OMG, has my skin always looked this dull? I asked no one in particular as I sat in front of a Zoom meeting where I was recording an announcement for work. Marc, seriously – is it my camera? Maybe I should use the ring light? Fuck, these wrinkles don’t quit, eh?
As a teen of the early 2000s, I knew one thing for dang sure: you rarely look good on a web cam. Remember those old, grainy feeds from the fist-sized webcam you perched a top a shelf next to your monitor? Those.
Prior to 2020, most of my on-camera meetings were with friends or family on FaceTime with the occasional Skype interview mixed in to meet with remote managers or leadership teams. In short: for the most part, I already knew I looked like shit before the camera light flicked on and had probably made peace with it. If I had an interview, I dolled up and tried my best to be cool and collected. If I was just connecting with friends and family, all bets were off. But, there was literally never a time when I would spend upwards of six hours a day in front of a laptop screen with my camera on, my own face staring back at me from the screen.
And then… Covid-19.
For the past *checks calendar* 15 months, I have essentially lived on Zoom/Google/FaceTime calls. If it wasn’t for work, it was for a baby shower or a bridal shower or a birthday. Or to talk to my parents. Or a podcast. Or to hang with friends. Or whatever. And those many hours a day have slowly picked away at my confidence, drawing attention to every blemish, wrinkle, bad hair day, and the crookedness of my nose.
Back in the summer, I started noticing that I was frowning all the time on calls – the result of intense concentration on my screen. But once I realised I was frowning all the time, guess what happened? I spent as much time trying to keep my damn face relaxed as I did actively engaging in the call. It led me to book a consult and then two Botox appointments at a local MediSpa and, while I’m not sorry I get Botox (like, REALLY not sorry!) because I was probably gonna do it eventually anyway, it turns out it’s not just me who’s feeling the negative impacts of hours of my own face staring back at me.
In a study published in the journal Behaviour Research And Therapy, it is found that 10 minutes is all it takes to find fault with your appearance… so imagine how many faults we’re finding in a six-hour stint of video conferences, five days a week. A staggering 35% of women say they feel less attractive on video conferences than they do in real life, and the long-term effects of those feelings begin to carry over into day-to-day life.
There’s a bit of research out there (as detailed in that link above) that in the midst of overwhelm, we tend to fixate on ourselves. While in lockdown, trying to figure out how da fuq we were supposed to work and homeschool and keep our relationships together, it’s pretty safe to say we all felt a little overwhelmed. Isn’t it?
For better or for worse, the realisation that I looked like shit on camera has probably benefited the people I work and live with because I actually put on makeup, dress myself in something other than sweatpants, and regularly do my hair now – which is a real improvement over things a year ago, lemme tell ya. And those actions *do* help boost my mood, most of the time, but it hasn’t taken away the reality that video calls are as draining as they are plentiful, and that many of us are zoomin’ in on ourselves and taking stock.
Many of my friends and colleagues have confessed that, yep, they also found themselves fixated on their hair, their skin, their makeup, their bodies, their whatever over the past several months because it felt like the one thing they could control. So what’s the fix? I dunno… but I’m slowly finding things that help.
For me, I’ve started hiding my camera view from myself on long or large calls which prevents me from staring at my reflection trying to figure out why the hell my hair looks so limp on one side. I also try to engage in positive self-talk focused not so much on my appearance but not my abilities. I actively seek opportunities to help boost my confidence – whether it’s workout or a work-related task I know I can knock out of the park – and I prioritize activities that make me feel good.
Remember: pandemic fatigue is real, virtual meetings are the literal worst, and you are wildly capable of turning off your video feed if it’s what helps you stay sane right now.