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Snapchat filters and selfie dysmorphia

by Callie Giaccone February 12, 2019
Snapchat filters and selfie dysmorphia

How social media apps that include filters influence us to desire a face different from our own  

TW: Body Dysmorphia

I wake up in the morning and my skin is completely clear. My eyes are swimming pool blue, my cheekbones are higher than Montreal on legalization day and my lashes are longer than Canadian winters. As I smile, glitter sparkles around my head. I close Snapchat and head over to brush my teeth. Staring back at me in the mirror is my face. The face that’s been with me through thick and thin, tears and laughter, and all my meaningful moments. My window to the world. And yet, I’m disappointed.

As social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram infiltrate our daily lives, we are continuously normalizing a computer-generated and artificial version of ourselves, curated specifically to fit westernized beauty norms. Our chance to finally look like Kylie Jenner, Marilyn Monroe or whoever it may be that we aesthetically idolize, is closer now than ever.

Everytime these social media platforms decide to alter our face by creating a filter, I believe they are conveying a message that says our face is wrong. Not only are they getting rid of our pimples, they are taking away our freckles, or our birthmark that our mum loves. We are no longer that badass soccer player with the scar above her eyebrow from the championship match, nor do we look anything like that black and white photo of our grandmother as a teen. These filters change the shape of our eyes, nose, lips, and even facial structure––some even lighten skin. With this, we become a representation of a eurocentric, unrealistic beauty standard, and as soon as our phone dies, so does that version of us. This technology is new, unregulated, and it is pervasive.

With the phenomenon of live filters comes a new term: “snapchat dysmorphia.” This term was coined by Dr. Tijon Esho, a cosmetic doctor from England, according to The Guardian. It stems from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). According to Cambridge University Press, BDD is a “preoccupation with an ‘imagined’ defect in appearance which causes significant distress or impairment in functioning.” Selfie dysmorphia addresses a similar issue, where a person wishes to look like their filtered, carefully angled selfies, rather than their natural appearance.

Our current society has not met the urgency of this rapidly developing situation with adequate concern. The Journal of the American Medical Association states that the motivation to get plastic surgery driven by the desire to look better in selfies has increased by 42 per cent in the last year alone. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reports that there was a 72 per cent increase of patients under the age of 30.

According to CNN, the CEO of Snap Inc., Evan Spiegel, made $638 million last year. Large companies like this are intentionally seeping into our realm and disrupting our sense of self. This technology is addictive because of the way it makes us feel inadequate when we are without it. This is a dangerous cycle. In addition to benefiting social media moguls, it strengthens a market of beauty products, diets, supplements, fashion, and fitness trends consumed by humans spending more money to make themselves feel adequate.

According to HuffPost, the average American woman spends $240 a month on beautification for their face alone. The National Report on Self Esteem reports that 98 per cent of American girls feel pressure from external sources about the way they look. Men are affected by these issues, but women spend far more time and money caught in this cycle of shame and consumption.

Manoush Zomordi, a journalist from New Jersey who works to hold social media accountable for its power, says education is the answer. Understanding the harmful patterns of exploitation that lurk beneath the surface of our technology gives people the agency to make mindful and intentional choices about their use. Snapchat makes money every time we relaunch the app. Every filter we use goes directly into the company’s pockets. The more we can’t show our face without a filter, the richer they become. This breakdown may reframe apps like Snapchat as harmful to our brain chemistry, rather than a fun app you use to talk to your crush while looking like a robotized, unrealistic, dystopian little bunny.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

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