Bullying myself

Medical experts have discovered a new side effect of COVID-19. It’s called Zoom dysmorphia. Have you heard of it?

Earlier this year, Professor Susan Rossell – a cognitive neuropsychologist at Swinburne’s Centre for Mental Health – published a paper on the impact of video calling during COVID-19 and identified a worrying trend that suggested up to a third of Australians now have significant distorted concerns about their appearance.

“We’ve known this about people with body dysmorphia (BDD) for 20 or 30 years now,” said Rossell. “Last year we started to use these online tele-conferencing facilities for our workplace, and hundreds of millions of us across the world were using it as our only form of communication with our work colleagues – and one of the things that Zoom and other tele-conferencing services does, is that not only does it show you your colleagues, but it also shows you yourself.”

Psychologist Georgie Lavan told Broadsheet: “During lockdown, I’ve found clients who have long-standing body concerns have more of a focus towards dissatisfaction with facial features, noticing it through Zoom meetings and social catch-ups.”

Dermatologist Dr Liz Dawes-Higgs added: “People are much more aware of their appearance, and more so with Zoom than with selfies. People now see themselves interacting in a meeting in a way they’ve never seen themselves before. This has translated into more people focusing on self-care, particularly the face and consequently a rise in facial treatments.”

In the US, a survey of dermatological providers found that more than half of the medical professionals have noticed an increase in patients seeking cosmetic consultations, compared to pre-pandemic times. A whopping 86% of them said they’ve had patients cite video-conferencing calls as a reason to consider changes to their appearance.

This isn’t just an American trend, either. According to a BBC article from September 2020, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons said its doctors were reporting up to 70% increases in requests for virtual consultations during the initial stages of the pandemic.

I was slightly, but not overly, concerned by my wrinkles prior to the Zoom era. Now I feel like an old hag every time I turn the computer camera on. Apparently there’s a way to do it so only the other attendees in meetings can see you, but it’s too late, I’ve seen what I look like. And I can’t unsee it.

I was already a bit PTSD about online group chats after unpleasant experiences with previous employers on Skype and Microsoft Teams. Much like trolls on social media, virtual meeting platforms tend to remove some people’s perceptions of acceptable behaviour. I would dread joining the meetings and still shudder slightly every time I get a notification for one.

However, these days I’m bullying MYSELF during them. I stare at my reflection and pick myself to pieces. I sit with a hand on the side of my face to subtly stretch the sagging skin around my mouth back.

It reminds me of an episode of Doctor Who that featured a character called Lady Cassandra (pictured main). She claimed to be the last pure human – in a galaxy of aliens – but her addiction to plastic surgery meant she’d become just a piece of skin with a face, stretched in a frame.

Dermatologist Arianne Kourosh says I shouldn’t be worried by the image of myself that I see on screen because it’s distorted. Faces on video-conferencing platforms are most often shot on a tiny lens from up close, which creates an image that Kourosh compares to a circus mirror.

How come everyone else looks perfectly fine in meetings then?

Perhaps that’s the thing, maybe everyone else thinks I look fine too. We just fixate on our own perceived flaws.

I attended a virtual Christmas drinks with Bombay Sapphire master distiller Dr Anne Brock yesterday (she’s the one on the right), who looked lovely on Zoom. She joined from the UK before sunrise and was a delightful host, despite it being way too early to drink gin. She usually only starts doing that at 8.15am – her first task when she arrives at the distillery each day is to taste what’s been produced overnight.

The weird things people do for a crust.

One of her favourite gin cocktails is a French 75, so we made one together. It contains gin, lemon juice, a dash of sugar and prosecco. What’s not to like?

You will note, if you look very closely at the photo above, that I positioned the computer camera so my name obscured the lower half of my face, which is where the worst of my wrinkles are, aside from the ones between my brows (note to your children: frowning has consequences).

Do you hate looking at yourself on Zoom?

PS My heart is exploding that little Cleo was found safe and well. Bless her little face as she ate that iceblock in the official photo. It’s a reminder of how stupid it is to sweat the small stuff.

Song of the day: Madonna “Vogue”

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