But is it enough?

Social media platform, Instagram has banned and removed all camera filters which enhance user’s features to look like they’ve had some form of plastic surgery. The decision was made in order to help and prevent mental health and body image issues in young men and women who use the app on a regular basis. Now, I’m all here for a fun filter that can be lightheartedly enjoyed among friends (or alone – we’ve all had a private giggle to over a funny looking version of our face), but this news was unquestionably some of the best I’d heard in a while.

In 2018 a phenomenon, appropriately labelled ‘snapchat dysmorphia’, unfortunately became apparent in the world of plastic surgery. Snapchat dysmorphia described a surge in young men and women who were undergoing plastic surgery operations in order to look like the images they had taken of themselves using snapchat filters. Researchers and plastic surgeons claimed that instead of bringing in photos of celebrities that patients are aiming to look like, they’re now bringing in images of their filtered selves which have been taken using these ‘perfecting’ edits. That, to me, is pretty damn sad. I wanted to find out more about these kind of occurrences, as well as get a professional opinion on whether this ban will help in the long run or if we’re already too deep in this filter pandemic. I spoke to Expert Surgeon and International Aesthetic Lecturer, Dr. Jonquille Chantrey, to find out more.

Social media has a reputation for contributing to the damaged mental health of it’s users in more ways than one. In fact, there are definitely a handful of other factors that make using the likes of Instagram potentially dangerous, and an entirely unpleasant place to be for some people. Let’s see. There’s the pressure to always look ‘good’, but in a different way to just wanting to dress up nicely and put on your favourite lipstick when you go out for dinner. It’s more of a, everyone-is-going-to-see-and-judge-my-appearance-so-I-need-to-look-exceptionally-attractive, kind of way.

It also forces people to want to look like they’re having all the fun, with all their friends, all the time. It’s even become an ‘issue’ for people to re-wear the same outfit more than once if there hasn’t been a significant period of time in between posts – which is quite frankly, preposterous and absolutely unattainable for the majority of Instagram’s users. Why would you even buy an item of clothing that you love and only wear it once for a single photo? It doesn’t make sense. So, yes, aside from the filters, social media has caused some awful glorification of what our lives should look like, while that is arguably out of their control, Instagram are finally fixing the one thing that they can regulate.

When the social media giant announced earlier this year that it was removing any triggering filters from the platform, it was (better late than never, I digress) a huge step in the right direction. I asked Dr. Chantrey how she felt regarding the news. “I agree with the ban for many reasons. As a health educator I strongly believe in the power of informed education, facts over fiction so people can make smarter choices.” She went on to say that, “anything that could give a false reality and expectations that is so easily accessible to the public could be damaging to so many, and particularly vulnerable people.”

I have openly expressed my feelings towards how social media, and particularly these filters, can affect young people. Now, I wanted to know whether my feelings were justified with the experiences of a speicalist. Dr. Chantrey has been running her own business for nine years and been seeing patients for over 15, and said that, “there has certainly been an increase in young people presenting for treatment.” Going back to the concept of ‘Snapchat dismorphia’, she told me that she’s had patients edit their photos in front of her to explain how they want to look.

I’ve had patients alter their photos incredibly adeptly in front of me to show how they want to look.”

Dr. Jonquille Chantrey

There is data that backs my assumptions up: “it is becoming more common, as evidenced by a study that asked surgeons how many of their patients were having procedures to improve their selfies. In 2015 it was 42% and by 2017 this had risen to 55%.” Dr. Chantrey told me that studies have proved that cosmetic surgery can help to improve body image and self-esteem, however I strongly believe that those issues were very different before the days of social media. She explained how surgery and other procedures are now seen as a quick and simple solution instead of addressing the initial issues directly. “These are medical procedures that have risks associated with them, including physical, aesthetic and mental. These factors need to be taken into account one on one with a trained clinician rather than regarded as an easily accessible fix.”

The reality that these filters can have a detrimental effect on the mental health of young people was the main reason behind the ban on them. Dr. Chantrey explained the consequences of using them to the extent of damage. “Filters can create a clash between the idealised self and the actual self and this can magnify depression and anxiety. A study published in 2018 found 5–15% of persons who seek cosmetic treatments are believed to suffer with BDD (Body Dismorphia Disorder).”

My main question is, has too much damage already been done? While removing the filters from the app is a step in the right direction, but it’s physically impossible to reverse any previous harm and the long-term effects could be eternal. Dr. Chantrey said she believes it could have normalised these procedures, which I completely agree with. But how do we go back from that? Who’s in control of overseeing that cosmetic surgery is happening for more reasons than a camera filter? It seems that we’ve found ourselves in a predicament that might be hard to scramble out of.

There are things that can be done to help, and in Dr. Chantrey’s opinion there are three main groups of people who hold responsibility. “For me the groups that hold responsibility are the clinicians, celebrities/influencers and the manufacturers.” She explained how these select people could change things:

Some clinicians could improve their ethics considerably and put patients first over profit. More celebrities and influencers should admit what they’ve had done and those that do should take care as to how they communicate that to their vulnerable followers. Manufacturers should increase research of the impact of their products on mental health.”

Dr. Jonquille Chantrey

Realistically, they are three minute revisions of the way that some people work and they could make an enormous difference to the mentality and lives of young adults. I believe that Instagram’s decision of removing the filters will make a difference, but a lot more still needs to be done to make social media a mentally safe environment. Dr. Chantrey’s experiences and opinions have enhanced my feelings towards the immediate availability of cosmetic procedures, and that there seems to be no middle-ground psychological treatment. It’s been normalised to go under the knife instead of calling for help which is truly sad. We live in a world where so many look up to the likes of the Kardashian’s, but instead of being inspired by them, they aspire to be them, and sometimes quite literally.

Understandably, it’s not always a straightforward journey, but if we’re heading in the direction of self-love (not just a bubble bath and face mask kind of self-love) where embracing what we see as ‘flaws’ then we’re on the right track. One way I’ve changed the way that I’ve used social media is by unfollowing anyone who made me feel bad about myself. Sometimes it could be something has petty as the fact that someone who I didn’t even know posted a series of impeccable bikini pictures that made me feel inadequate, and I immediately broke ties with anyone who promoted anything that was a fast-track weight loss fad or that ‘skinny’ was the way forward. Rather than following the latest influencer who makes me think I need to spend money I don’t have on clothes that I don’t need, I’ve followed artists, writers, musicians and any other accounts that inspire me to do something other than want to make myself look different, and I’m finding Instagram a much better place to be.

A first step towards a mental-health friendly internet has been taken, so let’s make sure we keep moving forward.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight studies and encourage conversation. They are for informational purposes only. Although this article features advice from professionals, we are not medically trained to offer any further advice, and it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied on for specific medical advice. If you are experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety and/or depression, please reach out to a medical practitioner for help. If you need extra help, Mind CharityThe Mental Health Foundation and Samaritans all offer immediate help at any time.

Feature image: MIC