Crystal is a 26-year-old single mum and medical assistant from San Diego, California. She has always loved sending selfies back and forth to her friends, and would often pause before sending her own. “I couldn’t help noticing the way the Snapchat filter changed my face,” she says. “It enhanced my chin, contoured my cheekbones, and straightened out my nose, which was something I had always been self-conscious about.”
Crystal, pictured above, sometimes managed to get a similar look with make-up, but she didn’t have time to do that every day. So, in a bid to look like her flower crown filter, she decided have fillers injected into her nose and under her eyes.
“People don’t realise that I’ve had anything done; they just think I lost weight or something,” says Crystal, who says she’s now happy to send #nofilter Snaps.
Crystal is one of a rising number of young people turning to cosmetic procedures to look more like their selfies. According to new research from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, 55% of facial plastic surgeons in 2017 saw patients who wanted surgery to help them look better in selfies, compared to just 13% in 2013. The study also found that 56% of surgeons surveyed saw an increase in clients under the age of 30.
People have long come to cosmetic surgeons bearing photos of celebrities they want to look like. Now, they’re bringing in photos of themselves. According to San Francisco-based surgeon, Dr David Mabrie, this is an improvement.
“I prefer working off a real photo of someone, because they have a sense of what they might look like with fillers or Botox,” says Dr Mabrie, whom Crystal saw. “They don’t have an unrealistic expectation that they’re going magically to transform into Kylie Jenner.”
Nonetheless, certain requests are still impossible. “Some filters make eyes wider, which can’t be done with surgery,” he says. That's why a proper consultation is key. "It's important that your surgeon is realistic with you, and doesn't just go down a laundry list of what you want," he adds.
Cosmetic enhancements are increasingly seen as normal, with celebrities and reality TV stars openly having procedures. That, combined with the fact that social media seems to negatively impact self-esteem - a 2015 report from the Office for National Statistics found that 27% of teens who engage with social media for more than three hours a day have symptoms of mental health issues – may explain the emergence of ‘Snapchat dysmorphia’.
The term was coined by Dr Tijion Esho, a cosmetic doctor at The Esho Clinic UK. It isn't a formal condition, but it is a phenomenon that's worrying mental health practitioners and cosmetic surgeons.
“We now see photos of ourselves daily via the social platforms we use, which arguably makes us more critical of ourselves," explains Dr Esho, who has turned away some patients who seem overly obsessed with looking like their filtered photos. "Patients using pictures of celebrities or Snapchat filtered versions of themselves as reference points is okay.
"The danger is when this is not just a reference point, but it becomes how the patient sees themselves, or the patient wants to look exactly like that image. Not only is this unrealistic, it's potentially a sign of underlying problems with the patient concerned.
"Further questions should be asked to screen for any element of body dysmorphia. Treating patients that do show those red flags is not only unethical, but also detrimental to the patient, as they need something that no needle or scalpel can ever provide."
Kacie, 29, is one woman opting for cosmetic procedures to look more like her filtered selfies. Her biggest concern was how her boyfriend would feel seeing her in person after receiving her selfies all day (she sends about 50 Snaps a day in total, and updates her Instagram stories around 10 to 15 times a day).
“I would do flower crowns or the doggy nose, and I would look so cute in the photos. Then I would look at myself in the mirror, and think, ‘Ugh, this isn’t the person he is seeing on his screen all day,'" says Kacie. “I would get frustrated when I looked in the mirror, feeling like I didn’t look like the person I was putting into the world.
“With Snapchat filters, I felt I was beautiful. I just needed a push to get there.”
She saw a plastic surgeon in her home city of New York, and ended up getting lip injections and dermal fillers on her chin and cheeks, at a cost of about £1,200. (According to the NHS, the average cost of fillers in the UK is £150 to £300 per session, not including consultation fees.) Kacie plans to do this every year or so, as fillers only last 6 to 18 months.
“I feel, it’s my face, it’s my money, and if the overall result is me being more confident and happier with who I am, then what’s the harm?” she says.
Andrew, 31, from Newcastle, had an aesthetic consultation after a bad breakup. As he tried to get back on the dating scene, he was dogged by the feeling that he was being passed over on dating apps. "I had always wanted a more chiseled looking jaw and cheeks," he says.
"For me, it was triggered by seeing so many other guys on the app, where I was like, 'Well, how can I look more like them?' I definitely think constantly taking selfies and playing with filters made me more aware of how I didn't measure up, too."
Ultimately, Andrew didn't go through with the procedures, but he says he'd still consider in the future.
Kent-based aesthetic physician Dr Shirin Lakhani says there is real potential for harm in this phenomenon. She has already seen an uptick in patients seeking corrections after getting enhancements undertaken in order to look like their best selfies. “Social media and celebrities bring these procedures into the limelight," she says. "More and more people are aware of these procedures who may not necessarily be able to afford them – and they’re finding practitioners who will do it for the lowest cost." She warns that, "These are medical procedures.”
Complications are rare, but they are real: Botox carries the risk of breathing difficulties and blurred vision; possible complications from fillers include infection and 'filler migration', in which the substance moves from the injection site in unpredictable ways, potentially blocking blood vessels.
That's what's keeping Annabelle, 26, from Edinburgh, from going beyond lip fillers. "I've been doing them every six months, and every time I wonder, 'Should I do more?' It's tempting, especially when I can 'see' how I'd look, thanks to the filter on Snap or Insta. But, ultimately, I worry about doing too much or getting carried away. I feel like you can always tell who's had work done, but not necessarily because they look attractive."
Psychologist Ellen Kenner urges people to think twice before scheduling appointments for fillers - especially if they’re doing it for an immediate life fix.
“Genuine self-esteem is about reliance on your own mind to achieve your personal values,” she says. “That requires honesty, independent thinking, and the conviction that you are capable and worthy of achieving your own happiness.”
Even a real-life glowing flower crown can't give you that kind of confidence.
Information and support for mental health issues is available from these organisations.