One of the byproducts of social media has been a condition known as Snapchat dysmorphia, a phenomenon that results in people seeking plastic surgery to look like their digital Snapchat image. The term was invented by the Tijion Esho, founder of the Esho clinics in London and Newcastle, who says that people are increasingly bringing in altered images of themselves and asking for procedures to appear more like their digital photo.
A report in the US medical journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery says that filtered images that blur the line between reality and fantasy can result in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental health condition where people obsess about perceived physical flaws. According to Dr. Wassim Taktouk, some people want to look like their filtered image, which tends to be flawless “without a single marking of a normal human face.”
A 2017 study found that oftentimes people obsessed with taking selfies tend to seek social status or shake off depressive thoughts. Given that much of our life is lived online now, quality images of yourself have become essential. Not surprisingly, Facetune was Apple’s most popular paid-for app of 2017. Esho says the prevalence of airbrushing on social media creates “unrealistic expectations of what is normal” and lower self-esteem in those who don’t use it. According to an American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery survey, 55% of surgeons say patients’ motivation for procedures was to look better in selfies.
“The first thing that any of these filters do is give you a beautiful complexion,” says Taktouk. “Your naso-labial [laugh] lines, from the nose to mouth, aren’t existent – but that’s not a human face. No one doesn’t have those. You can see them in children.”
Many of Tartouk’s clients also ask to remove the tear trough, the groove that extends from the corners of the eyes, or enlarge their eyes, which is simply not possible. Other in-demand alterations include bigger lips and tight jawlines. The use of fillers or polymethyl methacrylate beads has increased due to celebrity endorsements, and doctors have even advertised “the Kylie package” for nose, jaw and lips, Taktouk says.
The problem is that some doctors are performing procedures on 16- and 17-year-olds, an age at which people can be tremendously self-conscious about their looks, leading them to undergo unnecessary and potentially dangerous procedures, especially if they are influenced by an unrealistic image created on Snapchat.
Taktouk says recommendations from social media make it hard to safeguard patients’ mental health. Yet he has learned to detect red flags, such as patients who badmouth other doctors, see flaws that don’t exist or are too knowledgeable about certain treatments. BDD is often diagnosed in those looking for excessive and unworkable cosmetic procedures.
BDD is present in two percent of the population and affects men and women equally. Dr. Neelam Vashi who linked BDD to selfie dysmorphia, says further studies are needed to ascertain if excessive selfie-taking might trigger BDD, though it does meet several diagnostic criteria: compulsive mirror-checking as well as repetitive behaviors and thoughts.