Beauty in the eye of a photo editor?

September 20, 2018 | by Jennifer Tewell, LCPC, CADC
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Social media is raising mental health concerns again. Ever heard of Snapchat? Probably, considering the popular photo sharing and messaging app has more than 180 million daily users.

It allows you to send pictures and videos, called “snaps,” to friends and followers, and features a range of filters that can transform selfies with special effects and accessories, giving you fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose.

Now doctors have noticed a trend of people pursuing plastic surgery to look like their own edited, altered selfies, according to a recent article in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. It’s an unattainable look, and it’s changing the way people see themselves—and messing with self-esteem.

The phenomenon has been dubbed “Snapchat dysmorphia,” a term that comes from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), an underrecognized yet relatively common mental disorder affecting about 1 in 50 people, both women and men equally.

BDD is characterized by a persistent and disabling preoccupation with perceived flaws in appearance. Many of us have something we wish we could change about our appearance. However, people with BBD obsess over how they look, and think about real or perceived flaws for hours each day—to a point where it interferes with life.

BDD sufferers may perform some of these behaviors to try to hide or improve their flaws:

  • Camouflaging (with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc.)
  • Comparing a body part to others' appearance
  • Checking in a mirror or avoiding mirrors
  • Skin picking, hair pulling
  • Excessive grooming
  • Excessive exercise
  • Changing clothes excessively
  • Seeking surgery

It’s way more than insecurity. People with BBD are excessively self-conscious and believe they look ugly or deformed, when in reality they look normal. They don’t believe people who tell them that they look fine.

BBD sufferers tend to check their appearance repeatedly and try to change the defects they see, sometimes seeking out unnecessary plastic surgery. Last year, 55 percent of facial plastic surgeons saw patients who want to look better in selfies, reports the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

According to the American Psychiatric Assocation, BDD most often develops in adolescents and teens, 12-13 years of age. A 2015 study of adolescent girls found that those who regularly shared and edited photos on social media had higher levels of body dissatisfaction than those who did not.

It’s common for people with BDD to suffer from other disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, depression or eating disorders.

Sure, social media apps like Snapchat that have selfie filters and other features can be really fun to use, but if you find your self-esteem is taking a hit, it’s time to take a hard look. Get tips to take a break from social media.

Body dysmorphic disorder usually doesn't get better on its own, and if untreated, it may get worse over time. Because the disorder often starts in the early teenage years, identifying it early and starting treatment is  so important. The disorder can cause devastating emotional distress and impair someone’s ability to work, go to school, socialize and function in everyday life.

If you (or someone you know) is so preoccupied with your appearance that it’s interfering with your life, help is available. Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Related blogs:

Do you need a social media break?

What is too much screen time doing to our kids' mental health?

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