Selfies can lead to plastic surgery by distorting

Cell phone “selfies” distort facial features, an effect that could lead to increased plastic surgery requests, UT Southwestern researchers show in a new study. The findings, reported in Plastic and reconstructive surgeryhighlight an unintended consequence of social media and the need for plastic surgeons to discuss this phenomenon with their patients.

“If young people use selfies as their only guide, they may turn to plastic surgeons to solve problems that don’t exist except in the world of social media,” said study leader Bardia Amirlak, MD. , associate professor of plastic surgery at UT Southwest.

Dr. Amirlak explained that patients are increasingly using photographs they have taken with a smartphone camera to discuss their goals with a plastic surgeon. There is a documented relationship, he added, between increased selfie photography and an increase in requests for rhinoplasty – or surgery to change the appearance of the nose – particularly in younger patients. However, as cameras can distort images, especially when photos are taken at close range, selfies may not reflect an individual’s true appearance.

To investigate how selfies might alter appearance, Dr. Amirlak and his colleagues worked with 30 volunteers: 23 women and seven men. The researchers took three photographs of each person – one at 12 inches and one at 18 inches with a cellphone to simulate selfies taken with a bent or straight arm, and a third at 5 feet with a single-lens DSLR camera , typically used in plastic surgery clinics. All three images were taken in the same session under standard lighting conditions.

Selfies showed significant distortion. On average, the nose appeared 6.4% longer in 12-inch selfies and 4.3% longer in 18-inch selfies compared to standard clinical photography. There was also a 12% decrease in chin length across 12-inch selfies, resulting in a substantial 17% increase in the nose-to-chin length ratio. The selfies also made the base of the nose appear wider in relation to the width of the face. Participants’ awareness of these differences was reflected in how they rated the photos when compared side-by-side.

Carrie McAdams, MD, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and member of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute, noted that these distorted images can have a lasting impact on how people who take selfies see themselves.

“Adolescents and young adults are expected to develop a stable sense of self-identity, a neurodevelopmental process related to comparing oneself with others. Unfortunately, selfies emphasize the physical aspects of the self when making these comparisons and have been linked to low self-esteem, lower mood and increased body dissatisfaction,” she said. “Many changes in our society, including selfies, social media and isolation of COVID-19, have led to increased rates of mental health issues in this age group, including depression, anxiety , substance abuse and eating disorders.”

Since the images were taken with one brand of mobile phone, Dr. Amirlak suggested that future research should investigate the prevalence of this phenomenon across different phones.

“As the popularity of selfie photography increases,” the study authors concluded, “it is crucial to understand how they distort facial features and how patients use them to communicate.”

Other UT Southwestern researchers who contributed to this study include Mark P. Pressler, Mikaela L. Kislevitz, and Justin J. Davis.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes and includes 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Full-time faculty of more than 2,800 are responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and committed to rapidly translating scientific research into new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 117,000 inpatients, over 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 3 million outpatient visits annually.


Warning: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of press releases posted on EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

Comments are closed.