How Snapchat Filters Have Taken the Plastic Surgery World By Storm


It wasn’t that long ago that people would walk into plastic surgery offices around the country with a photo of their favorite celebrity and say, “Give me this.” They wanted a movie star’s nose or a model’s lips. And, of course, that is often still true today. 

In recent years, however, there has been a really interesting development. More and more people are looking to a different person to model their appearance on: themselves! 

How Technology Is Enabling This Shift 

Digital camera technology has come a long way since the first camera appeared on a smartphone. The very first iPhone only had a camera on the back, and it was kind of terrible, even by 2007 standards. But once the technology started to catch up to the demand for selfies, front-facing cameras took off. Today, the camera that is pointing toward you is usually just as good as the one facing away. 

Apps have sprung up to take advantage of this technology, most prominently on Snapchat and Instagram. One of the most popular features of these apps is the ability to put a filter overtop of their photos. In some cases, this could just be a border. In others, it could be something silly, like cat ears. But probably the most popular are filters that digitally alter your appearance, creating an “idealized” version of yourself.

Why Does This Matter to Plastic Surgeons?

It matters because these are the photos that patients are now taking into consultations. They often don’t want to look like celebrities; they want to look like their digitally altered, idealized selves. 

You might be saying, “Well, isn’t that a good thing?” It depends.

First off, digital technology can alter your physical appearance in ways that plastic surgery cannot. Certain alterations that Instagram filters make could be impossible, or unsafe, for plastic surgeons to attempt. For example, most selfies are taken at unnatural angles that can alter facial features. If you tried to duplicate that through plastic surgery, you could end up with very unnatural-looking results. 

Second, the thing about putting a filter on an image is that its effect is instant. Prospective patients might be expecting similar results from their plastic surgeon. This is obviously impossible. Plastic surgery is, well, surgery, and can require extensive recovery time. Patients won’t see their initial results for a few weeks at least, and then perhaps a few months to see their final results. It’s vital, in a consultation, that you set realistic expectations and temper their enthusiasm to make their digitally filtered self a reality. 

Can It Be Dangerous?

Body dysmorphia is a well-understood condition that many plastic surgeons have to navigate on a daily basis. There are patients who obsess about every perceived imperfection or flaw in their appearance. Some experts believe that, due to the popularity of photo filters, that “Snapchat dysmorphia” is on the rise. Imagine not only obsessing about every one of your perceived imperfections, but also having a digital method of eliminating them instantly. Except that those perceived flaws still exist in the real world. It can be a nightmare for them. 

How Do You Handle the Situation?

Just like you do when patients bring in photos of celebrities they want to look like, you have to help them manage their expectations. You need to explain what is possible and what is not. If patients say that they will go to another doctor who can help them, let them go. You can only do what is possible and ethical.

Of course, that’s in extreme cases. If someone comes in with a photo of themselves put through an image filter, and the result is realistic and attainable, then, by all means, help them achieve it! This trend isn’t going away anytime soon, especially as photo-manipulation technology continues to advance. Patients just have to remember that things possible in the digital sphere may not always be possible in the real world.

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