Snapchat Dysmorphia: How selfie filters are driving the demand for plastic surgery

Oct 10, 2018, 4:27 PM
Snapchat Dysmorphia...
Photo filters on programs like Snapchat are causing body dysmorphia, a new study says. (The Young Turks/YouTube)
(The Young Turks/YouTube)

Americans spent more than $16.7 billion on plastic surgery last year; the most we’ve ever spent on surgically altering our bodies. And, according to a new study, Snapchat filters might be the reason why.

55 percent of patients say that “selfies” are part of the reason they want plastic surgery, according to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, with many of them actually bringing in touched-up photos and asking the surgeons to make them look like they do in the pictures.

“Snapchat Dysmorphia” is what dermatology experts at the Boston University School of Medicine are calling it – and they’re worried that it might be causing serious psychological problems.

Snapchat Dysmorphia and plastic surgery

In 2017, 55 percent of patients cited “selfies” as part of the reason they were getting plastic surgery. (Studio Grand Ouest, Shutterstock)

The study, published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, found that a rapidly growing number of people are asking for plastic surgery that makes them look more like they do in those touched-up selfies they take with their phones.

These people are bringing in photos run through the automatic beautification filters on apps like Snapchat. According to the study’s writers, they see what their faces look like after being digitally touched-up, compare it to the face they see in the mirror, and become overwhelmed with a desperate need to make reality match the fantasy.

“This is an alarming trend,” the study says. “Those filtered selfies often present an unattainable look and are blurring the line of reality and fantasy for these patients.”

In the past, plastic surgeons had noted a number of people coming in asking to look like celebrities they’d seen on magazine covers and TV. Now, though, that anxiety is coming from their own faces, seen through the idealized lens of a smartphone camera.

The psychological risks of body dysmorphia

80 percent of body dysmorphia sufferers have reported suicidal thoughts. (George Rudy, Shutterstock)

Snapchat Dysmorphia carries a far more serious risk, though, than just a few extra plastic surgery patients. Dr. Neelam Vashi, one of the study’s authors, fears that these Snapchat filters may be bringing on real cases of body dysmorphic disorder.

Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental disorder that affects an estimated 2.4 percent of the world. It is the obsessive idea that some part your body is flawed; that there is some imperfection in your appearance that, at all costs, must be hidden or fixed.

The disorder can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. 80 percent of people with body dysmorphic disorder have been brought into such depths of depression that they’ve contemplated suicide, while another 24-28 percent have actually tried to kill themselves.

Dr. Vashi believes that Snapchat Dysmorphia is bringing on real cases of body dysmorphic disorder.

Looking at filtered photos, she says, often leaves people feeling a deep sadness about their actual physical appearance. In an interview with the Washington Post, she explained: “If one really develops this disorder, that sadness clearly progresses to something that can be dangerous and alarming.”

191 million people use Snapchat every day, with countless more using other apps and programs that filter their appearances.

Dr. Vashi says that she doesn’t expect those millions of people to stop taking selfies. She just wants to remind them that the face you see in those photos isn’t real life.

More to the story

Dave & Dujanovic talked about Snapchat Dysmorphia today on KSL Newsradio. If you missed the show, you can still catch what they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google Play Music

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Snapchat Dysmorphia: How selfie filters are driving the demand for plastic surgery