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Snapchat Dysmorphia: the impact of Social Media on the Selfie-Generation

The world of social media is dominated by Millenials (those born between 1981 and 1996 and aged 23 to 38 in 2019) and Post-Millenials (those born from 1997 onwards and aged 0 to 22 in 2019). These teenagers and young adults have grown up in an era of great freedom and technological advancement in terms of the internet, digital and mobile phone technology and social media. Because of the widespread use of camera phones and digital enhancement applications, Millenials and Post-Millenials have also come to be known as the Selfie Generation. But the benefits today’s digital world have not come without cost. Along with the good things that technology has given us have also come new problems. One of them is Snapchat Dysmorphia.

What is Snapchat Dysmorphia?

Snapchat Dysmorphia is a colloquial, unofficial and non-medical term that has been coined in recent times to describe a fixation on perceived flaws in one’s physical appearance caused by seeing too many filtered photos of themselves (selfies) on social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram. The types of filtering or alterations to the appearance include enhancements to the skin, facial shape and structure. Often, the apps used to carry out these facial enhancements are uploaded third party apps (e.g. Snow, Meitu, Pitu and B612) which can make significant digital alterations to images of the face and body. The enhanced selfies are then shared on Snapchat, Instagram, and other social media apps. Hence, another term that is often used interchangeably with Snapchat Dysmorphia is Selfie Dysmorphia.

In some cases, this obsession with digitally enhanced versions of themselves leads people to seek to physically change their appearance in order to achieve the enhancement in real life by undergoing plastic surgery or non-surgical aesthetic treatments. During this journey of physical enhancement, the subject constantly uses the app-enhanced pictures of themselves as a reference.

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder and how is it related to Snapchat Dysmorphia?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), is a recognised mental disorder in which the affected person can’t stop thinking about perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance that to others, are minor or not observable. In addition, a person with BDD often feels so ashamed and anxious about their perceived flaws that they tend to avoid many social situations. It is generally a more serious condition than Snapchat Dysmorphia, and can lead to complications like depression, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts or behavior, and substance abuse. BDD is not specifically caused by over-exposure to app enhanced selfies. The causes of BDD are instead believed to be a combination of brain neurochemistry, genetic and other environmental factors.

Based on the above definitions, we can see that Snapchat Dysmorphia and BDD are not exactly same. They have some features in common, but are two different yet mutually non-exclusive conditions, meaning that there are some people who have Snapchat Dysmorphia but not BDD, others who have BDD but not Snapchat Dysmorphia, and yet others who have both. The table below summarizes the key similarities and differences between these two conditions.

⦁ Not a recognized medical condition ⦁ A recognized mental disorder
⦁ Perceived flaws more likely to be observable than in BDD ⦁ Perceived flaws minor or non-existent
⦁ Specifically related to enhanced selfies and social media ⦁ Not specifically caused by the use of enhanced selfies and social media, although it may co-exist with it
⦁ May lead to desire to undergo cosmetic treatments/plastic surgery to look like idealized digitally enhanced image ⦁ May lead to desire to undergo cosmetic treatments/plastic surgery to correct perceived flaws
⦁ Whether to treat or not is the doctor’s judgment call based on assessment of patient’s psychological stability ⦁ Usually treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or medication. If decision is made to proceed with cosmetic treatment/plastic surgery psychologist’s or psychiatrist’s pre-approval should first obtained

Snapchat Dysmorphia and Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgeons, dermatologists and general practitioners who offer non-invasive aesthetic treatments have been noticing an increase in the number of patients seeking changes based on their own digitally enhanced selfies. Now this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, and it does not automatically mean that all these patients are suffering from Snapchat Dysmorphia. They could be regular, sensible, reasonable, stable and grounded people who have simply found that these social media apps are a useful digital tool to help them communicate better with their plastic surgeon and to achieve a clear mutual understanding of what their plastic surgery/aesthetic goals are. Such situations are not unhealthy or wrong. However, when the patient becomes overly obsessive or nitpicking with their digital references and their requests, and the surgeon can sense some underlying psychological instability is when Snapchat Dysmorphia may be present, and caution needs to be exercised. The final decision as to whether to proceed with the procedure(s) is then down to the surgeon’s judgment call based on his assessment of the patient’s state of mind.


The use of enhanced selfies and social media apps is common, but is not necessarily an unhealthy phenomenon. Only when a person is fixated and obsessed with it does it become undesirable, and Snapchat Dysmorphia may then be said to exist.

Snapchat Dysmorphia may be thought of as a mild form of BDD, and plastic surgeons just need to be aware and alert when patients use enhanced selfies to communicate their desires and plastic surgery/aesthetic goals to their surgeons, so that they can mentally screen these patients for psychological instability while they consider their requests.