Are image editing apps fueling body dysmorphic disorder?

Are image editing apps fueling body dysmorphic disorder?

At times, the way people present themselves on various social media platforms can be an inspiration drawn from their favorite characters in fairytales, which always have a happy ending. In these tales, the characters need just a sip of the magic potion or a wave of the magic wand to achieve the desired looks. In digital context, that magic potion would be image editing apps that help make videos and photos look fairytale-like.

These apps help people put the best foot (face) forward and appear presentable in the digital world. It is like a daily make up for the social media personality. But what happens when one does not want to step out without this make up? How unhealthy are these apps and are they fueling body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in a person suffering from body image and self-esteem issues?

Leading social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are getting increasingly visual, with users leaning heavily towards images and videos. Therefore, vulnerable users are linking their self-worth and self-esteem with their looks. Often these “selfie apps” have a feature of rating and people do not realize that the rating system can have a direct impact on their self-esteem.

BDD patients are already preoccupied with the thoughts of perceived bodily imperfections and are scared of others’ opinions about them and the image correction apps are a physical manifestation of this fear. It is a like a bully constantly feeding negative thoughts – “I could be fairer” or “My nose needs a correction.”

People find it hard to accept their reality

The disappointment one harbors within for not matching up to their own “doctored” images can aggravate the negative thinking patterns associated with BDD. The very fact that a waistline can be reduced in a photograph implies that the real waistline captured in the picture is unsavory, not up to the mark and needs to be reduced. The feeling of elation on sharing the edited images online and getting the “likes” gets shattered on realizing that their edited version is no where near their actual personality. A patient can even shun social interaction simply out of the fear of not matching up to their perfect online image.

It is a bit shocking how various features of these apps perfectly align with the symptoms found in BDD patients.

Symptomatic behaviors of BDD patients How image editing apps align with them
1 An obsession with two or three body parts and camouflaging of the same The unlimited options to correct and beautify almost every part of the body, e.g., blemish removal, lifting of cheekbones, skin brightening, etc.
2 Comparing one’s appearance to others’ The instant comparison of the perfected digital self with one’s real body. The self turns into the ‘other’.



Seeking surgery

An edited image, for instance with lifted cheekbones, is a real-time indicator as to how one would look after the surgery.
4 Checking in a mirror. Spending hours at end brooding about their bodily imperfections and being “stuck in the mirror” scrutinizing. The selfies serve as a digital mirror, where one can constantly identify and obsess about imperfections. An outlet to actually spend hours obsessing and also digitally correcting these imperfections.



Excessive grooming

Excessive grooming (editing) of photographs and feeling upset when someone shares a candid or “as is” picture of them.


6 Excessive exercise Using the edited images as “thinspiration” and physical goals to achieve via diet and exercise.
7 Changing clothes excessively Multiple correction options and a plethora of filters to apply. Changing display pictures excessively is the digital equivalent of changing clothes.

Treatment is possible

An increasing use and dependence on social media platforms can lead to body image issues, especially in adolescents and teens. If unattended, they can lead to disorders such as anxiety, BDD, depression, anorexia and bulimia. A diagnosis of the same can be made only by a trained clinician. Parental guidance and counseling, along with medication, can help in creating a strong recovery environment.

If you or a loved one is suffering from body dysmorphic disorder or any other mental illnesses, contact the Florida Mental Health Helpline to find out about treatment for mental disorders in Florida. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-846-5588 or chat online for further information.

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