Selfie dysmorphia: Beauty with filters

Social networks, unattainable beauty canons and aspirations that derive from them: the cases of the so-called “selfie dysmorphia” are increasing exponentially. That is? Why does it grow?

Selfie dysmorphia, a type of body dysmorphic disorder, is gaining ground by leaps and bounds, putting the spotlight on the poses, filters and false naturalness promoted on social media.

And despite the fact that the distortion of self-perception is not new, a new concept linked to it has emerged: from the Boston Medical Center there is already talk of “selfie dysmorphia”, a body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) that groups a type of patient who seeks to go under the scalpel in order to resemble their retouched photos.

We talk to Mireia Cabero Jounou, the collaborating professor of the Psychology and Education Sciences Studies at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and director of the social initiative “public emotional culture”, to learn more about this widespread phenomenon and the bases on which it is based.

Unreal benchmarks that lead to very real problems

The role of new technologies is key to understanding the place of this disorder in today’s society. In this sense, the study on TDC drawn up by the Catholic University of Chile is noteworthy, which estimates that the first peak of body dysmorphic disorder appears at approximately 16 years of age. All this knowing that, according to 2021 data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), 70% of minors between the ages of 10 and 15 have a mobile phone.

In other words, social interaction through screens is getting earlier and with it the assimilation of unattainable beauty ideals. Because exposure on social networks is nothing more than that: seeing the false perfection and try to achieve it.

Adolescents, victims of the networks

Interaction in networks, as active consumption of these ideals, causes body dysmorphic disorder to reach out in another way. Proximity with celebrities, defined by peer-to-peer communication, means that digital reality, with all that this implies, is assumed to be “believable”.

This importance given today to what is shown on the networks changes everything. Even the priorities: thus, women between the ages of 16 and 25 are estimated to spend up to five hours a week taking, retouching and sharing selfies, having unquestionable damage to self-esteem and self-perception.

Mobile and social media, addiction, selfie dysmorphia

Younger people are therefore an easy target for this type of disorder. And even Mark Zuckerberg himself knows it.

Controversy over the toxicity of networks

Around September 2021, The Wall Street Journal published internal documents which reflected something that the creator of Facebook decided to hide: Instagram worsens the relationship with their body in a third of the teenage population, raising the levels of anxiety and depression.

How does it affect men and women?

According to a study by the University of Oxford (Core Clinical Features of Body Dysmorphic Disorder), BDD manifests itself, as a general rule, in different ways depending on the gender:

In the case of women, the areas that worry the most are

  • nose
  • thighs
  • hips
  • skin

On the other hand, men focus on other areas

  • Hair (alopecia)
  • muscles
  • Genitals

These insecurities and the way they deal with them only lead to frustration.

“The operation is understood as a means of solving the problem when the problem is psychological”, assures Mireia Cabero.

The collaborator with the UOC emphasizes that the operation does not eliminate insecurity. If anything, it increases it.

Symptoms of “selfie dysmorphia”

There are certain behaviors that can connote this psychological disorder. In this way they are distinguished:

  • Need for camouflagewhich manifests itself with the use of make-up, angles, postures that can favor our image
  • comparison with oneself and others
  • conduct of verificationwhich consists of compulsively and insistently looking at oneself in the mirror
  • Toilet and excessive hygiene
  • pinch your skin
  • insecurity
  • Low self-esteem
  • conducts avoidwhat can it be like to cancel appointments in order not to be judged

But why so much concern about the physical?

All for acceptance

The ideal of perfection, according to the economist Daniel S. Hamermeshit is the result of acceptance bias that involves fitting into the ideal of beauty.

This expert coins two terms: “beauty cousin” and “penalty for ugliness” and claims that the most beautiful people receive higher salaries, up to $230,000 more.

On the contrary, the least awarded receive an economic penalty for being so: Iris Bohnet, professor at Harvard, estimates that, in this sense, the salary is up to 13% lower in the case of Western men (in the case of women women the gap is smaller) and up to more than 31% in women from the East, where there is a greater level of demand for the objectification of women in these cultures.

Start with education

Given the situation, the only issue that remains to be addressed is the way in which we can “appease” the appearance of this type of disorder.

Cobero highlights an idea essential to understanding the context: the instantaneity with which we long to have everything. Because, socially speaking, cosmetic operations are quick solutions.

“We are a lazy society: It is much easier to have my extra inches cut off than to learn to develop a healthy self-esteem”, reflects

And, although the new movements “body positive” and the media appearance of new concepts of beauty immediately legitimize ideals outside the normative and become something essential, they are still not enough.

“It’s enough on a cognitive level, we understand it through reflection, but it’s not enough on an emotional level, because we keep wanting to reach this perfection”, he says.

Expert awareness of the media’s influence on society and the role of the processed image in phenomena such as selfie dysmorphia. Because comparing ourselves to what is not real is as harmful as it is impossible. But to find the solution, the answer, once again is the education.

  • In 360 degrees: Educating with a “population perspective” is what carries the most importance for Cabero. And it is that educating only the users would be a mistake, since, whether we like it or not, they are not the only ones influenced by aesthetic ideals.
  • emotional: The education of interiority allows you to have emotional tools to face adversities and build your own critical spirit.
  • Self-concept and self-esteem: built through these previously mentioned emotional tools.

All this, says Cabero, is to avoid the “i’m not worth enough” which is on the lips of the little ones and which is instilled in them directly and indirectly every day. Because if the whole system accompanied them to understand that one is beautiful or valuable because of who someone else is, the rooster would crow.

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