The images of celebrities on social media offer an altered reality. More simply, celebrity skin is often an illusion, or at it’s worst, a lie - and a harmful one at that. Many people don’t realize the extent to which photos and videos are altered. On top of that, there’s no denying that celebrities have the best resources to alter their appearance. Celebs can see the best derms, plastic surgeons, estheticians, doctors, and attain access to the best prescriptions.
From the outside, this seems totally glamorous, but the pressure to present an altered version of oneself is extraordinarily overwhelming for those within the public eye. But on the other hand, we also have to take into consideration how overwhelming those images are for everyday people. For example, when Cassandra was young, she would look at the Britney Spears album cover and compare herself without realizing that it was an illusion. Cassandra applied makeup to emulate Spears’ aesthetic, but because of her deeply textured skin, it did not feel like she truly could.
Not only did Cassandra’s acne exclude her from beauty standards, but it also caused her to be bullied. So, as most people do, she turned to the media and beauty industry for guidance. But when she sought help, she experienced a culture and society that did not represent, condone, or care to make space for her acne-prone skin. When someone is excluded, especially when they are looking for help, this can seriously impact self-worth and feelings of belonging (Veale, 2015).
When one compares themselves and seeks to be a part of a beauty culture that does not make space for them, this isolation can trigger chronic body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, body dysmorphic symptoms, or intensify BDD itself (Veal, 2015).
Many people will experience body dissatisfaction at some point, but people with body dysmorphic disorder (also known as BDD) believe that their appearance has a defect, and they feel a tremendous amount of shame, preoccupation, and distress around the perceived defect (Veal, 2015). Consequently, their quality of life becomes greatly impacted even if the “flaw” is normal or slight. Furthermore, patients with BBD or BDD symptoms can also suffer from distorted reflections (Veal, 2015).
For example, a person with body dissatisfaction may look at their common acne and say, “I don’t like my acne. I don’t think it looks nice, and I wish it would go away.”
Whereas a person with BDD or symptoms of BDD, may look at common acne and say - “I literally check my face 35 time a day, and when I do, I see enormous boils. Therefore, I do not order food, go outside, or run to the store even though there’s no food in my fridge.” As mentioned before, perceiving a distorted reflection is only a symptom of BDD, but to have the actual condition you must have dysfunction and demonstrate the full criteria (A, B, C, & D) of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder DSM-5.
(DSM-5 is a disorder criteria that mental health professionals use to diagnose patients.)
BDD is a serious psychiatric disorder, but it is largely trivialized and confused with body dissatisfaction which does not cause major distress or interference with life (Ramseyer, 2019). If a patient displays these symptoms, practitioners like plastic surgeons should refer patients for a mental health assessment rather than reinforcing cosmetic surgery as the answer.
It is common for plastic surgery patients to bring in pictures of celebrities and request their features. Perhaps, they’ll say, “I want Reese Witherspoon’s jawline, Kim Kardashian’s nose, or Gigi Hadid’s eyes.” On top of that, they’ll bring in filtered pictures of these celebrities who may have also had work done. The unfortunate part is - when we compare ourselves to filtered images and altered bodies, we can end up deeply distraught with out natural appearance.
It’s like we’re so accustomed to seeing altered images - we’ve come to the point of defining beauty in a way that doesn’t exist. In truth, procedures and social filters can change celebrities’ nose shape, eye shape, lip shape, and even their skin. Nevertheless, people still strive relentlessly to emulate these altered images and false realities. Likewise, chronic body satisfaction and symptoms of BDD may intensify as a result.
However, while social media doesn't cause BDD, it can amplify symptoms and the disorder (Maxwell, 2014). We are constantly scrutinizing and comparing ourselves to images. And over time, the idea that something is wrong with us is either formulated or reinforced. Likewise, many people go to great lengths to “fix themselves" (Maxwell, 2014).
"People with symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder commonly seek cosmetic surgery or procedures in the hope that the appearance of their perceived flaw or flaws can improve" (Maxwell, 2014). "Body dysmorphia patients are known to harm or affect their bodily integrity because of the profound desires to modify the body" (Maxwell, 2014). "People with body dysmorphic disorder often present to dermatologists and plastic surgeons because of they are repetitively fixating on an aspect of their body" (Maxwell, 2014).
Because of mental and physical health risks like these, when you’re a celebrity, you have such a profound impact on culture and young women’s bodies and self-esteem. There is a level of responsibility and ethicality attached to having that influence. And although it’s difficult to understand what it’s like to be a celebrity, and we shouldn’t blame celebrities for our insecurities, it’s true that misleading images and making “this is all-natural” claims are damaging. While we should be empathetic towards the pressures celebrities endure, we can also use that empathy to be realistic about their altered images.
Maxwell, Morgan. Brevard, Joshua. Abrams, Jasmine, Belgrave, Faye. “What’s Skin Color Got
to do With It? Skin Color, Skin Color Satisfaction, Racial Identity, and Internalized Racism Among African American College Students. Journal of Black Psychology. 2014.
Ramseyer, Virginia. Danforth, Laura. Landor, Antoinette. Pevenhouse-Pfeiffer, Daniell. “Toward
an Understanding of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Body Image among Women. National Association of Social Workers. 2019.
Veale, David. “Body dysmorphic disorder.” British Medical Journal, Vol. 350. June 2015.