Yes, selfies do make your nose look bigger

Get a whiff of this! Selfies act as "portable funhouse mirrors" that distort noses, a new study says. And more people are going under the knife because of it.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
  • Third place film critic, 2021 LA Press Club National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards
Leslie Katz
3 min read

Does this selfie make my nose look big? Why, yes it does, according to a new study. A full 30 percent bigger than it would look if you didn't have a phone up in your mug.

Enlarge Image

No, that's not his real nose. It's his selfie nose. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Despite how easy it is to snap those all-pervasive self portraits, the short distance from the camera combines with the wide-angle lens to puff the proboscis, explains the research, published Thursday in the journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.

Fortunately, the study, titled "Nasal Distortion in Short-Distance Photographs: The Selfie Effect," inspires more culturally pertinent insights than "your schnoz looks giant on Instagram." The bigger takeaway? Such skewed self-portraits are leading more people to request nose jobs for better selfies, plastic surgeons report.

"Young adults are constantly taking selfies to post to social media and think those images are representative of how they really look, which can have an impact on their emotional state," Boris Paskhover, a head and neck surgeon and Rutgers professor and one of the study's co-authors, said in a statement. "I want them to realize that when they take a selfie they are in essence looking into a portable funhouse mirror."

In 2017, 55 percent of facial plastic surgeons reported seeing patients who want to look better in selfies, according to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. That marked an increase of 13 percent from the prior year.  

Enlarge Image

The nose knows. Or does it? A portrait at 12 inches (left) and at 5 feet. 

Boris Paskhover

The JAMA study breaks down selfie face with help from Stanford University's Department of Computer Science. To quantify just how much selfies increase nose size, research fellow Ohad Fried came up with a mathematical model based on the average head and facial feature measurements obtained from a group of racially and ethnically diverse participants. Fried has studied selfie distortion before, helping to develop a photo-editing tool that automatically adjusts camera distance to remove the fallout of getting in too close.

Fried's latest model presented the face as a collection of parallel planes perpendicular to the main camera axis. It then calculated the changes to the ratio between the nose's breadth and the width between the two cheekbones at various camera distances.

The model revealed that a standard selfie, taken about 12 inches (30 centimeters) from the face makes the nasal base look about 30 percent wider and the nasal tip appear 7 percent wider than if the photo had been snapped at the more forgiving pre-selfie portrait distance of 5 feet (15 meters).  

Of course, Sniffer Selfie Syndrome (™) is just one way social media has messed with our already fragile egos.

Studies have also shown a correlation between heavy social media use and ills like jealousy and depression, though it remains unclear whether people predisposed to depression are inclined to spend more time on social media, or if the inevitable comparisons to images of other people's carefully curated lives causes the blues.

That people are concerned with the way they look in selfies comes as no surprise. Last year, the first large-scale study of selfies confirmed that users of at least one social platform, Instagram, most often post selfies to show off how fashionable, good-looking and all around awesome they are.

"Just like on other social media channels, people project an identity that promotes their wealth, health and physical attractiveness," said Julia Deeb-Swihart, the lead author of that study. "It's a way to prove what is true in your life, or at least what you want people to believe is true."

Should you want people to believe you have a smaller nose, you might want to start by googling "selfie tips." It's far easier than plastic surgery. 

Tech Culture: From film and television to social media and games, here's your place for the lighter side of tech.

Technically Literate: Original works of short fiction with unique perspectives on tech, exclusively on CNET.