Snapchat Dysmorphia: How social media beauty standards have transformed the aesthetic patient’s expectations

By Dr. Meaghan Noud

We have always lived in a world with ever-evolving standards of beauty. But in today’s world with filtered selfies and the popularity of image-based social media, photoshop is in everyone’s arsenal, bringing the aesthetic “bar” to a whole new level and to a whole new population. What’s more, is that social media shifts the critical eye inward. Instead of merely judging others, the self-reflective technology asks us to judge ourselves.

Some photo-editing technology is obviously designed for frivolous fun and a make-believe style of enjoyment.  A few swipes on Snapchat can give your selfie puppy ears or a flower crown. However other apps, such as Facetune, can be used to achieve a more subtle, yet still very hypothetical improvement to your image such smoothed out skin, minimized  nose, whiter teach and big/bright eyes and lips. Mere minutes after a quick share on Instagram, and the likes and comments start rolling in. These filters and edits have become the norm, altering people’s perception of beauty worldwide. Moreover, the generation that uses these apps the most was born into an age of social platforms where their feelings of self-worth can be based purely on the number of likes and followers that they have, which is directly related to and dependent upon how good they look and how great the images are.

But haven’t we always idealized photoshopped images? Only a few decades ago, it was exclusively the celebrities and models that were made to look perfect in images or advertisements. The general pubic was left to idealize this standard of beauty.  However, presumably the public knew about the editing and photoshopping and alterations done to achieve the flawless look seen on TV or ads. Today, with social media and apps like Snapchat and Facetune, a similar level of perfection is accessible to, and therefore expected of everyone.  In today’s world, we are not only comparing ourselves to unachievable beauty standards of celebrities, but suddenly we are comparing ourselves to a friend, classmate, coworker, or even an augmented and heavily edited version of ourselves on our phone apps.

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 lead to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which is a clinical disorder characterized by an excessive pre-occupation with a perceived flaw in appearance. Ironically, at the same time that studies have discovered that individuals with a dysmorphic body image may seek out social media as a means of validating their attractiveness, studies have also found that individuals with higher levels of social media engagement have a higher level of body dissatisfaction.

So what does all of this mean for cosmetic surgeons when consulting with patients in this era? It means that patients more than ever are demanding quick, easy and permanent beauty solutions in real life, just as they expect immediate improvement through editing their image on their phones. Patients are also seeking surgery and treatments hoping to look better in selfies and social media. Plastic surgeons first identified this trend in the 2017 Annual American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) survey. Current data show that 55% of surgeons report seeing patients who request surgery to improve their appearance in selfies, up from 42% in 2015. The survey also noted an increase in the number of patients sharing their surgical process and results on social media.    In addition, excessive scrutiny of selfies is also changing the presenting concerns of patients. Prior to the popularity of selfies, the most common complaint from those seeking rhinoplasty was the hump of the dorsum of the nose. Today, nasal and facial asymmetry is the more common presenting concern.

A new phenomenon, dubbed “Snapchat dysmorphia,” has patients seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose. This is an alarming trend  for surgeons because those filtered selfies often present an unattainable look of a fantasized version of the patient. This sets the patient up for disappointment after treatment due to an unrealistic expectation to begin with. In this way, it is concerning that these social media apps are are making us lose touch with reality because we expect to look perfectly primped and filtered in real life as well. Ultimately, it is the physician’s responsibly to understand the implications of social media on body image and self-esteem when counseling patients on expectations prior to any treatment intervention.

References:

Rajanala S, Maymone MBC, Vashi NA. Selfies—Living in the Era of Filtered Photographs. JAMA Facial Plast Surg. Published online August 02, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamafacial.2018.0486

McLean  SA, Paxton  SJ, Wertheim  EH, Masters  J.  Photoshopping the selfie: self photo editing and photo investment are associated with body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls.  Int J Eat Disord. 2015;48(8):1132-1140.

American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 2018 Annual Survey Statistics. https://www.aafprs.org/media/stats_polls/m_stats.html. Published January 29, 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.

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