Have you been on any video conference calls lately, using Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, or something else? And if so, have you been feeling self-conscious about it? If so, you’re not alone.
An article on Slate called out some research on this, which revealed that 39% of people don’t like being on camera, and 59% are more self-conscious on camera than they are in real life.
Additionally, an article in The Washington Post pointed out that video conferencing reveals a lot more about what’s going on around you, whether it’s noisy pets, other people in the background, the state of your house or apartment, and more. And those might be things you’re not comfortable sharing.
For me, a lot of it comes down to old issues with body image, but it took me a while to figure that out.
I’ve been spending a lot of time on Zoom, the video conferencing platform that’s suddenly become in-vogue now that everyone is staying at home. But my use started before that, first with work last summer, and then in January while being on the search committee for a new minister for my church.
When we switched to Zoom for work, we were encouraged to turn our video cameras on so people could see each other during meetings. But one of the first things I did was configure my settings so that my camera was always off when I joined a meeting, so it would only be on if and when I chose to start it. Not that I ever did.
I couldn’t have told you why I did that, except that I didn’t like the idea of having the camera on. A lot of my work meetings are fairly long, and much of the time I’m listening instead of participating, so I often stretch, walk around, or pat the cats when I’m home. I didn’t think others needed to see this.
For the search committee, though, I didn’t have that option. Part of the whole reason for doing video interviews with ministerial candidates was to be face-to-face, or as close to it as possible. Between the interviews, and then the follow-up discussion with the other members on the search committee, each interview lasted a little over two hours.
And I found it utterly exhausting.
For a long time, I couldn’t fully explain why this felt so much harder than in-person meetings, or even telephone calls. Then one of the search committee members sent a graphic someone had made of how people spend their attention on a Zoom call, and it included things like noticing how your neck looks and wishing you’d brushed your hair.
That’s when I realized why I’m having so much trouble with the video calls. It’s because I don’t just see other people – I also see myself.
And even though I feel so much better about myself than I used to, and the way I look, I’m not comfortable looking at my image that much.
Psychology Behind Video Self-Consciousness
I was therefore fascinated to find an article on a video coaching and teaching platform called Sibme that explains some of the reasons why it’s hard for anyone to look at themselves in a video.
The first reason is that it’s a different way of seeing ourselves than we’re used to. Normally, we see ourselves in a mirror, where our reflection is backward. But on video, we see ourselves as others see us. Since our faces aren’t symmetrical, something about the image will feel “off” to us, and we’ll scrutinize it to understand why.
Additionally, such scrutiny typically focuses on any negative things we can find rather than the positive, which doesn’t make us feel very good about ourselves.
There’s also the simple discomfort of feeling like you’re being watched so closely. Admittedly, odds are that unless you’re talking, those on the video calls aren’t as focused on you (they’re probably worried about their own appearance!), but it’s impossible not to feel like you’re being carefully observed. You might worry that others are being as critical of you as you are of yourself.
Plus, there’s the simple fact that most of us aren’t set up with good lighting for video, or to have our cameras aimed at a flattering angle. And unlike in-person meetings, you can see the results of that for yourself.
3 Tips for Feeling Less Self-Conscious
If you’ve been experiencing any of these feelings of self-consciousness or concern about being on video calls, here are some tips to help.
Limit the Amount of Video
I know some people recommend exposure therapy to get comfortable with this, but I think it’s also okay to limit the amount of video exposure you have. Depending on the call, perhaps you can join without your video, or turn it off for some of the meeting. Or see if the meeting needs to happen at all – could it be an email?
This won’t work all the time, but giving yourself some breaks from videos can help.
Focus on Others
It’s easy to get caught up in your own image on video calls, but that’s not the intent of them. The goal is to focus on the other person or people you’re meeting with.
If you’re doing FaceTime or meeting with just one person, this is pretty easy to do because you can reduce your image to something small in the corner. If you’re on a call with a lot of people, though, it’s harder. Still, try to focus on the person speaking, or, if you’re the one speaking, focus on one or two other people and speak to them so you’re less focused on yourself.
This takes practice, but it does make a difference.
Acknowledge the Feeling
Finally, as with so many things, acknowledge what you're feeling. Yes, it's uncomfortable, but it won't be any better by ignoring it. If you can recognize the emotion, though, you can work on accepting it and moving on.
You could also use this as an opportunity to shift your thinking. If you notice something you don’t like, see if you can identify something you do like about your image. Training yourself to look for the positives will also help.
Video Calls are the New Normal
For so many of us, video calls are the new normal, at least for now, so it’s worth doing what you can to feel more comfortable with them. You don’t have to love them, but if you can join a call without a feeling of dread, or without obsessing over how you look on the call. that’s a good start.
Have any tips of your own about handling these types of calls? I’d love to hear them!
And I hope that the video calls and other physical distancing measures help to keep you safe.