She hates walking past reflective shop windows. Her nose hangs crooked as if sculpted by an artist with a sense of humor. Her eyes are too close together and her straw hair matches the ashen tint of her hollowed face. In the shop window she sees the reflection of the person she does not want to be, but with the perfectly angled photo that person could disappear at any moment.
Stephanie, like many others, suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. She believes that her nose is “repulsive” and that her facial features are ugly and deformed, when in reality she looks quite normal. People with BDD obsess over a flaw that is minimal or nonexistent and cannot control their preoccupation with their appearance. They associate a perceived body defect (such as acne, head size, or balding) with fears of rejection, feelings of low self-esteem, shame, and unworthiness. Stephanie applies makeup often, has a restricted diet, and compares herself with photos on Instagram for hours on end.
We sit on her pink bedspread as she flips her phone towards me and says “See this blond girl looks really perky in that bikini, but I have been chubby since I was a baby and now I am 17 and I still have such crazy love handles. I feel being a guy would be so much easier.”
Just then her phone vibrates and I watch her eyes flicker across the page while the LED screen animates her face. She smiles radiantly and tells me that one of her crushes just commented on her picture.
“My selfie got 60 likes….” She says, but her smile vanishes as she remembers something “But it is not really me, there are all these apps that make me look prettier.”
She tells me about the one-tap makeover apps like Perfect365, VisageLab, PicMonkey, and Facetune. These free apps allow users to enhance certain facial features, remove wrinkles, airbrush their hair, and even reshape their bone structure. Visage Lab claims to be your “beauty laboratory” and allows users to opt for a more “natural” edit which evens out skin tone and blurs imperfections almost unnoticeably. PicMonkey offers more radical body edits and will allow you to nip and tuck, whiten teeth, or generate weight loss in your photos. You would think that most sane people would dismiss these apps as superficial, yet Perfect365 was downloaded a staggering 17 million times.
With the Oxford Dictionary announcing that “Selfie” was the official word of 2013, I cannot help but wonder if self-obsession is claiming new heights. Instagram is now serving as a teenage girl’s self-esteem support system. Those who are lucky enough to be considered photogenic are posting seductive photos to become online mini-celebrities overnight. “Liking” has now become the virtual currency through which some buy themselves self-worth.
Those who consider themselves average, like Stephanie, are left feeling inadequate and self-conscious, doomed to “like” another photo of example and then download an app that helps them create their own idealized persona. They spend twenty more minutes doing makeup and thirty more on PicMonkey enhancing their eyes so large that they look like a Manga anime character. Not only is this false advertising, but it also creates an unrealistic body image that effects how people perceive themselves in everyday life. Stephanie’s first thought is always “what do I look like” and she finds her mind reeling with anxiety-provoking situations— like forgetting to put her extensions in because she thinks they slim out her face. She spends hours trying to achieve the perfect selfie to set the stage for social media stardom.
“I remember the time I cut nearly all my hair off because I thought it would make my cheekbones more defined. My mom cried when she saw what I did and then I told her I wanted to kill myself.” Stephanie says.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder affects 1 in 100 people, usually starting in the pre-teen years and is equally experienced by both males and females. Appearance-related teasing has been known to trigger a pre-existing genetic vulnerability and it is possible the rate of BDD is increasing, as society is flooded with social media standards of perfection. This is a serious mental health issue, as people with BDD will seek unnecessary cosmetic surgery. According to a study published by The National Health Institute, the suicide rate of those with BDD is 45 times higher than that of the general population.
We are living in a time where people care more about what other people think than what they think about themselves. The selfie generates ego stroking for the vain, and self-perception issues for the insecure. The quick-fix editing apps only perpetuate self-loathing. When everyone is trying to fit into the same Hollywood-sized dress they forget one important fact – beauty fades but confidence always remains.