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Cameras on? ‘Zoom face’ and digital dysmorphia

Social media and the online world in general have long been harbingers of body insecurity, especially for young women. From the unattainable standards of Instagram models and teen TikTok stars to Snapchat filters that alter your entire facial bone structure, we are all striving towards looking more and more like digitally retouched versions of ourselves, with devastating consequences for our mental health when we inevitably fall short. 

With the recent change in patterns of work and socialising due to the pandemic, video-calling services like Microsoft Teams, Blackboard, and Zoom have become fully integrated into our lives, and in many senses, a necessary evil. This has led to the emergence of a new body-image woe for technology users of all ages: ‘Zoom face’. 

This phenomenon describes the self-conscious obsession with one’s own features and perceived defects due to spending an increased time staring at your own image in online meetings. From highlighting minute ‘flaws’ for the first time – be it a wonky tooth or open pores – to compounding existing insecurities about acne, wrinkles, or the size of your nose, the Zoom lens is like that one classmate who can’t keep their comments to their self. That little box in the lower right-hand corner of the screen is beginning to haunt us all, raising feelings of body dysmorphia that are undeniably damaging.

image description: a woman sits comfortably at a desk using a laptop and drinking a coffee.
image: Saydung89 via Pixabay

 The unique scenario of a videocall brings you into direct comparison with peers, literally placing your own face beside others, ripe for self-criticism. Zoom face reflects the continuing relevance of the 1990s theory of ‘self-objectification’ to an increasingly technology-dominated world. The theory states that life in a world where women’s bodies are constantly objectified results in an internalisation of unattainable standards, causing women to objectify themselves and engage in self-sabotaging behaviours. 

Some have turned to Zoom’s built-in filter features to alleviate the insecurities such self-exposure raises, but this only raises the stakes for oneself and others. Others turn their camera’s off altogether, sacrificing educational participation to the monster that is digital dysmorphia. It doesn’t help that skincare, makeup, and even cosmetic surgery brands have been quick to swoop in on this latest source of appearance woe, eager to exploit the close ties between our insecurities and our wallets. 

A better way to combat the latest incarnation of digital self-objectification is to simply turn off the self-view box. If you can’t see it, it can’t hurt you. This is great way to strike a balance between class participation and self-care. While admittedly not necessarily tackling the route of your insecurities, this is a short-term, sure-fire way to gain control over negative self-image obsession. 

Belonging to a generation that can hardly remember a pre-internet existence, it is essential that we equip ourselves with the tools to survive its merciless attacks on our bodies and minds. So, what will it be – cameras on or off?

image: Cdd20 via Pixabay