There's been a raft of bizarre surgery trends of late. Think penis bleaching, "designer" vaginas, and umbilicoplasties, which is basically a surgery to make your belly button look more photogenic. Yeah, that's a thing. Now, the latest craze worrying experts involves Snapchat, Facetune, and other photo-editing apps.
Many news stories associate social media with poor health, from depression and addiction to deteriorating mental health in teens. Selfies, in particular, have been linked to relationship difficulties and there have even been reports that some young men are using drugs to build muscle mass, just so that they can look better in their profile pics. (Though other studies suggest the threat of social media, at least as far as health is concerned, has been over-hyped.)
The most recent health condition to be linked to social media – in particular, image-focused platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram – is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which has been discussed in a viewpoint article published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. The article authors dub the specific sub-type of BDD "Snapchat dysmorphia".
Not that long ago, people would arrive at plastic surgery clinics clasping a photo of an airbrushed Britney or Beyoncé, the authors say. Back in the day (aka the 2000s), photoshop was only readily available if you were an A-lister with a seven-figure salary. Now, thanks to the proliferation of apps like Snapchat and Facetune, many of us carry some type of photo-editing software in our pockets.
"Now, it is not just celebrities propagating beauty standards: it is a classmate, a coworker, or a friend," the authors write.
"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 (BDD) [a disorder that is estimated to affect roughly 2 percent of the population]."
So in 2018, people are swapping photos of celebrities for images of themselves – only edited with the golden crown, "pretty" or dog filter (see below), which make the eyes bigger, the nose smaller, and the skin (as some media publications have pointed out) not only smoother, but whiter. In essence, we all want to look like cartoon characters. These filters blur the line of what is fantasy and what is real, the authors say.
This is not the first time experts have raised concerns over the negative connotations Snapchat filters could have on our body image, or even used the term "Snapchat dysmorphia".
Studies have also shown that heavily edited selfies may contribute to body dissatisfaction in teenage girls. Those who spend more time on social media have a higher level of body dissatisfaction, a 2015 study suggests. And just last year, the 2017 Annual American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) survey revealed that 55 percent of surgeons have observed an increase in demand from patients seeking to improve their appearance in selfies, up 13 percent from 2016.
While the case made by the authors is backed up by studies, it is an opinion piece and it will be interesting to see what research into the disorder find out. For the time being, the authors say the best choice of action for people who are suspected of having BDD is not surgery, which could worsen the problem, but psychological intervention, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).