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The Long Term Effects of Zoom Dysmorphia: The Catch 22 of 2021

Dr Kourosh coins the term Zoom Dysmorphia and recognises the long-term impacts of lockdown on self-image.

Credit: Joeyy Lee via UnSplash

Every day it seems we discover new consequences of our lockdown year. Spending all of our time over Zoom has highlighted a large list of detrimental consequences including the weakening of our in-person socializing skills, the fragility of our new social batteries, and obliterated our pre-Covid self-confidence. These side effects all became noticeable when we returned to in-person life when suddenly we didn’t have a mute button to hide behind or the ‘sorry-but-my-camera-isn’t-working’ excuse; we realized we would have to face these issues as part of the large climb back to interacting with civilization. 

When analyzing how our lockdown year has impacted our self-confidence, in particular, this largely refers to the individual perceptions of ourselves. Massachusetts dermatologist, Shadi Kourosh, has created the term “Zoom dysmorphia” which she believes accurately describes the large uptake of cosmetic surgery appointments that have appeared on her schedule in a post-lockdown world. She writes, “with all the other concerns we had at hand, it was surprising to me how anxious people were about their appearance”. 

Zoom dysmorphia is the term used to describe the consequence of analyzing our appearance for prolonged amounts of time whilst on camera during meetings, resulting in a warped perception of our self-image. 

Dr. Kourosh has continued to analyze the prolonged effects of Zoom dysmorphia, publishing a study in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, discovering that 71% of analyzed individuals were uncomfortable with the idea of in-person life and 3 in 10 were planning to reconfigure their image. 

Credit: Chris Montgomery via UnSplash

Dr Kourosh correlates the Zoom camera with the funhouse mirror, coining the term ‘funhouse mirror effect’ as an accurate depiction of the effect of the Zoom lens. Kourosh insists that the camera is not “a true reflection of themselves” but Zoom dysmorphia makes it so they “don’t realize it is a distorted mirror”.

Unlike normal life where we spend time focusing on other people’s reactions, rather than our own, and we spontaneously respond to our peers without overthinking our actions, prolonged amounts of time spent solely looking at ourselves in the center of a small box encouraged us to critique every movement and response that we once deemed natural. We found ourselves criticizing the way we laugh, the way we talk, and even the way we just sit and process information; it is evident that this is having long-term impacts that we could not predict. 

Dr. Kourosh noted that people were desperate to correct their facial features. She noticed an increase in nose jobs and the desperation to alter facial wrinkles. She added that “people were complaining about sagging skin in the lower face and neck”, discovered by micro-analysing their appearance over Zoom. She went on to add that it was the desperation of people that surprised her the most, even when “people were being encouraged to not take any unnecessary medical risks”, the demand continued to increase. 

Credit: Joeyy Lee via UnSplash

As a society, we are constantly policing our image, whether it is through Instagram, Snapchat, Dating Apps; we live in a world where the social world is governed by image. This makes it hard to escape the demand which is pushing us towards altering our image to achieve acceptance, even if it is solely through the way we conduct ourselves in a concentrated square box. We will overanalyse how our mouths move and our eyes; it is inevitable that we will see something we don’t like, we’ve never had to watch ourselves socialise before! However, Kourosh was keen to add in her study that “photographs…and front-facing cameras worse[n] image distortion at a close range’ which is exactly the angle that we socialise through our phones and laptops. 

Zoom dysmorphia is creating an increasing concern for a society that is already plagued with self-image issues. The amalgamation of the lockdown, isolation and spending large amounts of time analysing pictures of other people on social media has amounted to a social crisis that Kourosh as recognised as ‘a mental health issue’. It calls into question if we can ever distance ourselves from the pressure of curating an image that appeals to society’s ideals? 

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