Doctors say they’ve seen a nationwide uptick in patients seeking plastic surgery to look more like the filtered version of themselves that they’ve created using popular apps like Snapchat and Instagram.
According to researchers from Boston University School of Medicine’s Department of Dermatology, the new phenomenon, dubbed “Snapchat dysmorphia,” involves people asking plastic surgeons to reproduce the “instant fix” they see in their own smartphone-edited selfies: an airbrushed version of themselves with fuller lips, bigger eyes or a thinner nose.
Researchers called the trend “alarming” in a recent article in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, noting that “filtered selfies often present an unattainable look and are blurring the line of reality and fantasy for these patients.”
The researchers categorized “Snapchat dysmorphia” as a version of body dysmorphic disorder, a mental condition that causes people to become obsessed with perceived defects in their appearance.
Neelam Vashi, a professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine and a co-author of the article, told The Washington Post that the widespread availability of photo-editing software is giving some patients unrealistic expectations about what they should look like.
“Sometimes I have patients who say, ‘I want every single spot gone and I want it gone by this week or I want it gone tomorrow,’ because that’s what this filtered photograph gave them,” Vashi said. “That’s not realistic. I can’t do that.”
Dr. Daniel Maman, a board-certified plastic surgeon at 740 Park Plastic Surgery in Manhattan, tells PEOPLE that in the last year and half, he has noticed an increase in patients seeking surgery to look like their filtered selfies. But Dr. Maman says he sees the trend as a positive shift — because a desire to look like a better version of oneself is far more attainable than a desire to look like a seemingly flawless model or celebrity.
“It’s shifting patients in the right direction where they’re more self-aware and they’re also presenting us with pictures that are more realistic, because they’re of themselves, as opposed to celebrity photos,” Dr. Maman explains.
“In the past it was not uncommon for people to come in with pictures of celebrities and say, ‘Hey, I want to look like this person.’ And that was always a challenge because oftentimes the patient that was showing you the picture had absolutely no physical relation to the celebrity that they were showing you,” he continues.
“Whereas, with a Snapchat photo, it’s obviously the patient themselves and it’s a much more realistic idea of what they’re going to look like. And then it’s my job to tell them, ‘Hey this is doable or not doable.’ But it does help by starting with a reasonable foundation.”
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The researchers’ article also notes that in 2017, 55 percent of surgeons reported seeing patients who requested surgery to look better in selfies, according to a recent survey by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
“That’s been a trend for a number of years now,” Dr. Maman says. “Obviously the more people are posting on social media, the more selfies they take, the more they’re aware of what they look like, the more concerned they are about their appearance. Just like it’s true for all these fashion bloggers and fashion Instagrammers and Snapchatters, the same is true for plastic surgery. People want to look [the best they can] and achieve the best possible results they can.”
Before the rise of social media, “if you didn’t want to share your photo with the public, you didn’t have to,” he continues. “Now people are posting pictures of you, if you’re not doing it yourself. Overall concern for physical appearance has increased as a result of that.”
But while Maman doesn’t see this as a negative change per se, Vashi warns that a preoccupation with looks “can bring feelings of sadness and then if one really develops this disorder, that sadness clearly progresses to something that can be dangerous and alarming.”