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Social Media Filters May Be Causing Body Dysmorphia

Ross Kelly

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Snapchat Dysmorphia

Snapchat filters may be causing an increase in body dysmorphia, according to a new study. 

Snapchat and its variety of filters and editing options provide an endless supply of fun for users around the globe; flicking through its filters you can become a zombie, a dog, a Pokemon and more. However, a recent study suggests that the interactivity of this popular social media app is having a damaging effect on young people’s mental health; fuelling an increase in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

While in days-gone-by, photo-editing software was a tool for celebrities, today it is placed in the hands of millions of teenagers and young people worldwide. According to researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine, it is this widespread availability that is potentially harming people.

Snapchat Dysmorphia

This new unofficial term, Snapchat Dysmorphia, is a form of BDD – a mental health condition where an individual has a distorted and hyper-critical view of their appearance.

People with BDD often obsess over flaws in their physical appearance – which may not exist at all – and leads to compulsive behaviour. Religiously checking the mirror, over-grooming and repeatedly asking others about looks are some of the signs exhibited by those with BDD.

Snapchat dysmorphia is similar to BDD in that psychological symptoms are triggered due to viewing unrealistic pictures on social media. A recent study analysed the effects of edited selfies on body dissatisfaction among teenage girls and suggested that those who regularly manipulated their photos reported higher levels of concern with their body image – as well as an overestimation of body shape and weight.

Additionally, it said that those already with a dysmorphic body image may use social media platforms as a way to validate themselves and satisfy the need for recognition and social approval.

Replicating Filters

People with BDD often exhibit a desire for cosmetic surgery, an obsession that Snapchat’s various filters may be exacerbating. When you gaze at your face on a mobile screen, the angles and distance often distort the dimensions of your face, and this is having a damaging effect the study suggests. Distorted facial dimensions due to selfies lead to higher levels of dissatisfaction and as such, patients may seek surgery to look better or to reflect their selfie face in real life.

According to a survey conducted in 2017, this was a trend first identified and is a point of continued concern. Current data suggests that over half (55%) of surgeons report seeing patients who request surgery to improve their selfie appearance; a marked increase from the 42% encountered in 2015.

Rhinoplasty, eyelid surgical procedures and hair transplants are all commonly requested surgery options by those seeking to ‘up their selfie game’.

Lee Knifton, Head of MHF Scotland, said that although social media has its benefits, there are increasing worries over the pressures it places on people.

He said: “Social media has dramatically changed the way we communicate and is a powerful tool for many people. It has real benefits and can play key a real role in helping to motivate people to take action and bring about change.

“However research has shown that in some instances high levels of social media use can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health. Links have been shown between social media use, depression and body dysmorphia. It can also disrupt sleep – which we know is very important for good mental health.

“We’d encourage people to be aware and look out for any signs that they might be becoming adversely affected by their social media use, and seek available support.”

Social Media

This is not specific to this app, however, as social media, in general, is believed to be damaging to people’s perception of appearance and body image.

Earlier this year, mobile photo-sharing app, Instagram, was criticised for its damaging effects on users psychological and emotional wellbeing. Body image, depression and anxiety are all said to be worsened or caused by the app.

In 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) released the findings of a study examining the psychological and emotional effects of social media on users. The report claimed that Instagram, also a popular photo-sharing app, ranked lowest out of five major platforms for mental health and wellbeing.

In response to the growing issue of mental health problems among users, Instagram introduced a number of new features to help people and even went so far as to introduce a team to specifically deal with the problem.

For information on how to support your own mental health, go to www.mentalhealth.org.uk

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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