Body Dysmorphia and the Looming Weight of Social Media
By Claire Yuan, Copy Editor
With more than 200,000 cases diagnosed in the United States each year, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a common mental health disorder that is often overlooked. People with BDD often find themselves obsessing over a perceived flaw in their physical appearance which is oftentimes minor or imagined altogether. As a result, affected individuals often spend hours trying to “fix” their appearance, constantly checking the mirror and seeking reassurance. This obsessive behavior and the continual perception of a flaw can cause significant distress, impacting a person’s daily life and ability to function.
Symptoms of BDD include constantly trying to fix one’s own appearance, having a strong belief that some physical defect makes you ugly, comparing one’s own appearance to others’, having perfectionist tendencies, avoiding social situations, seeking cosmetic procedures with little resulting satisfaction.
Though shame and embarrassment can prevent many from seeking treatment for their BDD, the disorder doesn’t tend to get better on its own. Left untreated, BDD can get worse over time, leading to other mental health disorders such as anxiety, severe depression, and even suicidal tendencies. Other complications like substance misuse and eating disorders are also associated with BDD. In addition, as the patient continues pursuing cosmetic procedures but remains unsatisfied, medical bills can build up and cause financial strain.
Especially with the rapid rise of social media and the culture it has birthed, the image of the “perfect body” has intensified, worsening BDD. While social media alone doesn’t cause BDD, it can amplify the disorder and its symptoms. With photo-editing software and the popularity of “perfect” influencers, social media can present unattainable beauty standards that people nonetheless measure themselves against. As New York plastic surgeon Matthew Schulman said, “patients have been coming in with Snapchat filtered selfies to show what they want done to their body.” Especially for teenagers who are more susceptible to insecurity and depression, the pressures of social media can be difficult to manage, leading to a flare up of conditions like BDD, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Though this situation is still of rising concern, some social media platforms have begun to take notice and action. For example, the popular social media platform Instagram announced that they would be banning all augmented reality filters that simulated plastic surgery, saying that the ban is targeted at improving mental wellbeing. A spokesman said, “We’re re-evaluating our policies — we want our filters to be a positive experience for people.”
To combat the negative influences of social media, many medical professionals also recommend cutting screen time, distancing oneself from the toxic and unrealistic expectations set by edited images, filters, and cosmetic procedures. When using social media, it is also important for people to understand the often false nature of the content they’re consuming so as to lessen the burden of unrealistic expectations. Beyond social media, it is also important to surround oneself with people who are supportive and not critical of your appearance.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with body dysmorphic behaviors, consult a medical professional about potential treatments. BDD is typically treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. Left alone, BDD can be incredibly intrusive upon normal life, affecting your ability to go about your days normally.