What is Snapchat dysmorphia? How selfies affect self-esteem, leading to more plastic surgery

Selfies, and the people who take lots of them, have long received criticism from those who think the practice reeks of narcissism. But who can resist looking at the big eyes and smooth skin that a Snapchat filter gives them? Now, those selfies have a new kind of critic as medical experts argue those filters are leading to the rise of Snapchat dysmorphia.

The term Snapchat dysmorphia has been swirling around the internet after it was used in a recent article published in the medical journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. Researchers at the Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine are warning people about the phenomenon and its rise in plastic surgery, but what is Snapchat dysmorphia?

What is Snapchat dysmorphia?

Snapchat dysmorphia is a new phenomenon medical experts have noticed in those seeking plastic surgery. The condition has patients “seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves… with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose,” the JAMA article reads.

Just as celebrities and models in magazines have long set a standard for beauty, affecting those who wish to change how they look, Snapchat filters and features like Facetune – meant to smooth out your imperfections in every selfie – are doing the same.

People love their Snapchat selfies so much that they use the filtered images in their social media profiles and even on dating apps. Beyond the puppy dog ears or flower crowns, these filters make subtle but strong changes to one’s facial structure.

As these filtered images become “the norm,” the authors say, Snapchat dysmorphia is taking a toll on people’s’ self-esteem.

A tech-influenced body dysmorphia

Snapchat dysmorphia is a play on a similar disorder: body dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder.

Body dysmorphia is characterized as a mental illness in which people obsessively focus on what they see as flaws in their appearance.

Body dysmorphia affects up to 2.4 percent of the population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and it’s more than just not completely loving something about the way you look.

Whether the flaws someone sees in themselves are real or imagined, the person affected is so bothered by them that they spend hours steeped in their negative thoughts and often resort to cosmetic procedures to “fix” how they look. Sometimes, people try multiple plastic surgeries, going to “unhealthy” lengths to alter their appearance, experts say.

Snapchat dysmorphia and plastic surgery

Just like those with body dysmorphia seek out cosmetic surgery, those with Snapchat dysmorphia are doing the same, according to the BU researchers.

In the paper, the authors referenced studies that showed that teen girls who manipulated their photos, like via Snapchat filters, were more concerned with their body appearance and that those with “dysmorphic body image” often seek out social media for validation on how attractive they are.

Snapchat dysphoria is also leading people to seek out plastic surgery so that they look better in their selfies specifically. Research has found that 55 percent of plastic surgeons report seeing patients who go under the knife in order to approve their appearance in selfies — up from 42 percent in 2015.

snapchat dysmorphia | body dysmorphia | snapchat filters | selfies

People have done a lot of things in the quest for the perfect selfie, like angling their phone higher or finding the best light. It’s these factors that may actually lead you to be unhappy with your regular appearance, the researchers say.

“The angle and close distance at which selfies are taken may distort facial dimensions and lead to dissatisfaction,” they write.

This is affecting the type of plastic surgery people choose. Before selfies skyrocketed to popularity, researchers say, the most common reason for those seeking rhinoplasty, a.k.a. a nose job, was because someone wanted to reduce the hump on the bridge of their nose.

Now, the most common reason is because people are seeking “nasal and facial” symmetry, per the paper. Requests for hair transplants and eyelid surgical procedures have also increased as people seek the perfect selfie.

What should you do if you have Snapchat dysmorphia?

Sure, maybe you want to take better selfies, but altering your appearance to do so isn’t necessarily the best path, experts say. When you bring in a filtered selfie to the surgeon’s office, it’s actually an “unattainable look,” the authors write, and wanting to make that come to life off of their screen is “blurring the line of reality and fantasy for these patients.”

The paper authors argue that for those with Snapchat dysmorphia, surgery is not the best option because it actually won’t make you feel better.

Altering your physical appearance may actually make things worse, because the underlying body dysmorphia at the root of those feelings could go unchecked.

Instead of surgery, medical professionals should recommend psychological interventions, like cognitive behavioral therapy, for those with Snapchat dysmorphia. Experts need to manage these patients, the authors argue, “in an empathetic and non-judgmental way.”

“Filtered selfies can make people lose touch with reality, creating the expectation that we are supposed to look perfectly primped all the time,” said Neelam Vashi, MD, director of the Ethnic Skin Center at BMC and Boston University School of Medicine and one of the paper authors, in a statement. “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.”