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Could "Snapchat Dysmorphia" Be Hurting Your Self-Esteem?

Excessive posting and editing of selfies have been linked with unhappiness.

Source: Cottonbro/Pexels

Selfies and the use of popular "beauty-enhancing" filters and photo editing features have been linked to body dissatisfaction and unhappiness in both men and women of all ages—from children and adolescents to young adults and older. Several studies have shown that taking a selfie and editing the photo with various filters have been linked to negative moods and unhappiness about one's body and face. Furthermore, the more time that one spends editing the photo predicts just how dissatisfied one is with their facial appearance—that means the more you spend perfecting your selfies, the more dissatisfied you may become about your self-image.

Selfies have become a way of life for millions of smartphone users. In 2019, Google reported that its Android devices take 93 million selfies per day. A survey of 18- to-24-year-olds found that every third photo they take is a selfie.

Researchers have even found a link between people using social media photograph filters with more of an acceptance and need for cosmetic surgery as well as lower self-esteem. This phenomenon has become so widespread that dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons are calling this issue "Snapchat dysmorphia." Though Snapchat dysmorphia is not an official diagnosis, there do appear to be cases of body dysmorphic disorder that are associated with spending excessive time on selfies. This disorder is marked by an excessive preoccupation with one or more imagined or minor flaws in one's appearance.

The pressure to post polished selfies on social media can lead people to become more and more dissatisfied with their body and self-image, leading to lower self-esteem. One research study described two potential driving factors that link selfies with body dissatisfaction. One mechanism is the constant temptation to compare oneself to others on social media. A second factor is "self-objectification"—how much individuals start to take on how other people perceive them as the truth. In other words, how much people start to see themselves more and more as an object through other people's eyes and not their own.

Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself to think about whether your selfie practice is hurting or helping your self-esteem:

  • Do you find yourself preoccupied with or spending an excessive amount of time working on selfies including taking, retaking, editing, filtering, and/or curating them?
  • Do you feel like you're taking more time than you would like editing and filtering the selfie in order to get it "just right" for posting?
  • Do you find yourself wanting to cut down on how many selfies you're taking or posting and/or the amount of time you spend editing them?
  • Do you find yourself in a worse or negative mood (e.g., sad, frustrated, angry, annoyed, or down) after the process of editing and/or posting your selfie?
  • Do you find yourself more worried or anxious after posting your selfie and constantly checking the likes and comments afterward? Do you experience "self-esteem attacks" related to your selfies?
  • Do you find yourself constantly comparing yourself with others online, including selfies of celebrities or friends? Do you find yourself closely monitoring how many likes or comments other people's selfies have compared to your own?
  • Do you often worry about how others see you through their eyes? Do you focus on how your selfies will appear to other people?
  • Have you ever felt annoyed by people who bring up how much time you spend taking selfies?
  • Have you ever felt bad or guilty for the amount of time you take working on selfies?

These questions can help you reflect on your selfie practice and whether it might be bringing you down.

The selfie culture and the highly curated nature of self-presentation on social media are likely here to stay, so it is important to try to cultivate a healthy and positive relationship with selfies in order to protect one's self-esteem and body image.

The pressure to post perfect selfies is, in fact, largely coming from within—the reality is that 82 percent of people actually prefer to see other photos instead of selfies. Knowing this might be helpful to relieve the pressure to make selfies perfect for other people and perhaps even use that extra time to focus on activities that support and nourish your self-esteem.

Marlynn Wei, MD, PLLC 2021

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