It seems that all the time we've spent staring at ourselves in Zoom during the pandemic is affecting our perception of ourselves.
When plastic surgeons began reopening for business in 2021, they found an increased demand from people newly worried about the shape of their noses, sagging skin in their necks, and the tone and color of their skin. A lot of the patients said they'd become dissatisfied with their looks after months of seeing their face in videoconferencing.
As that story notes, plastic surgeons had since 2015-ish been grappling with "Snapchat dysphoria" — or, people who wanted their real-life faces to look the way they did in Snapchat filters, with huge eyes and sparking skin.
But the effects of videoconferencing on our self-image are different and possibly more widespread, because Zoom and its genre of apps are more incessantly used: A white-collar professional might spend hours a day in videochat. And psychologists have known for decades that people who stare at themselves in a mirror become more self-conscious.
What's worse, videoconferencing apps and laptop/smartphone cameras frequently create facial distortions we're unaware of — so we think we're seeing an unbiased, accurate reflection of our faces, but we're not.
Front-facing cameras distort your image like a "funhouse mirror," she says—they make noses look bigger and eyes look smaller. This effect is exacerbated by proximity to the lens, which is generally nearer to you than a person would ever stand in a real-life conversation. Looking down at a smartphone or laptop camera is the least flattering angle—as anyone from the MySpace generation will tell you, the best camera position is from above, hence the ubiquity of the selfie stick.
We're also used to seeing our own reflection when our faces are relaxed—the concentrated frown (or bored expression) you wear in a Zoom meeting jars with the image of yourself you're used to seeing in the mirror. "Changes in self-perception and anxiety as a result of constant video-conferencing may lead to unnecessary cosmetic procedures, especially in young adults who have had increased exposure to online platforms including videoconferencing, social media, and filters throughout the pandemic," write Kourosh, Channi Silence, and other colleagues.
Caveat: I'm always leery of proclamations that tech has produced a new disorder — so in the medium-term I'd want to see some large-cohort studies bear out what these plastic surgeons are noticing anecdotally. But the technological and psychological mechanisms they're describing here seem plausible.
(Photo courtesy Pixabay)