TikTok’s “Teenage Filter” Is Making Older People Reflect On Their Youth

“You want to hug her and tell her not to be so hard on herself.”

While so many social media filters lead users to alter their appearance for fuller lips, more makeup, less chin fat, or just some added dog ears, a new trend has taken the modification to a whole new (yet unexpectedly familiar) level. Nearly 900,000 TikTok videos have showcased users turning themselves into their teenage version through the “Teenage Look” filter.

TikTok created the filter, which mainly smooths out users’ wrinkles on their faces. A representative from TikTok wouldn’t disclose how the effect works because it’s proprietary, but Gizmodo is reporting that TikTok may be using AI to make the filter.

Regardless of whatever technology is going on behind the scenes, the filter's emotional aspect is evident. Maybe it’s the nostalgic, old-school songs used on the videos, like the Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman” and Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” or maybe it’s just Millennials, Gen X, and even Boomers seeing themselves decades younger. Whatever it is, the filter has spurred users to contemplate their youth: a literal opportunity to do what many therapists recommend and speak to a younger version of oneself.

“You want to hug her and tell her not to be so hard on herself,” Marla Toner, whose use of the filter has more than 13 million views, told BuzzFeed News. “You just want to talk to that person.”

In the video, Toner is brought to tears by seeing a younger version of herself. “I suffered from eating disorders a lot growing up,” she said. “If I could go back and be like, ‘Holy cow, what is wrong with you? Absolutely not. Stop beating yourself up. Stop comparing yourself to what you see in the media,’ that would definitely be something that I tell her.”

For others, seeing their younger self has made them grateful for where they are now. Michael Anderson, whose TikTok has more than 1 million likes, said the filter took him back about 30 years, though he’s proud of how he looks today. 

“I’ve earned every wrinkle that I have as someone who is turning 50 this year,” Anderson told BuzzFeed News, noting he didn’t envy looking younger. “Thirty years ago, I was going on 20 years old and 30 years from now, I’m going to be 80, so it just shows how fast time really is.”

Younger TikTok users are even using the filter on their parents, giving them an opportunity to see how they might have looked when they were younger. Brian Prera, a 22-year-old from Moreno Valley, California, used the filter on his 63-year-old dad. After posting the TikTok, Prera and his dad looked through old photos, and he said the TikTok filter was a close resemblance to his dad’s teenage self. 

Even though Prera said filming and posting the TikTok was a spontaneous decision, he spent about 30 minutes afterward thinking about his dad’s younger image.

“I don’t know if it’s the music — I don’t know what it was — but it was very emotional to me and I did cry,” Prera said. “Just thinking about your parents getting older and seeing them different than how they used to be from your memory from when you were younger, it’s definitely emotional. It’s a happy emotional, at the same time, because [aging] is beautiful.”

Kate Siekierzynski also used the filter on her 63-year-old dad. After a few seconds, her dad takes off his glasses to get a better look at his younger self. Eventually, a smile takes over his face and he mouths, “It’s me.”

“It was very wholesome and genuine because he didn’t know what I was showing him,” Siekierzynski, a 36-year-old from Illinois, told BuzzFeed News. “So when I turned [the phone] over, his reaction was real.”

Siekierzynski said at first her dad thought the younger version was his son. She teared up when she saw her dad’s reaction because Siekierzynski knows her father is still doing the same things that made him happy as a teenager. 

“He thinks he can do anything. He’s 63 and he thinks he can go and jump on the trampoline and skateboard and zipline and do things that maybe he shouldn’t be doing at his age,” Siekierzynski said. “He’s still a child at heart.”

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