Snapchat Dysmorphia – When a Filter is no longer enough

Has it ever occurred to you that in the world today – with all of it’s technology and “progress” – it is getting harder and harder to maintain our self esteem?  We exist in a culture of perfectionism.  Our children face a barrage of comparison and constant sharing of images.

Social media has created a culture that screams “look at me”.

For some, the pressure that this creates can lead to very real issues with body image and self esteem.

And this “look at me” culture was amplified when the concept of the selfie became popular.  Suddenly it was okay to take a picture of ourselves pouting and share it with the world.  I thought that was a bit odd in all honesty, but I couldn’t see the harm in it unless it became an obsession.

But then things got a bit more advanced and filters were introduced.  We could add bunny ears to our pictures or distort our faces in ‘hilarious’ ways.  Again, all pretty harmless right?

Fast forward to the last couple of years though and now you find that not only can we soften the focus of the image, we can also highlight, conceal, smooth, whiten, brighten and goodness knows what else.  In effect, we have created a world where our actual faces are no longer all we have!

Filter versus reality

I can illustrate my point here using a picture of me – one as I actually am, and the other smoothed, brighter and whitened.  The difference is quite amazing, don’t you think?  (And yes, I realise the labels were entirely unnecessary!)

I can have all of my social media “friends ” believe that I actually look far more youthful and glowing than I do in reality.  But what happens when they meet me in real life?  Would they even recognise me?

And it is this gap between filter and reality that is leading to an increasingly common and deeply frightening issue.

According to Neelam Vashi, Boston University, Massachusetts (quoted in the Odisha Sun Times) “A new phenomenon called Snapchat Dysmorphia has popped up where patients are seeking out surgery to help them appear like the filtered version of themselves”.

“Filtered selfies can make people lose touch with reality, creating the expectation that we are supposed to look perfectly primped all the time,” she added, in the paper published in the journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery Viewpoint.

So there you have it – the filter becomes the reality.  And I cannot begin to explain how frightened and horrified this new reality makes me feel.

I am a 43 year old woman with a 15 year old son.  I will be open with you and admit that seeing my filtered image makes me feel good.  In many ways I prefer it to the original.  I am only human after all!  But I also recognise that the unfiltered me is who I really am.

The dark circles under my eyes that I have so carefully concealed and smoothed are the result of many sleepless nights spent pondering how to grow the business that I am so passionate about and have built with my own bare hands.  My eyes have lines that I have carefully smoothed away with the filter, but those lines are there because I have laughed a lot.  I have cried a lot. I have experienced sadness and joy and everything in between.  Those lines represent every facial expression I have ever pulled.  And every emotion that I have ever felt.  They are proof that I have lived.

Oh…and the glow that you see on my filtered cheeks isn’t real because…well…who’s cheeks actually bloody glow!

My son has a degree of anxiety and much of it is about how he looks.  It is without basis in my opinion, but he feels a pressure to look a certain way.  And he simply cannot achieve it thanks to the combination of genes that his father and I had to offer back in 2002.

Do I find a filter for him?  Do I arrange surgery for him?  Or do I simply encourage him to accept himself for the person that he is?

As a parent, I feel a strong responsibility to raise my child to self acceptance.  As a grown woman, I feel compelled to try and hold on to the reality of who I am and how I look.  Not only because I set the benchmark for my son, but because frankly, the more of us that can be comfortable with who we are, the less crazy the world will become, right?

Now more than ever we must work to install a strong sense of self worth and confidence in ourselves and in those we love.  Self acceptance on a HUGE scale is the only way that the craziness of “Snapchat Dysmorphia” can be avoided.  Our children need our support.  They need a firm direction, a pathway to follow.  It is essential that we allow them to feel that it is okay to be who you are, both in what they hear us say as parents but also in how they see us behave as people.

I would love to hear your thoughts on filters and the impacts it is having on our young people so please drop a comment below or get in touch.  This is a debate that needs to rage – this issue needs to be heard and understood.  We have to stop this slow march towards a false, unfulfilling and hopeless quest for perfection that will leave us all shallow and empty in the end.

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