A new study released by JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery Viewpoint has confirmed that ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’ is a very real phenomenon that all aesthetic practitioners should be aware of, and that it’s driving a demand for cosmetic procedures in order for patients to look more like their flower-crowned or puppy-eared selfies.
The author of the study, Dr Neelam Vashi from the Department of Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine, claims that the nature of the selfie culture we live in, and the popularity of face-altering apps like Snapchat, means that the global perception of beauty is beginning to shift.
“Earlier, photo-editing technology was widely available only for celebrities,” says Neelam. “Models and actors were made to look perfect in magazines and ads, but the general public did not have easy access to methods to alter their own appearance. They instead were left to idolize the standard of beauty present in the media. Today, with apps like Snapchat and Facetune, that same level of perfection is accessible to everyone. Now, it is not just celebrities propagating beauty standards: it is a classmate, a co-worker, or a friend. 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 (BDD).”
BDD is an excessive obsession with a perceived physical flaw, and is classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. Sufferers often go to great lengths to hide these ‘flaws’, can partake in repetitive behaviours such as skin picking or grooming, and may seek drastic measures in the hopes of changing their appearance such as visits to dermatologists or plastic surgeons.
The new wave of Snapchat-influenced patients are not only wanting to look better in their selfies, but to receive procedures in order to achieve the same flawless skin, bigger lips and eyes, thinner noses and/or higher cheekbones given by popular filters.
“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,” says Neelam. “In such cases, the choice of action is not surgery, which will not improve or may even worsen underlying BDD if present. The typical treatment consists of psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, often in combination.”
He also states that these apps can be especially harmful on teenagers as well as BDD sufferers, as they more severely internalise these new beauty standards.
According to recent data from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), 55% of surgeons report seeing patients who request surgery to improve their appearance in selfies: a substantial increase from 42% in 2015.
“It can be argued that these apps are making us lose touch with reality because we expect to look perfectly primped and filtered in real life as well. It is important for clinicians to understand the implications of social media on body image and self-esteem to better treat and counsel their patients,” Neelam concludes.