‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’: Doctors warn against social media influence on body image

Medical professionals are warning against a growing phenomenon of “Snapchat dysmorphia,” teenagers seeking plastic surgery in the hopes of achieving the look of the airbrushed images they post online.

Many social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Facetune allow users to take pictures of themselves, “selfies”, with filters that put cartoon images like crowns, flowers or rainbows around the user. More often, however, these filters can make eyes appear bigger, lips fuller and skin more flawless.

“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,” wrote researchers from Boston University in an opinion letter in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery and published Thursday.

Body dysmorphic disorder is characterized as an unhealthy preoccupation with perceived physical flaws, with people seeking out multiple procedures from dermatology to plastic surgery to constantly fix or change their features.

The authors, part of BU’s Department of Dermatology, cited an earlier study that found adolescent girls who spent a significant amount of time manipulating their photos reported higher levels of concern about their bodies and overestimated their weight.

Other studies on the psychology effects of social media found that people who spend more than five hours online are more likely to be depressed and have thoughts of suicide.

The researchers cite that the demand among today’s youth for plastic surgery to look better in selfies is only growing. In 2015, 42 percent of surgeons reported having patients who wanted to improve their image in selfies. That number increased to 55 percent in 2017.

“Today, nasal and facial asymmetry is the more common presenting concern,” the authors wrote. “Along with rhinoplasties, hair transplants and eyelid surgical procedures are also popular requests to improve selfie appearance.”

Patients exhibiting signs of body dysmorphia should be treated as a mental health issue, with psychological interventions, the authors wrote.

“Overall, social media apps, such as Snapchat and Facetune, are providing a new reality of beauty for today’s society. These apps allow one to alter his or her appearance in an instant and conform to an unrealistic and often unattainable standard of beauty,” they wrote.

“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.”

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