With the widespread use of photo-editing technology available through applications such as Snapchat and Facetune, the physical “perfection” once reserved only for magazine models and celebrities is now available to everyone.

But could these impossibly perfect photos be doing more harm than good? Some researchers say yes — that filtered selfies may be raising the bar of beauty to unobtainable proportions.

In a new paper published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, researchers from Boston Medical Center (BMC) assert that these “perfect” images are changing people’s perceptions of beauty. That can take a heavy toll on a person’s self-esteem and trigger or worsen body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in vulnerable individuals.

“A new phenomenon called ‘Snapchat dysmorphia’ has popped up,” said Neelam Vashi, M.D., director of the Ethnic Skin Center at BMC and Boston University School of Medicine, “where patients are seeking out surgery to help them appear like the filtered versions of themselves.”

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

Body dysmorphic disorder is a debilitating mental illness characterized by an excessive preoccupation with a perceived flaw in one’s appearance. Sufferers often go to extreme and unhealthy lengths to hide their perceived imperfections. This can involve engaging in repetitive behaviors such as skin picking, and visiting dermatologists or plastic surgeons hoping to change their appearance.

The disorder affects around 2 percent of the population and is classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum.

In the paper, the authors reference studies showing that teen girls who manipulate their photos are more concerned with their body appearance, and those with dysmorphic body image turn to social media as a means of validation.

Additional research has shown 55 percent of plastic surgeons report seeing patients who want to improve their appearance in selfies.

According to the authors, surgery is not the best course of action in these cases, because it will not improve, and may worsen underlying BDD. They recommend psychological interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and management of the disorder in an empathetic and non-judgmental way.

Source: Boston Medical Center