Selfie culture and the rise of 'Snapchat dysmorphia'

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Photo editing apps, filters, perfectly curated social media feeds and images of the "ideal" but unrealistic face and body are all impacting on the way teens view themselves.

Now experts are worried a new phenonemon, known as "Snapchat dysmorphia", is emerging as the selfie culture pushes beauty expectations further and further away from reality. 

According to finder.com.au, Australians take 742 million selfies each year – equating to two million selfies per day across the nation. 

And researchers from the Boston Medical Center have found that altered images have become the norm and are taking a toll on people's perceptions of beauty, sometimes triggering body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). In extreme cases, people are seeking plastic surgery to look better in selfies, according to report published in this month's medical journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.

"Previously, patients would bring images of celebrities to their consultations  to emulate their attractive features. (Now) a new phenomenon called 'Snapchat dysmorphia' has popped up where patients are seeking out surgery to help them appear like the filtered versions of themselves instead with fuller lips, bigger eyes or a fuller nose," the report reads.

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

"Filtered selfies can make people lose touch with reality, creating the expectation that we are supposed to look perfectly primped all the time.

"This can be especially harmful for teens and those with BDD, and it is important for providers to understand the implications of social media on body image to better treat and counsel our patients."

Pretty Foundation founder Merissa Forsyth said the results of the study come as no great shock. 

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"Whilst there are many benefits of social media, there are significant detrimental impacts as well," Ms Forsyth said.

"There are many factors that impact the way a child sees their own body and appearance, and sadly, negative body image starts a lot younger than what many people think. 

"In the foundational years, three of the main external influences that impact a child's body image are parents, peers and the media. As they get older and start using social media this also plays a key role in how they view their bodies."

She said selfie culture and filters have definitely impacted on the way children view themselves.

"It so often reinforces the message that our value is in what we look like, rather than in who we are," she said.

"Not only does it send children the wrong message, but it also becomes addictive and I've seen many a child obsessed with getting likes and affirmation about their selfie."

And it's not just kids feeling the pressure - parents are too.

"We've all grown up with the pressures of needing to look good, even if social media wasn't a part of our childhood," she said. 

"It's not surprising therefore, that parents can feel a level of pressure for their child to 'look good' and therefore make changes at an early age, to their child's appearance like waxing their monobrow or getting them to shave. Often this can come from a loving place where a parent doesn't want their child to be picked on. 

"There's no black and white answer on these sorts of things, but I encourage parents to always think about the messages that are being instilled in their children when it comes to promoting changes in their appearance."

Ms Forsyth has four key messages for parents to remember when talking to their kids about their body image:

  • Our bodies are all unique, and we need to value the ways we are different to everyone else.
  • Our bodies are a vehicle for life and we need to value what they can do. 
  • Our character is important and we need to value our inner beauty.
  • Self efficacy is key, and we need to value our abilities and be confident in them.