Modern-Day Face Dysmorphia

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When Michael Jackson was looking at the Man in the Mirror, I’m not sure he was talking about face dysmorphia — but he could have been. After all, he’s one of the original influencers who showed people how dramatically one could change their face.

Looking back at the young pop star compared to the face of the man who died, the American psychodrama of Michael Jackson is shocking.

I'm pretty sure this "before" photo is more like a "middle." Vogue isn't exactly the source for natural beauty anyway.

The women I pass on the street everyday must agree, because their eyebrows are suspended with painted disbelief.

Thick, dark brows throw shade on ridiculously extended eyelashes. Two older women next to me at the gym yesterday were smearing on eye crayons to give their eye skin color. And then there are modern lips.

I can’t imagine paying someone to inject me in the lip numerous times with chemicals to create a plumpness that doesn’t exist in nature. Yet, I see society’s expectations of feminine beauty. It seems lips have to be a certain shape to attract a man. Yes, men must be very particular about what lips they want to have on their body parts. Right.

I even have a client who sells artificial intelligence skin scanners. Medical spas sit a client down for a consultation, takes a picture of their face, and then proceeds to show them all the things wrong with it. It sounds like a gruesome sorority initiation to me. No thanks!

So, how exactly is my face supposed to look? I guess it depends on your culture, heritage, ethnicity, society, norms, expectations, age, race, gender, preferences, and an endless number of other things. I know one universal truth these days: You better be ready for your closeup at all times.

Everyone is a supermodel, right? I can only presume this because everyone is taking selfies. Really, everyone. Please comment if you do not take selfies, and I’m going to guess that you have righteous stance against it … only underscoring how common this phenomenon is.

Twenty years ago, we didn’t all have cameras in our pockets. Today, of course, every person over the age of 8 not only has a camera in their pocket but likely in their hand, which is held up to their face. I have stopped counting the number of people I pass in zombie walks, staring at their phones and totally unaware of anyone else on the sidewalk.

I also have a camera in my pocket. I like taking pictures too — although I tend to save my camera for pretty sunsets.

I remember when selfies were first a thing. I was one of those people who would stop people taking selfies and ask if they would like to have me take their picture. Of course, any picture composed and shot by a third person who knows even the slightest about photography is better than the up-the-nose shot. Still, it didn’t take long for enough people to decline my offer before I realized that people like that angle.

Even more so, I see full-scale photo shoots taking place. I live in a picturesque beach town, so it’s cool. I get the importance of vacation photos, and quick snaps with friends is a great way to capture life. That’s not really what I’m talking about here. I see friends taking numerous shots as their buddy strikes pose after pose, looking dejected and gaunt just like super-models.

People don’t even need cameras. On my way to and from the gym, there are apartments with reflective glass. Everyone who passes checks themselves out. Everyone is a modern-day Narcissus. We’re all wannabe supermodels.

Is this a real woman or is it AI?

You’re either a celebrity or you’re nobody.

Of course, body dysmorphia has long been a common phenomenon. All these impossibly skinny women certainly impress me — or at least the Meta avatar of me seems to think. Soon after joining a group focused on the health benefits of fasting, I started to notice the suggested Reels on Facebook all encouraging me to lose weight, eat high-protein snacks, and feel confident in certain outfits. Lots of people have FIVE (outstretched palm to camera) THINGS I HAD TO KNOW.

Few are talking to me about face dysmorphia, however. It is in the DSM-5? it should be. As I described in my travel memoir One-Way Ticket (why yes, the audiobook is out, thanks so much for asking!), I often witnessed Koreans stroking their cheeks in the metro as they surely considered a new plastic surgery. The skincare game there was on a whole other level.

So, I know I’m not the only one who looks in the mirror and wonders, really? Is this what a face is supposed to be shaped like? I mean, human faces are kind of weird, really. The nose, the skin, pores — you know thateyes are simply extensions of the brain that stick out of your skull, right? It’s so romantic!

Add in trends with eyebrows, eyelashes, lips, and even holes in your face that you put their yourself, and I just don’t know what to think about myself. When I was a teenager, I discovered black liquid eyeliner. It looks great on me. I wore it every day in an arthouse kind of way. One day, as I was removing my makeup at the mirror, I thought, “I don’t really look right without eye liner.” Thankfully, I was self-aware enough even at that young age to recognize how mentally unhealthy that thought was.

And yet, the idea that unnatural is “better” is an easy conclusion when we see all the supermodels everywhere, all the time, posing and looking fabulous. Are some people really that perfect-looking? I guess so. But most of us look kind of strange, really.

Look, it's a "pretty" woman. Insert uncomfortable silence here.

I value nature, so I embrace a very natural look. I rarely wear makeup, and I try to use healthy foods and clean water to improve the health. Healthy is the most beautiful, right? That … or Kim Kardashian. Because today with the endless photos and societal pressures for perfection, fake may win over natural beauty.