Since all university classes shifted online, most students are spending hours each day on Zoom. Many are also working from home. Overall, there has been a huge increase in the time we spend staring at our faces on screen as we talk, smile, or even just sit and listen to others. 

According to Dr. Shauna M. Rice, Dr. Emmy Graber, and Dr. Arianne Shadi Kourosh, 

there has been “a surge in patients citing their appearance on Zoom as a reason to seek care.” Their article, A Pandemic of Dysmorphia: “Zooming” into the Perception of Our Appearance, was published in Facial Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Medicine on November 6, 2020. 

Snapchat and selfies

“In 2019, 72 per cent of American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery members reported patients seeking cosmetic procedures to improve their selfies.” Rice and colleagues note the term snapchat dysphoria to describe Snapchat’s potential to trigger body dysmorphic disorder, due to “the influx of patients hoping to look more like their edited selves.” Also, there is a relationship between the level of engagement on social media and the level of body dissatisfaction. 

All these facts indicate that many people were dissatisfied with their appearance even after filters erased many of their flaws. This is unlike Zoom, where the most a person can do is use a color filter to filter their image. Also, on Zoom, people see themselves during moments they normally wouldn’t; most of us are not aware of the way we look early in the morning while we sit in class. We also don’t “compare our faces side-by-side to others like we do on video calls,” according to Rice’s research.  

The facial feedback hypothesis

Many of the people seeking care because of their appearance on Zoom are “concerned with acne and wrinkles.” Rice and team note that more people are searching for the words ‘acne’ and ‘hair loss,’ according to Google search trends. The researchers believe this might be due to “people constantly seeing themselves on video and becoming more aware of their appearance.”

Another possible explanation relates to the facial feedback hypothesis. The facial

feedback hypothesis, defined by the published paper, “explains that treatment of sad-appearing wrinkles may reduce depression by making the patient appear less sad to others, which, in turn, makes them feel better about themselves.”

According to this, when people see wrinkles on their faces in a Zoom video, they believe the wrinkles make them look depressed compared to others. This makes them feel even more depressed. This is interesting with Zoom because “the patient is also the viewer.” 

Although mild discomfort or annoyance with appearance should not be a problem, becoming “excessively preoccupied with real or imagined defects” is a “major concern.”

According to the study, spending a lot of time on Zoom “may trigger a self-critical comparative response that leads people to rush to their physicians for treatments they may not have considered before months confronting a video screen.”

 In a commentary on this article, Dr. Benjamin Marcus notes that our sense of self-perception is complicated because “self-perception is fraught with cognitive overlay.” To deal with some of the discomfort on a Zoom video, it may help to know there is a significant difference between the way we see others and the way we see ourselves. 

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