Zoom Dysmorphia & You: Are Online Meetings making you compulsive?

Commuting to workplaces carries a high risk in the COVID-19 pandemic, thus switching to virtual platforms was seen as a panacea in times of crisis. Considering the advancement of technology only existing from the last half-century, studies on the impact of pandemics in relation to computerized technology are the first of their kind.


The rapid development in technology and communication has proved to be a blessing, which has offered us the possibility to connect from anywhere, anytime, and in any rhythm. However, spending inordinate hours of the day on virtual platforms, with video conferencing as a means of working, learning, and events like meetings, funerals, weddings, etc. Individuals stare at their video reflection, often for hours a day, scrutinizing a distorted image on the screen and developing an unsettling self- image and negative self-perception.


This elucidates a new problem called ‘Zoom dysmorphia’ (by a Dermatologist named Shadi Kourosh, 2020), where patients seek cosmetic procedures to improve their appearance on video calls. Similar to this, ‘Snapchat dysmorphia’ wherein people develop cognitive dissonance with their real self as it does not resemble their filtered or edited self, thus, requesting procedures to resemble their digital image. The term was coined by the cosmetic doctor Tijion Esho, founder of the Esho clinics in London and Newcastle. Alarmingly, this has caused concern for its potential to trigger or worsen as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD; Rajanala et al., 2018).


The upsurge in Zoom Dysmorphia during the COVID 19 pandemic


Humans have not evolved to see their own faces this often. Compulsively, looking at their 2D blurred reflection in motion causes rejection sensitivity and social anxiety. Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rise in Cosmetic Surgeries, which may be attributed to Zoom Dysmorphia. The demand for rhinoplasty surgery has gone up by 78%, with the demand for a facelift, eye lift, and neck lift also up 69, 65, and 58% respectively. (Meeson, 2020)




Another like, Another click: Analyzing a sudden surge in Zoom Dysmorphia


Throughout the 21st century, the rise in the use of Video-Conferencing has increased significantly, with a 140% increase from 2005 to before the pandemic in 2019, and this the figure has skyrocketed since 2019 (Scott, 2020), as people essentially try and live their whole lives from the confined space of their home, with the internet as their main connection to the rest of their work and social community. Social media has allowed life to go on in an ever-changing world, but affecting the way individuals view themselves.


The number of followers on social media is positively correlated with the self-esteem of the individual. This view is supported by a social psychological concept of ‘the looking-glass self’ (1902) proposed by Charles Horton Cooley, in which people evaluate themselves based on how others see them. Today, when virtuality is perceived as a new reality and social media is the unit of measurement to evaluate one’s self-esteem. Celebrities and Instagram influencers undergoing cosmetic surgery and hordes of photo editing apps play a negative role.


The surge of individuals wanting to look more like their edited selves has caused widespread concern for its potential to trigger body dysmorphic disorder. In 2019, 72% of American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery members reported seeing patients seeking cosmetic procedures to improve their selfies (Kugler, 2020). In addition, higher levels of engagement on social media have been shown to correlate with increased body dissatisfaction. Unlike the sharp and filtered selfies of social media, Zoom displays an unedited version of oneself in motion, comparatively blur and dark due to the intrinsic properties of the technology being used, the image is somewhat distorted (Ward et al., 2018). This has drastic effects on body dissatisfaction and desire to seek cosmetic procedures.


You & Your Webcam- The New Toxic Relation


In real-life conversations, we do not see ourselves unless one is talking in front of a mirror, and we certainly do not compare our faces side-by-side to others like on video calls. Moreover, the camera condense life in 2D, leading a graded shadow along a curved surface, such as the nose, to appear as a flat, darkened area instead (Lu and Bartlett, 2014). One study found that a portrait taken from 12 inches away increases perceived nose size by 30% when compared with that taken at 5 feet. Webcams, inevitably recording at shorter focal lengths, tend to produce an overall more rounded face, wider set eyes, and broader nose. It is important for patients to recognize the limitations of webcams and understand that they are, at best, a flawed representation of reality.

This increased exposure in the virtual environment and distorted self-image may lead patients to develop thoughts of BDD, with a tendency to be preoccupied with real or imagined physical defects and causing functional impairment. These patients feel unease, anxiety, dissatisfaction and often seek cosmetic procedures to improve their perceived appearance, yet are rarely satisfied with the results, ending up in a cycle of self-dissatisfaction. Approximately 9% to 14% of patients in general dermatology clinics have a diagnosis of BDD, and within the cosmetic surgery setting, the prevalence is thought to be even higher (Vashi, 2016).


To alleviate the influx of patients with anxiety disorders increasing due to the pandemic, BDD is a crucial consideration in patients’ evaluations. Some celebrities (ex; Pop Star Lizzo) have started to post their unedited and raw pictures as a great example to flaunt the imperfections of being human. Also, some influencers initiated the idea of putting a disclaimer on pictures that are digitally altered. Thus, elucidating the limitations of virtual vistas, we can better serve patients by screening for dysmorphic thoughts and connecting patients with appropriate counseling therapy, not plastic surgery.


A few tips to prevent yourself from Dysmorphic thoughts:


● Turn your camera off during Zoom calls to stop yourself from picking apart

your appearance.

● Place a sticky note over your own screen, so you don't see yourself on the grid

● Try to look other people in the eye as they're talking during video calls, just as

you would offline.

● Look in the mirror and practice positive affirmations.


Conclusion


The medical community at large should be aware of the red flags and be prepared to address Zoom/ Snapchat dysmorphia, as a potential trigger to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) a disorder characterized by excessive preoccupation with an imagined defect in physical appearance. The ethical code of conduct among plastic surgeons should be respected and early detection of associated symptoms in such patients might help provide them with the appropriate counseling and help they need.


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A friendly reminder: We've done our research, but you should too! Check our sources

against your own and always exercise sound judgment.


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About The Author


Namra Izhar


Program Trainee, The Aryabhata-Shankara Neurotech Society (Unwired India)


Namra Izhar is a Psychology honors student at the Delhi University. She is highly passionate about biopsychology and neuroscience. Unveiling the saying 'Everything psychological is simultaneously biological.' She has worked with two renowned hospitals as an intern to understand the disorders and their impact on the psyche of caregivers as well. Here, at Unwired India she will be helping us as a writer and video developer for exciting content.