Lots of us use apps like Snapchat and Instagram. But what you might not be aware of is the harm such apps might cause us. One such potential harm has been coined, Snapchat dysmorphia.
What Is Snapchat Dysmorphia?
One of the first people to use the term, Snapchat dysmorphia, was Dr Esho, a cosmetic doctor from The Esho Clinic and one of the stars from E4s Body Fixers. They used the term to describe a new trend among those seeking cosmetic treatments.
As you might have guessed, Snapchat dysmorphia is related to the mental health condition, body dysmorphic disorder (BBD). A person with body dysmorphic disorder can spend hours thinking about their perceived physical flaws, such as skin imperfections like moles and crooked smiles (CNN).
Snapchat dysmorphia is when someone with or without body dysmorphic disorder becomes obsessed with how they look as a result of using apps like Snapchat and Instagram. This is due, in part, to the use of filters and editing allowed on those apps that allow people to make themselves look better than they believe they already do.
So What’s The Evidence For Snapchat Dysmorphia?
Over the years, several publications have covered the controversial trend of plastic surgeries inspired by photo filters on social media, publications such as i-D and CNN. According to i-D (part of the VICE media group), popular procedures included whiter skin, bigger eyes, slimmer face, and fuller lips to mimic the ubiquitous flower crown and puppy filters, which create subtle face-tuning.
CNN reported that the American Society of Plastic Surgeons has confirmed an increasing number of anecdotes from plastic surgeons across the country about patients seeking plastic surgery who’ve been inspired by filtered and edited images. One such plastic surgeon is Dr Lara Devgan from Barbosa in New York City. Dr Lara Devgan stated that half of their patients come into their practice with edited or filtered images of themselves rather than bringing in references images of celebrities. Which was what people normally do.
But was does the academic community have to say about Snapchat dysmorphia?
Rajanala, Maymone, and Vashi (2018) looked into the effects of filtered photos. They stated that with a few swipes on Snapchat you can give yourself puppy ears or a crown of flowers, and with a few adjustments on Facetune, you can smooth out your skin and whiten your teeth. The problem with the filters like having puppy ears is that the filter will make your skin look better. Then, after you share it on Instagram or wherever, the likes and comment on these images we receive reinforce the idealised version of yourself. This behaviour makes using filters and edits the new norm for the person doing it.
The problem is, this edited version of ourselves sets unrealistic beauty standards, resulting in people seeking to look like their filtered and edited self they see on these apps. Thus, it can be argued that these apps are bad for our mental health, with Facebook’s own research on Instagram showing that their platform can cause body image and self-esteem issues in teen girls (The Guardian). Because of this, Facebook was called to answer questions by the US Congress.
While the media has been talking about selfie dysmorphia and snapchat dysmorphia, the question is, is any of it true?
According to Ramphul and Mejias (2018), the term Snapchat dysmorphia might be too early to be used. However, they acknowledge the risk of patients turning to Snapchat and Instagram filters as inspiration for plastic surgery and they consider it an important issue.
Since then, Shome, Vadera, Male, and Kapoor (2020) performed a study involving 300 participants from across four Indian cities to investigate whether taking selfies leads to self-image dysmorphia and an increased desire for cosmetic surgery. The participants were told to take selfies with and without retouching, to see how that would affect their mood, body image, and desire to seek plastic surgery amount young men and women.
The results of the study found that posting selfies on social media affects a person’s confidence and worsens their self-image. They also found a significant increase in levels of social anxiety, a decrease in self-confidence, and a decrease in physical attractiveness of selfies uploaded on social media with and without the images being touched up. It was also noted that the desire to have cosmetic surgery done also significantly increased after posting a selfie on social media.
Thus, this study suggests that not only can editing and using filters on our selfies be bad for our mental wellbeing, but the act of taking selfies and posting them online can also affect our wellbeing.
Another study by Aldosari (2020) sort to evaluate the effects of filters and pose in selfies on the desire to get cosmetic surgery in Saudi Arabia using a cross-sectional survey. The study gathered 653 participants (164 male and 489 female) aged between 18-65. They found that of the 98.3% of the participants that used social media, 93.4% took selfies. Of the 93.4%, 37.8% wanted to have cosmetic procedures done because of selfies. Furthermore, 60% of those who wanted cosmetic procedures were using filters and 53% preferred their frontal view. Thus, the study was able to show the effects of filters and pose in selfies on the need for cosmetic procedures.
Selfie Talk Campaign
Dove has often been at the forefront of pushing for representation in how we look. Whatever you think about the company and its products, it’s nice to see a beauty company help push a body positivity narrative. One such effort by Dove is their #TheSelfieTalk campaign as part of the Dove Self-Esteem Project. The project seeks to help us say no to digital distortion (#NoDigitalDistortion). Check out the video below and let me know what you think in the comments section below.
The #TheSelfieTalk that Dove is running also has information you can download to help teachers and parents better equip children and young adults about the problems with some filters and the realities of photos online.
Should Filters Be Banned?
If what the media is reporting is true and the research conducted by Facebook into its own platform, Instagram, then maybe we need to talk about the power of social media platforms have over us. Social media platforms not only have the power to shape how we see the world, as evident by Brexit and the elections in the US, but they also appear to shape how we view ourselves.
Because of this power to shape how we see ourselves, social media platforms like Instagram have banned filters that promote cosmetic surgery, according to the BBC. This is because of reports that these filters negatively affect how their users feel about how they look.
Yet, despite such filters being banned, the Mirror Online discovered that at least two plastic surgery filters (Strong Baby and Smooth Skin) were still available at the time they published their article, after these bans had taken effect. I’ve never used filters on photos of people, so I don’t know if they’re currently still available or not.
As the New Statesman pointed out, with filters, it doesn’t matter if the filter has cosmetic plastic surgery in its name, what you’re doing is creating an idealised version of yourself that doesn’t exist. As such, it’s impossible for people to live up to those perceived beauty standards because it’s not real in the first place. All filters do is make us all conform to one particular idea of beauty or reinforce the idea of what we should all be trying to achieve, the impossible.
In a world where you should be free to give yourself purple eyes and a three-foot chin, what can we do to protect people from developing body image issues or making them worse while still allowing us the freedom to make our own choices? That is the million dollar question.
So what are your thoughts on photo editing and filters? Should we accept it as a form of artistic expression or should filters and editing that distort what you really look like be banned? Instead, just keeping the fun doggy ear parts but removing the other face enhance aspects that often come with such filter. Please let me know in the comment section below.
I’m likely biased, as I not only have body image issues and eating disorders, I’m also vocal about educating and supporting people with mental health problems. My instinct is to protect young impressionable minds from exposure to such filters and distorting their minds about how they should look before they’re able to think critically about such apps.
The media and academics are reporting on how problems can arise from using filters and photo editing on our selfies. Although the scale of this problem isn’t entirely known. Maybe it’s time to ditch the filers that create a false image of yourself to present to the world. I can understand how you think it makes you feel better, but it really doesn’t. All it does is further reinforce how you don’t think you’re good enough without the filters. And that unrealistic portrayal of yourself creates an impossible beauty standard for yourself and others.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences with Snapchat dysmorphia in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, you can make a donation of any size below. Until next time,
Unwanted Life readers.
Aldosari, B. (2020). Do filters and pose in selfies have an effect on cosmetic procedures. Saudi Journal of Otorhinolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, 22(1), 21. Retrieved from https://www.sjohns.org/article.asp?issn=1319-8491;year=2020;volume=22;issue=1;spage=21;epage=23;aulast=Aldosari.
Rajanala, S., Maymone, M. B., & Vashi, N. A. (2018). Selfies—living in the era of filtered photographs. JAMA facial plastic surgery, 20(6), 443-444. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1001/jamafacial.2018.0486 and https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326796822_Selfies-Living_in_the_Era_of_Filtered_Photographs.
Ramphul, K., & Mejias, S. G. (2018). Is “Snapchat Dysmorphia” a Real Issue?. Cureus, 10(3), e2263. Retireved from https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.2263.
Shome, D., Vadera, S., Male, S. R., & Kapoor, R. (2020). Does taking selfies lead to increased desire to undergo cosmetic surgery. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 19(8), 2025-2032. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jocd.13267, https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.13267, and https://www.theestheticclinic.com/pdf/Does-taking-selfies-lead-to-increased-desire-to-undergo.pdf.
59 thoughts on “Selfie And Snapchat Dysmorphia, A Worrying New Condition”
I’ve never heard of either of these conditions.
I’m glad that social media hadn’t been invented when I was at school because I hated the way I looked.
I think body positivity should be promoted in schools to try and offset the damage that is potentially caused by filtered images on social media.
I’ve always hated the way I’ve looked too, nor thanks to all the bully I endured. Schools do really need to teach about this and more about mental health to prepare children for life online and life stresses
Wow. This is really eye-opening. I have always hated these filters and the glammed-up selfies that are so fake. My daughters are 18 and 21, so they grew up in the social media era. When they were in high school, I saw so many of my their friends posting fake selfies. On a couple of occasions, I even asked “who’s that”? The sad thing is, you can’t hide behind the filter of social media forever. At some point, real life takes over and these young people—especially women—won’t have the coping skills to deal with it. I’m so glad my girls never got sucked into that.
And that’s where the problems developed, been the fancy filtered version of themselves and the real version
And the really sad part is, girls who choose not to participate in the silliness are made to feel like they don’t fit in.
This is interesting, I knew about it but not in this term. Good to know more about. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks for reading
I struggle a lot with the way my body looks as a result of growing up with unrealistic expectations from family and men. As a social media user, I try to be cautious of filters because I understand the harm it can and will cause. Thanks for writing about an important topic.
Same. I’ve always suffered for the way I’ve looked, first with bullying, and then the self loathing that came as a result of that
I will definitely check out the Dove Campaign. There is also the Recognise Body Image Petition, to have this added to online harms x
Is that a petition I have on my petitions page? I’ve not updated it in a while. If not, I’d appreciate you sharing the link to that petition with me
I always love how you explore the findings of a study in relation to a problem by trying to remain impartial and only looking at the findings of the research! I know I have tried out filters time to time and thought about how much nicer I looked as a result of the filter, but I have never posted a filtered image as I much prefer an authentic shot. Ultimately, you can tell looking at Instagram photos, who is filtered and not and I have much more respect for people who go raw.
Thank you for sharing how filters can impact mental health, body positivity, and wellbeing!
I hate photos of myself because I hate the way I look, but I’ve never been tempted to use a filter or to edit my photos. I can’t be anyone but me
I’m so happy I’m not a teenager in this day and age of social media everywhere! My self-esteem would also have been in the gutter. Thanks for talking about this 🙂
I struggled with the same thing when I was going through a breakup. I was already devastated by the heartbreak because my ex left me for someone else, and self-image issues didn’t help at all. I didn’t like myself at all, and I was already struggling with an eating disorder too, so it took me a long time to, but the first step was quitting with using these filters with pictures that I wanted to post on my social media, and now I’m also trying not to use them on my IG stories.
Sorry to hear about your breakup and the impact it had on how you felt about yourself, but it’s great that your taking steps to stop using filters on your photos
This is such a interesting post! I’ve never heard of this condition before but I can totally see how harmful it can be. These unrealistic filters are just taking over and it’s so sad. I tend to only follow people who don’t use them as it helps me to realise that I am normal and these ‘flaws’ I feel are normal too. Thank you so much for sharing this. It was really educational xo
Elle – ellegracedeveson.com
Seeing people as they really are I know has helped me with my body image issues. That’s one thing I love about HD TV, seeing the people who are considered beautiful with the same as everyone else
And social media strikes again! It’s truly disheartening how much social media negatively affects our perception of ourselves and our lives. It’s created a whole generation of people who aim to make their life appear greater than it is. And these filters, some of them make you so unrecognizable and “attractive,” that when you remove the filter, you can’t help but be slightly disappointed with your image. I have fallen victim to this as I have always struggled with feeling confident and my self-image. I hope social media platforms continue to make strides in eliminating the fake and embracing the real.
Social media does have a lot of things to answer for, that’s for sure
Taking a longer view of the concept of body dissatisfaction (note, not referring to the clinical dysmorphia in this comment) these are some of the same “should we ban?” and statistical dissatisfaction increases that were reported with the resurgence and popularization of makeup in the early 20th century, the polaroid camera, the advent of cosmetic surgeries. With increased access to such technologies, people had the same pains, and same obsessions, and same fears about those pains and obsessions as we’re seeing now. I think this indicates that we as a species really have a deeper, instinctive problem dealing with views of our own imperfections and are inadequately prepared in childhood to deal with that more than anything else. Hasn’t makeup existed for thousands of years? Haven’t people attempted to change their bodies through diet, medical procedures, styling,c lothes, et cetera? It isn’t all vanity, it’s our awareness of asymmetry, of blemish, of imperfection, and once you provide the option to create a “more perfect” version of yourself you find yourself managing two selves, the more perfect and the more imperfect. Allowing the lives of these two selves to intersect, or the threat of seeing them intersect, seems to be the core of distress. So, while I think body positivity campaigns are essential and have been needed for decades, while I think they shoudl be in schools, on television, in movies and books, I think this will only happen as our society learns to naturally reflect acceptance of imperfection in ourselves without viewing it as an inherent threat to safety. This phenomenon is not new, nor is the problem. banning snap-chat filters won’t make the problem go away. It’ll just pop up again with the next quick fix to one’s external self. We should be addressing the deeper core belief; imperfection means threat of exile, and htus loss of safety. Isn’t it better to give health than reduce freedom?
A very good point about the underlying core issue and how as a society we need to collectively address that belief, but will that ever happen? There’s so much money involved in selling the fantasy of beauty, and not just for cosmetic surgery and beauty products, but advertisements for cars, clothes, etc.
The really weird yet interesting thing about being seen as being beautiful is that you so get treated better. If you’ve committed a crime you’re more likely to get a lenient sentence if you’re attractive, for example. There’s lots of the odd biases that psychology has found around beauty.
I guess when it comes to filters, do you really need a cat ear filter to also make your skin look perfect? It’s a cat ear filter, just give us cat ears, that way you’re not tricking children into using filters to make their skin look great, when all they wanted were cat ears
Anyway, thanks for commenting
This was an interesting post. It is sad to think people become obsessed with physical flaws.
Indeed it is
How interesting. I had not heard this term used before but was wondering about the concept. I have to admit that even I prefer to send pictures on Snapchat with a filter because it does make my skin look better. I think Instagram is more insidious because you have celebrities and influencers claiming to post make-up free selfies and photos on regular basis where they look flawless. The filter or editing is not so obvious there and it seems like they are leveling with you on a personal level rather than as a brand or from some professional authority. You are fooled into thinking this is really what they look like and it gets in your head that this perfection must be achievable. I hope we get some real reminders of reality and people don’t go so far as to surgically alter their appearance. Have you heard that in the UK social media influencers have to admit when they photoshop their photos or they get fined? Maybe this is a step in the right direction to promote honesty and to stop the unrealistic goals.
I had heard about that law, although I couldn’t remember which country had created it. We definitely need a lot more laws like that
Excellent post. I am so glad you wrote about this important topic. I only wish more individuals would really comprehend the impact social media is having on everyone. These filters can be fun as you mentioned the “dog ears” ? but for the most part changing the way we look to fit into a standard is not healthy. We each if we are honest can find flaws and things we may not like about ourselves and that’s why this is dangerous. Just as someone who gets surgery to “fix what they don’t like” about themselves can lead to a continued act of wanting to do more and more and they can become “never satisfied” with themselves. You did such a great job at writing about this topic. By the way, I am thankful for the Dove Campaign and I am aware of it. Thank you for sharing this post. ?
It can be quite easy for some people to become addicted to cosmetic surgery, to the point they can destroy what they look like. Real happiness, however, can only come from within
I concur, never using filters on selfies. Only photos of things may I possibly filter, usually to get better image quality or an artistic effect. Preferably, I use an image editor like Krita, using my graphics background to edit images.
It’s definitely better to leave filters and editing to images that don’t feature people
We’ve never heard of these conditions, but now that you explain them, we’ve met people who have these conditions. These are the people who filter everything/try to make themselves look perfect on screen but have very low self-esteem.
I know what you mean. I know a blogger who who posts tones of pictures of themselves, but who I’ve never seen without a very liberal use of filters. Makes me wonder if I know what they really look like
This is an incredibly insightful and eye-opening blog post! Great post!
I can definitely believe this, I felt it myself sometimes when I take a lot of pictures on Snapchat and then take pictures without any editing and the skin texture looks different, so much less smooth. It can be a bit disorientating
It’s easily done because it seems so harmless at first, but then you just can’t live without them
I can’t believe people are using snapchat filter images to take to a plastic surgeon. I didn’t realise things had gotten to bad! Photo editing is okay if you take a picture in front of the sun and its dark so you lighten it, or its dark and you make the image lighter for example. However, when people start making their lips bigger, or their hair fuller, that makes to sense to me. The Dove ad you shared is really powerful. You almost can’t believe its the same girl. Good on them for starting the conversation.
Yeah, I’m with you on changing light exposure editing. Removing red would be another good example. But yeah, I don’t get how manipulating you features to look like someone your not, be it lips, bum, hips, etc is healthy for the person at all
Glad you are shining light on this, UL! I am reading a book right now about teenagers (since I work with teenagers) and the damaging effects of social media. For them social media IS life in so many ways. I can see how filters in particular can be damaging and further fuel a mental health crisis.
I can’t image being exposed to social media from childhood, because I’m that old. It really must have quite an impact on how children develop
This is a great topic. I haven’t seen many articles about this topic, yet this is a serious issue conflicting today’s youth.
So many young people are obsessed with social media trends that they end up harming themselves just to be popular. It’s awful and it can happen to anyone.
Thank you for shedding light on this real issue.
A lot of the social media and Tik Tok challenges make the headlines when children end up seriously harming themselves. Most of the our pretty obvious that they’ll end up causing harm too even before doing the challenge
I have a diastema. I hated it so much in secondary school that I tried often to cover it in the mirror. Thank God I only joined social media when I was old enough to know better.
I have a fairly small gap between my front two teeth too, and if it wasn’t for being born where I was, I likely never would have noticed it. But I was raised in a place where no one else had a gap at all, and my cousin would bully me about the gap in my teeth constantly. It’s annoying how a nothing thing can become something just because someone needs to feel better by putting someone else down
I know social media contributes to a myriad of problems, but I had no idea some are going to such extremes through plastic surgery. Fantastic, informative post!
Social media is so integrated into our lives that it was only a matter of time
Unwanted life, your other blog about Body Dysmorphia was intereing and this blog on Snapchat Dysmorphia is no different. I honestly believed and agree with you that filtering and editing pictures can distort one’s view of self. In addition, it can lead to mental health issues. It is safe to say that some persons who post selfies excessively on social media, may have a much deeper internal issues with self.
Thank you ?
This is such an interesting topic because before Snapchat, you still had edited pictures in magazines & people wanted to look like those pictures even though it was unrealistic. Now with Snapchat & IG, people can use whatever filter they want & edit themselves however they want, but it’s not real. I find using filters fun, but I’m not posting selfies all the time with filters. I much rather post a selfie without a filter since that is what I really look like.
However, I do think there needs to be more attention on the filters people are using. I have a Facebook friend and she posts selfies all the time using a filter where her skin is smoothed out & her teeth & eyes are whitened. She hasn’t posted a single selfie without a filter despite people telling her she’s beautiful & she doesn’t need a filter. I feel like she thinks she’s not beautiful enough to share any selfies without a filter & it is sad to see how filters have affected her.
Once they started using editing and filtered images in magazines it’s been a downward spiral ever since. Now anyone can manipulate a photo of themselves in just a few minutes, so it’s hardly a surprise that this ability isn’t making our self-esteem worse
I’m glad you made this post and shared it! It’s great that you are bringing attention to this matter! I know myself I never thought about it in this way and it’s good to get this side of the story because I have young impressionable little ones who I know will at one time soon be on social media.
This is one of the reasons mental health should be taught in school, so children can learn about the effects editing and filters could have on how they seem themselves and the world around them
This is such an important topic. I feel especially for so many younger people these days they don’t know that a lot of what you see online is just not real. I was even playing with some instagram filters and I don’t even recognize myself! It creates horribly unrealistic standards and can be really harmful.. Thanks for this article . great job.
The world certainly has got more complex for young people, dealing with stuff that didn’t even exists a couple of decades ago
Every time I come to your blog I learn something new. I really enjoy your content.