Zoom has been around for some time. In fact, the video conferencing platform is nearing its tenth birthday. Zoom will be a decade old in April. And while the virtual chat program has long held its place in corporate America, it took on a new light (and life) in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools and businesses across the globe. In an instant, Zoom became integral. Essential. From connecting with colleagues to chatting with grandma and grandpa, it became the way to converse and meet-up and connect. Unfortunately, spending hours in front of the camera is having an unexpected impact on many. Seeing ourselves, constantly and consistently, is negatively impacting our mental health.
“Increased time spent on video calls with our own image reflected at us has led many to experience increased feelings of self-consciousness and body dissatisfaction, as well as greater pressure to change our appearance in some way,” the clinical staff at The Renfrew Center, the first residential eating disorder treatment facility in the United States, explains. “Those who suffer from body image issues are most prone to seeing themselves through this lens of self-criticism, which may lead to disordered eating, overexercise, or a desire to seek cosmetic procedures, also known [unofficially] as Zoom dysmorphia.”
New research published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology reveals hours in front of video calls is leading some people to get cosmetic procedures. The study revealed 50% of doctors surveyed indicated there was a rise in cosmetic consultations during the pandemic, and 86% of respondents reported their video-conferencing as a reason for their new cosmetic concerns.
Of course, dysmorphic disorders are not new. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance, and Zoom-induced dysmorphia is (more or less) the same condition. According to Samantha DeCaro, the assistant clinical director at The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia, Zoom-induced dysmorphia is a type of body dysmorphia that is worsened and/or exacerbated by appearances on camera.
“The signs and symptoms of Zoom dysmorphia are similar to other forms of body dysmorphia,” DeCaro explains. “Obsessive thoughts about perceived physical flaws are common. These thoughts result in repetitive behaviors, such as comparing one’s flaws to others, consulting with plastic surgeons, examining their flaws in the mirror, and constantly seeking reassurance about their appearance. Those with BDD might completely avoid situations where their perceived flaws will be exposed.”
Anxiety and stress cause many with this condition to isolate and shut down, and those with BDD genuinely believe they are ugly or deformed. Their self-esteem is low, or non-existent. Being in front of the computer screen also exposes us to unattainable beauty standards 24/7, increasing the likelihood of experiencing harmful or intrusive thoughts.
“Nowadays we’re exposed to ‘perfected’ images in a much more widespread way because of how everyday people use technology,” Hilary Weingarden, a body dysmorphia expert at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in an interview with Vogue. “I think people are probably far less likely to understand that the photos they see of their friends… may also be completely unrealistic. Comparing your appearance to perfected images that your peers have posted is a lofty and unattainable comparison, and it’s likely to set people up to feel self-critical or inadequate.”
The good news is there is help. There are ways to combat body dysmorphia and, more specifically, Zoom-induced dysmorphia.
“If Zoom seems to be worsening your BDD or is making you self-conscious or uncomfortable, it might be helpful to adjust the Zoom settings to hide your own image,” DeCaro tells Scary Mommy. “Working with a qualified therapist can also help you increase your exposure to your perceived flaws so that, over time, they have less power over you.” Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, can help those with BDD better understand their thoughts, triggers, and emotions, and help those living with dysmorphia develop a coping strategy and plan. And therapist can help you clarify your deeply held values.
“Oftentimes, people who engage in ‘value work’ discover that appearance is just not as important as they once believed it to be,” DeCaro says.
“It’s also important to remember you don’t need to be diagnosed with BDD to improve your relationship with your body,” DeCaro adds. “If you are suffering in any way, you deserve help. Seek out the support of a licensed therapist who specializes in self-esteem and body image issues.”