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Tis the season: Snapchat dysmorphia

Article-Tis the season: Snapchat dysmorphia

Woman taking a selfie

Filters and image editing that are standard on many of today’s smartphones and other devices are affecting people’s perceptions of beauty, according to a viewpoint published this year in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.

While photo editing to make people appear more perfect was once reserved for models and actors, today apps like Snapchat put that option at everyone’s fingertips. But what’s disguised as fun, the distortion that results — whether it involves creating cartoon-like eyes, puppy ears or simply eliminating wrinkles or other imperfections — has a dangerous side.

“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),” the authors write.

According to a study published in 2015, girls who regularly shared selfies on social media were more likely than those who didn’t to overvalue shape and weight and experience body dissatisfaction, dietary restraint and internalize the thin ideal.

Image issues perpetuated by selfies and editing them to perceived perfection are driving some to cosmetic physicians’ offices in the hopes those doctors will make them look better in selfies or look more like their edited selves. Authors of the viewpoint highlighted 2017 findings by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (AAFPRS) showing that 55% of facial plastic surgeons saw patients in their practices who wanted to look better in selfies. That was up 13% from 2016, according to AAFPRS.

AAFPRS President William H. Truswell, M.D., tells The Aesthetic Channel that there are many down sides to this phenomenon.

“Selfies do not depict an accurate likeness of the face. The angle of the photo tends to mildly distort the image. For example, one's nose will look about 10% larger than reality,” according to Dr. Truswell. “Selfies can generate obsessive focusing on a real or imagined ‘defect’ or ‘flaw.’”

Facial plastic and other physicians who encounter these prospective patients should carefully evaluate them, asking why they want procedures, probing for motives, and educating patients about the process of surgery and realistic results, Dr. Truswell writes.

“If no progress can be made, it is best to decline to accept them as patients,” he writes.

The authors of the viewpoint write the new phenomenon, dubbed “Snapchat dysmorphia,” is alarming because patients might look to cosmetic surgery to achieve an unattainable, sometimes fantasy-like, appearance they’ve created with these apps. It’s important that clinicians not only understand the implications of social media selfies and image editing on body image and self-esteem, but also more appropriately treat and counsel these patients.