How Snapchat dysmorphia is warping our beauty ideals

Written by Hayley Hinze and published in House of Wellness on 5th October 2023

While dog ears and flower crowns are cute, social media’s beauty filters can also fuel an unhealthy obsession – sometimes known as Snapchat dysmorphia.

From poreless skin to plump lips, beauty filters bring instant perfection to every shot.

Accessible on almost every social media platform, filters are changing beauty standards and cosmetic surgery expectations, as more attempt to make their filtered features a reality.

What is Snapchat dysmorphia?

Snapchat dysmorphia is a trend where young women, in particular, seek cosmetic surgeries to make their real-life appearances look like filtered photos.

The term was coined by a British cosmetic doctor who noticed more patients supplying their own filtered photos as a reference.

Plastic surgeon Dr Pouria Moradi says these photo references are a tool for managing expectations.

“It allows the patient to show her surgeon what she is after, and makes for open discussion about what is achievable and what is not,” Dr Moradi says.

“There is an abundance of information that when used selectively and with a rational eye, can help both patient and surgeon.”

According to body dysmorphic disorder therapist Dr Toni Pikoos, there’s a link between filter trends and popular cosmetic treatments.

“We see certain filter trends emerge, which are directly linked to available cosmetic procedures,” Dr Pikoos says.

“For example, people might apply a lip filler filter then feel they need an aesthetic procedure to look like that in real life.”

Almost seven million Australians are considering undergoing cosmetic surgery in the next 10 years, and about 45 per cent are doing so to “feel better about themselves”, according to a release by the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery and Medicine.

Are social media filters healthy?

While some filters are harmless fun, Dr Pikoos says beauty filters should be used consciously.

“As (beauty filters) become more advanced, it’s harder to tell whether a filter has been used,” she says.

“When we’re consistently filtering our photos, we get used to seeing this augmented version of ourselves.”

In the long run, this reliance on filters can contribute to body and societal issues.

“It’s common for people to entirely change their appearance using filters – this behaviour increases body anxiety and body shame,” psychologist and BodyMatters director Sarah McMahon says.

“Modifying our appearance to conform to beauty ideals means that rather than deconstructing unrealistic images, we’re reinforcing a message that everyone should look a certain way.”

It’s here where Snapchat dysmorphia and similar behaviours may arise.

“Using filters perpetuates the tendency for us to critically analyse and modify the version of ourselves we show others, with a particular preoccupation with parts of ourselves we consider defective,” Sarah says.

How to have a healthy relationship with social media filters

Dr Pikoos suggests three ways to have a positive relationship with social media:

Set limits on your social media use

Try not to log on when you’re already feeling self-conscious, anxious or flat as social media can amplify these emotions.

have a positive impact on one’s body image.

Follow a mix of creators

Emerging research shows that viewing body-positive or body-neutral content online can have a positive impact on one’s body image.

Be mindful of photo filtering

Balance filtered photos with the posting and sharing of authentic photos of yourself.

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