A new TikTok filter gives users a glimpse into what they might look like when they get older ― and not everyone is liking what they see.
The TikTok aging filter, which shows a split screen of the user’s current face and an aged, AI-generated older version, is inescapable on the app right now, appearing on videos that have amassed more than 10 billion views.
Like many trends on the internet, use of the filter caught on after a Kardashian-Jenner sister tried it — this time, makeup mogul youngest sister Kylie Jenner.
Unsurprisingly, she was not a fan.
“I don’t like it, I don’t like it at all,” the 25-year-old said in a clip posted Monday on the video platform as she shook her head and stared at a version of herself with wrinkles, sagging skin and undereye bags. “No. No.”
Others were equally unimpressed with their filtered results.
“[I’ll] age like milk left in the hot sun,” TikToker Alex Beck said, sizing up his before and after.
“POV: This filter humbled you and made you realize Botox is in fact the move,” lifestyle influencer Emilie Kiser wrote about the filter.
Other people used the popular filter on old photos of celebrities to see if the filter accurately predicted what people like George Clooney or Sarah Jessica Parker would look like when they got older. (It did.)
Even plastic surgeons who’ve used the filter say it pretty accurately mirrored the natural aging process.
“I can see that overall my skin texture has lost some collagen, it has some sun spots, age spots,” said Lauren Umstattd, a plastic surgeon in Kansas, as she looked over her filtered results.
“The skin of my upper lids is accentuated. Crows feet are accentuated, the volume loss in your cheeks,” she added. “There’s more prominent nasolabial folds and marionette lines. [One] critique is that I will probably lose more volume in my lips than it shows based on what I see in other women.”
Demoralized by the results, some shared ways to “beat” the filter: If you see someone who is supposedly “aging” better, they suggested, it’s probably because they filmed themselves in good lighting.
It’s understandable why so many of us are perturbed by the “old” filter: Most filters on the apps are aspirational, giving users a poreless, perfect Instagram Face version of themselves.
It feels like you, only better ― which might be why plastic surgeons have said they’ve had a surplus of clients bringing filtered selfies to appointments to illustrate the tweaks they’d like to make.
The “old” filter is more deterministic: “You’re going to look like this,” it suggests; “maybe you should look into that preventive Botox after all.”
It isn’t surprising that people are playing around with the aging filter, even after seeing others have “bad” results with it. Most of us are curious about how we’ll look as we grow older, and using the filter is a way to satisfy that curiosity, said Julie Erickson, a psychologist and the author of the forthcoming book “The Aging Well Workbook for Anxiety and Depression.”
Unfortunately, the “old” filter does more than satisfy a benign curiosity.
“Trying it out can activate fears of growing ― and looking ― older, reinforce ageist assumptions that looking old is inherently problematic, and make someone more hyper-focused on their appearance,” Erickson said.
The psychologist noted that there’s increasing evidence suggesting that the use of these filters increases body image dissatisfaction, worsens mood and could lead to body dysmorphia, an unhealthy preoccupation on some perceived flaw in physical appearance that’s either small or not even detectable to others.
“Filters are particularly bad news for women, who already face heightened pressure to defy age and maintain a youthful appearance as they grow older,” Erickson said.
“With the 'old' filter, worrying about how you look isn’t just restricted to the present; it’s making people worry about the future, too, playing right into our anti-aging fixation.”
The augmented-reality face filters were gimmicky at first (think: the puppy face filter from Snapchat’s heyday), but today they offer hyperrealism. Some have even argued that the filters might be making us forget what we actually look like.
With the “old” filter, worrying about how you look isn’t just restricted to the present; it’s making people worry about the future, too, playing right into our anti-aging fixation.
A 2018 U.K. report found that millennials have by far the most negative attitudes about aging of all age groups, with nearly one-quarter of millennials surveyed admitting they thought being unhappy and depressed is a normal part of old age.
The anti-aging market is estimated to make tens of billions of dollars in global sales every year. The demand for procedures that stave off signs of aging ― “preventative” Botox (intended to delay wrinkles by paralyzing the muscles that create fine lines) and fillers (injected beneath the surface of the skin to add fullness) ― is only increasing.
The filter plays into all these fears and more, the experts we spoke to said.
Of course, not everyone using the aging filter on TikTok is demoralized by the results. Some users have said they felt a sense of peace from seeing an older version of themselves. “She looks so fun and full of life! I can’t wait to meet her,” said @yazzy_so_co0l.
“I’ve decided that those in the assisted living center with me are going to love me,” social media strategist Hope Woodard joked about her “old” self.
Clearly, that’s a better approach. Below, therapists and experts on aging share how to capture some of that energy and embrace aging as a filter and in real life.
Ask yourself: Why did I have such a visceral reaction to this?
If the age filter caused you to spiral into the depths of body image despair ― or just made you say, “Ugh, I have that to look forward to?” ― it might be helpful to take a step back and explore the roots of this spiral, said Chadley Zobolas, a therapist and owner of CZ Therapy Group in Denver.
“What’s being triggered underneath the surface that’s causing this response?” she said. “What are the past experiences and lingering messages that are fueling the self-esteem fire?”
For a lot of us, it’s internalized societal messaging. The anti-aging industry is centuries in the making, and the misconceptions and negative beliefs we have about aging ― that we lose vitality, that we become less attractive to others ― are deeply entrenched in our society.
As one person, it’s hard to counter all that negative messaging. Still, simply recognizing how much negative messaging you’ve received around aging in your life can be a game changer, Zobolas said.
The therapist also offered a short list of questions that might be helpful to ask yourself:
- What messages have been internalized about your appearance, the appearance of others, and what’s considered “beautiful” vs. “unattractive” as it relates to aging?
- Where, when, and from whom did you hear these messages? How was/is the aging process viewed in your family?
- What cultural factors might come into play?
- How do your older family members talk about their aging bodies with you or in front of you?
Find things you like about the aging version of yourself.
Like we mentioned, some people who posted their “old” filter videos emphasized what they liked about what they saw. Maybe you look more distinguished than you thought, for instance.
Quite a few people said they looked at their aged selves and noticed that they looked like a beloved family member.
“Everyone’s freaking out about this filter, but I kind of love it, because who do I look like? I look like my nanny who just passed away a few months ago,” TikToker @thiskindalife said.
Get comfortable with aging by exposing yourself to positive “age role models.”
One way to confront any ageism you’ve internalized is to seek out positive representations of aging, said Samantha DeCaro, the director of clinical outreach and education at the Renfrew Center, an eating disorder treatment center in Philadelphia.
Follow some older influencers on Instagram or check out books that flip the script or deal critically with how our culture treats aging. (“Not Too Old for That: How Women Are Changing the Story of Aging,” by Vicki Larson, for instance, or the late Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.”)
“It’s so important to find inspirational people who are older than you, perhaps in person, through books, or by following older creators online, who are re-writing the harmful narratives about aging often reflected in the media,” DeCaro said.
Monitor your negative self-talk.
Our fears of aging are reflected in how casually we talk about our encroaching flaws internally and among friends: “Ugh, my crow’s feet are terrible,” or “I need to do something about my elevens [the vertical forehead lines].”
In general, be mindful about how you speak about getting older. It might feel like camaraderie when you commiserate about your laugh lines with a friend, but it could also feed into negative beliefs you may hold about getting older.
Focus on the positive aspects of changing.
Aging isn’t just about how you look, it’s about how you feel, too, said Alan Castel, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies memory and successful aging.
“Often our subjective age ― how old we feel ― is a better indicator of how well we will age, so these apps may overemphasize physical aging and not account for psychological well-being,” said Castel, who’s the author of “Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging.”
“There are so many myths about aging being all downhill, but in fact, research shows that aspects of our psychological health, such as mood and emotional regulation, may improve in older age,” he said. “Many older adults report older age to be a happier and more satisfying time in life.”
Remember that aging is a gift.
It may be a tad cliché, but it’s always important to note that aging is a privilege not all of us get to experience. Erickson said: “Remind yourself that aging ultimately reflects successful adaptation, and that is something to be revered and celebrated, wrinkles and all.”