Obsession with selfies can lead to 'Snapchat dysmorphia'

The selfie fad could be leading to a new psychological disorder, “snapchat dysmorphia”, according to cosmetic surgeons at Boston University School of Medicine. In an article in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery they report that many young women are using “photoshopped” selfies as a template for altering the way they look.  

Smartphone apps make it easy for girls to plump their lips, remove skin blemishes, whiten their teeth or get longer eyelashes. They take the selfie to a cosmetic surgeon and say, “make me like this”. In 2015, 42 percent of surgeons reported that some patients had experienced such requests; in 2017, 55 percent.

The authors, from Boston University School of Medicine, write:

Previously, patients would bring images of celebrities to their consultations to emulate their attractive features. A new phenomenon, dubbed “Snapchat dysmorphia,” has patients seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves instead, with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose. This is an alarming trend because those filtered selfies often present an unattainable look and are blurring the line of reality and fantasy for these patients.

This is a worrying trend, they say, because it could be lead to “body dysmorphic disorder” (BDD), a kind of obsessive-compulsive preoccupation with physical appearance. People can spend so much time thinking about the flaws in how they look that they become unable to function in everyday life. A 2007 study published in the journal Primary Psychiatry claimed that about 80 percent of people with BDD “experience lifetime suicidal ideation and 24% to 28% have attempted suicide.”

For such people, the authors suggest that the appropriate course of action should not be cosmetic surgery but some sort of psychological intervention, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, together with medication.

“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.”

The authors point out that selfies confuse people about the difference between the real world and the internet. Their self-esteem is based upon what they see in photographs. “These apps are making us lose touch with reality because we expect to look perfectly primped and filtered in real life as well. Filtered selfies especially can have harmful effects on adolescents or those with BDD because these groups may more severely internalize this beauty standard.”

“Our society is becoming more and more preoccupied, obsessed with social media and images and photographs and what we look like,” Neelam Vashi, one of the authors, told the Washington Post. “Now, everywhere you go people are taking selfies and then going on social media ... It can bring feelings of sadness, and then if one really develops this disorder, that sadness clearly progresses to something that can be dangerous and alarming.”

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.


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