‘Social media dysmorphia’: blurring the lines between the real and the filtered



We still live in a world that emphasises thinness, despite the rise of body positive and self-love initiatives. Your skin is poreless, your nose seems tiny, your lips are lush, and you have a doe-eyed appearance, and you've never looked better. You're all set to share your photo with the world.


But the problem is: is this really you?


We've entered the era of selfie perfection, with filters on social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, flattering lighting, precise positions, and editing apps that may make you appear like a leaner version of yourself. Recently, we've been staring in the mirror a lot more—the mirror of our smartphones. Over the last several years, as our lives have shifted to our screens, we've become increasingly self-conscious of our faces. And with this, it could be said that social media and our phones have invaded our real lives.


An intrinsic need to compare


Comparing ourselves to ourselves?


People are spending more time on social media than ever before. In fact, we spend 145 minutes every day on it globally. Instagram filters, which were first popularised by Snapchat and debuted in 2018, have grown increasingly popular and in accordance with the aesthetic that can be summed up in one word: Kardashian. This implies that, even at times of purported authenticity, one may use a filter to create their 'ideal' self. People have long been retouching images of themselves in an attempt to achieve perfection, and magazines have done so since their existence. But we're not only comparing ourselves to superstars these days; we're also comparing ourselves to a homogenised recreation of our friends and acquaintances, and maybe most horrifyingly - ourselves.


We've probably all heard that phrase before: don’t compare yourself to others. Simple to say, but probably more difficult to put into practice. So, what happens when the comparison shifts to a flawless-skinned, sculpted chin, and plump-lipped version of yourself? We aren't measuring ourselves against a live, breathing ideal anymore. What we get instead is a digitised painted translation. With the use of Instagram and Snapchat filters there is no need to conduct plastic surgery or spend hours in the gym to get that perfect body. You can get that ‘perfect’ look in an instant. As we are constantly exposed to the image of the ‘ideal’ self.


Furthermore, beauty filters make people look at life through a rose-tinted lens where they want to be perfect 24/7; according to data from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), 55% of facial plastic surgeons say patients have requested cosmetic procedures to look better on social media. Constantly looking at non-existed perfectly edited digital images triggers body dysmorphic disorder, as people become fixated on imagined defects in their appearance.


“The more time people spend on social media, the more their brains are being affected by the content they are exposing themselves to. For some, this means it encourages them to view their own, natural appearance as being unacceptable,” - Patrick J. Byrne

Childhood perception


From what I can remember, I was around 10 years old when strangers and people around me, my family members started to point out my facial features ‘big nose’, which may not be seen as a big deal for them and they mean it in a good way. However, as I kept growing, year by year, it has gotten deeper into my head, and I started to see it as my flaw and something ‘ugly’ about myself which was damaging to my mental health and self-confidence, as I thought that when people first meet me - they would criticise my face, adding to my list of insecurities in my teenage years.


Reality check


In truth, it's all too easy to get into these vicious loops of comparison, and the pressure to be and portray the 'best' version of ourselves on and offline, as long as beauty and youth are power, and we worship them in this way; as long as women are supposed to be as lovely to look at as possible. The true toxicity is the structures in place that mandate these expectations and make us feel like we have to live up to them, not the filters or the plastic surgery.


And there are millions of young children who have grown up thinking filtered photos are normal. This leads them to believe natural body changes including acne are not normal. We need to think about what kind of 'reality' these filters are influencing. Is this 'reality' the genuine, 'true-to-yourself' version of yourself that we are constantly taught to 'love' and 'embrace' like an infirm relative? The question is it the job of social media companies like Instagram to intervene, to decide where reality stops and imagination starts, to enforce regulations that discriminate between innocuous fun and dangerous, dysmorphia-inducing content? Or should politicians step in and take responsibility for it? That dialogue will definitely continue, but we must find a way to admit and appreciate our limitations and flaws while doing so.