Work-from-home trend causing a new disorder — Zoom Dysmorphia

Scientists say constant use of virtual platforms and video calls during the COVID-19 lockdown has affected the self-image of people, prompting them to rush for facial treatments

The lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted companies to encourage employees to work from home. Photo: iStock

Do you double-check your face for any flaws before logging into a Zoom meeting or switch off the video mode when you attend it in pyajamas and without running a brush through your hair? Has the fear of looking ‘ugly’ on video calls goaded you to consult a doctor? If you find yourself ticking all the questions, you are suffering from what scientists call a Zoom Dysmorphia.

Scientists say the disorder, born out of working out of home during the COVID-19-induced lockdown, is triggered in people by spending more time on virtual platforms and could be affecting the self-image of people and leading them to rush for facial treatments.

Writing in the journal Facial Plastic Surgery and Aesthetic Medicine, the authors noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a massive shift towards remote work and living, with people spending copious amount of time on virtual platforms.

While online video calling platforms like Zoom has helped work and group chats continue, albeit on the virtual platform, it may be affecting the way individuals view themselves, the authors said.

The authors noted a surge in patients citing their appearance on Zoom as a reason to seek care, particularly concerned with acne and wrinkles.

“A recent analysis of Google search trends during the pandemic showed the terms acne and hair loss are increasing in this newly virtual reality,” the researchers told PTI.

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They attributed this trend to the association of acne and hair loss with anxiety and depression, common psychological conditions during quarantine. “We suspect the trend may also arise from people constantly seeing themselves on video and becoming more aware of their appearance,” said Arianne Shadi Kourosh, from Massachusetts General Hospital, US, and one of the authors of the article.

Before Zoom took over as the metric used to value one’s appearance, people used selfies and photo editing apps to create filtered versions of themselves. Dubbed Snapchat Dysmorphia, the influx of people hoping to look more like their edited selves has caused widespread concern for its potential to trigger body dysmorphic disorder.

According to the study, 72 per cent of American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery members in 1992 reported seeing patients seeking cosmetic procedures to improve their selfies. In addition, higher levels of engagement on social media have shown to correlate with increased body dissatisfaction, they said.

“Unlike the still and filtered selfies of social media, Zoom displays an unedited version of oneself in motion, a self-depiction very few people are used to seeing on a daily basis,” explained Emmy Graber from the Dermatology Institute of Boston, US.

This may have drastic effects on body dissatisfaction and desire to seek cosmetic procedures, Graber said.

Researchers say this self-criticism stems from the fact that during real-life conversations, people do not see their faces speaking and displaying emotions, and do not compare their faces side-by-side to others like they do on video calls.

In addition, cameras can distort video quality and create an inaccurate representation of true appearance, they said. “One study found that a portrait taken from 12 inches away increases perceived nose size by 30 per cent when compared with that taken at 5 feet,” said Shauna M Rice from Massachusetts General Hospital.

Webcams, inevitably recording at shorter focal lengths, tend to produce an overall more rounded face, wider set eyes, and broader nose, Rice added.

The researchers noted that it is important for patients to recognise the limitations of webcams and understand that they are, at best, a flawed representation of reality. To further deconstruct the motivations behind this influx of patients in the era of Zoom, the authors turned to the facial feedback hypothesis. The theory 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.

“Perhaps there is a recent surge in patients seeking cosmetic procedures simply because they now see their imperfections on camera daily, or because the wrinkles they see on screen make them look more depressed to others and feel more depressed themselves,” the authors added.

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“The theory in the context of Zoom is particularly interesting, as the patient is also the viewer,” they said.

They may perceive themselves as sad because of the wrinkles they see, which further negatively affects their emotions, leading to a dangerous cycle of self-deprecation, the authors said. This becomes a major concern when an individual becomes excessively preoccupied with real or imagined defects, they added.

(With inputs from agencies)

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