Social media is a major part of many people’s lives. Sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat have millions of active users worldwide. Social media connects people from all across the globe. It is so popular that people from different generations have found enjoyment in it, from Boomers sharing out of date memes on Facebook to Millennials uploading their vacation photos to Instagram.
For better or worse, social media has pretty much taken over the world.
The pictures and videos that we see on social media have oftentimes been altered in some way, using things like photoshop, filters, or other editing devices. Platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and even Tik-Tok are known for their wacky and fun features, like the infamous dog filter that gives users fluffy ears and a long tongue.
While these filters may seem cute and harmless, they can actually be detrimental to a person’s well being over time. That is because the constant use of filters and editing to alter a person’s physical features can contribute to that person experiencing body dysmorphia.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia, also called body dysmorphic disorder or BDD, is often described as having an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. People who experience body dysmorphia have a preoccupation with one of more of their physical features.
Whatever flaw they perceive in themselves may be minor or imagined, but the person may have little or no actual insight into the inaccuracy of their perceptions. It’s common for people with this disorder to engage in repetitive body checking, such as staring at themselves in mirrors or frequently checking their weight on a scale. This behavior is compulsive and the way of thinking is unhealthy.
Some people may not grasp how serious BDD, as a condition, is in reality. It can affect people’s mental and physical health as well as their day to day life. You can’t just tell a person who experiences this disorder that they look good. They simply won’t believe you. Even if they are 99% fine, they will obsess over that 1% until it consumes them. If body dysmorphic disorder is left untreated or goes unaddressed, it can lead to serious problems. The person with BDD might experience increased anxiety and depression, or develop an eating disorder. In extreme cases, untreated BDD could cause suicidal ideations or attempts.
Body dysmorphic disorder may result from a combination of different issues. The causes of BDD can be unclear, but many health care professionals agree that some of the main factors that lead to this disorder include genetic predisposition and neurobiological factors such as malfunctioning of serotonin in the brain. Personality traits such as perfectionism and life experiences such as maltreatment or past trauma can also be causes of BDD.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “certain factors can increase the risk of developing or triggering body dysmorphic disorder.” These factors include having another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, and societal pressure or expectations of beauty.
Of course, social media plays a big part when it comes to enforcing beauty standards. Think about an average Instagram model or Tik-Tok influencer. The most famous ones are all conventionally attractive and adhere to Western standards of beauty. Pretty faces, slim waists, and flawless skin. Their looks seem unattainable and, most of the time, they are. A lot of pictures on social media sites have been heavily edited to make the subject look better. Older people probably have an easier time noticing when a photo has been altered.
Young teenagers, however, may not see this. All they see when they check their social media feed is a beautiful person who they wished they looked like. Being exposed to this day in and day out can cause them to have negative views of their own bodies.
Social Media Effects
While social media may not cause BDD, it can certainly amplify the condition. Seeing someone online looking perfect can cause one to become painfully aware of their own flaws, both real or imagined. This can lead people to become uncomfortable with the way they naturally look.
This is where all those “fun” Snapchat filters come in. They don’t just give you goofy dog ears. Those filters can also alter the way your face looks. The changes are subtle, but still noticeable. The jawline is sharper and the skin is clearer. People get so used to using these filters that they begin to think there’s something wrong with their face if they take a photo without using them.
Younger people tend to use social media more on average. According to a Mental Health America article on BDD “teenagers are particularly prone to developing BDD, and if “ideals” of appearance are presented to them through social media, this can trigger their development of the illness.” It doesn’t stop there, though. In recent years there has been a trend of people seeking plastic surgery in order to look more like they do in Snapchat filters.
Plastic surgery, however, will not fix the issue. It will only provide a temporary sense of relief. Sooner or later those anxieties and obsessions about appearance will return, most likely worse than they were before. Body dysmorphic disorder causes people to have such a warped view of their own body to the extent of making it difficult for them to live normally.
Ways to Manage BDD
While there isn’t a cure for body dysmorphic disorder, there are several ways to seek treatment for it. A lot of the time treatment for BDD includes a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. There’s currently no medication that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to specifically treat BDD, but medication used to treat other mental illnesses, such as depression have proven to be effective.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help to break existing thought patterns and learn new habits and ways of thinking. Another way to help treat BDD is to monitor and avoid triggering experiences. This can mean taking a much needed break from social media and unplugging from the world for a while.
Like any other mental illness, body dysmorphia can be hard to manage. It takes a lot of hard work and a strong will to unlearn the thoughts and cease the behaviors that go along with BDD. But with the added support of loved ones and professionals, it can be done. Seeking help from a professional may seem scary, but it can do a lot of good. Try taking things one day at time. You can start with limiting time spent on social media or try saying positive affirmation in the mirror. The small steps you take in the beginning will pay off in the long run.
Below is a list of resources and websites where you can learn more about BDD