Are better selfie filters driving teens to plastic surgery? Doctors say the boom in cellphone photo editing apps is to blame for the rise in young girls with body dysmorphia

  • US researchers have warned that selfies and photo apps with filters are creating false senses of reality for millions of young girls
  • Needing to appear seemingly flawless may hurt their self-esteem and create psychological conditions like body dysmorphia
  • One cosmetic dermatologist told Daily Mail Online that people show her filtered photos of themselves when she asks what they want to look like 

Teen girls are being driven to plastic surgery in an attempt to look like the filtered versions of themselves taken in photo-editing apps, a new report warns. 

Apps like Snapchat and Facetune can remove our blemishes and whiten our teeth, but researchers say that they’re also creating false senses of reality. 

Celebrities who appear on social media looking seemingly flawless are often viewed as the scapegoat for why young girls become hyperfocused on their appearance.

However, the doctors from Boston Medical Center say that as these girls gain access to the same photo-editing technologies, it’s making them 24/7 obsessed on removing any trace of an imperfection. 

As these ‘perfect’ images become the new normal, the researchers say this can have a devastating impact on the physical and emotional development of teens and potentially trigger mental conditions like body dysmorphic disorder.

Selfie filters could be affecting teens’ body image and driving them to plastic surgery, a new report has warned (file image)

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a psychological disorder in which someone is obsessively focused on a perceived flaw in their appearance. 

‘People with BDD become obsessed with this defect that is either nonexistent or minimal,’ Dr Neelam Vashi, an assistant professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine, told Daily Mail Online.  

‘It really invades their life and they have issues with social events and work, and they exhibit repetitive behavior such as mirror checking or skin picking.’

According to the International OCD Foundation, BDD affects between 1.7 percent and 2.4 percent of the US population, which equates to about one in 50 people.

The authors of opinion piece, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Facial Plastic Surgery, say that teen girls with BDD will often turn to social media for validation.

It’s timely following several reports which have found that teen girls are turning to cosmetic surgery in an effort to improve their appearance on social media.

A poll put out by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons found 42 percent of surgeons said they’d seen patients who sought procedures to enhance their selfies and other social media photos.

Another poll from the same board found that 58 percent of facial plastic surgeons saw a rise in cosmetic surgery or injectables in patients under 30 years old.

Dr Vashi said that this culture of selfies, filters and photo-retouching apps can create false expectations of how we are supposed to look at all times.   

‘It used to be that photo-editing technology was only available to famous people, but now it’s in the hands of all of us and you see how you look in mirror and it’s not exactly you look in a photograph,’ said Dr Vashi.

‘People put pictures on social media of what they want to be and what they want the rest of society to believe they look like.

‘But filtered selfies create a fantasy world and they come to us with what they want to look like, but it’s this image that we can’t possibly reproduce.’  

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She added that one of the influences for the report came after she saw photographs that patients brought in of what they wanted to look like. 

‘I’ll never forget, when I first started practicing, the first person I ever treated with BDD told me he wanted to look like Denzel Washington,’ said Dr Vashi.

‘But now, patients bring in pictures of not celebrities but themselves – but the angle is different and the lighting is different and that’s what they want to look like.’

In other words, today’s patients want to look like filtered versions of themselves. 

The authors of the report warn that surgery is a ‘terrible’ choice for those suffering from BDD and can even worsen their condition.

‘Research shows that in patients with BDD who got plastic surgery, it didn’t change their feelings about their appearance,’ said Dr Vashi.

‘So, for example, if someone was distraught about their nose, they got their nose job and felt better about their nose. But now it’s something else that’s “wrong” with them like their lips.’  

Dr Vashi said the best treatment for such patients patients are psychological interventions.

‘About 25 to 40 percent of people with BDD are delusional so they’re not going to believe it’s in their head. so they will go to multiple dermatologists and plastic surgeons until one of them “fixes” the defect,’ she said.

She added they there are medications that can help such as SSRIs, a class of drugs used to treat depressive and anxiety disorders, and cognitive behavioral therapy, which works to modify dysfunctional emotions and behaviors.

‘So, for example, if they want to pick at their skin, they can use a stress ball instead,’ said Dr Vashi.

‘Or we’ll create a calendar of activities for them so they they have scheduled activities instead of focusing on their perceived flaws.’  

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