Social media is increasingly making teens dissatisfied with their appearance and obsessed with achieving a filtered version of “perfection,” even going so far as to pursue plastic surgery, say medical professionals.
Dr. Neelam Vashi, director of Ethnic Skin Center at Boston University’s School of Medicine, published an article analyzing the new trend in Jama Facial Plastic Surgery last week.
“A new phenomenon, dubbed ‘Snapchat dysmorphia,’ has patients seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves…with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose,” she said.
Among Snapchat’s more popular features are its facial filters, which change users’ appearance in a phone camera. New filters are offered regularly. Some change a person’s face to look like animals, superheroes, or inanimate objects. Others create a more subtle, modified version of the users themselves — smoothing their skin, whitening their teeth, narrowing their face, enhancing their lips and eyes.
Before photo-editing was readily available for the public to use, Vashi wrote, people idolized the often-unrealistic beauty of celebrities, who were the only people with easy access to photo-editing technology.
But now that the general public has access to this technology, she said, it has altered their expectations of beauty. Instead of bringing photos of celebrities to plastic surgery consultations, patients are bringing in pictures of themselves, with specific angles or lighting.
“I just see a lot of images that are just really unrealistic, and it sets up unrealistic expectations for patients because they’re trying to look like a fantasized version of themselves,” she told Inverse.
According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, more than half of clinicians in 2017 saw patients asking to “look better in their selfies.”
Dr. Laura Cusamano, a postdoctoral fellow at Potomac Behavioral Solutions in Arlington, Va., works with patients struggling with body image and has seen the same trend. She said the idealization of celebrities has morphed into users of social media idealizing altered images of themselves.
“In recent decades, American media has propagated a distorted view of beauty, privileging certain body types, skin tones, hair colors, and facial features. Beauty ideals have come in the form of celebrities, whose ‘perfect’ images are often Photoshopped,” she told CNA.
“With the advent of social media, the ability to alter one's appearance is literally at one's fingertips. Applications like Snapchat provide the opportunity for users to discover the ‘perfect’ image of themselves to share with their peers and the world.”
Cusamano voiced concern that Snapchat Dysmorphia may lead young people to compare their bodies not only with digitally altered images of themselves, but also with similar images of family and friends. This could lead to eating disorders, self-esteem problems, and other issues, she said.
She also worries that the new trend may push ill individuals further into Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in which individuals suffer from “excessive preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in their physical appearance.”
“They become obsessed with what they consider to be imperfections, and they often spend a great deal of time trying to examine, improve, or mask their supposed flaws,” she said. The disorder is associated with anxiety and depression, as well as shame and low self-esteem.
Cusamano said nearly 75 percent of people with the disorder seek surgery, cosmetic treatment, and dermatological work. She said these individuals may also encounter suicidal ideation.
When asked about how to correct this trend of Snapchat Dysmorphia, she said people should pay attention to how social media is affecting their life, noticing whether they find themselves becoming jealous of other users.
People may need to take a temporary break from social media or follow accounts designed to spread positive messages about the human body, she said.
Cusamano also stressed the importance of recognizing the dignity of the human person.
“Remembering that you are created in the image and likeness of God and asking God to help you see yourself as He sees you is a wonderful way to work on transforming your self-image,” she said.