Obsessive selfie perfection leads to 'Snapchat dysmorphia

Read time 4min 20sec
Obsessed social media users typically spend up to 40 minutes editing their images to achieve the "Internet celebrity face".
Obsessed social media users typically spend up to 40 minutes editing their images to achieve the "Internet celebrity face".

The rise of picture-perfect photo editing mobile apps and social media filters has led to an era of selfie perfection, resulting in a mental health condition known as "Snapchat dysmorphia" identified in obsessed social media users.

According to trends research firm, Flux Trends, while airbrushed photos created by social media users seeking to enhance their images may seem harmless, if uncontrolled, this behaviour can lead to an obsessive search for the unobtainable 'perfect' shot.

As these edited images become the norm, people's perceptions of beauty is changing globally, with "perfect selfie" pressure taking a toll on users' self-esteem, leading to some people holding themselves up to the unrealistic beauty standards of their own enhanced selfies.

This trend, characterised by people going to great lengths to hide their imperfections, can trigger a psychological condition dubbed "Snapchat dysmorphia", according to experts.

"Snapchat dysmorphia is a form of body dysmorphic disorder (a mental disorder that causes people to be extremely preoccupied with a perceived flaw in appearance that can't be seen or appears minor to others), where people become obsessed with their own edited selfies, which they come to believe are their 'real' ideal self," explains Bronwyn Williams, trend translator and future finance specialist at Flux Trends.

"Snapchat dysmorphia sufferers take drastic measures, including extreme make-up and even plastic surgery to make their physical bodies look more like their ideal digital image."

While it is not yet defined as an officially diagnosable clinical illness, the term "Snapchat dysmorphia" was originally coined by British cosmetic doctor Tijion Esho in February 2018, notes Williams.

"People who have the disorder can spend hours obsessing over minor or non-existent flaws in their appearance, picking their skin, or grooming themselves, constantly comparing one's appearance with that of others. This condition has been associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depression and suicidal tendencies," she continues.

Snapchat dysmorphia affects both males and females, particularly millennials who are between the ages of 23 and 38.

Filtered selfies

In the digital era, Photoshop is no longer just for airbrushed celebrities on the covers of glossy magazines. Everyone with a smartphone can download photo-editing apps such as TouchRetouch, Airbrush and popular Chinese editing app Meitu, which all have tools that can smooth wrinkles, remove acne, enlarge eyes and reduce waistlines at the click of a button.

Meitu users typically spend up to 40 minutes editing their images using the app's sophisticated beauty filters and advanced editing tools before posting, resulting in impossibly-perfect images known as the "Internet celebrity face".

The latest smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, iPhone X, XS, XR and the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro, are among those that come with built-in filters aimed at enhancing still images and videos.

Snapchat and Instagram have in-app filters that are able to smooth the user's complexion, resize or re-shape body features, change the image lighting and show users how "perfect" they could look with just a bit of work.

Dr Neelam Vashi, director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Centre, explained in a media statement: "Filtered selfies can make people lose touch with reality, creating the expectation that we are supposed to look perfectly primped all the time.

"This can be especially harmful for teens and those with body dysmorphic disorder, and it is important for providers to understand the implications of social media on body image to better treat and counsel our patients."

Drastic measures

Increased attention to personal appearance, however, is only the beginning.

Doctors are concerned that people susceptible to Snapchat dysmorphia have underlying psychological problems, leading to some users turning to plastic surgery to meet their edited selfie standards.

According to a 2018 study conducted by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the world's largest association of facial plastic surgeons, 55% of surgeons said patients have requested cosmetic procedures to look better on social media; an increase of 13% from the year before.

This is coupled with the reported global increase in plastic surgery patients who are younger than 30.

"People are now starting to get plastic surgery to look like their own selfies. Young adults around the world are asking doctors to alter their real faces and bodies to look like the filtered and photo-shopped images they post of themselves on social media," asserts Williams.

"Plastic surgery is not recommended, as doctors warn it can actually exacerbate body dysmorphic disorders. People displaying symptoms of Snapchat Dysmorphia should seek professional help from a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist. Cognitive behavioural therapy is one recommended treatment, as is counselling, and in extreme cases, antidepressant medication can also help."

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