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5 Ways to Deal with Zoom Dysmorphia

About a year ago, I offered some suggestions about what to do if you’re feeling self-conscious on Zoom, but since then, the side-effects of Zoom have gone to a whole new level. Now some people are experiencing Zoom dysmorphia.

I first heard about this on a segment from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and it’s disturbing. The problem occurs not only with Zoom but also with the way people are portrayed on social media in general, and it can lead people to become fixated on supposed flaws that they see in themselves.

And some people feel so badly about this perception of themselves that they’re seeking surgery to change it.

What causes Zoom or social media dysmorphia?

Before the pandemic, people didn’t look at themselves very often. You might have glimpsed yourself in the mirror in the morning or seen some photos of yourself, but you spent most of the day looking at other people, not yourself.

Now, though, many of us spend lots of time on video conference calls, and it’s all too tempting to stare at the little box with your image in it and critique it. But this has some problems.

One is that the image you see in the little box isn’t always accurate. As one article stated: “Front-facing cameras, typically of computer displays, distort and degrade video quality…. Noses appear wider, eyes appear smaller and farther apart, and natural facial shadows may appear as flat darkened areas.”

Plus, most of us don’t have professional lighting, and what lighting we do have may emphasize wrinkles or bags under our eyes or other things we’re not fond of.

Another problem is that the images posted on social media sometimes have a filter applied. These filters can dramatically change someone’s appearance and may even change it to something that isn’t even close to reality, for example, by making someone’s eyes appear larger. When some people see these enhanced images of others, they suddenly notice their “flaws” even more, without thinking about the fact that they’re not even comparting themselves to a real person.

This all adds up. In one survey, dermatologists reported seeing a 56.7% increase in cosmetic consultations over the past year, and 86% of those patients specifically said video conferencing was the reason they wanted surgery. Those changes were often around people’s necks, facial wrinkles, and dark circles under the eyes.

Tips for Zoom dysmorphia

If you’ve been experiencing some form of Zoom dysmorphia, where you find yourself negatively focused on your appearance on the screen, here are some things to try before surgery.

  1. Sit further away from the camera. The closer you sit to the camera on your phone, tablet, or laptop, the more distorted your image is, and the more likely you are to feel upset about your appearance. Sitting further back helps normalize your appearance.

  2. Improved lighting. If you can find a way to get better lighting, that will also help. This might be changing where you sit or even investing in a professional light to use for video calls.

  3. Reduce the number of self-images you see. Depending on the type of call, you may be able to turn off your camera altogether. In some cases, though, you may want to have your video on, but you can still avoid looking at yourself. Zoom now has a “Hide Self View” option, or you could always put a sticky note over the square you’re in on your screen.

  4. Focus on what you like. Another good approach is to look at yourself in the mirror a few times a day and say something positive about your appearance 10 times. This can help change how you perceive the way you look.

  5. Notice the negative thoughts. Mindfulness can help here, too. After you get off a video call, if you’re feeling some negative emotions, sit down and write them out. This will help you identify the thought patterns you have so you can start reframing them or at least accepting them.

Remember that the screen isn’t the real world

It may be tempting to critique your screen appearance, but it’s important to remember that what you’re seeing isn’t reality. All kinds of things affect how you appear on video calls. And if you think other people look better than you do on social media, bear in mind that those images are often not their reality, either.

Instead, see if you can make small changes to improve your video appearance, but also try to notice and change how you think about things. Being mindful and accepting yourself as you are will go a long way towards making you feel better on Zoom calls, with no surgery involved.

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