The Rise of Zoom Dysmorphia

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“[People] are not looking at a true reflection of themselves. They don’t realize it is a distorted mirror.” – Dr. Shadi Kourosh

The increased time spent video conferencing over the past eighteen months has distorted our body image and led to the rise of a new mental health disorder: Zoom Dysmorphia.

“Zoom dysmorphia” is defined as a skewed or altered negative perception of a person’s self-image due to extended amounts of time on Zoom and video calls.[1]

This is not a new phenomenon. Snapchat dysmorphia was coined in 2015 to describe the escalating number of people who wanted to look like they do in their Snapchat filters: big eyes, straight noses, pointy chins, sparkling skin, and overall facial symmetry.[2]

There are 280 million daily Snapchat users, and 53% of users are between fifteen and twenty-five years of age.[3] This demonstrates that this platform has a shelf life, and users will grow out of the platform and, hopefully, transcend its body image bias.

By contrast, Zoom has 300 million daily meeting participants, an increase of 2900% since December 31, 2019. Four hundred sixty-seven thousand one hundred of these users are business customers, 50.5% are female, and the most common user’s age is between thirty-five and forty-nine.[4]

The Zoom mobile app was downloaded 485 million times in 2020, and the number of annual meeting minutes is over 3.3 trillion. These figures are almost incomprehensible.

The conditions that drove us to use Zoom in this way appear to be here to stay. Many businesses prefer working from home, and it is seen as an efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly option.

So, what exactly causes Zoom Dysmorphia, and how should medical professionals tackle this new mental health condition?

The Downfall of Digital Video Technology

Digital technology appears to be a key player in the onset of Zoom Dysmorphia.

The forward-facing camera on a phone or laptop distorts the face, causing eyes to become smaller and further apart and noses to appear broader and larger. Additionally, a person’s head and forehead appear larger, while their neck and shoulders can look smaller, shorter, or rounded.

Software frequently degrades the image, depending on bandwidth, and the unflattering blue light from our devices highlights blemishes and wrinkles and flattens skin tone.

We are used to being outward-facing in our daily lives, focusing on others’ faces, reading emotions, facial cues, and body language. However, when on Zoom, we view ourselves side-by-side with others. This results in an automatic direct comparison, which can easily distort self-perception.

This is further clarified by Ben Buchanan, a psychologist and body-dysmorphia expert, who believes social media is a significant factor in the overall rise of body dysmorphic issues and notes that, “[s]ocial media and cultural changes (…) can trigger an obsessive preoccupation with appearance.”[5] Buchanan explains that sufferers of BDD have decreased capacity to modulate attention, meaning that while on Zoom, people will find themselves focusing on their own images rather than others’.

This causes us to be distracted by our own expressions, emotions, and reactions. We then adapt ourselves to present ourselves more favorably, causing us to become trapped in a sequence of distraction, modification, and anxiety.[6]

“Lockdown face” is now a popular term that refers to a person who appears tired, stressed, unwell, or psychologically impacted by the tolls of the Covid-19 pandemic.  A 2021 survey conducted among plastic surgeons in America evidenced that teleconsultations with plastic surgeons had risen by 64% during lockdown, with 61% of new patients wishing to improve their “lockdown face.”[7] 

Zooming Into Cosmetic Procedures

Zoom Dysmorphia was brought to public attention earlier this year by dermatologist and Harvard Medical School professor Dr.Shadi Kourosh. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Dr. Kourosh noticed a marked increase in appointments over appearance related issues.

This preoccupation with appearance and requests for corrective medical procedures was especially alarming because it came at a time when people were discouraged from seeking medical treatment for anything that was not an emergency.

Kourosh’s 2021 paper titled Zooming into cosmetic procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic: The provider’s perspective was published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. [8] 134 board-certified dermatologists were surveyed, with findings demonstrating that there had been a 56.7% rise in cosmetic consultations during the pandemic, with 86% of patients citing video conferencing as the reason for the consultation.

The survey clarified that this 86% had become dissatisfied and unhappy with their appearance due to the increased amount of time spent viewing themselves and others on video conferencing software. 

The most common concerns from the survey respondents included:[9]

  • Upper-face wrinkles (77%)
  • Dark circles under the eyes (64.4%)
  • Facial dark spots (53%)
  • Sagging necks (50%)

The cosmetic procedures most frequently requested by patients included Botox, filler injections, and laser treatment.

Because these areas of concern are skewed by a mental health condition, these procedures are unlikely to solve the dissatisfaction of the patient. The very nature of dysmorphic disorder is that the flaws or defects are perceived only by the individual. Therefore, if one defect gets “fixed,” the person’s attention will either become more acutely focused on that issue or move to another area, creating a perpetual cycle of self-modification.

 Conclusion

Over-focusing on one’s appearance, whether it be in the mirror, social media or on Zoom for prolonged periods of time, distorts one’s perception of reality. Instead of looking holistically at the reflection, one fixates on areas of concern and draws unrealistic comparisons with others.

Zoom has been an incredible tool throughout lockdown and has enabled us to work effectively from home, retain rapports with colleagues, stay in touch with friends, and connect with loved ones.  This tool has firmly asserted itself in our daily lives, and so the answer to Zoom Dysmorphia is education and awareness.

Through understanding the flaws of digital technology, the skewed appearance of oneself online, and our psychological tendency to fixate and compare, we can start to free ourselves from the burden of trying to look perfect online.

If you are concerned about any issues discussed in this blog, please contact Heather R. Hayes & Associates. Call 800-335-0316 or email info@heatherhayes.com

Sources:


[1] Morgan Petronelli, Associate Editor. “‘Zoom Dysmorphia’ Becoming Rising Issue Among Patients”. Dermatology Times, 2021, https://www.dermatologytimes.com/view/-zoom-dysmorphia-becoming-rising-issue-among-patients.

[2] Ramphul, Kamleshun, and Stephanie G Mejias. “Is “Snapchat Dysmorphia” A Real Issue?”. Cureus, 2018. Cureus, Inc., doi:10.7759/cureus.2263. Accessed 7 Sept 2021.

[3] Snapchat by the Numbers (2021): Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts”. Omnicoreagency.Com, 2021, https://www.omnicoreagency.com/snapchat-statistics/.

[4] “Zoom User Stats: How Many People use Zoom in 2021?”. Backlinko, 2021, https://backlinko.com/zoom-users.

[5] Nast, Condé. “How Staring at our Faces on Zoom is Impacting our Self-Image”. Vogue, 2021, https://www.vogue.com/article/body-dysmorphia-zoom-face.

[6] Pikoos, Toni D et al. “The Zoom Effect: Exploring the Impact of Video Calling on Appearance Dissatisfaction and Interest in Aesthetic Treatment during the COVID-19 Pandemic”. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 2021. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1093/asj/sjab257. Accessed 7 Sept 2021.

[7] Padley, Roxanne H., and Bruno Di Pace. “The Psychological Impact of Remote Communication on Body-Image Perception: Cosmetic Surgery on the Rise”. Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 2021. Springer Science and Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s00266-021-02554-3. Accessed 7 Sept 2021.

[8] Rice, Shauna M. et al. “Zooming into Cosmetic Procedures during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Provider’s Perspective”. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, vol 7, no. 2, 2021, pp. 213-216. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2021.01.012. Accessed 7 Sept 2021.

[9] Bankhead, Charles. “Another COVID-19 Side Effect: ‘Zoom Dysmorphia'”. Medpagetoday.Com, 2021, https://www.medpagetoday.com/dermatology/generaldermatology/92463.

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