Bailey Earls|12/6/2022|3 min read

Body Dysmorphic Disorder: ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’

Have Photo Editing And Filters Gone Too Far?


Clinicians specializing in mental or behavioral health may be noticing a new term pop-up in their practice. As social media continues to develop, so does the root of body dissatisfaction. What was once a fun and creative social interaction may be a leading factor in mental illness. Specifically, Body Dysmorphia and a new phenomenon, ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’. 

After becoming aware that a growing number of patients were bringing in heavily edited selfies to their consultation appointments, British physician and founder of Esho Clinic, Dr. Tijion Esho coined the term ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’. Rather than bringing in celebrity photos, which is the historical practice for cosmetic surgery, many patients used images that resembled snapchat filters. 

Patients are often surprised to hear that their heavily edited selfies are not achievable in real life. Filtered images commonly seen on Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram blur the line between what is real and imaginary. 

Dysmorphia alone, is the failure to view one’s physical appearance impartially. An individual manifests a thought that there is something wrong with their appearance. It then develops into persistent thoughts of physical features and imagined flaws. This development is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

Body Dysmorphic Disorder 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 

According to the International OCD Foundation approximately 1.7% to 2.9% of the general population are affected by BDD. That’s about 1 in 50 people. 

BDD is a mental health condition where an individual becomes preoccupied with their appearance, experiences excessive thoughts and shows signs of repetitive behavior. These perceived flaws tend to be minor or unnoticed by others, in some cases non existent. A person's focus may be on one or more features and can even change over time. The most common including:

  • The face: lips, eyes, nose, acne, wrinkles or blemishes

  • Thinning or baldness of the hair

  • Breast size

  • Genitalia

  • Muscle tone and size

These behaviors can cause a major disruption in day-to-day life as they become time-consuming and hard to control. Suicidal thoughts and tendencies are common among people diagnosed with BDD. Other common symptoms include: 

  • Avoiding or constantly checking mirrors 

  • Hiding your features with baggy clothes, makeup or accessories

  • Constantly looking for validation

  • Avoiding social activities

  • Anxiety

  • Constant grooming

‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’

Unlike BDD, Snapchat dysmorphia is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Experts have yet to determine the criteria, symptoms and a standard definition, thus it’s not an official mental health diagnosis. 

Snapchat dysmorphia has been characterized by the need to heavily edit one’s appearance in photos. In severe cases, people may look to cosmetic procedures to reflect these filtered versions presented online. 

Approximately 26% to 40% of people with BDD commonly seek out cosmetic surgery for treatment. Note: Receiving or wanting cosmetic surgery does not mean you have BDD. 

Before, photo editing was left to the professionals and used to make celebrities appear more attractive. Now, it’s available on every digital device, offering a large variety of tools and filters for everyone to use. Social media has repeatedly been linked to body dissatisfaction. With the constant exposure to photos of people with erased flaws, people tend to forget that everyone has imperfections. 

A few signs that your selfie-filtering may be an issue:

  • Spending long amounts of time editing photos of yourself

  • Your edited photos are not accurate representations of yourself

  • You’re preoccupied with small imperfections 

  • You frequently check for flaws or imperfections

  • You’ve lost your sense of reality, who you are vs. your edited self

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Rather than proceeding with the surgery, some physicians have encouraged patients to speak with a therapist or provider about potential risk of BDD. Treatment of BDD may include types of therapy or medication. In some cases, a combination of the two. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment that has proven to be effective for a range of mental health issues, including eating disorders, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and severe mental illness. CBT helps people identify and change negative thought patterns that impact their emotions and behavior.

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