Snapchat Dysmorphia

By Juan Vasquez

Snapchat dysmorphia is the newest social media malaise that is making life miserable for users. It is a form of body dysmorphic disorder where the individuals are intensely preoccupied with a perceived flaw in their appearance that may be minor or can’t be spot by others. Much like eating disorders, those suffering from Snapchat dysmorphia have distorted ideas of their own beauty, mainly when they take selfies and are unhappy with the outcome.

Marie Rodriguez, 24-year-old from the Bronx, can take dozens of selfies before uploading one into her Snapchat story. Applications such as Snapchat and FaceTune have multiple tools to edit selfies to one’s liking, covering up for insecurities.“There will be times where I would spend over 25 minutes taking selfies,” Rodriguez. “Some instances I do not like the angles, my smile, the way my hair looked, or it could be that my eyebrows aren’t on point.”

Snap Inc., the smartphone application created by Evan Spiegel, is a phone smartphone application that prides itself in connecting people mainly through photos that disappear, along with text and video messaging.  It introduced photo messaging between people, name branded “story videos” and popularized the face filters for selfies. It’s ranked number three in Apple Store’s Photo and Video category for most used application behind YouTube and Instagram. The application is rated 3.8 out 5 and has more than five million downloads.

Users can alter original photos using Snapchat filters to make the perfect selfie. The most common edits are adding freckles, sharp eyebrows, clear skin, googly eyes, sharp jawlines, and smaller noses. Uploading edited photos need not be damaging in itself – some are humorous or idealized versions of the subjects. However, many users are seeking approval from others to improve their self-esteem and to feel accepted.

Users may perceive that their natural look is no longer good enough to live up to other’s expectations and to keep up with their own online persona. Many are age 18 to 31 and have grown up in the social media era. Dr. Neelam Vashi, director of Boston University’s Center for Ethnic Skin and Cosmetic Laser Center, coined the term “Snapchat Dysmorphia” in a paper for the JAMA Network titled Selfies—Living in the Era of Filtered Photographs. “I’ve had patients bring in selfies and say, ‘I want to look better than my selfies,’” he writes. Or they come in with filtered photos and want to change their facial shape, make their teeth brighter, make a blemish go away.

As filters came into play, the room for flaws has decreased, as the “expected standard” of beauty has risen to an unreachable height that can lead to people feeling uncomfortable in their own skin. Some users are suffering from low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. In addition to the mental health impact, resulting cosmetic surgeries can lead to issues such as hematomas (swelling of clotted blood within the tissues), infections, blood loss, and nerve damage. Some seek cheaper procedures from under-qualified doctors.

“Sometimes a lot of negative thoughts creep up to my mind,” says John Lantigua about his struggles with the disorder. “I feel insecure about taking photos let alone uploading them. It probably has to do with the fact that I see people who are considered high status doing the same thing I am, but we look very different and it makes me feel bad about myself sometimes.”

In his paper on Snapchat dysmorphia, Vashi writes that “Filtered selfies can make people lose touch with reality, creating the expectation that we are supposed to look perfectly primped all the time.” He adds that it can be particularly harmful for teens or those with body dysmorphic disorder.  “It is important for providers to understand the implications of social media on body image to better treat and counsel our patients,” he writes.

Snapchat dysmorphia is a relatively new issue, but as more research is being conducted data will reveal the long-term impact of the disorder. Those suffering from the disorder should seek professional attention.

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