There apparently exists, in developed Western countries, a not insignificant number of people so enamored with the way social apps like Snapchat and Instagram make them appear, that these people are going to actual doctors with an actual, serious request: Please make me look more like I do in this Snapchat selfie. If that means plastic surgery, doc — so be it.
This is real, and it’s according to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, which in a 2017 survey reported that 55 percent of surgeons were dealing with these kinds of patients. Specifically, with people wanting to go under the knife so they could up their selfie game. That percentage, according to a CNBC report, was also up 13 percent over the previous year.
In that CNBC article, Boston University researchers make a point that shouldn’t need to be spelled out, even though apparently it does: Humans shouldn’t expect to resemble the way they look in filtered selfies. Indeed, it’s an “unattainable” standard and blurs “the line of reality and fantasy.”
Dermatology professor Neelam Vashi in an article a few days ago in The Washington Post agreed that social photo editing apps are also changing patients’ expectations of what they can look like, in profound ways.
“Sometimes I have patients who say, ‘I want every single spot gone and I want it gone by this week or I want it gone tomorrow,’ because that’s what this filtered photograph gave them,” Vashi told the newspaper. “That’s not realistic. I can’t do that.”
This reporting points to a term coined by a British doctor called “Snapchat dysmorphia,” a condition related to something called body dysmorphic disorder. The latter is an actual, diagnosable mental state that’s characterized by obsessive and unreasonable thoughts about a person’s body image.
The disorder can be treated with therapy and medication, but it’s also potentially serious. A 2007 study found some people affected who have actually attempted suicide or reported suicidal thoughts.
Vashi went on the FOX Business Network Thursday to warn about the existence of and dangers associated with “Snapchat dysmorphia.” Too many people, Vashi explained, are trying not only to improve how they “look in selfies, but also to look like filtered and altered versions of themselves with perfect hair and unblemished skin, smaller noses, fuller lips, bigger eyes.”
In a paper from Boston researchers, they wrote that filtered selfies can have particularly harmful effects on teens or people with body dysmorphic disorder. Because people in those demographics tend to “more severely internalize” the beauty standard.
“It is important for clinicians to understand the implications of social media on body image and self-esteem to better treat and counsel their patients,” they wrote.