(CNN) — TikTok users of a certain age are getting a heavy dose of nostalgia with a new trending filter that purports to wind back time to your teenage self.
Teenage Look, which mostly works by smoothing out wrinkles, has quickly racked up 3.4 million views to date, often paired with the melody from The Verve Pipe’s 1996 alt heartbreak song “The Freshmen.” But while baby face and aging filters have previously made the rounds on social media platforms for the simple novelty of seeing yourself time travel instantaneously, many of the top-liked posts teenage-filter posts are somber in tone, as users say they are getting a flashback to some of their most formative years.
“If you’re young and you’re wondering why us old people are freaking out about this filter, it’s because 20, 30 years from now in your head you’re still gonna think you look like this,” says TikTok user mandertok in one video, with the filter on so that he appears younger. “And then there will be some sort of filter that makes you realize you look like this now,” he continues, showing the split screen with his real, visibly older self.
While some TikTokers are keeping it light, showing real pictures of their teenage selves (hello, former scene kids with bad hair) others are using the filter to talk about the lack of self-confidence they had in high school or the difficult experiences they faced, using split screens of the before and after to impart life advice to their “younger” selves.
Though many of the posts featuring tears and shocked faces can feel performative for virality’s sake (it is TikTok, after all), there is something jarring about being able to see a face that hasn’t looked back at you in the mirror for some time. Some users have discussed how the filter has kicked up old emotions related to trauma they experienced during those years, while others said it’s given trans and non-binary individuals the opportunity to see a younger self that matches with their gender identity.
“Okay y’all, if you’re somebody who has changed the way they present themselves as an adult or have transitioned in some way and you wanna have a moment, say hi to the 12-year-old you that probably didn’t get to exist,” the user worriersmusic said in one video.
However, filters have regularly been criticized broadly for worsening self-esteem issues, and an anti-aging filter in an anti-aging society, particularly for women, seems primed to perpetuate this problem. One small study from 2019 linked social media filter use with higher acceptance of cosmetic surgery, while researchers from Harvard Business Review found in 2021 that people with high confidence in their looks can actually be rattled more by seeing “improvements” to their face versus those who already had insecurities. And while the “Teenage Look” filter may not always be accurate at showing an earlier you, as many users have noted, it is more natural-looking than many of the uncanny valley or soft-focus beauty filters in circulation.
Upon applying the filter, some users have also commented that the signs of age appear more pronounced in the unfiltered image.
“Seriously, they are making the ‘now’ look worse to make it more dramatic, right? Right?!” mandertok half-jokingly wrote in the video’s caption.
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