Edits and filters might create ideal pics in the social media world, but they are raising concerns about unrealistic body images in the real world.
A recent editorial in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery warned of “Snapchat dysmorphia,” a colloquial term for patients seeking surgery to match their social media selves, and encouraged surgeons to offer counseling for patients who are obsessed with this goal.
“While filters that add flowers or animal ears to a photograph are clearly an embellishment, other edits may be subtler and instead promote a pressure to look a certain way,” wrote Dr. Neelam Vashi and colleagues from Boston University’s dermatology department. “It can be argued that these apps are making us lose touch with reality because we expect to look perfectly primped and filtered in real life as well.”
Local specialists in elective plastic surgeries were nervous about discussing the trend. Calls to two clinics weren’t returned. A spokesman for Edina Plastic Surgery said her three doctors didn’t want to be misconstrued.
HealthPartners’ Dr. Sue-Mi Tuttle mostly performs reconstructive surgeries for injury victims, so the issue hasn’t been as prevalent in her practice. But as president of the Minnesota Society of Plastic Surgeons, she said it is an extension of an existing concern. Patients used to bring in magazine images of celebrities, but now they bring in touched-up images of themselves — some of which are physically impossible to achieve in real life.
Plastic surgeons have long been trained to separate realistic surgery requests from body dysmorphic disorder, a diagnosable condition by which people are obsessed with perceived bodily or facial flaws.
“They think their whole life and happiness would be changed if just that one body part was changed,” she said. “And you know, they’re never going to be happy, because that’s just in their brain. … I can’t treat that as a surgeon.”
Expectations driven by social media are affecting patients with eating disorders such as anorexia as well.
Body dissatisfaction and eating disorders are increasing among men, who might be influenced by social media portrayals and feedback, said Heather Gallivan, clinical director of the Melrose Center, an eating disorder treatment program in St. Louis Park.
“Social media is very personal,” she said. “The people you are looking at, you know them. You have a relationship with them. They comment on your appearance.”
Melrose used to ban visual media from its inpatient unit, but now provides limited access and counseling on how to perceive and tolerate unrealistic images, Gallivan said.
The approach is “helping that individual challenge what is and isn’t real out there, and be a critical viewer of the media, and on the flip side helping [the patient] learn to tolerate that,” she said. “Because it is everywhere. We can’t really live in a bubble.”