Your face is not flat. This might seem self-evident, but as people have begun to live richer, more selfie-filled lives online, a peculiar lacuna has formed around this point. In a recent survey of American plastic surgeons, more than 40 percent reported that patients came in asking for surgery to correct features they felt looked bad in photos posted on social media. Boris Paskhover, a surgeon and assistant professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, says that sometimes when he asks potential patients what they’re interested in changing, they pull out their phones instead of looking in a mirror. Often, what they point out is that their noses are too wide. They’ll provide a selfie to prove it.
But selfies do not represent exactly what other people see when they look at you, especially when it comes to the nose. In a new paper in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, Paskhover and colleagues lay out exactly how what is on the screen distorts reality.
The key lies in the fact that your nose is closer to the camera lens than any other part of your face, says Paskhover. In much the same way that an object in the foreground of a photo appears bigger than something in the background, there is a widening effect. This matters more the closer the lens is to the face. To show how this works, the researchers took data from national databases of measurements of facial width, nose width, and other numbers about the geometry of faces and calculated how these numbers would change when a face was viewed at different distances.