Rhinoplasty in the age of the Digital Social Identity

In the past few years, I’ve noticed an increasing concern among many patients about how they look in photographs. In some cases, young patients in particular seem more concerned about their appearance in photos than how they look in person.   This is not surprising, given how easily photos are now taken and shared.  Also, with the rise of social media, our digital identity is more important than ever in the way we interact with others.  But while the motivation is very understandable, putting too much emphasis in photos, especially selfies, can negatively impact one’s perceptions of their appearance.  In particular, there are effects of the selfie type of photo which tends to distort the appearance of the nose.

The way I see this play out most commonly is the perception that one’s nose is wider than it really is.  This issue is the difference in how we see a nose in person as compared to in a photo.  In real life, we see a nose from the front view based on light and shadow.  In most situations, light is above us.  This light creates highlights on the front of the nose (bridge and tip) and shadows on the sides.  The position of the shadows helps us interpret nasal width.  In photos, light tends to occupy more space resulting in the shadows sitting wider to the side, which creates an appearance of greater width.  This can vary with lighting, angle, and lens but selfie photos in particular, especially in bright conditions, tend to make the nose look much wider.

I have found this to be sometimes confusing for patients.  I’ve had individuals concerned that their noses look big in photos, but looking together in the mirror, we find that the nose looks optimal!  I think it’s helpful to remember that we are more than just our photos, no matter how important our digital identities.  This is true for life in general, but especially relevant to rhinoplasty patients!