There is a lot to love about social media. The various platforms have enabled us to be more connected than ever before and they often serve as a momentary escape from everyday stress. However, mounting evidence shows that the reliance on social media can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and self-satisfaction. When we’re not scrolling through romanticized posts by influencers and celebrities, we are fixating on ourselves — on our selfies — filtering every shot to flawlessness and feeding our egos with each notification that follows. We are, no doubt, living in the age of digital narcissism.
Now, it seems this pressure to appear perfect online has made way into the real world. According to a recent article in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, an increasing number of patients are seeking plastic surgery to look more like the filtered version of themselves on popular social media platforms, like Snapchat and Instagram, or from editing apps, such as FaceTune. Researchers have labeled the phenomenon, “Snapchat dysmorphia,” and categorized it as a type of body dysmorphic disorder, a mental disorder in which you intensely obsess over your appearance and perceived flaws.
“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,” the authors write. “The desire for cosmetic surgery is an important component of BDD.”
Common requests they point to include fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose. “While filters that add flowers or animal ears to a photograph are clearly an embellishment, other edits may be subtler and instead promote a pressure to look a certain way,” the authors continue, noting that these edits encourage an unattainable standard of beauty.
Z. Paul Lorenc, MD, FACS, a board-certified plastic surgeon in NYC, agrees: “The main problem with these filters is that they make these ideals seem attainable. A patient will come into my office with an ideal that is, for lack of better words, surgically unachievable,” he says. “Once an ideal is set, it is hard to change a person’s mind, and if the ideal is constantly being improved upon, then the patient is forever searching for perfection.”
Photo: Paris Hilton via Snapchat
Photo: Kylie Jenner via Snapchat
The research paper also points to a 2017 survey by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, which found that 55 percent of doctors saw patients who requested surgery to improve their appearance in selfies. “The desire to appear better in photographs is not new,” says Norman Rowe, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon in NYC. “Prior to filters and the digital age, there were photograph touch-ups. However, what I feel has changed in recent years is the number of times that we look at our faces in photographs.” With the unprecedented ability to scrutinize ourselves and so easily change our appearance online, the desire for plastic surgery to match our filtered perception was bound to happen, he adds.
Doctors warn of the harmful effect this can have, especially on young girls or women suffering from other variations of body dissatisfaction, as society still places more emphasis on the physical appearance of women than it does men. According to the self-verification theory, selfies are used for self-verification from others, and for those with body image issues, they lead to the need for constant approval, ultimately leading to depression. “People with these body dysmorphic disorders are trying to achieve a perfection that doesn’t exist naturally,” says Dr. Lorenc. “Snapchat Dysmorphia is breeding mental illness in the sense of lower self-esteem, and plastic surgeons want to do the exact opposite – make a patient feel confident.”
“I think the filtered world needs to be taken for what it is… a filter,” Dr. Rowe says. At the end of the day, perfecting an Instagram shot is far easier to achieve than completely altering your appearance IRL.