Feeling too good about your looks? Think that you are just too darn hot? Worried that your sexiness and self-confidence will intimidate far too many people? Not spending enough time obsessing over your appearance? Well, there is always Snapchat, Instagram, or other photo-sharing platforms to take your self-esteem down a few pegs.
In fact, doctors are worried that the spread of photo-editing technology and photo-sharing can really screw up the way you view yourself. There is even an unofficial new term, Snapchat dysmorphia, to describe what may happen. The term is a riff on body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental health condition where you have a very distorted view of your own appearance. You focus obsessively on what you perceive as flaws in your appearance and exhibit accompanying compulsive behaviors such as excessively checking yourself in the mirror, grooming, and asking others about your looks and even getting unnecessary plastic surgery. Snapchat dysmorphia is essentially some form of BDD triggered by seeing too many unrealistic pictures on social media. Of course, the problem is not Snapchat specific. One could also coin the terms “Instagram Ick” or Can’t Stand My Face On Facebook.”
As Susruthi Rajanala, Mayra B. C. Maymone, MD, DSc, and Neelam A. Vashi, MD from Boston University explained in a recent JAMA Facial and Plastic Surgery opinion piece, it used to be that only models and actors could regularly have their faces and bodies altered by photo-editing technology. Not anymore. With the flood of such photo-altering apps and filters and photo sharing platforms, now you and practically anyone else can be like a celebrity, in that way, minus the fame and the money. Thus, you can now choose from many, many more people to make you feel bad about your looks.
This may have real, serious consequences. I’ve written previously for Forbes about how digitally altered photos may be leading to more eating disorders and emotional issues. Additionally, as the opinion piece indicated, improving appearance in selfies seems to be an increasing reason why people are seeking plastic surgery. The availability of filters and other digital editors allows more people to edit their own selfies and then show dermatologists and plastic surgeons what they “want” to look like. Of course, there is a big difference between editing your selfie on a smartphone and editing yourself with a knife and chemicals.
What then can be done about this growing problem? When it comes to photo-editing, the cat is already out of the bag and also being painted on people’s faces. (No, your friends probably don’t really have cat ears and noses.) Society will never return to a time where only analog photographs existed. Digital technologies will only get more and more advanced to the point where reality will harder and harder to discern.
Thus, the solution will be in the people and not the photos or technology. Our society has become way too obsessed with appearance and arbitrarily chosen standards for appearance. If you are like many others, you may be choosing whom you work with, whom you befriend, whom you date, and even whom you listen to based simply on superficial appearance. But unless you are a face mask manufacturer, chances are you are placing way too much emphasis on the wrong things.
Instead, try to focus on and develop real talents, abilities, and skills. To my knowledge, Snapchat and Instagram still don’t have filters that can add thinking ability, insight, compassion, and personality to people. As a general rule, if you can easily change something on Snapchat or Instagram, it probably wasn’t worth that much in the first place.