Selfie Dysmorphia is real and you should know more

Selfies are an every day phenomenon. You hardly notice the people taking selfies on the street. To get one good picture, you end up taking at least 10 selfies. It’s an integral part of modern life and you don’t think much about it. However, a recent study by The Esthetic Clinics reveals startling psychological effects of taking and posting selfies on social media. The study has indicated a new and worrisome trend called Selfie Dysmorphia.

Selfies and the social media culture

The Esthetic Clinics is India’s renowned nationwide chain of clinics for cosmetic surgery and skincare. It is helmed by Dr Debraj Shome along with Dr Rinky Kapoor. They conducted the first-ever experimental study in India to understand the correlation between the selfie culture and rising demand for aesthetic treatments.

The research spanned 300 people across four cities, wherein The Esthetics Clinics are located, namely, Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad. The candidates were patients who had come in for cosmetic surgery procedures. It was found that the process of taking, altering and posting selfies negatively affects self-esteem and body image perception as well as promotes body dysmorphia.

Renowned facial plastic and facial cosmetic surgeon Dr Shome, Director, The Esthetic Clinics, said, “There is significant negative effect of taking and posting selfies on changes to mood and feelings of physical attractiveness. Patients who took and posted selfies reported feeling more anxious, less confident, and less physically attractive afterwards. Harmful effects of selfies were found even when participants could retake and retouch their selfies. We found that the act of selfies being taken and posted contributes to significant feelings of inadequacy over looks, and a strong desire to change looks through cosmetic surgery and procedures. We as doctors have a duty towards the society. If we don’t take care, India will also become like California in the USA, where a large portion of the population opt for cosmetic surgeries.”

The study’s findings have clinical implications for the prevention and treatment of mental health difficulties, and raise significant concerns about social media use and well-being.

Psychological effects

The study found that people posting selfies untouched without using any filters saw a significant increase in anxiety and decrease in confidence. Those posting untouched and even retouched selfies also experienced a significant decrease in feelings of physical attractiveness. Generally, taking and posting a selfie on social media resulted in lowered mood and worsened self-image. Participants who had the opportunity to retake and modify their selfie before posting it to social media still experienced anxiety. Significantly, majority of people posting selfies wanted to undergo cosmetic surgery and procedures to change their looks.

Men and women between 16–25 years of age spend up to 5 hours per week taking selfies and uploading them to their personal profiles. Dr Kapoor, cosmetic dermatologist and co-founder of The Esthetic Clinics, said, “Social media interactions have become the new normal. The camera in the phone has ironically become the reason why the phone sells! It is well known that selfies are a risk to one’s life and limb, with hundreds of people dying or sustaining injuries while taking selfies. This study has now shown for the first time that selfies have an adverse psychological effect on one’s personality, too. The impact is even more devastating on people with low self-esteem who take to social media to engage in public behaviour with reduced risk of disgrace and social anxiety. We cannot find any upside to the act of taking selfies, and strongly recommend that the Government seriously consider banning front-facing cameras in mobile phones. There is also a need to launch a nationwide campaign to discourage people from taking selfies.”

Adding to this, Dr Shome clarified, “High body dissatisfaction is the primary risk factor for the development of eating disorders and is correlated with low self-esteem and depression. Interventions that aim to diminish or eliminate the harmful effects of social media engagement on one’s psychological makeup need to be validated and implemented. Addiction to phones and selfies may create a mentally unstable next generation.”

Key findings

  • According to the study, 60% men and 65% women showed an increase in anxiety after posting their selfies on social media platforms.
  • Of all the respondents, 61% men and 70% women recorded a decrease in confidence after posting their selfies.
  • There was significant decrease in feelings of physical attractiveness in 61% of the men and 67% of the women, leading to a desire to change looks through cosmetic surgery in 62% men and 65% of the women studied.
  • In Mumbai, 63 % of men and 75% of women showed an increase in levels of anxiety after posting their selfies on social media, and 69% men and 74% women showed a decrease in self-confidence.
  • Their feelings of physical attractiveness also recorded a dip, with 72% men and 74% women feeling dissatisfied with their looks.
  • This led to a desire to change looks through cosmetic surgery in 62% men and 74% women in Mumbai.

The findings about negative psychological impact of selfies on people were the most marked in Delhi, followed by Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata, in that order, both for men and women. “Posting selfies to social media has adverse causal effects on the self-image and mood of young women and men, and could make them more vulnerable to clinical eating, mood swings and anxiety disorders. Frequently taking selfies could be considered a body checking behaviour, such as repeated weighing and recurrent checking of one’s reflection in mirror. This should be considered a risky online health-related behaviour in terms of mental health, especially if it triggers weight and shape dissatisfaction,” Dr Shome concluded.