editing sliders in the Adobe Lightroom app. Basically, it’s a high-tech filter you can buy online and download into the app to apply to your own photos. You can buy Presets on Etsy, from various photography websites, and you guessed it, from influencers themselves.

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Lightroom itself is an advanced editing app used by professional photographers. It not only makes images look seamlessly more beautiful, but it can also manipulate them without a trace. With the right Preset, Lightroom can turn a green summer day into an orange fall afternoon and a blue daytime sky into a pink horizon at sunrise. Not to mention it can change the color of your skin, eyes, lips, and more.

lightroom-presets-haylsa-selfie lightroom-presets-haylsa-selfie , PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, tells Health. “It’s less clear if you just see a photo of a random person you don’t know on social media.”

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In other words, do people even think of the possibility that a photo has been edited when it’s someone they consider to be just another average person, not a model or actor? Professional editing tools are becoming more and more accessible, to the point where you can use them if you have little to no photography experience. But our antennas aren’t tuned into that nearly as much as they are when it comes to ads, Leary says, which doesn’t bode well for body image.

“If you think about it from the standpoint of how we evaluate ourselves in general, it’s always in comparison with other people because there’s no objective standard. There’s no objective standard for attractiveness, for morality, intelligence, or anything else,” Leary says. “The only way we know what we’re like is by comparing ourselves to what other people are like.”

lightroom-presets-haylsa-before-after lightroom-presets-haylsa-before-after (@briconley) recently noticed Presets becoming more and more popular among people who have Instagram accounts similar to hers, so she thought she might as well get on board. She dropped about $100 on a bundle of Presets that she thought would give her photos that warm, rosy glow everyone else’s seemed to have.

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Excited to give them a go, she applied one of the Presets to an interior decor photo she had just shot. But it didn’t turn out how she had hoped. “I didn’t even feel like it was my house anymore,” Kordenbrock tells Health. “I was like, my goodness, this does not look like my home.”

Feeling uneasy about the whole thing after she posted the photo, she did a poll in her Instagram story asking her followers if they even liked Presets. “The response was pretty overwhelming,” she says. “I would say about 98% of people said they did not like Presets… I wish I would have known that before I spent $100.”

Of course, there are different levels of editing. Some Presets distort reality more than others. And the argument can also be made that cameras don’t always pick up exactly what you’re seeing anyway. Don’t get us wrong, if the oranges in that sunset looked way more vibrant in person than they did in the photo, there’s no harm in boosting the saturation a bit. It’s when we start to alter reality that we run into trouble.

lightroom-presets-lyss-sunset-before-after lightroom-presets-lyss-sunset-before-after

A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found the more time you spend on social media, the more likely you are to feel lonely. One of the researchers’ theories as to why: “Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers' lives on social media sites may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives."

Presets can contribute to that distorted belief, and being aware of their ability to deceive is step one when it comes to combating the issue. Like Leary said, we already have our antennas up when we look at advertisements. It’s time to put them up when scrolling through Instagram as well.

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