The Rise Of 'Snapchat Dysmorphia': Using Surgery To Look Like A Filter

Young people are increasingly turning to cosmetic surgery to make their physical selves match their edited online images.

What you need to know
  • "Snapchat dysmorphia" is a new phenomenon where people are looking to cosmetic surgery in order to look more like their edited, online selves
  • Researchers are alarmed because this look is "unattainable"
  • Australian surgeons said cosmetic injectables have risen exponentially
  • NSW Government launched a new ad campaign warning about the dangers of dodgy beauty operators

Doctors are increasingly worried about a new, technology-led trend that could play havoc with our self esteem. It's being described as 'Snapchat dysmorphia' by American researchers.

This dysmorphia is leading to an increasing number of people seeking cosmetic procedures to look like their digitally altered selves, wrote three dermatologists from the Boston University of Medicine and published in an American medical journal this week.

"A new phenomenon, dubbed 'Snapchat dysmorphia', has patients seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves instead, with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose," said the researchers.

"This is an alarming trend because those filtered selfies often present an unattainable look and are blurring the line of reality and fantasy for these patients."

Filters that give you puppy dog eyes or flower crowns aren't the problem here, but ones that smooth out your skin, make your teeth a little bit wider, or fundamentally change the shape of your face, are.

Popular filters like the puppy dog one not only give you doggy ears and nose, but they smooth out your skin and thin your face, too. Photo: Kendall Jenner.

"The advent and popularity of image-based social media have put Photoshop and filters in everyone's arsenal," said the researchers.

"These filters and edits have become the norm, altering people’s perception of beauty worldwide."

Social media influenced surgery up since 2015

The alarming trend of seeking surgery to improve one's appearance in selfies was first noted by the Annual American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in 2015.

Researchers noted that 55 percent of surgeons reported seeing patients who requested surgery to look better in selfies, up from 42 percent in 2015.

Injectible fillers are popular and increasingly used by young people.

Prior to selfies, the most common complaint from those seeking rhinoplasty was the hump on the dorsum of the nose; these days, nasal and facial asymmetry is the more pressing concern, with hair transplants and eyelid surgical procedures also common requests.

While there's little data around the plastic surgery industry in Australia -- estimates put its worth about $1 billion -- anecdotally, cosmetic surgery is on the rise and doctors say the average age of people is going down.

Australian doctors echo concerns

Australian plastic surgeon Dr Dan Kennedy, with the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, told ten daily that there's a growing pressure on young people to confirm to an unrealistic beauty standard that's popular online.

"There is definitely an undue pressure on people in our society to conform to an unrealistic standard," said plastic surgeon Dan Kennedy of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons.

"In the past it was about airbrushing and perfect models and not being able to live up to that standard. Then it became about Photoshop -- thinning the thighs and enlarging the breasts.

"Now they've got the tools on their phone to modify their appearance."

He stressed that the image we see in our phones isn't even our 'true' image.

"A phone lens has a big of a fish eye effect, because it's a wider angle lens," he said.

"Certainly it alters your features. It makes your nose look bigger, or if you're shooting from below, it makes your chin look bigger.

"But I don't think the young people using their phones necessarily calculate that into their assessment of themselves. If you shoot a portrait with a standard length lens, you'd have quite a different appearance.

"If you only look at filters or made-up images, you could fail to recognise that person if you pass them on the street."

The popularity of injectables -- which includes dermal fillers, anti-wrinkle injections, and chin sculpting -- has exploded in the last ten years.

While the rate of cosmetic surgery might have grown about five percent in that time, Kennedy said the use of injectables has grown about 1500 percent.

There were 43,000 anti-wrinkle injection procedures performed in Australia in 2016 alone, according the NSW Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean.

It comes amid a new ad campaign from the state's Fair Trading, warning consumers about poor quality beauty operators.

This ad is part of NSW Fair Trading's public awareness campaign about cosmetic producedures. IMAGE: Supplied.

There were 287 complaints about beauty services in 2017 alone, about half of which related to defective or unsatisfactory services.

"It's not good enough when shady beauticians perform botched procedures on people, who think they are being treated by reputable operators," said Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean.

NSW Fair Trading's tips for consumers include:

  • Always shop around and do your research to make sure the procedure is right for you
  • Always check the staff are properly qualified
  • Don't be pressured into buying "hot deals"
  • Ask about cancellation and refund policies prior to purchasing anything
  • Check the Fair Trading website for relevant Australian Consumer Law information on the industry

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