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'You see yourself differently': More teens seeking cosmetic surgery to look like filters

In this era of selfies, filters and social media, doctors are seeing more teens seeking cosmetic surgery.

With just one swipe, you can change your appearance instantly using a filter on social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

Some teenagers wouldn't think twice of posting a photo online without one.

“You see yourself differently," said 18-year-old Ari Kirsch. "Your skin might look clearer or maybe it slims your face a little bit more. They have filters on Snapchat that do that. Then you think to yourself, 'I look better with my face slimmer' or 'I look better with longer eyelashes or whatever these filters are giving you.'"

“It definitely can take a toll on your self-confidence if you think you’re supposed to look a certain way that you don’t look," continued Ari.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons said more than 220,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on 13- to 19-year-olds in 2017.

It’s a small number compared to overall cosmetic procedures, but some say it’s a growing number.

“Yes, absolutely,” said plastic surgeon Dr. Ronald Downs of The Centre, P.C. “Facial fillers, lip injections, laser treatments to the face -- that is growing enormously in the young population patient. This is what the population is exposed to.”

It's prompting a new concern for doctors called “Snapchat dysmorphia,” which blurs the line between fantasy and reality.

“When you have someone who comes in who is very proportionate, very attractive but wants to look like a selfie filter...now the red flag is up and we have a problem," said Downs. "We have to really discuss with them what their expectations are and what their goals are.”

The American Medical Association reports a link between increased use of social media and increased levels of anxiety and depression.

“It’s already difficult when you compare what you see as your real self, or sometimes even a poor version of your real self if you don’t have good self-esteem, to highly fake, doctored, intentional versions -- snapshots of another individual,” said Saint Mary’s College professor Alissa Russell, who specializes in developmental psychology.

Russell says that comparison can risk feelings of inadequacy, poor self-worth, and poor body image.

But she also says that parents can help. A good way to do that is by getting involved in social media yourself.

“Recognize that you’re not going to be able to remove social media from their lives," said Russell. "Honestly, it’s important to them. Rather than ignore it or demonize it, actually engage the teen from a place of warmth and support and open mindedness."

That’s why Ari and some of her friends now make a conscious effort to post some photos that are not filtered.

“We need people to tell us it's okay to be you," said Ari. "It's okay to be real. It's okay not to use all these filters on yourself, and it's okay not to get plastic surgery or want to get plastic surgery just to change your appearance when you shouldn't even have to change it in the first place."

Russel says another big way you can help is to encourage your child to get involved in activities outside of social media like clubs, sports or hobbies. She says it will help them develop the kind of self-esteem that comes from working hard to achieve success, and that's the kind that helps you persevere when things are difficult.

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Prof. Russell encourages parents to watch their teens for excessive use of social media, even when engaged in activities outside of social media. If they show excessive concern about their appearance and discuss negative self image or feelings of inadequacy.

She says as a parent gets involved in social media, become knowledgeable about the sites, see for yourself what your teen is seeing, and engage them.

"When a teen feels comfortable talking to their parent about the things they experience on social media, then the parent can help them navigate that experience, to help them process it, think more clearly about it, can help them make better choices online, as well," explained Russell.

"The reality is they don't have the fully developed sense of identity or self regulation or the ability to think about the long term consequences, to weigh risks and rewards," said Russell.

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