Distorted features in selfies may rise demand for plastic surgery; Study

By Arya M Nair, Intern Reporter
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Selfie image
Image Courtesy: Pexels

Smartphone “selfies” distort facial features, an effect that may be driving an upsurge in requests for plastic surgery, according to a new study by UT Southwestern researchers.

The findings, reported in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, highlight an unexpected consequence of social media and the need for plastic surgeons to discuss this phenomenon with their patients.

Dr. Bardia Amirlak, M.D., Associate Professor of Plastic Surgery at UT Southwestern explained that patients increasingly use photographs they’ve taken with a smartphone camera to discuss their goals with a plastic surgeon.

There’s a documented relationship between the increase in selfie photographs and an increase in requests for rhinoplasty, or surgery to alter the appearance of the nose, particularly among younger patients. However, because cameras can distort images, especially when photographs are taken at close range, selfies may not reflect an individual’s true appearance, Dr. Amirlak added.

Researchers worked with 30 volunteers, 23 women and seven men. They took three photographs of each person, one each from 12 inches and 18 inches away with a cellphone to simulate selfies taken with a bent or straight arm, and a third from 5 feet with a digital single-lens reflex camera, typically used in plastic surgery clinics. The three images were taken in the same sitting under standard lighting conditions.

Bardia Amirlak
Bardia Amirlak
Associate Professor
Plastic Surgery
UT Southwestern

“Adolescents and young adults are expected to develop a stable sense of self-identity, a neurodevelopmental process related to making comparisons of oneself with others. Unfortunately, selfies emphasize the physical aspects of oneself in making those comparisons and have been associated with lower self-esteem, lower mood, and increased body dissatisfaction. Many changes in our society, including selfies, social media, and isolation from COVID-19, have led to escalating rates of mental health problems in this age group, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders.”

The selfies showed significant distortions. On average, the nose appeared 6.4 percent longer on 12-inch selfies and 4.3 percent longer on 18-inch selfies compared to the standard clinical photograph. There was also a 12 percent decrease in the length of the chin on 12-inch selfies, leading to a substantial 17 percent increase in the ratio of nose-to-chin length.

In addition, selfies made the base of the nose appear wider than the width of the face. When the photos were compared side by side, the participant’s awareness of the differences was reflected in how they rated them.

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