I have been using social media for as long as I can remember. However, when it came to taking a selfie, I could guarantee you that half of my pictures had a filter on them. Using Snapchat’s iconic dog filter to photo editing apps like Facetune, I realized that the pictures I took looked nothing like me. I started to question myself and developed low self-esteem. I often found myself asking others, “does this picture look like the real me?” And so, after months of self-reflection, I decided to stop using filters on any picture I posted online. Upon my decision, I also started to research the relation between using filters and mental health disorders. I found that people using filters are likely to have a distorted perception of themselves, making them more likely to engage in surgical procedures. I was also surprised when I found that social media filters can essentially do a lot of harm to our body image and make us more vulnerable to developing Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition that causes a person to have consistent thoughts about a “perceived defect.” For example, people with BDD are consumed by their appearance and frequently check in with their body image, such as continuously looking at themselves in a mirror. BDD can also cause significant distress and induce emotions such as anxiousness and embarrassment, leading them to seek cosmetic surgery as a “solution” to that perceived defect. Statistics show that “over 350,000 Canadians are estimated to suffer from BDD. Specific populations: students (2 percent to 13.1 percent); clients of cosmetic surgery clinics (6 percent to 20 percent). Rates of suicidal ideation (57.8 percent) and suicide attempts (2.6 percent).” With these concerning numbers, it’s also unknown what causes BDD. While some researchers suggest it could be due to environmental influences such as trauma and abuse, others have said that it could be genetics.
How Social Media Filters Can Contribute to Body Dysmorphia?
On the other hand, a new term called “Snapchat Dysmorphia” has been brought into recent discussions. While people who suffer from low self-esteem and issues relating to body image may already be susceptible to BDD, using filters can also “trigger and lead” to BDD. For example, if someone heavily uses filters, they get to see a version of themselves without any of these “defects.” I’ve personally experienced this myself and loved how I looked without a pore in sight nor any blemishes. However, people may want these filtered images of themselves to be a permanent change in some cases. For example, four doctors from the Boston School of Medicine reported that “…patients bring in edited versions of their faces created with the retouching app Facetune or Instagram or Snapchat filters, showing fuller lips, bigger eyes, and a thinner nose,” which they reported are unattainable to get, even with surgery.
Photo Editing Apps and Unrealistic Standards of Beauty
Aside from social media filters, there is also a use of photo editing apps like Facetune. It is an app where you can edit your facial features, making your nose smaller and lips looking bigger. Facetune distorts other parts of your body, such as your waist and chest. However, posting edited pictures that get many likes causes people to believe that changing a specific feature gains more desirability and eventually start to internalize that changing that part of themselves is more beautiful.
So, from social media filters to photo editing apps, what can we do to promote body positivity and prevent mental health issues from arising? How can we influence and empower women and men to accept their flaws rather than using cosmetic surgery as a “solution”?
It is important to educate each other and bring light on issues regarding social media use and distance ourselves from beauty standards that aren’t attainable. Embracing our true selves begins by understanding that our reality doesn’t revolve online or using social media filters and we should all make it the new normal to be able to post a picture without a filter.