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People are getting plastic surgery and “Snapchat Dysmorphia” because of our selfie culture

snapchat dysmorphia

As a parent, you spend so much time figuring out how to instill self-confidence in your kids. But it can feel like it was all for nothing as soon as they get old enough to absorb cultural beauty standards.

It used to be that those standards were perpetuated via over-the-top airbrushing and body-shaming language in magazines and advertisements. While a slow but impactful cultural shift has happened in that space (i.e. celebs insisting on not being airbrushed and the retirement of the term “bikini body” by mainstream publications), we’re now facing a whole new challenge in our tech-focused world.

Consider this: A 2015 survey found that while more than two-thirds of respondents thought it was wrong for magazines to airbrush photos, close to 60 percent said they regularly edited their own pictures to make themselves look better on social media.

Call it the selfie effect—and it can lead to teenagers (and us adults, TBH) experiencing a world that’s filled with unrealistic depictions of what people actually look like, to the extent that researchers have dubbed it “Snapchat Dysmorphia” and people are requesting plastic surgeries based on Instagram filters. Here’s what you need to know.

Selfie Pressure

I mean, can you even remember a time before selfies? We used to take photos of our own faces so rarely, on occasions when we’d gotten dressed up and wanted to remember a significant moment in time.

Now, there’s pressure to be camera-ready every moment of every day, and that may be inspiring some people to seek out plastic surgery.

In 2017, the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that the number of surgeons reporting that they saw patients who sought out surgery to look better in selfies went up 13 percent to 55 percent. In other words, the majority of surgeons now report hearing this.

Okay, so there’s pressure to look your best at every moment because of constant selfies, but the actual perception of what “your best” is is where things get really crazy.

What happened to #nofilter?

Unlike when we try to impress people with striking shots of sunsets and rainbows, we prefer photos of ourselves like our water—filtered.

It turns out many of our favorite Snapchat and Instagram filters that make us look fabulous do so by applying fixes that change our faces in ways that are pretty rare (or totally unattainable) in, you know, normal, flawed human faces. Like perfect facial symmetry, bigger eyes, and smoothed-out, flawless skin.

Not only do Instagram and Snapchat offer these kinds of filters, but many influencers use third-party editing apps like Beautify, Facetune, and Line Camera to edit their faces in a way that results in a less filtered look. As in, users might think it’s an unedited shot and compare their own face to that one.

As a result, a report published in the journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery found that people are seeking out plastic surgery to achieve the filtered look IRL, and the effect on overall body image is not great. According to The Guardian, “The report says these filters are sometimes triggering body dysmorphic disorder, a mental illness that leads to compulsive tendencies such as excessive beauty procedures, wasting hours obsessing over non-existent flaws and withdrawing from social activities.”

One interesting take: some plastic surgeons say that asking for plastic surgeries based on an altered version of your own face could be a good thing, since people seeking surgeries usually ask to look like celebrities and models, a potentially more unrealistic goal. In other words, the reasoning is “Well, at least you want to look like a version of yourself and not Kim Kardashian!”

Still, that feels like a stretch to me, because while I don’t want to shame people who elect to have plastic surgeries, I also don’t want my kids to have body dysmorphia that points them in that direction. If your perception of beauty is totally effed up, is surgery really even going to help? Won’t you just keep wanting to “fix” something else?

Plus, other studies have found that heavy use of social media among young adults is linked to feelings of “social isolation.” Who wants their kids to feel socially isolated and bad about their bodies at the same time?

So, what can we do? To me, it feels like those of us who are using social media as fully grown adults (who, me?) will have to set an example and definitely work even harder to instill body- and self-confidence in our kids.

What do you think? Does “Snapchat Dysmorphia” worry you? What do you think can be done to combat it? Share your thoughts in the comments, below!

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