In society B.C. (before COVID), we weren’t privy to our own features during everyday conversations—we were simply chatting it up with others (mask-free, no less!) and going about our merry ways. That’s not to say self-scrutiny didn’t exist at all, but the criticism was largely left to the mirror. Now in a virtual reality, you’re so much more aware of your own features while you’re speaking in real time, down to every facial expression you make.
This, notes the journal article, can not only sabotage mental health, but can also “[lead] people to rush to their physicians for treatments they may not have considered before months confronting a video screen, a new phenomenon of ‘Zoom Dysmorphia.’” Board-certified dermatologist Jeanine Downie, M.D., tells me she’s certainly seen an uptick in requests for in-office procedures. She even discussed the very topic on The Today Show, revealing an increase in patients’ concerns over frown lines, dark spots, wrinkles and acne.
But here’s the thing about “Zoom Dysmorphia”: What you see on-camera is oftentimes a distorted version of yourself (hence, dysmorphia). “The lighting, the angle of the camera, and the pixelation really does give you dysmorphia of what you actually look like,” notes Nunez. Essentially, the webcam doesn’t do you justice. In fact, research shows that snapshots captured with shorter focal lengths (like, on video calls), can make faces look more rounded, with facial traits closer to the camera perceived seemingly larger.
Of course, there are filters like the “Touch Up My Appearance” option on Zoom. Although, both Nunez and Mancao believe effects like these are band-aids on a larger situation at-hand. “It’s a double edged sword,” notes Mancao. “If people put [the filter] on, they might be happier with the way they look on Zoom. The issue is, though, when Zoom turns off and that’s not how you really look.” The flipside of the “Zoom Dysmorphia” coin, if you will.