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The Selfie: Perspectives from Plastic Surgery

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Don’t look so hot in your selfie? Plastic surgeons may have the answer…or at least an explanation in a recent article published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.

Love it or hate it, the selfie is now part of our lives. Almost everyone with a phone has taken one, and everyone with a social media account has probably shared one too.

However, a lot of people are not satisfied with how they look in their selfies. In fact, looking good for a selfie is now being reported as a reason for seeking plastic surgery consultation, with the most common complaint being that their noses are too big.

While some may simply dismiss these as issues of vanity or self-image, one has to ask – is there any truth to this? A research letter published in the March edition of JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery may have the answer, using photographs and basic math.

By taking pictures at different distances and mapping out the geometric axes of facial features and sight lines, researchers suggest a reason why noses do look larger in photographs. In real life, we see things in 3D; when this image is flattened in two dimensions, the lack of depth that results can create distortion. Depth, or nasal projection, can be seen as width instead, creating the illusion of a larger nose. Distance also plays a part, because angles change depending on how far or how near we are to the object in question. This explains why we look best in professionally done portraits: at that scale, usually five feet, any perceived distortion becomes negligible.

Taking the selfie at arm’s length means that this distortion becomes more pronounced. At this distance the nose does appear bigger compared to other facial structures like the cheekbones; this may justify the perception that one’ nose is indeed larger than desired.

The researchers emphasize that while there may be truth to this perception, it does not accurately reflect the actual dimensions of the nose in three dimensions.  Still, with the ever-increasing popularity of the selfie for social media engagement there may come a time when this becomes a legitimate indication. If standards of beauty become judged according to the selfie and not the portrait, who is to say that plastic surgery consult isn’t warranted?

But maybe not just yet—for now, all it may take is a selfie stick, or to let someone else take your picture for you.

Written by Jay Martin, M.D.

Reference: Ward, et al. “Nasal Distortion in Short-Distance Photographs”. Research Letter from JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.  Published online March 1, 2018.  com

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