This phenomenon, which has been dubbed as "Snapchat dysmorphia," is being described by doctors and researchers as a form of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Now, obviously, not everyone using these filters suffers from the condition, but it's just further evidence that what may seem like harmless software can have a seriously negative impact on a person's mental health. Those dealing with disorders like BDD, which causes people to obsess over what they view as defects or flaws in their appearance, are more prone to try and find ways to look like their filtered photos permanently. In extreme cases, they may even seek plastic surgery. But that's not something everybody can afford, and doctors can reject patients they deem mentally unstable. This can actually exacerbate existing mental-health issues, and lead to anxiety and depression.
According to research from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), 55 percent of surgeons reported seeing patients who wanted a procedure which would make them look better in selfies. That's an increase of 13 percent compared with 2016. But the most interesting part of this trend is that many of these patients are now showing up to consultations with a filtered picture of themselves, rather than, say, a photo of a celebrity to illustrate what they want to look like. "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," Neelam A. Vashi, a doctor at Boston University School of Medicine's department of dermatology, wrote in a recent article about the topic.
Pesmes, who is 18 years old and runs a beauty channel on YouTube, told Engadget she enjoys putting filters on her selfies because "who doesn't want to look flawless every once in a while?" She said that while she's never thought of permanently altering her appearance to resemble a Snapchat or Instagram filter, she may want to get lip fillers one day. "No one is perfect. We all have beautiful flaws we should embrace," Pesmes said. "But I know in order to start a brand and grow your audience, looking very seamless in a photo does catch a lot of attention you want as a YouTuber just starting out."
"In today's society it's almost like looking your most natural self won't get you the millions of followers, which is sad."
Not surprisingly, she said, any time she posts a picture with a filter it tends to get more likes than unedited ones. And because likes are incredibly valuable in her quest to build a career as a cosmetics vlogger on YouTube, she opts for a filter most of the time because she notices "a larger attention" to selfies that have been tweaked. "In today's society it's almost like looking your most natural self won't get you the millions of followers, which is sad," she said. "I had no idea people wanted to go that far [get plastic surgery]. Knowing what I know now, I do feel that I should practice what I preach. If this is how I look without filters and tunings then the world has to get used to it."
Dr. Patrick J. Byrne, a professor and director at the Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and board member for the AAFPRS, said patients influenced by Snapchat dysmorphia tend to be teenagers like Pesmes (though people in their 20s or 30s aren't exempt). The challenge for plastic surgeons, he said, is to know when to reject patients who come in asking for procedures that'll make them resemble their filtered selfies. Sometimes that might be because what they want isn't medically possible or the individual isn't mentally fit and may need psychiatric help for issues like body dysmorphic disorder.
"I don't want any of my professional work to encourage any human being to place an unnecessary, unhealthy emphasis on their own appearance," Dr. Byrne said. "We know as a society that our appearance is really, really important biologically and socially. [But] I wouldn't want my children to do that. Why would I want my patients to?"