Snapchat Dysmorphia and Cosmetic Surgery


Apps and digital devices have transformed everyday life… and mostly, it’s been for the better. Certainly, apps make it easier than ever for us to communicate, collaborate, and stay connected to the people we know and love. But there can also be a dark side to digital apps, and in particular to some of the popular social apps like Snapchat and Instagram. In fact, some experts have warned that these programs are providing individuals with an unhealthy view of their own bodies. At Charlotte Plastic Surgery, we’ve seen this trend play out in the form of cosmetic surgery-seekers, eager to look like a more idealized, photo-edited version of themselves.

The trend has been christened Snapchat Dysmorphia. Snapchat, of course, is one of several apps that provide various “filters” and effects, which can be used to doctor selfies and other images. Many Snapchat users like to use these effects just to goof around or have fun with their kids, but others are a little bit more serious about creating a “perfect” profile image for themselves.

While the use of photo filters is not a problem in and of itself, it can become problematic for individuals who find themselves slipping from fun into fantasy. That’s a trend our plastic surgeons are seeing more and more.

What is Snapchat Dysmorphia?

A number of these popular photo-altering apps make it possible for users to smooth out wrinkles and fine lines; to erase blemishes or scars; to change the location of their eyebrows or the proportion of their nose. In short, they allow for a kind of digital face lift.

What we’re seeing more and more of is patients coming to Charlotte Plastic Surgery with images that have been obviously, at times drastically altered. What these patients tell us is, they want to look more like their doctored photos.

Often, the results these patients ask for simply aren’t achievable; they aren’t realistic, not even with significant cosmetic intervention.

To make matters worse, this trend has led to Snapchat dysmorphia, a mental illness in which individuals cannot stop obsessing over a perceived flaw in their physical appearance. To others, this flaw is either minor or non-existent. To the individual, however, it becomes all they can think about.

The bottom line: By distorting reality, these photo apps and filters can give women and men alike a skewed and unhealthy self-image, and a desire to achieve cosmetic improvements that just aren’t viable.

Watch the video below to learn more about this phenomenon from Dr. Theo Nyame of Charlotte Plastic Surgery.

How We Address Snapchat Dysmorphia

We’ve seen enough cases of Snapchat Dysmorphia that we’ve developed some good basic principles for addressing it.

It all starts with education. Often what we’ll do when we receive a patient who wants to look like their Snapchat image is to get out a regular camera, take a standardized photo, and compare it against that heavily filtered or doctored image. We’ll then show the patient how things like lighting or chin and neck position can change the way a person looks… and thus, how any 2-D image is bound to be a little limiting.

For many patients, we’ll also use our Vectra 3-D imaging technology, which allows us to create a much more dynamic and realistic model of what the patient looks like. We can then show them what different cosmetic tweaks would truly look like in real life, not in Snapchat’s fantasy land.

We also know some of the red flags to watch out for. When a patient comes to us and lets us know we’re their sixth or seventh cosmetic consultation, and that previous surgeons haven’t given them the answer they wanted, that’s always a clear indication that their expectations are badly distorted.

Sadly, we’ve also seen that Snapchat Dysmorphia can end badly. Out of desperation, some patients seek cosmetic surgery overseas, away from any kind of clinical accountability or standards of quality. All too often, these individuals return home either highly unsatisfied with the results or facing potentially life-threatening surgical side effects.

For example, we had one patient come to us after she had far too much liposuction performed abroad. She’d collected so much fluid that she was at risk for a lethal infection; we were able to remove this fluid and save her life, but the story provides a cautionary tale about just how far people will go, and how much damage they can do, trying to look like they do on social media.

A Recurring Problem

Unfortunately, these issues probably aren’t going away any time soon. In fact, cosmetic surgeons are probably going to be dealing with cases like these more and more.

The advice we’d give, first and foremost, is to remember that any photographic image is going to give an imperfect, incomplete representation of who you really are. Adding photo effects and filters will only make them more misleading. It’s crucial not to let your self-image hang on a photo, and not to let your plastic surgery aspirations be formed by still photos.

If you are serious about having a procedure done, make sure you gather all the facts. Come visit one of our surgeons for a consultation and allow us to show you some 3-D models that give you a better sense of your true appearance, as well as the potential effects plastic surgery might have.

If you have children who are old enough to use apps like Snapchat, make sure you talk to them regularly, ensuring they keep a healthy understanding of what’s just fun and what’s dangerous fantasy.

Finally, remember that not all cosmetic surgery practices are created equal. By going overseas to have work done, you may encounter far laxer clinical standards, which can ultimately imperil your life or leave you with results you’re not at all satisfied with.

At Charlotte Plastic Surgery, we’re committed to keeping our patients safe, and also to providing natural-looking results that offer some plausible deniability. We’re always happy to counsel patients and to help them set the right expectations. Contact us any time you’d like to sit down and talk about some potential cosmetic procedures.