Snapchat Dysmorphia

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For years, patients have pursued cosmetic surgery to look better in selfies and social media photographs. But now, they’re pursuing cosmetic surgery to look the way they do in their filtered selfies. Plastic surgeons are calling it “Snapchat Dysmorphia.”

Image-based social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat allow users to manipulate photos by whitening teeth, smoothing blemishes, extending eyelashes, adding kitten ears or a crown of flowers, and more. When shared, these filtered photos earn likes, comments, and follows. The trend has dramatically transformed beauty standards, according to the authors of a recent piece in JAMA.

“Image-based social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat allow users to manipulate photos by whitening teeth, smoothing blemishes, extending eyelashes, adding kitten ears or a crown of flowers, and more.”

It is not just the trend that is significant, co-authors Susruthi Rajanala, Mayra B.C. Maymone, and Naleem A Vashi claim. It is who is creating the trend. In this case, it is the general public and not celebrities. For years, only the latter had access to technologies for touching up photos, and it was these individuals whose looks were imitated by the public. Now everyone with a smartphone and an app can create filtered photos. The consequence of this mainstream technology is an increase in excessive preoccupation with one’s selfie appearance—a new form of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

To be clear, BDD does not simply imply insecurity about one’s image or imperfections. It involves going to extreme lengths to correct imperfections, such as repetitive skin treatments and plastic surgeries. In this case, prospective patients seek surgery to improve symmetry and dimension to minimize the chance of “bad angles” and unflattering selfies. Hair transplants, lip fillers, and eyelid surgeries are also on the rise.

A 2017 Annual American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) survey first identified the impact of social media on plastic surgery requests. According to this survey, 55% of surgeons claimed to have seen patients who presented specifically for the purpose of improving their selfie appearance. This survey also demonstrated that patients excessively scrutinized their selfie images, pointing toward desired traits in filtered social media photos. In the past, patients tended to bring to consultations photos of celebrities to note desired traits, such as a smoother nose if seeking rhinoplasty.

“This is an alarming trend because those filtered selfies often present an unattainable look and are blurring the line of reality and fantasy for these patients,” Rajanala, Maymone, and Vashi say. For this reason, the recommended treatment is not surgery, but psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy in combination with medications. The authors caution that “management of the disorder should also include an empathetic and nonjudgmental approach by the clinician.”

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About Author

Audrey Farley is the Editor in Chief of Pens and Needles. She recently earned a PhD in English from University of Maryland, College Park, where she studied contemporary American fiction, popular culture, and the medical humanities. She has written for various peer-reviewed journals in the literary fields, as well as outlets such as Public Books, ASAP/J, and Insulin Nation. She lives with chronic migraine and is the parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes. Follow her on Twitter @AudreyCFarley.

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