Body dysmorphia: how apps shaped our faces | Behavior

Yes, it is already December 2020 – we have spent almost a year interacting with friends and co-workers through video conference applications and social networks. It is likely that we have never been so in touch with our own image before – and have not been so critical of it.

The virtual world flooded what we call “real”, and brought us face to face with those most uncomfortable details of our appearance, accentuating body dysmorphia disorders.

Body dysmorphia has an intimate relationship with technology

The subject is not new – some years ago we suffered a kind of epidemic of disorders linked to mental health due to the excessive use of applications and social networks.

Since 2017, cases of body dysmorphia associated with apps like Snapchat and Instagram have gained notoriety. Also called “imaginary ugliness syndrome”, this condition is a mental illness that leads the patient to obsessively focus on a defect in his own appearance – be it real or not.

According to a study by the American Academy of Facial Plastics and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) conducted in 2017 with its members, 55% of surgeons reported that the motivation of patients who sought aesthetic procedures was to look better in selfies – against just 13% in 2016.

With filters that imitate aesthetic procedures, users of these applications (and so many others) had fun achieving miraculous results in photos and videos. So much so that many people out there wondered, at some point, “why doesn’t God give the snake a wing, huh ?!”.

Recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has taken on even greater proportions. If, on the one hand, technology was a great ally during quarantine, on the other, it contributed to undermine our self-esteem.

People suffering from bodily dysmorphia have difficulty accepting their own image (Image: Min An / Pexels)

Exposed to cameras during work meetings or at online parties with friends and family, this time we had to face our own appearance, day after day. According to AAFPRS, the “new normal” has resulted in daily pressure to achieve a particular virtual lifestyle, which has contributed to a demand for cosmetic surgery never before seen now that the isolation protocols are more “flexible”.

Mark M. Hamilton, chairman of the organization’s Public Information Committee, the area most commonly noticed when we are calling via Zoom is the neck. “This hyper-focus on the neck has led to a huge increase in interest in facial lifting, with eyelid surgery being secondary,” he explained.

Is everyone using a filter?

Resources to soften the skin and other resources to apply aesthetic “improvements” to our bodies reached video calls. You do not need to appear with dark circles in the work meeting if you do not want to, just find the appropriate filter in Zoom and voilà! Everything settled – at least, momentarily.

However, in the absence of face-to-face contact, what has become real is what we see every day – the virtual. At the same time, distinguishing reality with so many contrivances may have become more difficult.

Videoconferences via Zoom (Image: Anna Shvets / Pexels)

Videoconferences via Zoom (Image: Anna Shvets / Pexels)

I talked to psychologist Fabíola Luciano, a specialist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at the University of São Paulo – USP, to understand how patients have been impacted in this scenario.

With the increase in screen hours in general, people, especially those who are more sensitive to the subject, can increase the comparison in relation to the lives of others, “buying” that perfect image of the Instagram photo and feeling that their own life is a failure. In addition we have consequences such as isolation, feeling of non-belonging, stress, irritation and increased symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Social networks play a very important role in bodily dysmorphia, as well as in other psychological disorders, such as Anxiety and Depression. This universe sells an image that is not real, moments and wonderful people with their incredible lives. Nobody lives in full happiness all the time, we all have our vulnerabilities in relation to self body image, but social networks make it seem that this is abnormal and that the only “loser” person is the one who is on the other side of the screen seeing life from everyone.

Fabíola also stresses that the networks only accentuate pre-existing factors in individuals. For the psychologist, only exposure alone would not be enough for the onset of the disorder.

For people with greater sensitivity, this can be extremely complicated and trigger a diagnosis or enhance an existing condition. During the treatment, among other things, this perfectionist aspect and the cognitive distortions generated by it are discussed.

And off-screen? Brazil is the country that most performs plastic surgeries

But what about when we’re out of cameras and screens? The pandemic, hopefully, will not last forever. After so much time getting used to these features, when filters can no longer hide that unwanted detail in our body during a party or work meeting, what will we do?

Many people have thought about this and resorted to surgical procedures for aesthetic purposes. The Brazilian Society of Plastic Surgery said it still does not have official data on the impact of the pandemic on the aesthetic surgery sector in the country, but according to the president of the São Paulo regional office (SBCP-SP), Dr. Felipe Coutinho, there is a perception of increased demand for such procedures.

The incorporation of videoconferencing in daily life has influenced the demands of patients in plastic surgery offices. At the beginning of the pandemic, people were still adapting to the tools for virtual meetings. At that moment, it was enough to appear and hold the meeting.

Then, the look gradually became more critical about the way people appeared in videoconferences. In this process, we learned to better deal with lighting, camera placement and other tools for virtual meetings.

At the same time, we started to notice more of the face, because it is in evidence. Wrinkles, the eyelid region, the “Chinese mustache” (facial expression next to the lips), everything gained more attention. The use of masks also influenced people to observe their eyes more.

Dr. Felipe Coutinho, president of SBCP-SP

The behavior is hardly surprising: according to the latest data from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), referring to the year 2018, Brazil was the leading country in the number of aesthetic plastic surgeries performed, with almost 1 , 5 million occurrences. There were also 969 thousand non-surgical aesthetic procedures.

Psychologist Fabíola Luciano makes some alerts for those seeking surgery for suffering from body dysmorphia:

When there is a diagnosis of dysmorphia, the ideal is for the patient to be accompanied by a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist. The idea is to understand the symptoms and the environmental and psychological factors that keep them in order to help the patient in a new look at himself.

Patients with this diagnosis who resort to plastic surgery not only contribute to the perpetuation of symptoms, but also have a high chance of failure, because generally, the person’s perception is exaggerated about their appearance or body part. Consequently, he will have an extremely high and unrealistic expectation, as well as his self-perception. It is a combination that cannot work.

The share of responsibility of technology companies

Aware of the scenario and the impact they can have on their users’ routines, large technology companies already include measures related to mental health and well-being in their policies.

One example is Instagram: in October 2019, the social network announced that it would remove filters related to plastic surgery from Stories. If you used the app, you may have already seen those effects that simulated marking lines and even bruises resulting from surgical procedures on users’ faces.

Well, these filters with an explicit incentive to plastic surgery have been banned. However, as it is easy to see, other effects, such as those that thin the nose, enlarge the lips or smooth out expression lines and wrinkles are still highly used in the network (and I speak as a regular user!).

Instagram Reels and IGTV (Image: Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash)

Instagram (Image: Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash)

Wanted by Tecnoblog, Instagram clarified that these “milder” effects that do not explicitly incite aesthetic procedures are allowed.

We heard from our community of creators that facial alteration is used predominantly to create artistic, surreal and fantasy effects and is widely available on other platforms. So, in August of this year, we again allowed people to create and share facial alteration effects on Instagram, but they are not available to be discovered in our Gallery.

This means that, in theory, you can only find this type of filter when following a creator or “stealing” the effect of a friend in the application.

Instagram says that the social network is “a space to inspire people to explore their interests and discover new passions. We do not want Instagram to be a competitive environment, but rather a positive space, where people feel free to express themselves in an authentic, safe and creative way, and have a voice ”.

Among the measures to preserve the well-being of its users, the platform also highlighted the advertising policies that since 2019 have restricted and removed organic posts that promote miraculous products for weight loss or plastic surgery – the network claims it has never allowed advertising with these ends.

Lives also increased the pressure for images

Lives also increased the pressure for “perfect” images on Instagram (Image: cottonbro / Pexels)

In October 2020, it was Google’s turn to take a stand on the subject. The company changed its stance towards camera filters on Android after the results of an internal survey that revealed that 70% of all photos stored in the Photos app were taken with the front camera – with a total of more than 24 billion selfies, most of them with touch-ups (filters) applied automatically.

At the time of the announcement, Google said that after examining the study and talking to mental health experts, it decided to warn users more clearly when a filter is active in the operating system’s camera app. The initiative starts with Pixel 5 and 4a cell phones – which arrive on the market without factory-activated camera filters – and are expected to be extended to more models in the near future.

In a statement, the company explained that “these standard filters can discreetly define a standard of beauty that some people compare to.”

Balance is the keyword …

But we know that it is difficult to find it.

To mitigate the effects that networks can have on your mental health, it is important to be aware of behavioral patterns and your routine.

With social life and work forcibly operating in digital, it is difficult to find the limits, but as Bruno De Blasi wisely summarized, disconnecting is also necessary.

In addition to seeking psychological treatment, you can follow some golden tips for using technology in a healthier way, such as limiting application time and finding solutions that help you meditate and relax.

And, remember: we are all in this together.

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