Body image

The effects of Zoom on body image

In this episode, Claire shares research on the effects of Zoom on body image and seven tips to combat the negative effects video calls may be having on you.

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Claire Siegel: You're listening to the Flourish podcast. I'm your host, Claire Siegel, founder of Flourish. We're on a mission to help women get healthy for good. Join me each week for a new episode, that'll help you sustain healthy habits and nourish your body so you can flourish in life.

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Claire Siegel: Welcome back to the Flourish podcast, y'all! We are back to a normal week.

Um, I hope you had a really relaxing and restorative holiday. We spent Thanksgiving with Jon's parents out in west Austin, and then Friday morning we were up bright and early to go head over to Houston to hang out with my family, which was lots of fun.

My grandma was in town. Aunts, uncles, cousins, um, all my siblings, my nephew... we actually did a naming ceremony for my nephew, um, about sixteen months late, um, based on Jewish tradition, but, you know, pandemic baby. Um, so that was really special.

And I've got, admittedly, a bit of whiplash, you know, getting back into a regular week, but I am really pumped to talk about this topic. So excited to dig into this because it's been really highlighted in quite a few conversations inside the Flourish app, even with my team members, all the things.

So today we're talking about Zoom and the effect that it's having on body image. And I—by Zoom, obviously Zoom is not the only video conferencing platform, but I'm talking about video conferencing, and I'm just going to say Zoom because it's so much easier.

Now, I've certainly felt the effect of this over the last, you know, year and a half. I have noticed different things about my appearance that I may not have paid much attention to otherwise. And I mean it's not terribly surprising considering that we're now spending hours a day staring at ourselves on our screens. Like, let's just be clear. This is not normal behavior.

And I know that Zoom isn't new to us anymore. I mean, most of us has probably spent significantly more time on Zoom starting way back in March of 2020. And perhaps you're actually in a chapter right now where you're spending a bit less time on Zoom calls now, um, now that, you know, offices are opening back up, things like that.

But I will say that the benefit of talking about this now is that there are actually some really interesting studies that we can look at to truly affirm what, you know, I think so many of us have been feeling. And, you know, that's really my goal for today—to share what the research has found around Zoom's impact on body image in an effort to really just validate some of what you may be feeling, whether it's conscious or unconscious.

And then, of course, as we do I'm going to close out the episode with some actionable takeaways for how you can combat some of the effect. All right.

So, let's just start here. Zoom is impacting the way that we see ourselves and for the most part, and for many of us, it's not a positive impact. Now this is especially true if you were already struggling with body dysmorphic disorder or BDD, which in case you didn't know one in 50 people do. It's, it's not terribly rare. And also, again, not that surprising.

Previous research has actually suggested that even just briefly looking in the mirror causes healthy men and women to report increased distress and body image dissatisfaction. And when you think about it Zoom is like a mirror, but it is different in a few ways. So first it's more novel to us than a mirror, and so its distortions are as well, right?

There are distortions in every mirror, and that's going to vary from mirror to mirror. But, you know, every mirror is going to distort you by way of flipping you, right? You, you see a mirror image of yourself. That's where we get the phrase "mirror image." And so many webcams are actually not mirror image, and so that can be quite shocking.

And then there are other distortions. Again, from camera to camera, but then also just based on where you place your own camera. And... so most of us are used to the ways that mirrors distort the way that we look. And so we kind of get used to that distorted version of ourselves and we think that's what I look like. But the distortions that occur via webcam are totally new and that can be really disruptive to our body image.

The other kind of important difference between seeing yourself on Zoom and seeing yourself in the mirror is that you don't typically spend thirty, forty-five, sixty, ninety minutes standing in front of the mirror. I certainly hope that you don't. And yet that's, you know, how we're kind of spending our days right now and how we have been spending our days for the last, you know, going on two years. Right? Sometimes that means you're looking at yourself for hours every single day, or, you know, at least five days a week.

Now what I'm talking about here with, um, when I talk about seeing yourself on Zoom or in a mirror, this is a component of body image, which is quite interesting. So there actually four components of body image. I don't actually think that we've done a podcast about this, and I'll have to make note that we should.

There are four components of body image, and you can kind of think of each component as like a lever you can pull towards better body image or worst body image. And one of them is the perceptual component, right? Or how you perceive yourself. So that's really what we're talking about here. And when, you know, you're on Zoom for hours a day, you're, you're experiencing an increased amount of time that you're experiencing self perception, which really opens you up for just an increased opportunity for negative self perception. Okay?

So again, none of this is terribly surprising, but I think it's just incredibly validating to see it's not in your head. It's actually in the research. And you're not alone if you've been feeling a little bit off. All right?

So all of this is kind of leading to what's being called Zoom dysmorphia in the academic literature. There's actually a phrase for this.

Um, so Dr. Shadi Kourosh—I hope I'm pronouncing her name correctly—she is an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School and the Director of Community Health in the Department of Dermatology at Massachusetts General. Um, she's actually been studying this phenomenon in which people are fixated on perceived flaws that they see in the images of themselves on screen.

That is kind of a characteristic or hallmark of Zoom dysmorphia. And what's really interesting is that a lot of people have gone as far as scheduling cosmetic surgery or cosmetic alterations. Um, so, there's a recent survey of dermatologists and plastic surgeons, and almost 83% said that their patients were more unhappy with their appearance since using video conferencing during the pandemic.

Eighty-three percent are less happy with their appearance since using video conferencing during the pandemic. And then on top of that, eighty-six percent of these doctors' patients are referencing video conferencing as a reason for their new cosmetic concerns. So not only am I more unhappy with how I look, you know, in these circumstances, but I'm actually tracking it directly to video conferencing. That's pretty wild.

Something a little bit interesting that I'll share here, um, as we were researching for this podcast is that this is not the first kind of, um, wave of a specific type of body dysmorphia. Academics actually first coined the phrase "Snapchat dysmorphia" um, a few years back when we were for the first time seeing ourselves in these highly filtered images. And so people were literally bringing in photos of themselves with a Snapchat filter to cosmetic surgeons and saying, "I want to look like this."

And there are two distinct differences in this scenario when we're talking about Zoom dysmorphia.

One is that people aren't bringing in their Zoom images saying, "I want to look like this." They're bringing their Zoom images and saying, "I don't want to look like this."

And then it's been found that Zoom dysmorphia is kind of more mainstream, right? Which, which makes sense because, you know, far more people are having to get on Zoom right now, and we're certainly doing it for, you know, larger quantities of, of the day. So I just wanna mention that. I think it was pretty, pretty interesting.

Now, I don't necessarily think it's all bad, right? In some ways, you know, moving to, to remote or hybrid work I think has also alleviated a lot of appearance-based pressure for people, or certainly some people. We've had a lot of conversations about this inside a Flourish as well.

You know, there's often this explicit or unspoken expectation in workplaces that you dress a certain way, that you wear makeup, that you do your hair. And many of these norms have lightened up or been kind of forgotten altogether with the introduction of remote work and video conferencing.

I know, I mean, I'm wearing leggings like 9.9 days out of 10. And they're even days where I, the afternoon rolls around, and I'm like, "Man, I need to take these leggings off and put sweat pants on." And that was just not available to me when I was going into an office, right?

Again, we've talked a lot inside the Flourish membership, and a lot of our members were kind of feeling a lot less body image pressure now that they're not going into an office.

And, you know, the flip side of that coin is that that feeling of reprieve can be relatively short-lived as many of us are starting to prepare for a return to office, whether it's it's full time or, you know, just a few days a week.

Again here I just want to validate and normalize that it is really common to feel nervous about how you're going to be perceived by your coworkers after not having seen them in person for almost two years. Or if you're someone who's started a new job, switched jobs during the pandemic, maybe you've never seen your coworkers in person.

And so as you prepare to go into the office for the first time, you probably can't help but wonder, "What do people think of me? Do... you know, "Is the way that I appear in person, does that align with what they were expecting based on what they saw on Zoom?" Right.? Are these people going to judge my body because they've only ever seen me from the shoulders up? These are really real and valid concerns.

And again, you're not alone. In fact, in a survey of over seven thousand people, seventy-one percent were experiencing anxiety and stress related to returning to in-person activities, okay? And thirty percent stated that they plan to invest in their appearance as a coping strategy to deal with the anxiety of returning to in-person. And over thirty percent plan to actually, you know, take action in regards to changing their appearance.

So this impact that Zoom is having on our body image... it's affecting our mental health and our emotional health, and it's affecting the decisions that we make. It's affecting the way that we're spending our money and our time. (sigh) And I don't know where it's going to go. You know? I don't know what is in store for us.

I will certainly say that from a trend perspective, it seems that remote work or hybrid work is here to stay. It seems like video conferencing isn't going anywhere. In fact, I think that, you know, many industries could be changed forever. Um, because, well, you know, being on video calls all day may not be positive for our mental and emotional health it's certainly efficient and effective.

Right? And time-saving. And there's lots of pros to it in terms of the level of access that it opens up. And, and I've had calls with people I never would have had calls with because we never would've thought to meet on Zoom. Right? So I think with that, and with the not knowing of where this is going. And the likelihood that Zoom, video conferencing, Google Meet all these things, they're not in all likelihood going to go away.

So if Zoom is having an effect on your body image and how you see yourself and your mental and emotional health, then you've got to do something about it. All right? It is, it is worth taking a bit of time—and you're already doing a great job by listening to this podcast. Um. But now I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about how to move forward. All right?

So I've got... let's see here... seven practical, tactical tips to share.

Number one is to reflect on, you know, if or how Zoom is impacting your body image. A lot of, you know, you listening to this podcast could have considered that.

And I would just, you know, maybe make mental note or maybe, you know, actual physical note. Write down what have been your takeaways. What, what really resonated with you? You can't change something that you're not aware of. All right? So developing that awareness—even if it is hard to kind of admit or look at—is a really powerful thing. All right?

Okay. That's a little high level mushy gushy. Now we're getting into the really practical stuff, right?

Number two. I don't know if you know that you can do this. Okay, so at Flourish we have a pretty strong cameras-on culture. Um, it's not, it's not a mandate, and certainly here and there, I turned my camera off.

But, you know, we are a remote team. We always have been since 2018, and so it's nice to be able to see each other and connect and see body language and facial expressions and things like that. And I get it. I totally get how seeing yourself for hours on end can obviously, you know, not be the best for you.

So an option here—one, I would say is, you know, owning your energy and turning your camera off when you need to turn your camera off. But if you too are in kind of a cameras-on culture, or if, you know, for any given reason you need to have your camera on, there is the option to turn off self view in Zoom. Now this allows you to still be on camera, but you just won't be able to see yourself.

And when you think about, again, what we talked about in terms of the components of body image, you can see... okay, well that will allow me to decrease the rate at which I'm perceiving myself, which can decrease the rate at which you're having negative self perception.

So turning off self view can be very powerful. I would just, you know, caution you to not forget that you're, you're on camera. Okay? You don't want to forget that you're on camera and do something embarassing.

Okay. Number three, this is a big one for me, especially lately. Opt for phone calls instead of video calls. You know, like I said, I've been running a remote team since 2018. We did not always have every single call on Zoom on video. We used to have way more phone calls.

And I've even been trying to get us kind of back on the phone train, um, for some things, certainly like a one-on-one call. Um, not maybe not like a regular one-on-one, but like I just did a quick check in with one of my team members earlier today and I was like, "Can you just call me on my cell? Let me just pop in my AirPods and like walk around."

It is so good for so many reasons. Not only are you not having to look at yourself, but also you can walk around, right? You can go outside, you can move your body. And, again, this is not appropriate for every call, every work setting, um, but certainly when it is appropriate, I encourage you to take advantage of that and not forget that it's an option.

Um, I work with a coach once a week, and at first we were meeting on Zoom and she offered, she was like, "Hey, do you want to do Zoom or the phone?" And I was like, "Oh my gosh, thank you so much for reminding me that phone calls are amazing." And now every week that's like my thing. I have my call with my coach, and I take it on a walk. And it's so incredibly wonderful.

Pro tip: if you're a Flourish member and you're a premium member and you have unlimited private coaching, you can do that on video, you can do it over the phone, you can also chat with your coach. But just know that that's available to you. And it's an option when you actually go to book a call. You tell us: Do you want to have your camera on or off?

And we follow your lead, um, because I think we've all been there where you get on a Zoom call, you have your camera on, and then the person who you're talking to doesn't turn their camera on, and you feel super awkward about what you're supposed to do?

Is that just me? Like, would you just turn...? I, I like sometimes I'll just leave my camera on because I'm like, "Okay. I came here. I made this decision, and I'm going to stick with it." It's probably something I need to talk about with my coach.

Um, okay.

Number four. If you can't avoid looking at yourself for whatever reason, try to just mindfully draw attention to the traits that you do, like, right? That is one of the key differences we see in people with, you know, kind of healthy or normal body image versus someone with a more dysmorphic view of themselves.

Is that, um, someone with, you know, body dysmorphia, BDD, will really fixate on those attributes that they don't like. Whereas someone with, you know, normal body image will, you know, notice those things, but then they will really either subconsciously or consciously kind of counterbalance it by focusing on features or attributes that they do like, all right? So try to, again, mindfully draw that, that balance here.

Number five. And if you've been listening to this podcast for any length of time, chances are you've already done this. But you may need to go back and do it again, cause sometimes... sometimes you just gotta do it again. And this will make more sense when I share this.

Number five is to conduct a social media audit to limit your exposure to unrealistic body and beauty ideals. All right?

Now, I think many of us are spending more time on our phones than ever because we're working from home and what else... what else is there to do? And so with this increased screen time, you may also be having an increased exposure to those unrealistic body and beauty ideals.

And so you can really own your algorithm here, right? Mute, unfollow. Mute, unfollow. Those are your BFFs. Okay?

Number six. Consider what's important to you outside of your appearance. Now I say this in the beginning of a lot of my, um, corporate wellness sessions, um, around body image.

We have a body image series that we do with our corporate partners, and by the way, if you want me to come present to your company, send me a DM on Instagram. We'll chat. Um, these are really, really powerful sessions.

So, something that I share in these sessions is... it's two slides. Slide number one says, "The way you look is the least interesting thing about you." And this is true. Slide number two says, "And the way you think and feel about the way you look can impact your entire life." And this is also true. All right?

So the way that you look has no impact, no relation, no connection to your worth and how you can choose to show up in the world and the impact that you can have. And yet, if the thoughts and feelings that you have about how you look are not supportive and positive, or at least neutral, then your appearance by way of your thoughts and feelings could have an impact on that. Right?

I want to just appreciate that sort of, um, duality and the dissonance there. And so as your kind of evaluating the impact that, that your thoughts and feelings about your appearance are having on how you show up—and, and here, particularly we're talking about in the workplace and in your career. Don't forget about what is important to you outside of your appearance. Don't forget about the value that you bring that has nothing to do with how you look. All right?

What are those like intrinsic traits, qualities, skills, values? And don't forget about those. All right? Even if you're having to stare at yourself for hours and hours and hours a day. All right?

Number seven. Get support. Oh my gosh. So many women feel so lonely in their struggles with body image. You may feel like you're the only one who's feeling, you know, so low about your body after staring at yourself on a screen all day. And the truth is that you're not. And so having community support, having a coach there by your side can really help you make accelerated progress on your journey to better body image.

The podcast is such a great first step. Duh, I'm so glad you you're here. But if you really want to ramp things up and really want to take it to the next level and do this, this work, then you know where to go. You know where to go. We've got the link to sign up for Flourish, get a free seven day trial in the show notes. All right?

That's what I've got for y'all today, folks. I would really love to know the impact you feel that that Zoom and video conferencing has had on your body image... positive, negative, interesting things that you've noticed.

I have way more gray hair than I realized. Thanks, Zoom. Appreciate ya. (laughter) I don't usually see the top of my head! Like the way I have my camera angled, I feel like I can really see the top of my head. (sigh) You know, we're doing the best we can. All right?

I, again, hope you enjoyed today's episode. Give me all your thoughts, your feedback, your point of view. I would love to hear it. Send me a DM on Instagram. And with that, I'll see you in the next one. Bye y'all.



Claire Siegel:

Thank you so much for joining me for today's episode of the Flourish podcast. If you enjoyed it, please take a second to leave us a five-star review or better yet, share it with a friend. And if you're ready to start your own journey to get healthy for good with accountability from expert coaches and the support of an incredible community, head to the show notes to get started on your Flourish journey.

I'll see you in the next episode.

Featuring
Headshot of Claire Siegel
Claire Siegel
RDN, LD
Co-founder, CEO
Claire Siegel is the founder and CEO of Flourish. Claire has made it her life’s mission to help women create a sustainable approach to their physical and mental well-being.
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