Insecurities from ‘Zoom Dysmorphia’ are long-lasting: study

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You can log off anytime you like, but the self-image distortion may never leave.

A disturbing new study has found that the feelings of dysmorphia brought on by staring at your own face through the lens of a computer camera all day is real. In fact, researchers at Harvard University have given this “new phenomenon,” that doesn’t go away when the video call ends, a name: “Zoom Dysmorphia.”

“Body dysmorphic disorder in women is on the rise during the pandemic and worsened with increased use of videoconferencing,” write the authors of a new study published by the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. “Increased time spent videoconferencing, using social media, and using filters on these platforms during the pandemic has led to worsening self-perception and mental health, especially in younger aged females.”

While the negative effects of Zoom — from fatigue to a rise in plastic surgery — have been broadly realized and noted, “very few studies have addressed the increase in video conferencing during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting effects on mental health and self-perception,” the authors wrote. 

Taking a close look into the issue has revealed that it’s having a much more debilitating impact on individuals than many realize.

The study found that it extends beyond the screen, too. Research showed that 71% of the 7,000 people involved in the study were nervous to return to in-person activities and 64% were getting mental health support, Wired reported.

Despite there being countless other more urgent global issues when clinics began to reopen post-lockdown last summer, practitioners report that clients were preoccupied with concern for their appearance.  

“It seemed that at a time like that other matters would be top of mind, but a lot of people were really concerned with feeling that they looked much worse than usual,” dermatologist and study author Shadi Kourosh told Wired, adding that the feeling has persisted to the present moment. “A lot of people are suffering from the negative mental health impacts quietly.”

The bar for beauty in the eye of a front-facing laptop camera, however, is unrealistic and distorting: The lens is akin to a “funhouse mirror” warping noses to look bigger, eyes smaller and showing the whole face at a closer angle than most people would ever see it in real time, Kourosh explained. 

“Families should be aware that increased social media and filter use may lead to elevated levels of anxiety in their teens and college-age children, especially as activities resume in-person for the first time in a year and a half,” study authors thus warn. “As we re-enter a life of socializing, aesthetic physicians and the medical community at large should be aware of the effects of increased videoconferencing related to worsening mental health and self-perceptions in order to better serve our patients.”

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