Zoom meetings in connection with negative self-image, study claims

Spending more time on virtual platforms could affect people’s self-image and make them rush to hurry for facials that they may not have considered months before they were exposed to a video screen, a new phenomenon called “Zoom Dysmorphia”, according to a study.

In the journal Facial Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Medicine, the authors noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted massively towards remote work and living. People are spending record time on virtual platforms, suggesting these remote trends will continue even as conditions improve.

Zoom has let life go on in an ever-changing world, but it could affect the way individuals see themselves, they said.

The authors found an increase in patients citing their occurrence on Zoom as a reason for seeking care, particularly for acne and wrinkles.

“A recent analysis of Google search trends during the pandemic showed that the terms ‘acne’ and ‘hair loss’ are on the rise in this new virtual reality,” the researchers said. They attributed this trend to the association of acne and hair loss with anxiety and depression, common psychological conditions during quarantine.

“We suspect that the trend is also arising from people constantly watching themselves on video and becoming more aware of their appearance,” said Arianne Shadi Kourosh of Massachusetts General Hospital, USA, and one of the authors of the article.

Before Zoom adopted the metric to rate one’s own appearance, users used selfies and an arsenal of photo-editing apps to create filtered versions of themselves. The influx of people known as “Snapchat dysmorphism” hoping to become more like their processed selves has sparked widespread concern about the potential to trigger body dysmorphic disorders.

The authors found that in 2019, 72 percent of members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery said they saw patients looking for cosmetic procedures to improve their selfies.

In addition, it has been shown that a higher level of engagement in social media correlates with increased body dissatisfaction.

“Unlike the silent and filtered selfies from social media, Zoom shows an unedited version of yourself in motion, a self-expression that very few people see on a daily basis,” said Emmy Graber of the Dermatology Institute in Boston, USA. “This can have drastic effects on body dissatisfaction and desire for cosmetic procedures,” Graber said.

The reason for this critical self-image, the researchers say, is that in real life conversations, people don’t see their faces speak and show emotion, and don’t compare their faces with others side by side the way they do on video calls.

In addition, cameras can distort video quality and produce an inaccurate representation of what it actually looks like.

“One study found that a portrait from 12 inches away increased the perceived nose size by 30 percent compared to a portrait from 5 feet away,” said Shauna M Rice of Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Webcams that inevitably shoot at shorter focal lengths tend to produce an overall rounder face, wider eyes, and a wider nose,” added Rice.

The researchers found that it is important for patients to recognize the limitations of webcams and understand that they are, at best, a flawed representation of reality. To further deconstruct the motivations for this influx of patients in the age of Zoom, the authors turned to the facial feedback hypothesis.

The theory explains that treating sad-appearing wrinkles can reduce depression by making the patient appear less sad to others, which in turn makes them feel better.

“Perhaps there has been an increase lately in patients seeking cosmetic procedures simply because they now see their imperfections on camera every day, or because the wrinkles they see on screen make them appear more depressed to others and themselves feeling more depressed, “added the authors.

“The theory in the context of zoom is particularly interesting because the patient is also the viewer,” they said.

They could feel sad because of the wrinkles they see, which further adversely affects their emotions and creates a dangerous cycle of self-depreciation, the authors said.

This becomes a major concern when an individual is overly preoccupied with real or imaginary defects, they added.


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