A study from the journal Facial Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Medicine found that 85% of patients looking for cosmetic changes were interested because of video conferencing

By Julie Mazziotta
April 14, 2021 05:52 PM
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Zoom dysmorphia
Video conferencing
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With many Americans spending hours on video conferencing calls during the pandemic, mental health experts and plastic surgeons are seeing a rise in "Zoom dysmorphia."

Body dysmorphia is a long-known disorder where a person develops an obsessive focus on perceived flaws in their appearance that others don't see. People with body dysmorphia will often become embarrassed or ashamed by their perceived flaws, and avoid social situations or seek plastic surgery to change their appearance, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Zoom dysmorphia is a similar concept: After spending hours on video conferencing with a constant close-up of their own face on the screen, people have begun to focus on perceived flaws or defects that went previously unnoticed. And living in a world obsessed with perfection, particularly in the age of Instagram, doesn't help, licensed clinical social worker and certified cognitive therapist Alyssa "Lia" Mancao, LCSW, told MindBodyGreen.

"We internalize those messages, so we're going to hyper-focus on ourselves when we're on Zoom calls," she said. "We tend to believe that other people care about how we look, when really it's only us that cares how we're coming off."

And plastic surgeons have noticed that more people are citing video conferencing as the reason why they want to change their appearance. A recent study in the journal Facial Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Medicine surveyed 130 dermatologists around the world, and found that 85% of their patients named Zoom as the inspiration for their cosmetic consultation.

"Unlike the still and filtered selfies of social media, Zoom displays an unedited version of oneself in motion, a self-depiction very few people are used to seeing on a daily basis. This may have drastic effects on body dissatisfaction and desire to seek cosmetic procedures," the study authors said.

Part of the problem, they added, is that computer or phone cameras are not particularly flattering.

"Cameras can distort video quality and create an inaccurate representation of true appearance," they wrote. "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."

Zoom dysmorphia is yet another outcome of the last year of video conferencing. "Zoom fatigue" was also coined early into COVID-19 pandemic, as people found that the time on-screen, when they had to maintain constant eye contact and put in extra energy to stay engaged while away from coworkers and friends, was leaving them exhausted.

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A new study published in the journal Social Science Research Network surveyed more than 10,000 people in February and March, and found that one in seven women said they were "very" to "extremely" exhausted after Zoom calls. Men did not experience the same issue, and just one in 20 reported dealing with the same level of exhaustion.

Researchers found that the difference may be because women tend to have longer meetings, and are less likely to take breaks in between. They also noticed that extroverts had an easier time with video calls compared to introverts and younger people struggled with fatigue more than older adults, as did people of color compared to white participants.

Géraldine Fauville, an expert in virtual reality and communication at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and lead author of the study, told National Geographic that she hopes the research helps to highlight these inequities, "and then, based on the science, society and companies can use that knowledge to address these issues."