How Staring At Our Own Faces On Video Calls Can Impact Body Image

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This year of social distancing has been one of heightened screen time. Although we may not have been able to see friends and family in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic, apps like FaceTime and House Party have allowed us to hang out, while Zoom and other programs have been key for conducting work meetings at home.

But while these apps have been a saving grace during the pandemic, they’re also the reason we’ve been staring at our faces more than ever—and that might not be such a good thing.

“These platforms give us more opportunities to feel dissatisfied with our appearance,” says Lisa MacLean, M.D., a psychiatrist with Henry Ford Health System. “We might notice a wrinkle we’ve never seen before, or an asymmetry in our faces, or a double chin. We might fixate on our appearance and get distracted during a meeting, comparing our appearance to others. You can’t help but focus on yourself—and it likely comes from a place of anxiety, not vanity.”

This opportunity to focus on your appearance for prolonged periods of time can distort your perception of yourself, so that you no longer see yourself clearly. “Studies have shown there is a strong correlation between how a person rates their outer appearance and how high they rate their self-esteem,” says Dr. MacLean. “If you don’t feel good about your body image, it can negatively impact you and prevent you from socializing or taking on challenges.”

In certain cases, Dr. MacLean says, being forced to view footage of yourself may contribute to the diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder—a body image disorder where one is constantly fixated on perceived flaws in their appearance—which can affect 1 in 50 people.

What You Can Do About It

If you feel like anxiety about your appearance is all consuming, Dr. MacLean recommends seeing a mental health professional to rule out treatable psychiatric issues like anxiety or body dysmorphic disorder.

For those who just need a confidence boost, Dr. MacLean shares ways to do so:

  1. Practice mindfulness. When you notice yourself focusing on your appearance, gently redirect your attention back to the content of the call. Use mindfulness to pause, notice what you’re doing, and think about what is being said. “In the beginning, you may have to redirect yourself many times, but with practice it will get easier,” says Dr. MacLean.
  2. Tape a Post-it Note over your image on the screen. After all, if you can’t see yourself, you won’t be tempted to stare at yourself. Some programs may have settings that allow you to keep your camera on but hide your own video thumbnail from your view. 
  3. Cut down time spent on body-image behaviors. Constantly looking in the mirror, capturing selfies and seeking reassurance from others about your appearance can make you fixate on your appearance more often.
  4. Focus on inner qualities. Write down qualities you want to cultivate as a friend, partner, professional and human being, along with virtues and traits you are grateful that you have. “This list allows you to see the things that matter most,” says Dr. MacLean. “It helps you to see that how you look is only a tiny part of who you are.”
  5. Browse social media with a healthy skepticism—and limit your time on social media. “Evidence shows that the more time people spend on social media, the more dissatisfied they are with their lives,” says Dr. MacLean. Know that photos are airbrushed and filtered. How people portray themselves and their lives on social media usually isn’t the full story.
  6. Eat balanced meals, enjoy regular exercise and get enough rest. When you feel good about yourself internally, when you have energy and when you’re motivated, you are more likely to be in a good mood and feel good about yourself externally. 

“Lastly, remember that each body is unique,” says Dr. MacLean. “There is no one body type that’s right for everyone. When you feel good about yourself, you shine when you are around others, and this makes you beautiful regardless of your looks or weight. There is no substitute for a great sense of humor and a genuine smile.”

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To find a doctor or therapist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Lisa MacLean is a psychiatrist specializing in adult ADHD treatment at Henry Ford Behavioral Services in Detroit. She is the director of physician wellness for Henry Ford Health System, using her expertise to help doctors optimize wellness and find balance by teaching them healthy coping strategies so they can better serve their patients.

Categories: FeelWell