(Inverse) Plastic Surgeons Are Really Worried About “Snapchat Dysmorphia”
By Emma Betuel on
“Plastic surgeons will be dealing with this for years to come.”
Ten years ago, a teenager might have come into a plastic surgery clinic clutching a photo of their favorite celebrity, professionally Photoshopped to centerfold-level perfection. These days, teens don’t want to look like celebrities anymore. They want to look the way they look with a Snapchat filter, and they’re willing to undergo plastic surgery to make it happen.
This condition, termed “Snapchat dysmorphia,” is a new, worrying part of the spectrum of a disorder generally called body dysmorphia, says Dr. Neelam Vashi, the director of the Ethnic Skin Center at Boston University’s School of Medicine. Vashi has been noticing this pattern in her own patients for years, and on Thursday she released a viewpoint article in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery that examines in-depth the causes of this alarming trend.
“People bring in photos of themselves at certain angles or with certain kinds of lighting,” she tells Inverse. “I just see a lot of images that are just really unrealistic, and it sets up unrealistic expectations for patients because they’re trying to look like a fantasized version of themselves.”
One of the defining aspects of Snapchat dysmorphia is the pursuit of unachievable “perfection.” Like general body dysmorphia, Snapchat dysmorphia is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder characterized by an obsession with “flaws” in physical appearance. While a certain level of dissatisfaction with how you look is totally normal, says Vashi, people with clinical body dysmorphia are plagued by their nagging insecurities. For people already prone to these thoughts, selfie filters that offer a glimpse of “perfection” might trigger patients to come to her office looking for solutions that most surgeons are hesitant to provide.
“Sometimes a trigger can happen really early on — maybe it’s like someone says something to another person,” says Vashi. “I think social media could be kind of like that; it becomes a trigger for people to become very preoccupied with how they look.”
Despite wariness on the part of the surgeons, the patient demand for such procedures is increasing. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 55 percent of clinicians saw patients who “wanted to look better in their selfies” in 2017 — an uptick of 13 percent from the previous year. This same report called social media “a cultural force” with the power to change the plastic surgery industry.