Years ago, people would show up in their plastic surgeon’s office requesting a new nose with a photo of Kim Kardashian or Meghan Markle in tow. Today, patients in San Diego come prepared with selfies –not those unflattering, awkward mirror selfies taken in bathrooms, but those fit-for-a-magazine-cover, digitally-enhanced versions of themselves that have amassed hundreds of likes on their social feeds. Users routinely use filters on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, or photo-editing tools on Facetune where they can swipe or tap away wrinkles and acne, have a thinner nose, a slimmer face, fuller lips, or a pair of doe-eyes. Achieving physical “perfection” is easy nowadays thanks to these apps. However, they could be enough to give us a certain complex. Some experts say all these flawless faces and bodies are further altering our perception of beauty. And because of these alterations, we are going to great lengths to achieve “perfection”. 

What Is Snapchat Dysmorphia?

According to an article published in the JAMA Network, the phenomenon referred to as “Snapchat Dysmorphia” was identified by researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine’s dermatology department.

According to the authors, there is an alarming number of young people turning to plastic surgery to transform into a better-looking version of themselves. Their motivation? Photo-editing apps like Snapchat. This phenomenon is driven by an obsession with normal imperfections, driving teens to seek surgery in hopes of getting to “edit” their faces in real life. Snapchat Dysmorphia is causing widespread concern among experts and doctors who are worried about its negative impact on people’s self-esteem, specifically how it can trigger Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental illness classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. Those who have this disorder tend to spend hours in front of the mirror, obsessing over minor or even nonexistent flaws in their appearance, examining their skin, or extensively grooming themselves. This unhealthy preoccupation with perceived physical flaws typically motivates them to seek out multiple cosmetic and surgical procedures to constantly alter their features. 

While Snapchat Dysmorphia is not a clinically diagnosable condition, pursuing surgery for unrealistic and unnecessary facial changes may contribute to or exacerbate BDD.

There are a few factors that might trigger BDD. Examples include:

  • Social Media – filters and photo-editing tools contribute to present unattainable standards of beauty
    • Filtered photos on social media can add pressure to having to look a certain way
    • Spending too much time on these platforms could make people lose touch with reality
    • Selfie-culture puts the focus on faces and bodies, causing users to nitpick their every flaw
    • Social media platforms, dating apps, and online forums add to the need of having that perfect “digital image” to make the best first impression
  • Perception Drift – a phenomenon coined by our very own Dr. Sabrina Fabi – is characterized by having skewed perceptions of changes achieved after a series of cosmetic procedures. Experts believe that some cosmetic patients have temporary imbalances in their global processing (recognizing a small feature by the overall form and relationships between all features) and local processing (recognizing the details of a feature). This can cause patients to fixate on overlooked and insignificant flaws which when addressed will cause them to fixate on other perceived flaws, never becoming satisfied with their appearance. Eventually, the patient who initially wanted to look ‘natural’ no longer looks like themselves even though all their aesthetic concerns have been addressed. 

The Growing Demand For Cosmetic Surgery

These are what the current cosmetic trends are, as influenced by social media:

  • In 2015, 42% of surgeons reported having patients seeking cosmetic procedures for improved selfies and images on social media platforms. This rate increased to 55% in 2017.
  • The most in-demand cosmetic procedures are:
    • Rhinoplasty (research shows that selfies make your nose look 30% bigger)
    • Hair transplants
    • Eyelid surgical procedures
  • According to experts, a growing number of patients are more concerned about facial symmetry, as opposed to small fixes like smoothing out a bump in the nose.
  • Physicians have noted an increase in patients wanting to correct perceived flaws that they cannot see in the mirror but can see in photographs.

How Do You Treat Body Dysmorphia That Is Influenced By Social Media?

To get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment, patients must seek a mental health professional or doctor. Patients exhibiting signs of body dysmorphia should be treated as a mental health issue. A trained clinician should diagnose BDD. Aside from antidepressant medications to help relieve the obsessive and compulsive symptoms, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) will teach patients how to recognize irrational thoughts and modify negative thinking patterns. Eventually, patients will be able to identify unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving and shift to replacing them with more positive ones. 

It is also essential that clinicians understand the implication of social media on body image and self-esteem to better treat and counsel their patients. For parents and other concerned individuals, you must understand that this isn’t simply a vanity issue. Educate yourselves about BDD, be patient and supportive, create a positive and supportive environment, be a good listener, and encourage seeking treatment.

Develop Realistic Aesthetic Goals With Help from the San Diego Skin Experts

Our compassionate team of board-certified dermatologists at Cosmetic Laser Dermatology will help enhance your unique personal features rather than chase your flaws. We will provide you with a thorough consultation, assessment, and treatment planning. Learn more about our procedures and treatments by scheduling an appointment with us. Contact our San Diego office by calling (858) 943-2113 today. 

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