Snapchat Dysmorphia: What You Need to Know

Get this: A growing number of people – especially young women – are seeking out plastic surgeons who can cut, sew, nip and tuck their faces and bodies to look more like their edited social media selfies. Photo manipulation apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facetune allow users to erase perceived physical imperfections prior to posting online, usually to heart emojis and compliments from social media connections that cheer poutier lips, brighter eyes, thinner noses and slimmer bodies.

Recent studies suggest that 75% of American teenagers use Snapchat regularly.

Concerns first surfaced a year or so ago when an opinion piece published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery argued that filtered selfies may “act as a trigger and lead to body dysmorphic disorder.”

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) affects about 1 in 50 people, and onset occurs in the teen/tween years, usually between the ages of 12 and 15. Those with  BDD generally fixate over one or more perceived “flaws” in their appearance — “flaws” that are either minor or unobservable to others. Individuals with BDD, which is classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum by the DSM-5 (the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”), may repeatedly check their appearance in the mirror, ask for reassurance from peers, change their clothes several times, and seek out plastic surgery in an effort to “fix” their perceived flaws. But haven’t teens always seen re-touched pictures of supermodels in magazines and on TV?

Yes, but social media today provides a steady stream of pics, stories and videos ripe for immediate feedback, meaning young people are more visually aware than ever before and quickly get used to the rush of likes, shares and flattering comments.

If you’ve got a child in your life, here are a few quick tips that may help manage the impact of social media:

  1. Talk with teens about photo-editing tools and how they can change the way view view people. Perfect faces and bodies are often as fake as yellow flowered crowns and puppy ears.

  2. Emphasize the limitations of appearance and remind teenagers that other qualities – intelligence, kindness and integrity – trump looks all day.

  3. Think carefully about how and when you give your kids access to Snapchat and other social media apps. If you do allow them to use social mdia, monitor their use and limit their screen time.