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.
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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.