Zoomed in: The webcam as a mirror

Continuously seeing your own face during online meetings is not good for your self-image. Cosmetic surgeons even speak of a new condition: Zoom dysmorphia. Does that really exist? And can you do something about it?

Am I really that pale? And my hair is stupid! Now stay away from it, that’s so vain. Hey, my colleague now asked me something…? At the beginning of the corona crisis, my own reflection on my screen was quite distracting during online meetings. Fortunately, I am now quite successful in ignoring myself stoically – which, incidentally, mainly stems from the fear that other participants in my gaze can see that I am looking at myself – but that self view remains confrontational.

A colleague who meets online much more than I did, also experienced this: “I started to look at myself more negatively and sometimes felt bad about it,” she says. She’s not alone. US plastic surgeons and dermatologists signaled an increased interest – especially among women – in cosmetic treatments with botox and fillers during the pandemic. According to both professions, the cause of this sudden popularity is the explosion in the number of Zoom meetings.

Cosmetic surgeons have also appeared in the Dutch media in recent months who pointed to this effect of continuously looking at yourself during online meetings. Of course, an official term was soon found for it: Zoom dysmorphia. Derived from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a psychiatric disorder of body perception in which functioning in daily life suffers severely from its imagined ugliness.

Vicious circle

Is Zoom dysmorphia a real, new condition or is it mainly a great opportunity for this sector to put itself in the spotlight? “Asking the question is answering it”, responds the Groningen professor Theo Bouman, an expert in the field of BDD, with a laugh. “Such a new term naturally also creates demand: people recognize themselves in it and may then consider such a cosmetic treatment.”

Little is known about this Zoom effect, but in principle the idea behind it is not new, he says. “About seventy percent of people are not completely satisfied with their appearance. We know that dissatisfaction increases when you focus on the parts of the body you’re not happy with,” he explains. And that’s exactly what happens during online meetings: you constantly see your own reflection and compare it with the other faces on your screen. Bouman: “That is very natural and unavoidable, but some people have a stronger tendency to focus primarily on what they are dissatisfied with. Then you end up in a vicious circle of negative thoughts and extra attention for those body parts.”

Repair of feelings

Are botox and fillers the solution? “Well, you are dissatisfied and you have money left over, because everything else has been canceled anyway. Then the choice to insert the needle may be made quickly. While others probably judge you much more positively than you do yourself”, thinks Bouman. “In our profession we speak of the ‘repair of unwanted or negative feelings’.”

No longer distracted by your own reflection? Then switch the self view during online meetings. To do this, right-click on your own screen and select ‘hide self view’.

Ultimately, around eighty to ninety percent of people are satisfied after a visit to the plastic surgeon. “The other ten to twenty percent are suspected of having BDD,” says Bouman. “Then the knife or the needle is not a solution either, because it is not really about the appearance, but about the role it plays in your life. Often these people look above average in good shape.”

Just like in real life

But there is probably an easier and cheaper solution if you find yourself prone to the downward spiral of looking at yourself and negative thoughts: switch off the self view during online meetings, so that you are no longer tempted to look at your own reflection. Before entering the meeting, quickly check that your hair is good and that there are no pieces between your teeth and from then on focus on the other participants and the topic of the meeting. Just like during a physical appointment.


Click on the numbers for the different parts in the IngeZoomd blog series.

Source: Kennislink by www.nemokennislink.nl.

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