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TikTok’s aged filter highlights American obsession with youth


Akinyi Obala had never worried about aging, so when she tried out TikTok’s latest hyper realistic aging effect on herself, she said she only did so out of curiosity.

“When I tell you I was shocked. With my bonnet on I looked like a very old grandma, and without it, the effect made me look like a younger grandpa,” joked the 30-year-old lifestyle influencer, based in Phoenix. “My mom and grandpa don’t look as old as I did in the TikTok. That’s why I was so surprised.”

Now, Obala may opt for Botox when she sees that first wrinkle appear, she said.

Aged is at least the third age-related trend to go viral on TikTok this year, with the agedfilter hashtag used more than a 169 million times in less than a week. The Chinese-owned app is not the first platform to introduce aging filters, but the effect stands out because it uses Artificial Intelligence to predict how users may look in the future. Experts say each time people share their altered faces, Americans reveal their particular obsession with youthfulness and deep-seated fears about aging. Even those who appear to accept that they will grow old say in interviews that they would like to do so with a side of injectables.

The filter has spread so much that even Kylie Jenner, the 25-year-old millionaire businesswoman, tried it out Wednesday to reveal what she would look like as an older person.

“I don’t like it,” she tells the camera “I don’t like it at all. No. No.” In sharp contrast, Jenner commented on her TikTok saying “jk i love her she’s cute lol.”

Jenner’s disparate reactions show it is difficult to resist the curiosity of glimpsing into your AI-predicted future.

Experts said that while aging is a fear across many parts of the world, Americans are particularly afraid of growing older.

“Our core values are rooted in progressive concepts like constantly moving forward, looking ahead to the future, and the unlimited possibilities of the future,” said Larry Samuels, a cultural historian and author. “Aging in our society is seen as a kind of failure, and goes against our prescribed mandates of achievement and success.”

Samuels said that the national obsession with youthfulness can explain why age-related filters repeatedly do well on the platform.

While the fear of growing old has pervaded American culture since at least the start of the 19th century, ideas around “successful and healthy aging” developed toward the end of the century.

“The concept of successful aging really came about after 1969,” said Sarah Lamb, a professor who studies the psychology of aging at Brandeis University. “That’s when this idea developed that a good, moral person will take care of their body so that they aren’t a burden to their family or to society. That’s where we get ideas of anti-obesity and anti-aging.”

The deep-rooted fears around aging, however, are not holding people back from seeing older versions of themselves.

“Sometimes when people are scared of something, they are drawn to it,” said Lamb. “They want to be prepared. And some of the desire to use the filter is also because your past, future and current appearance is all tied with your sense of self.”

That appears to be the case for 26-year-old beauty content creator Tatyana Latafa, who tried the effect and wrote, “Not saying im scared to age but I can promise you, I’ll be getting Botox till I die bc absolutely not.”

She told The Washington Post that about half the reactions to her TikTok were centered around peoplesaying they will also undergo plastic surgery, while the other half critiqued her for setting unrealistic beauty and aging standards.

Either way, she said, TikTok gets the engagement it wants.

Jamie Stone, a New York-based fashion and beauty influencer, agrees that Americans are obsessed with aging and this can be seen in the comments section of her two viral age-related TikToks. In February, TikTok released the Teenage effect, an AI effect that took users back to their adolescence.

“Everybody is obsessed with how they’ll look when they age and how to keep looking young,” Stone, 32, said. “Especially Gen Z, who are so young and clearly uncomfortable with aging.”

TikTok seems to know that age-related effects do well because they work off the American obsession with youth and fear of aging, Stone said. “Their goal is to keep people creating, commenting and interacting and they knew that the teenage filter did well so why wouldn’t they make an aging effect next.”

TikTok declined to comment on how age-related effects tend to gain virality on the platform.

Creators and experts said that while the effect may be honing in people’s vulnerabilities around aging, the experience has given some users a visual that they couldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

“I saw so many videos where kids were showing their older version to their parents, it was emotional,” said the lifestyle influencer Obala. “There’s no other way for your parents to see you age.”

Many users note that the effect was helpful to those who want to face the reality of aging head on.

Monica Kieu, a facial plastic surgeon in Newport Beach, Calif., said she is shocked by how realistic it felt and how accurately it was following the scientific process of aging.

“The effect is viral because it manipulates the basic human fear of aging and eventually dying,” she said. “It reminds us that we are human.”



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