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Is Our Obsession With Filtered Selfies Triggering A Disorder?

"Snapchat dysmorphia" is a newly coined term where patients are asking to look like their filtered selfies. The trend comes with dangers.
Posted at 4:05 PM, Sep 14, 2018

Filters can transform a person into an animal or a beautified version of themselves with bigger eyes, thinner face, thicker lips. But plastic surgeons are finding that more people want to look better in their selfies. Sometimes they request to look like social media filters on Snapchat or Instagram.  

Twenty-one-year-old Jenelle Rosario got a non-surgical procedure to fill her lips. She was inspired to look like Kylie Jenner. "I did kind of do it to look good in pictures just because I felt like when I smiled my top lip kind of disappeared," she said.

Dr. Otto Placik is a Chicago-based plastic surgeon who's been in the business for 23 years. He's worked on Rosario's lips before. His name might not sound familiar, but you may be familiar with his work. He was the plastic surgeon behind the real-life Ken doll, Justin Jedlica. Dr. Placik injected dissoluble fillers into Rosario's lips. He said the fillers are slowly and naturally metabolized by body. The effect lasts about 6 months. Rosario's procedure takes about 20 minutes. 

"I definitely think if you're considering any cosmetic surgery, you should maybe think about it, maybe wait, like about a year. If you still want it, then maybe it's something that you really do want and [it] will really make a difference in your life and make you feel better," Rosario said. 

Dr. Placik says he's seen a trend in his patients. In the past, he said, patients would come in with pictures of movie stars. Lately patients would come in with selfies or filtered selfies of themselves. He said, "One hundred percent, patients come to me saying, 'I'm looking at my camera or my selfie, and I don't like my double chin.' And we have new options for that. Now in the past, some of these procedures may have required major surgery. As we've evolved as a field, many of these changes can be accomplished non-surgically and with considerably lower risk than it was in the past."

Snapchat, Instagram and Facetune have instant photoshop tools. Dr. Placik says, "With the literal snap of a finger and the switch of a filter, everyone is having access to that type of resource. ... I think that while it can show people the benefits of plastic surgery, it's up to plastic surgeons to tell them what's possible, what's not possible."

Physicians are finding that selfies and filters can take a toll on a person's self esteem. According to Dr. Neelam Vashi, Director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center, our society's obsession with selfies and filters can lead to "Snapchat dysmorphia," or people wanting to get surgery to look like filtered version of themselves. 

She said, "I feel like this is a very important and alarming trend. I have seen this in my clinics over the past few years. And the trend is increasing. Patients are getting younger."

A 2017 survey from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that 55 percent of surgeons reported seeing requests to improve selfie appearances. That number was just 42 in 2015.

"Snapchat dysmorphia" is a part of body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD. BDD is defined as a mental disorder with a preoccupation with a perceived body flaw — so much so that it interferes with day to day life. It falls under the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. Popular requests include: fuller lips, bigger eyes, thinner nose. Dr. Vashi says filtered selfies may be especially harmful to adolescents, particularly young girls. "This is really alarming because it isn't real life. ... It blurs the line between reality and fantasy." 

Dr. Placik said, "The number one danger is thinking that it's easy and risk free. … The only surgery that's risk free is no surgery. While social media may make light of this, it is a serious procedure." Experts say BDD is often tough to diagnose. Treatment for body dysmorphic disorder includes cognitive behavioral therapy and/or drug therapy.

This doesn't mean that everyone who uses Snapchat and filters needs psychological care, but Dr. Vashi says physicians and patients need to pay attention to the risks.

Rosario doesn't have BDD and she doesn't see herself getting surgery anytime soon. For now, she says the lip augmentation will be her only procedure. She said, "I felt like a new person, honestly, fresh. This is awesome. This is what I've always wanted."