People Are Seeking Plastic Surgery to Look More Like Their Filtered Selfies
Snapchat and Instagram filters have allowed us to achieve the impossible of beauty — but in doing so, have prompted people to reconsider what’s possible in real life.
“A new phenomenon called ‘Snapchat dysmorphia‘ has popped up,” says Dr. Neelam Vashi, director of the Ethnic Skin Center at Boston Medical College and Boston University School of Medicine, “where patients are seeking out surgery to help them appear like the filtered versions of themselves.”
While not yet a clinical diagnosis, Vashi is one of the authors of an op-ed on the topic, published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. In it, they describe how plastic surgery requests have changed over time to angle toward what people see in their filtered selfies — hair transplants, eyelid procedures, and fixes to nasal and facial asymmetry. In fact, 55% of plastic surgeons have reported receiving patients who want to alter their appearance so as to look better in selfies.
Social media may not directly lead to body dysmorphia, but it can act as a trigger for many who are already at risk for the mental illness, which is characterised by an excessive and compulsive obsession with perceived physical flaws, to the point that social function is inhibited.
In their article, Vashi and colleagues reference a study that found girls who edit their photos are more worried about body appearance and more likely to overestimate their own shape and weight. Another study found people with body dysmorphic disorder use social media for validation.
Relatedly, a 2014 study found women who used Facebook more also showed more disordered eating patterns. And a global survey last year found less than half of girls worldwide had high body confidence, and “social media users were more likely to feel pressure to look a certain way.”
“Now, it is not just celebrities propagating beauty standards: it is a classmate, a coworker, or a friend,” Vashi and colleagues write. “The pervasiveness of these filtered images can take a toll on one’s self esteem, make one feel inadequate for not looking a certain way in the real world, and may even act as a trigger and lead to body dysmorphic disorder.”
Women and girls seem to be most at-risk, as most studies and discussions of the effect of social media on body image center around them. Though it’s worth noting that men and boys, too, can suffer from body dysmorphia.
“Filtered selfies can make people lose touch with reality, creating the expectation that we are supposed to look perfectly primped all the time,” says Vashi. “This can be especially harmful for teens and those with BDD, and it is important for providers to understand the implications of social media on body image to better treat and counsel our patients.”