Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all? I admit that I check myself out in the mirror often. Some days I’m ok with what I see and some days, well…I’m hypercritical. I realize, of course, that any self-criticism can be based more on recent life experiences and perhaps sleep deprivation, than any physical changes. I get it and don’t try to obsess with the changes I see. After all, it’s inevitable to show visible signs of aging as we get older. I consider myself lucky to have reached my age gracefully. I think what’s most notable to me, however, is that as I’m aging I look more and more like my mother in her later years. It’s a bit creepy to see aspects of her image staring back at me, but I’m good with that.

Since the pandemic has forced all of us into Zoom meetings every day, a newly heightened focus on self-image has emerged. And according to recent research, we hate the way we look on Zoom. And that’s true for everyone. (I’m so glad to hear I’m not alone with this sentiment.) And it’s not necessarily age-related. Women as young as 18 are seeking cosmetic surgery, Botox, and fillers in record numbers because of this dissatisfaction. Personally, it’s been fruitless trying to adjust the lighting and position of my laptop camera. None of my efforts help me look better. I hate the way I look on Zoom. We all hate the way we look on zoom. It has a new term: Zoom Dysmorphia.

Who knew?

I didn’t realize until I read the research on this that the webcam distorts our face in ways a mirror doesn’t. Webcams are at best a “flawed representation of reality” according to experts.

The study gives more context to this.

“During real-life conversations, we do not see our faces speaking and displaying emotions, and we certainly do not compare our faces side-by-side to others like we do on video calls. In addition, cameras can distort video quality and create an inaccurate representation of true appearance. One study found that a portrait taken from 12 inches away increases perceived nose size by 30% when compared with that taken at 5 feet. Webcams, inevitably recording at shorter focal lengths, tend to produce an overall more rounded face, wider set eyes, and broader nose.”

Of course, we’re left dealing with our distorted Zoom faces while still being bombarded with photo-shopped images of other women on social media, TV, and advertising. Talk about a distortion of reality! No wonder we’re crazed about our appearance and confused about what’s real. “These factors combined had a damaging impact on self-perception, anxiety, and mental health—and it’s not going away.”

In fact, apparently, people are anxious about returning to in-person work and events because of this. We are stressed about how we look because we mostly seen ourselves on Zoom and that distorted image is how we believe we look in real life. God help us!

My first suggestion is a simple one. Check yourself out in the mirror before you panic! Mirror, mirror on the wall may be, in fact, the most realistic image of yourself, provided you have a decent mirror. (That’s a good investment, by the way.)

Suggestion number two is to understand that the way you show up on Zoom is distorted and to not get hung up on why you look tired, hungover, and why your nose grew 30% overnight, etc.

If you can get beyond this, you also accept the fact that everyone in your Zoom meeting faces the same effects of the webcam.

So, settle down, take a breath and stop staring at yourself.  Pay more attention to the content of the meeting and not your appearance. I, for one, am going to be much gentler with myself and stop focusing on the way I look on Zoom. Just accept it and move on.

This is also a great reminder that we can distort ourselves with negative beliefs. If we believe we’re not attractive, we may hesitate to be visible, raise our hand, share our opinions. Yes, it’s important to pay some attention to our appearance because that matters a lot in the workplace. But let’s not obsess to the point that we hate ourselves, withdraw, and sabotage our success in doing so, that we lose our confidence.

No judgment here. If you want to take steps to modify your appearance, go for it. One benefit may be increased confidence. Yet, understand that changing your looks won’t guarantee you success, and Zoom will continue to distort your face even after you make changes.

I’ll make a note to self to take the mirror over Zoom every day. Mirror, mirror on the wall does show us the fairest of them all, after all.