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Are Selfie Filters Leading to Psychopathology?


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Aug 23, 2018

Are Selfie Filters Leading to Psychopathology?

Social media platforms, such as Snapchat and Instagram, have long had “filters” or graphic overlays that can alter one’s appearance.  From a flower crown to a dog to bigger eyes and better skin, you can change how you look when you take a selfie.  Anyone who has access to this type of social media will be given the option to use a filter.  Many individuals think this is fun and can be used to temporarily enhance a photo sent to a friend, but others are being negatively impacted by them.

This CNN article illustrates a situation in which someone uses an enhancement type of Snapchat or Instagram filter over and over again.  After some time, the person adjusts to looking a certain way.  However, that may not be what they look like in real life.  This trend has been seen in dramatic ways: in cosmetic doctors’ or plastic surgeons’ offices.  More people are bringing in filtered photos of themselves and asking doctors to alter their face to resemble these enhanced photos.  In the field of plastic surgery, this notion has been termed “Snapchat dysmorphia” (JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery).  They say, “Overall, social media apps, such as Snapchat and Instagram, are providing a new reality of beauty for today’s society.  These apps allow one to alter his or her appearance in an instant and conform to an unrealistic and often unattainable standard of beauty.”  This newer label resembles that of “body dysmorphic disorder” which is a DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) disorder.  Body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD for short, is characterized by: “an excessive preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance, classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum.”  A JAMA article goes on to say that “the disorder is more than an insecurity or a lack of confidence.  Those with BDD often go to great lengths to hide their imperfections…and may visit dermatologists or plastic surgeons frequently, hoping to change their appearance.”  Further, BDD has been linked to eating disorders and depression.

Dr. Patrick Byrne, the director of the Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Department at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, believes that the origin of this obsession and issue is simply, “In the selfie age, people just see their faces (and bodies) more.”  Photos can be taken more rapidly and are looked at more frequently which has the potential to lead to obsessive thoughts regarding one’s face and body.  In 2017, 55% of plastic surgeons reported to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery has reported a 13% increase in “patients who wanted to improve how they looked in selfies.” In the modern age, plastic surgeons are also seeing different types of plastic surgery requests by their patients, specifically those related to facial and nasal symmetry. 

In addition to an individual seeing his or her face on their phone’s camera roll, another point mentioned was that an individual’s followers will view their face/body regularly as well (if that person posts consistently).  Moreover, some, such as Dr. William H. Trushell, believes that the “importance of our digital images in our social opportunities” contributes to this desire to resemble filtered photos of our faces.  It is more than just wanting to look your best; this is associated with looking at yourself and wanting to “fix” certain features.  Hence, the prolonged act can become harmful.



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