I look ugly

"Zoom Dysmorphism": Why We Feel Ugly About Video Chats

For many industries, the pandemic, including home office and exit restrictions, means severe economic losses. But many companies in the IT sector in particular are benefiting from the situation. At the forefront here are the providers of video chat solutions such as Zoom. In many places, virtual meetings have replaced face-to-face meetings in the conference room.

What is an indispensable aid for coping with modern day-to-day work in these times can be stressful for our psyche. At least that's what emerges from a thesis paper published by researchers at the Boston Dermatology Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard University.

Social media increases dissatisfaction with looks

They found that dermatological clinic patients were more and more likely to report dissatisfaction with their appearance on Zoom and in other video conferencing programs. Very often it was about wrinkles or acne phenomena. Another starting point for the research was an analysis of Google search trends in Turkey and Italy, which found that search terms such as "acne" and "hair loss" have become increasingly popular since the onset of the pandemic.

In addition, digital self-expression has long been a driving force behind cosmetic treatments. In 2019, 72 percent of the members of the US Academy of Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery reported that they had already had contact with patients who wanted a procedure to make them look better in selfies. There is also a correlation between more intensive use of social media and dissatisfaction with one's own appearance.

Webcam distortion

The current development is attributed, among other things, to the effect of webcams. In normal everyday conversations you don't see your own face, while in a video chat you always have a direct comparison. This makes your own flaws more noticeable. You can see wrinkles that make you look sad. Having them treated cosmetically diminishes this impression and can make those affected feel happier.

In the worst case, if you sit in video chats particularly often, you develop an unhealthy obsession with your own real or imagined blemishes, which has a negative impact on the psyche and can increase the desire for cosmetic treatment. In this context, the researchers speak of "zoom dysmorphism", although the term can of course be applied to any video conference app.

In addition, webcams usually operate with a small focal length due to their design, which means that your own face appears rounder than it actually is on recordings. And the closer the recording device is, the wider, for example, one's own nose is perceived.

Here, it is argued, it would be important to inform users about the technical features of webcams. Because in the best case, these would offer a flawed representation of reality. (gpi, November 17, 2020)