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As a craniofacial and pediatric plastic surgeon, my routine is to come up with different ways of making children and adolescents look and feel better, to facilitate their social insertion. I am a big advocate of beauty and elegance but, first and foremost, health.
There are well-known diagnoses, such as body dysmorphic disorder, in which a person’s slight flaw is perceived as a significant and prominent problem, often causing severe emotional distress.
But now, more than ever, I have been very worried about the increasing number of mental health problems in the pediatric population and truly believe they are driven by the constant dissatisfaction of not measuring up to the impossible ideals of beauty.
With the widespread use of social media, the expectations are very high and unrealistic. We are dealing with manipulated images of perfect bodies, faces and lives. Kids, especially adolescents, want to look and be like the “filtered” posts they see on the internet, phone apps or magazine models. And there is a lot of frustration when this can’t be fulfilled. There is even a new phenomenon, “Snapchat dysmorphia,” used to describe this new wave of unsatisfied patients looking for the manipulated photo look.
What can we do about it? It is very important to analyze the contents of the available media our children are exposed to and talk extensively about differences and diversity. We can start by sharing our own discoveries every day, followed by open ended questions about what interesting things they saw and learned. After that exchange, it is easier to educate children about the myths and misperceptions from social media.
There is no intention to change their minds about wanting to look good or have certain things, just to understand there is a limit to be respected. Even though medicine has advanced and we are capable of changing the outside in many cases, our inner beauty continues to be what is most important, and we have to deliver this message to our kids. Dialogue is the most useful tool to convey this idea and encourage self-acceptance. If not possible, there are available tools in the community, through pediatricians or specialists, to help those dealing with dissatisfaction or anxiety.
The worst thing we can do is ignore early signs of behavior disturbances. It can progress and get out of control rapidly. Living the real life is priceless and we shouldn’t let our children miss the magical years of their lives looking for and trying to be something that doesn’t exist.