People used to call Anika the Snap Queen. Between the ages of 19 and 21, she was “obsessed with Snapchat, to the point where I had 4,000 followers”. At the peak of her “tragic” behaviour, she reckons now – a year after quitting the image-sharing app – she was taking 25 selfies a day.
She liked the sense of having a platform, she says, with the average selfie getting 300 replies. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so popular – I’ve gotta show my face.’” But the filters were also part of the appeal. The Londoner had long been insecure about the slight bump in her nose. Snapchat’s fun effects, which let you embellish your selfies with dog ears, flower crowns and the like, would also erase the bump entirely. “I’d think, ‘I’d like to look how I look with this filter that makes my nose look slimmer.’”
Socialising in the real world, she would choose her seat to avoid being seen in profile. She recognises that this was irrational – “but it happens. I feel like we’re in a world where a lot of people are seen to be perfect, and so we try and reach that peak.”
Sometimes her followers would suggest meeting in person. “Then it would be like, ‘I have to look like my selfie.’” It was around this time, the height of her Snapchat obsession, that Anika started contacting cosmetic doctors on Instagram.
The phenomenon of people requesting procedures to resemble their digital image has been referred to – sometimes flippantly, sometimes as a harbinger of end times – as “Snapchat dysmorphia”. The term was coined by the cosmetic doctor Tijion Esho, founder of the Esho clinics in London and Newcastle. He had noticed that where patients had once brought in pictures of celebrities with their ideal nose or jaw, they were now pointing to photos of themselves.
While some used their selfies – typically edited with Snapchat or the airbrushing app Facetune – as a guide, others would say, “‘I want to actually look like this’, with the large eyes and the pixel-perfect skin,” says Esho. “And that’s an unrealistic, unattainable thing.”
A recent report in the US medical journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery suggested that filtered images’ “blurring the line of reality and fantasy” could be triggering body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental health condition where people become fixated on imagined defects in their appearance.
Like Esho, Dr Wassim Taktouk uses non-surgical, non-permanent “injectables” such as Botox and dermal fillers to enlarge lips or smooth a bumpy nose. He recalls a client coming to see him in his cream-carpeted Kensington clinic, upset after a date made through an app had gone south. “When she’d met the man, he had been quite disparaging: ‘You don’t look anything like your picture.’”
The woman showed Taktouk the heavily filtered image on her profile and said: “I want to look like that.” It was flawless, he says – “without a single marking of a normal human face”. He told her he couldn’t help. “If that’s the picture you’re going to put out of yourself, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”
Why do we take so many photos of ourselves? A 2017 study into “selfitis”, as the obsessive taking of selfies has been called, found a range of motivations, from seeking social status to shaking off depressive thoughts and – of course – capturing a memorable moment. Another study suggested that selfies served “a private and internal purpose”, with the majority never shared with anyone or posted anywhere – terabytes, even petabytes of photographs never to be seen by anyone other than their subject.
With so much of life now lived online, from dating to job-hunting, recent, quality images of yourself are also a necessity – it is no wonder that Facetune (Apple’s most popular paid-for app of 2017) and the free follow-up Facetune2 have more than 55m users between them. Stav Tishler of Lightricks, the company behind them, says making airbrushing accessible has challenged “that illusion that ‘a perfect body’ exists … and levelled out the playing field”: “Everyone knows everyone is using it, supermodels and ‘everyday’ people alike.”
However, a 2017 study in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications found that people only recognised manipulated images 60%-65% of the time. Esho says the pervasiveness of airbrushing on social media means it can create “unrealistic expectations of what is normal” and lower the self-esteem of those who don’t use it: “It’s a vicious cycle.”
When the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery surveyed its members in 2017, 55% of surgeons said patients’ motivation was to look better in selfies, up from just 13% in 2016.
Even novelty filters such as Snapchat and Instagram’s, as well as adding bunny ears or specs to your selfie, plump your lips, erase your pores and lift your jowls while they are at it. (Snapchat declined to respond on the record.)
“The first thing that any of these filters do is give you a beautiful complexion,” says Taktouk. “Your naso-labial [laugh] lines, from the nose to mouth, aren’t existent – but that’s not a human face. No one doesn’t have those. You can see them in children.” Clients still request their removal, and of “the tear trough” – the groove down from the inner corners of the eyes. “People wanting bigger eyes is another one – it’s just not possible.”
The filtered-selfie look is also reflected in demand for bigger lips and taut jawlines. Such so-called “tweakments” have exploded in recent years, thanks to their relative affordability and convenience. A “liquid nose job” using fillers might cost a few hundred pounds and takes instant effect, compared with the slow, painful recovery from a surgical rhinoplasty. Marla, 29, from New York, got her “perfect nose” last year while on her lunch break. “I went back to work feeling just so much more polished and confident – like I was even writing my emails better.”
Like Anika, she had always been bothered by the bump in her nose, religiously removing it from selfies; but she began exploring real-world options after a painful breakup. A list of pros and cons revealed that the potential risks – of her parents’ disapproval and “necrosis of the face” (“It’s very rare, but it’s definitely a thing”) – did not outweigh the benefits of having “the nose I create for myself on Facetune”.
The rise of fillers – anything from collagen and hyaluronic acid, which break down in a matter of months, to the permanent but riskier polymethyl methacrylate beads – has been accelerated by celebrity endorsements from the likes of the Kardashian clan. The removal and subsequent return of Kylie Jenner’s lip fillers have been followed with particular interest. Some doctors try to capitalise on this with “the Kylie package” for nose, jaw and lips, says Taktouk, disapprovingly. Ten years ago, his clients were deeply concerned with patient confidentiality; “Now, it’s ‘Do you mind if I Insta-story this?’ It’s not taboo any more.” He has seen lips advertised for £150 and noses for £200-£300. “And that’s one of the trickiest procedures of the lot.”
Fillers may be less invasive than surgery, but they are not without their risks, which range from uneven results and infection to vascular blockages and even blindness. Save Face, the UK’s largest register of accredited practitioners of non-surgical treatments, says almost 1,000 complaints were made in the year to October. Yet there is little regulation and no minimum age. “We have more protections for houses than we do children’s faces,” says Esho, who has campaigned for crackdowns. “It’s crazy.”
Even Marla – who documented her follow-up nose job in a short film for Vice, and does paid promotional work for cosmetic surgeons – says she would not encourage a young girl to do as she did. “I know that I love myself – that’s why I let myself get little tweaks – but it would really bother me if a young girl told me that she didn’t.”
Taktouk refuses to treat anyone younger than early 20s, but he says he has been contacted by 16- and 17-year-olds, sometimes for “preventative Botox” (“They haven’t even done A-levels yet”). Invariably it is via Instagram, where a reported 60% of users are aged between 18 and 24. The platform has become a marketplace for cosmetic procedures, with doctors showcasing their before-and-afters.
The process is as easy as “click-click-click, look at 10 bits of his work in the space of a minute, wow, let’s contact him”, says Anika. At the age of 20, she turned up at Taktouk’s clinic with photos of noses he had done and a video of herself with a Snapchat filter. “You know the one that kind of makes your face look like an alien’s? I was like, ‘This looks great – my nose looks so much smaller.’ Dr Taktouk was like: ‘This is not what is going to happen with filler.’” She laughs. “He told me to come back with my mum.”
Instead, Anika took a year out to consider her decision, weighing up fillers’ merits against surgical rhinoplasty. “Actually, I went through a phase of thinking, ‘No, I should try and love myself.’” How did that go? “I didn’t do rhinoplasty,” she says drily. “I guess that’s as far as I got.” By the time she returned to Taktouk’s clinic, aged 21, she had been brought “back down to earth”. He injected filler into the tip of her nose, evening out its line. She loved it instantly. “I feel like I just needed that to change me inside, so I could stop looking for perfection.”
When the filler eventually breaks down after about a year, she will repeat the procedure. “The most beautiful thing is when someone is happy from within,” she says; “as ironic as it sounds”, her new nose helped her to attain it. “I’m not itching to get anything else.”
There was a moment just after the procedure, though, as she was admiring her new profile, when she wondered aloud if her lips needed filling, too. They were one of her most prominent features; she had been called Fish Lips at school. Taktouk told her to stop being silly. “When you’re in that seat, it’s quite tempting,” she says. “Like, ‘What else can I do?’”
There is an obvious danger in trying to measure up to images when they are so far from reality – or even consistency. Non-filtered selfies are flipped, front cameras produce different results from back cameras, and there are even marked differences between models of phone. Just the distance from which we typically take selfies has a huge effect. A 2018 study found that a portrait taken from 30cm (12in) away rather than 1.5m (5ft) increases perceived nose size by about 30%. And that’s without the distorting effects of lighting and even makeup.
It prompts the question: which are you trying to correct, the image or the reality?
Anna, 40, from Malvern – another patient of Taktouk’s – admits to having once been “fixated” on her laugh lines. “The photos exacerbate it, making it look worse, then a filter can make it look amazing. You’re unsure of what you look like.”
Ever since she was young, she has struggled with the discrepancy between how she sees herself in the mirror, and how others see her. Once, she downloaded an app that claimed “to show you how you really look”. “It used to horrify me, and make me feel terrible about myself. But these are conversations you can’t really have, because you do sound self-absorbed and you’re leaving yourself vulnerable.”
She is more self-confident now, which she attributes both to age and the occasional self-esteem boost of Botox or filler. “I’m quite realistic now, whereas in the past I’ve driven myself crazy.”
For Taktouk, referrals from social media make it harder to safeguard patients’ mental health. His background as a GP has helped him to spot red flags, such as badmouthing other doctors, insisting on flaws that aren’t there, and in-depth knowledge of treatments: “I’ve had someone come in here and draw the lines on their face themselves.” But, he adds, “I’m sure some will have slipped past without me realising” – and even if Taktouk refuses to treat them, someone else will.
Over the weekend it was reported that Superdrug (which began offering Botox late last year) has agreed to introduce mental health screening for people seeking Botox, following criticism from the NHS for not conducting “medically responsible” checks. Taktouk says far more industry-wide regulation is needed, before there is a headline-grabbing tragedy and apps become even more transformative. He points to one called Retouch Me, which superimposes six-packs on to swimsuit pictures. “I saw it and thought, this is the new wave of what we’re going to get in: ‘Make me look like this.’”
Seeking unnecessary and unrealistic cosmetic procedures in fact supports a diagnosis of BDD, present in 2% of the population (and equally common in men and women). Dr Neelam Vashi, co-author of the American article that linked BDD to selfie dysmorphia, says further study is needed to establish whether intensive selfie-taking could trigger BDD – but it does resemble one of the main four diagnostic criteria: compulsive mirror-checking and other repetitive behaviours and thoughts.
The onset tends to occur in adolescence, though people with the condition may not seek help until 10 years later. The general rule, says Professor David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley hospital in south London, is that you can “think about your appearance for an hour a day before it becomes a disorder” – but for a diagnosis, it must be accompanied by significant distress or inability to function normally. People with BDD take selfies because they are convinced “that they are hideous”.
In 2014, then 19-year-old Danny Bowman from Northumberland was reported to be “Britain’s first selfie addict” after being interviewed about his experience of BDD. His problems had begun four years before, when he was rejected by a modelling agency at the same time as he was being bullied at his new school and on Facebook. “For me, it was confirmation that I did look ugly.”
Bowman was soon spending hours before the mirror, slathering himself in acne cream and moisturiser and monitoring a steady stream of selfies for real-time improvement. After three months he dropped out of school, and the selfie-taking increased to hundreds a day. “I was trying to see some gradual improvement, and take that photo that I was pleased with. I was just trying to get that relief, and I couldn’t get it. There wasn’t a perfect photo. There isn’t a perfect photo.”
After six months of being housebound, consumed by his daily rituals, he tried to kill himself. “A lot of people say looking at themselves in the mirror probably makes them feel insecure, but imagine scanning through 200 pictures a day. I was just exhausted. I felt like there was no way out.” His mother – like his father, a mental health professional – found him in time and he was diagnosed with BDD. Part of his 12-week treatment involved restricting access to his phone.
Now 24, Bowman is studying at the University of York and campaigns on issues related to mental health and positive body image. He has raised concerns about the impact of Instagram with friends he sees “posting photographs of themselves every other day, Facetuning themselves, making themselves look unlike the way they look. That was me, but on an amplified scale.” They have reacted defensively, he says. “It has become such a normal thing that people don’t see what they’re doing as abnormal.”
He very rarely takes selfies now. “I just don’t feel the need to do it.”
The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation can be found at bddfoundation.org
What is Snapchat dysphoria? ›
Snapchat dysmorphia is a body-image disorder characterized by the need to heavily edit one's own digital image. At its most severe, the disorder may cause people to seek out cosmetic procedures in order to replicate the altered images they present online. Dr.What is Snapchat surgery? ›
The phenomenon of people requesting procedures to resemble their digital image has been referred to – sometimes flippantly, sometimes as a harbinger of end times – as “Snapchat dysmorphia”. The term was coined by the cosmetic doctor Tijion Esho, founder of the Esho clinics in London and Newcastle.Why are people obsessed with filters? ›
"People begin to expect themselves to look like their filtered self and can become obsessed with achieving that in the real world, which leaves them depressed, anxious, lonely, and disappointed," she says.Does Snapchat alter your face? ›
Snapchat filters have evolved since then, and today, they are highly problematic. While Snapchat filters have always been created with the intention of changing users' faces, there has been a significant shift in the types of facial alterations they make.What BDD feels like? ›
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health condition in which you can't stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that appears minor or can't be seen by others. But you may feel so embarrassed, ashamed and anxious that you may avoid many social situations.Does social media cause BDD? ›
While social media doesn't cause BDD, it can amplify the condition. You might constantly take and post selfies, then constantly scrutinize and criticize them. If a person truly has body dysmorphic disorder, plastic surgery will actually make BDD worse, according to Argumedo.Is it possible to get surgery to look like someone? ›
Cosmetic surgeons do not commonly get requests to turn a patient into a celebrity's doppelganger. Plastic surgery can only alter the soft tissues and the skin to build off the patient's natural contours. Bone structure determines the body and face shape and are more difficult or impossible to change.What would I look like with plastic surgery app? ›
Aedit, which launched in May 2021, is positioned to make plastic surgery more accessible. It uses a patented 3D aesthetic simulator, which allows users to upload their photos to virtually "try on" over 250 cosmetic treatments, including fillers, rhinoplasty, and jaw-contouring procedures.Can you get plastic surgery to look like a filter? ›
In what scientists have called "Snapchat dysmorphia," young people are increasingly getting plastic surgery to look like the versions of themselves they see in social media filters. "There's less guilt about undergoing procedures," says plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Lara Devgan.How can you tell if someone is using a beauty filter? ›
Instagram's New Upgrade Tells Users If Someone's Using A Filter On Their Photos. Instagram has quietly rolled out a small tweak to their picture display, as reported by Matt Navarra. If a photo has any sort of filter applied to it, the app will inform its users via a small textbox saying "made with effects".
Why do females use filters? ›
The five most common filters or edits were those used to even out skin tone, brighten skin, whiten teeth, bronze skin, and take off weight. In addition, participants used filters on social media to reshape their jaw or nose, make their lips look fuller, and make their eyes look bigger.Is Snapchat selfie how others see you? ›
The thing is, if you use Snapchat to take your selfies, it will flip the image so that it reflects how other people see you in real life rather than how you see yourself while taking it!Why is the Snapchat camera more flattering? ›
But Snapchat changed that. It made me feel like I looked good, and it's all thanks to its reverse camera. While regular cameras and the one on your smartphone show you more or less what you really look like, the Snapchat camera shows you what you see in the mirror, i.e. a flipped version of your face.How can I look pretty without filters? ›
- Turn Your Phone Into a DSLR Camera. ...
- Wear Kylie Jenner's Selfie-Approved HD Makeup. ...
- Or Try Silk Powdered Photo Finish Foundation. ...
- Bring the Perfect Lighting With You. ...
- Define Your Gaze With Kim K's Favorite False Lashes. ...
- Add An Eye-Catching, Comment-Worthy Accessory.
When viewing themselves in photographs, patients with BDD underutilize parts of the brain used in seeing the face's overall shape and size, he said. "If you just see the pieces of your face, and not seeing how they fit into the whole, then it's going to look distorted," he said.What are the 2 types of dysmorphia? ›
There are two subtypes of BDD: Muscle Dysmorphia and BDD by Proxy. Both of these subtypes appear to respond to the same basic treatment strategies as BDD (cognitive behavior therapy or CBT and medications). However, the CBT therapist in particular needs to adjust the treatment so that it has the right focus.What does body dysmorphia do to your brain? ›
Individuals with BDD see themselves as disfigured and ugly — often fixating on minute details of their face or body — even though they look normal to others. Their distress over their appearance can result in depression, anxiety, shame and severe functional impairment that can be severe enough to lead to suicide.What is Bigorexia disorder? ›
Bigorexia is a mental health disorder that primarily affects teen boys and young men. It is associated with anxiety and depression, substance abuse (specifically the use of anabolic steroids), eating disorders, and problems with school, work, and relationships.Do people with body dysmorphia take a lot of selfies? ›
The link between selfies and BDD is well established. It's, importantly, not that selfies cause a person to develop BDD; but that taking a lot of selfies is a common symptom among BDD sufferers. One of the best documented cases is that of British teenager Danny Bowman.How do I help my daughter with body dysmorphia? ›
- Find a trained CBT therapist. Make an appointment to take your child for an evaluation.
- Help your child go to all therapy visits. Follow the directions for any medicines prescribed.
- Ask the therapist how you can help your child. ...
- Talk with your child. ...
- Be patient.
What surgery can change your face completely? ›
A face transplant replaces all or part of the face with donor tissue from someone who has died. A face transplant is a complex operation that takes months of planning and multiple surgical teams. The procedure is performed in only a few transplant centers worldwide.Can you donate your face? ›
Face donation involves a special and sensitive consent process with donor families. In addition to matching blood type and immunological parameters like in solid organ transplantation, face donation involves careful emphasis on matching skin color, skin tone, gender, ethnicity, race and the size of the face and head.What happens to the donor of a face transplant? ›
Generally, the donor is brain-dead but still has heart function. The face transplant recipient arrives at the hospital where the donor is being kept and prepares for the surgery. Any planned organ harvesting (including the face donation) is performed at the same time, and the face is preserved in a cold solution.Do Plastic Surgeons show you what you will look like? ›
Fortunately, it is possible to visualize your results with the help of a board-certified plastic surgeon. Plastic surgeons have advanced training in facial anatomy and specialize in accentuating each person's unique features through meticulously performed procedures.Can a nose job fix a wide nose? ›
Can Rhinoplasty Fix a Wide Nose? Yes, rhinoplasty can fix a wide nose. During a nose job surgery, your plastic surgeon can reduce the size of excessively wide nasal bones that make your nose look disproportionately wide, affecting the overall look and symmetry of your face.What is a pillow face? ›
“Pillow face” is a direct play on the puffy, unattractive result of using too much facial filler or transferred fat. Another term often used to describe this overfilled look is “chipmunky.”Who has pillow face? ›
"Celebrities like Madonna, Courtney Cox, Dolly Parton and others already had the pillow face caused by bad filler injection. They usually end up with almost the same face with distorted lips and puffy cheeks."What is pillow face plastic surgery? ›
However, when overdone, a filler treatment can potentially distort the face, making it appear overly plump. This effect–commonly known as pillow face–is associated with a legion of celebrities who have embraced injectable treatment. Famous or not, a puffed out face is an undesirable outcome.How does Snapchat affect your mental health? ›
Negative mental impacts from Snapchat include things like anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Looking at carefully filtered pictures of other teens and tweens can also lead to body consciousness and eating disorders, fear of missing out, and bullying.What is Snapchat doing for mental health? ›
Headspace. Try our Headspace Mini! Headspace and Snap have partnered on a Headspace Mini that gives you access to guided meditations and mindfulness practices, all from within the Snapchat app! With the Headspace Mini, you can kickback with quick meditations and send encouraging messages to boost friends in need.
Does the social dilemma talk about Snapchat? ›
All age groups are discussed in The Social Dilemma, but one of the most striking sections of the documentary is the one that touches on the vulnerability of teenagers who use platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and multiple others every single day and have been molded by social media's influences.Does Snapchat delete filters? ›
If you are wondering can you remove Snapchat filters from a saved picture, then the answer is yes. You need to visit the saved image section of the app to do that. Just long-tap the image you want to remove the filter from. Then select the option to edit the photo and remove the filter with ease.Should I let my 14 year old have Snapchat? ›
Common Sense Media rates Snapchat OK for teens 16 and up, mainly because of the exposure to age-inappropriate content and the marketing ploys, such as quizzes, that collect data.Why do parents not like Snapchat? ›
Since snaps, disappear they can't be monitored.
For parents of children under 18, says Altimare, it's important to understand the dangers of this feature as it can almost be impossible to see what snaps are being sent or received—which makes it easier for inappropriate content or bullying content to be shared and sent.
“Snapchat tends to tap into the inherent anxiety teenagers have about relationships, and we often turn to things we are addicted to relieve it, most recently through social media,” Hodgins said. “Sending snaps releases dopamine, and we feel better, but only if we send them over and over.”What social media platform has the most effect on mental health? ›
Instagram was found to have the most negative overall effect on young people's mental health. The popular photo sharing app negatively impacts body image and sleep, increases bullying and “FOMO” (fear of missing out), and leads to greater feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.How do you break a Snapchat addiction? ›
Purge your conversations. Every so often delete all the conversations you have with Snapchat. By clearing your conversations your Friends screen will be empty, void of the temptations to strike up addictive conversations*.How do I stop Snapchat caring? ›
- Use Snapchat lightly. Use it sporadically. ...
- Avoid having a Snapchat relationship. You love getting snaps from your cute boyfriend or girlfriend (and that makes sense). ...
- Ignore the emoji. For a little while, I was so focused on which emoji was next to which contact's name. ...
- Keep the peace.
The Social Dilemma pushes us to consider how tech companies are changing our values, our core behaviors, and our politics. It brings up huge issues with paid advertising, algorithms, the way news is shared, and filter bubbles that we should all know about if we are using the internet to understand our world.Is The Social Dilemma accurate? ›
Most of the issues discussed in 'The Social Dilemma' are true to Netflix almost as much as they are relevant to Facebook or YouTube.
Is The Social Dilemma biased? ›
Though biased and partial, the documentary directed by Jeff Orlowski is a “necessary warning”. Yes, technology is evolving exponentially and tech giants are becoming scarily powerful. A movie like 'TSD' is useful to surface the debate, warn our kids and of course, to rethink and fine tune digital tools.Can you keep a Snapchat filter forever? ›
Can we save Snapchat filters? Yes, you can save Snapchat filters. Snapchat filters will be automatically saved if you took and saved a photo/video using it. You'll be able to find it when you tap on the smiley face icon on the camera.How long does a Snapchat filter last? ›
Filters can be active for as long as 30 days 🗓 or as little as one hour ⏰ If you'd like to run a Filter longer than 30 days, try making an Annual Filter! What are the guidelines for making Community Filters? How long will it take to review my Community Filter?Did Snapchat get rid of reverse? ›
You can apply the reverse filter effect only to videos that you've recorded on Snapchat. You won't be able to reverse video snaps from videos you uploaded to Snapchat from your device. Swipe left on your video snap preview to browse through the filters until you see three reverse arrows (<<<) appear over your video.