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Doctors Warn About Rise of Patients Seeking Plastic Surgery to Look Like Their Snapchat Selfies

Doctors Warn About Rise of Patients Seeking Plastic Surgery to Look Like Their Snapchat Selfies

A woman takes a "selfie" picture with her cell phone. | (Photo: Unsplash/Ionut Coman Photographer)

Medical professionals are voicing concern about a growing trend of patients seeking cosmetic surgery simply to look more like the filtered pictures they post on social media.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine's Department of Dermatology wrote an article published by a peer-reviewed medical journal this month that touches on the "alarming trend" of people requesting surgical procedures to make their facial structures as appealing as their selfies.

The trend is referred to as "Snapchat dysmorphia" and has been on the incline in recent years with the development of social media filters that incorporate photo-editing technologies similar to ones used to glorify models and celebrities on magazine covers.

Although some filters can be used to smooth skin, enhance lips and whiten teeth in photographs, the report claims that the trend is alarming because "filtered selfies often present an unattainable look and are blurring the line of reality and fantasy for these patients."

The researchers warned that the use of these filters can have an impact on a person's self-esteem and even make a person "feel inadequate for not looking a certain way in the real world."

The researchers note that the filters might also "act as a trigger" that causes the development of body dysmorphic disorder, where a person fixates on a nonexistent or minor flaw in their appearance.

The report comes after a 2017 American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that 55 percent of surgeons reported having patients mention social media pictures as their reason for requesting surgery. That's up from 42 percent who said the same in 2015.

Joseph Casey Guthrie, a psychiatrist with Christian Medical & Dental Associations, told The Christian Post that the increase in patients including selfies as a reason for plastic surgery is "concerning."

"A preoccupation with a perceived flaw in one's physical appearance may be a sign of a condition known as body dysmorphic disorder, particularly if an individual experiences significant distress, which may include seeking surgery to change their appearance to mimic their digital image," he stated. "As adolescents and young children become increasingly enmeshed in social media and digital forms of socialization, their sense of self-worth may become more dependent on how their digital personas are perceived by others."

Guthrie stated that reliance on a filtered appearance "could conceivably produce an increasing preoccupation with physical differences perceived as defects that are not observable or appear slight to others."

"While inquiring about a child or adolescent engagement with social media has become a more consistent element of psychiatric evaluations, this study indicates the need for all physicians to consider these potential problems," he stated. "Parents should be aware of how their children may be using and [are] preoccupied [with] such digital filters and be vigilant in ensuring they receive healthy validation of their self worth that is grounded in reality as they interact with family and friends."

Guthrie stressed that he views these types of surgery as "not medically necessary" because it does not offer healing restoration or palliation.

"Furthermore, it disregards the fact that each individual is uniquely created in the image of God," he added.

"Attempting to surgically distort a person's body to mimic a digital image raises a multitude of ethical concerns and would be contrary to the principles directing physicians to use their time, talents, and training for responsible treatment of the sick and injured. It would be unfortunate for God's unique purpose for a person's life to be replaced with a shallow image of self leading to such a drastic response to a distorted belief."

Dr. Michelle Cretella, president of the conservative American College of Pediatricians, stressed that it is important for parents of girls, especially, to be aware of the trend.

"It has been recognized for decades that girls do internalize unhealthy messages about their bodies and appearance from the media, and cultural expectations generally, especially regarding weight," Cretella wrote in an email. "Parental connectedness fostered by active listening and open communication is key to protecting children from the impact of unhealthy cultural influences including this. When parents practice authoritative parenting in this way, teens are more likely to understand that rules and consequences are for their long term benefit. A weekly family meeting, along with family dinners, can go a long way to fostering strong family connections."

Dr. David Cangello, a plastic surgeon in New York City, told CBS News that surgeons should be more cautious about determining if patients are coming to them for the "right reason" and if they are "mentally healthy enough" to undergo the procedure they are requesting.

"The concern, of course, is when someone who does have a problem with self-image starts to use these things. You want people to know that they are who they are and they should be comfortable with that," Cangello said. "[A]nd while there are certain things we can fix, some of the things that technology can fix in an image isn't realistic to have happen by an actual surgeon or physician."

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