Zoom Dysmorphia Is Following People Into the Real World

From Wired:

LAST SUMMER, WHEN clinics began to tentatively reopen, dermatologist Shadi Kourosh noticed a worrying trend—a spike in appointment requests for appearance-related issues. “It seemed that, at a time like that, other matters would be top of mind, but a lot of people were really concerned with feeling that they looked much worse than usual,” she says.

Kourosh, who is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, soon discovered that others in her field and related ones such as plastic surgery had noticed a similar phenomenon. And when she and her colleagues asked patients what was driving their decision to seek treatment, a lot of them cited videoconferencing. The pandemic had catapulted them into a world of Zoom calls and Teams meetings, and staring at their own face on a screen all day every day was wreaking havoc with their self-image.

In the age of Zoom, people became inordinately preoccupied with sagging skin around their neck and jowls; with the size and shape of their nose; with the pallor of their skin. They wanted cosmetic interventions, ranging from Botox and fillers to facelifts and nose jobs. Kourosh and colleagues surveyed doctors and surgeons, examining the question of whether videoconferencing during the pandemic was a potential contributor to body dysmorphic disorder. They called it “Zoom dysmorphia.”

Now, with the rise in vaccinations seemingly pushing the pandemic into retreat, new research from Kourosh’s group at Harvard has revealed that Zoom dysmorphia isn’t going away. A survey of more than 7,000 people suggests the mental scars of the coronavirus will stay with us for some time.

Even before Covid, plastic surgeons and dermatologists were seeing a rise in patients coming to them with demands that were “unrealistic and unnatural,” Kourosh says. The term “Snapchat dysmorphia” was coined in 2015 to describe the growing numbers of people who wanted to look like they’d been put through a face-altering filter in real life, all big eyes and sparkling skin.

Before that, a patient might turn up at a plastic surgeon’s office with photos of a celebrity they wanted to look like clipped from a magazine. Even before the rise of social media, psychologists found that people who stared at themselves in a mirror became more self-conscious.

But Zoom dysmorphia is different. Unlike with Snapchat, where people are aware that they’re viewing themselves through a filter, video conferencing distorts our appearance in ways we might not even realize, as Kourosh and her coauthors identified in their original paper.

Front-facing cameras distort your image like a “funhouse mirror,” she says—they make noses look bigger and eyes look smaller. This effect is exacerbated by proximity to the lens, which is generally nearer to you than a person would ever stand in a real-life conversation. Looking down at a smartphone or laptop camera is the least flattering angle—as anyone from the MySpace generation will tell you, the best camera position is from above, hence the ubiquity of the selfie stick.

We’re also used to seeing our own reflection when our faces are relaxed—the concentrated frown (or bored expression) you wear in a Zoom meeting jars with the image of yourself you’re used to seeing in the mirror. “Changes in self-perception and anxiety as a result of constant video-conferencing may lead to unnecessary cosmetic procedures, especially in young adults who have had increased exposure to online platforms including videoconferencing, social media, and filters throughout the pandemic,” write Kourosh, Channi Silence, and other colleagues.

The term “Zoom dysmorphia” was picked up by international media, and Kourosh was inundated with emails from friends and strangers who it resonated with. In the new follow up study due to be published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, the research group found that 71 percent of the 7,000 people surveyed were anxious or stressed about returning to in-person activities, and that nearly 64 percent had sought mental health support.

Link to the rest at Wired

PG is interested in the writing that will come out of this exceedingly strange Covid era.

PG hasn’t seen many reports from other countries, but there was a bizarre craziness that settled over more than a few people in the United States during this period. For others, the Covid-caused disruption of their ordinary daily routines provided an opportunity and incentive to take more extreme rational steps to improve their lives than might have been the case absent Covid.

One of the lasting consequences appears to be that a great many people anticipate not having to go into the office of an employer on a regular basis in the future. Some companies are offering remote work as a recruiting strategy to snare valuable employees away from employers who have announced that everyone will be coming back to the office full-time as soon as public health directives permit.

Other employees are taking retirement or early retirement rather than go back to a daily commute.

The Wall Street Journal reported that exurbs, “outer fringes of large metro areas where single-family homes mix with farms and many workers have traditionally commuted a significant distance to the core of the metro area,” have experienced substantial growth during the Covid shutdowns, driven by move-ins of people who anticipate that they won’t be making a daily commute in the future.

Per the Journal, “for the year ended in March, exurban counties outside large metro areas saw construction of single-family homes rise 20% from the year-earlier period. That was more than twice the rate for core counties in those metro areas.”

“Clearly, it will transform the South,” Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said of exurban growth. The region is benefiting from lower costs that are drawing tech companies and other businesses looking for cheaper locations.

Wall Street Journal

New arrivals Nicole O’Meara and her husband talked for years about moving away from their lifelong home in suburban Chicago, unhappy about property taxes and weather. Last year they moved with their two toddlers to a subdivision in Murfreesboro after spending only a few days in the area.

Ms. O’Meara works from home in accounting. Real-estate company  Zillow Group Inc. recently declared the Nashville metro area the No. 1 U.S. location for these types of workers, known as “digital nomads.” Stephen O’Meara works in the automotive industry and knew he would quickly find a job.

As they worked with a real-estate agent, “she would send me listings and we’d see these houses and they would be gone in a day,” said Ms. O’Meara, 43.

Wall Street Journal

Because the U.S. population as a whole isn’t growing very fast, the population increases in some areas driven by Covid are being offset by declines elsewhere.

California, by far the largest state by population, experienced a population decline in 2020, the first time the California’ had lost population since the state Department of Finance began collecting population date in 1900.

21 thoughts on “Zoom Dysmorphia Is Following People Into the Real World”

  1. For about the last six months, everybody I encounter on the Zooms is turning off video. They can see screens with numbers and graphs, but they have killed their own images.

  2. One wonders if this… particular… "dysmorphia" will follow its victim into the real world.

    I certainly hope so! In gleeful anticipation, I’ve been downloading and converting a lot of images from Shark Week. With my luck, I’ll end up closer to Moana‘s version, which has a 50% chance of being very awkward indeed. Sharkbutt!

  3. Interesting.
    PG’s comments, not the psychobabbly handwringing of the OP 😉

    Three thoughts come to mind:

    First, if centralized corporate hives aren’t strictly required to keep white collar worker bees productive, why would companies invest in giant centralized campuses costing billions, in high tax, high cost of living, long commute areas? If (some/many) workers migrate to outer suburbs and exurbs wouldn’t make sense to spread out corporate facilities too? Most suburbs have/can support small tech parks for small businesses and startups that can afford a “prestigious” downtown facility. Might not big corporations join in the (low cost)? Say a company based in Dallas sees a big portion of its workers spreading out to the ‘burbs, wouldn’t behoove them to strategically move specific units out, too? Decentralized workforces are a great incentive to (further) decentralize companies.

    Second, if this form of white (collar) flight endures, big cities will get hollowed out. Again. The workers and companies leaving will reduce the tax base exactly when big city governments are increasing expenses and taxes. In fact, those very increases will add to the pressure for companies to reduce their presence and exposure (witness Amazon moving functions out of downtown Seattle because of the threat of a Headcount Tax and Tesla and SpaceX moving their new production facilities out of California over the threat of a wealth tax, Oracle, too). There will be additional sociopolitical effects; Californication, purplification, gentrification, possibly a big city or two might collapse.

    Consider this, from 2016:

    “Across all four regions, poverty rates were consistently lower for those living in rural areas than for those living in urban areas, with the largest differences in the Midwest and Northeast.

    “Among the states, 42 had higher poverty rates among people living in urban areas than those living in rural areas. Conversely, in seven states, people in rural areas had higher poverty rates. In one state (South Dakota), poverty rates for urban and rural residents were not statistically different from each other.

    “In 32 states, median household income was higher for rural households than for urban households. In Rhode Island, for example, median household income for rural areas ($85,278) was about 57 percent higher than the median for urban households ($54,324). In 14 states, the opposite was the case. Median income for urban households was higher than for rural households. In four states, Minnesota, Delaware, Florida and West Virginia, the differences in the median household incomes were not statistically significant. ”

    Now, consider what moving well-paying white collar jobs (and their taxes) will do to big cities. Anyway…

    And third, a rebalance of work life will invariably result in a rebalance of lifestyle. The one that comes to mind first is family size. Before the pandemic US fertility rates have been falling since 2008, mostly out of three causes–reduced low end immigration, increasing childrearing costs, and urban concentration. What is neglected is that the fertility rate declines aren’t uniform but bimodal and a function of living costs and income. In fact, among the high income white collar professional classes larger families and even single earner lifestyles has been something of a status symbol. One might expect tbat a move to lower density/lower cost living will reduce the pressures depressing fertility rates. After all one woukd expect folks weary from a long work day and a two hour commute to be particularly amorous. 😀

    The djinn of remote work is out and the resulting changes will impact much more than work life.
    They will also compound with added changes coming to transportation, automation, and retailing.
    For much of tbe last century, US population has been steadily urbanizing and the pademic is proving multiple reasons to reduce or even reverse this, at a time techno!ogy is providing the means.

    The 21st century rolls on, away from tbe ways of the 20th.

  4. There are some (non-expensive) tricks that people can do instead of surgery– things like having a light behind your laptop/camera, pointed away from the camera, pointed at a pinkish (“coral” is good, if you can get it, and there are more precise shades I can’t remember) surface so it tints the light. That’s an old trick they used in lady’s sitting rooms to make people look healthier and younger.

    The trick of making sure you’re not looking down at the camera– trust the short girl, nobody looks flattering when you’re looking up 45* at them.

    I like the shift to teleworking, at least part time– mostly because it means a vast reduction in stuff-my-husband-brought-home-from-work. Once things open back up more, I’m hoping that a similar reduction will happen in things-we-get-from-public-school-kids, even with so many kids staying at their grandparents’ instead of with their parents.
    At least in our area, the grandparents have at least as good of internet as the parents– and they are available to help the kids throughout the day. Iowa is a bit odd in so many grandparents having houses where they can half of their school age grandkids visiting and not run out of space, but not that odd.

  5. I actually like the zoom conferences – seeing myself reminds me to smile more – but I’m not doing any long ones, and it’s not for work, and it’s usually at my convenience.

    Maybe this will be the future, but I really miss the kids in person, and we’re incredibly reluctant to travel with delta out there, at our age and condition.

    • This.
      There are far more important things out there than how you look onscreen.
      Unless you’re a model or movie star or deal with uncommonly shallow people you are not going to be judged by your looks. Even in the singles market.

      • But Felix, what if you’re just vain? Or, worse yet, you were one of the “Beautiful People” in high school — three decades ago — and need to maintain that image while planning for the class reunion? (Do I really need a <sarcasm> tag there?)

        Fortunately, neither applies to me. We had a three-part system when I was on active duty: The senior-NCO branch leadership was the “good guy,” the First Sergeant was the bad guy, and the commander — me — was overqualified for “ugly” so things usually didn’t get that far. And my appearance hasn’t improved any since then.

        • The internet does need a sarcasm tag, or a standard emoji that works everywhere. Especially in these times.

          (In private conversation, I use :-l. Which doesn’t convert to an emoji.)

          As for the “pretty” folk, in my circles I’ve never run into many pretty boys that could keep up with my tribe. Not sure why, but they gravitated elsewhere. 😀

          Nor did lack of said looks ever stop any of us from delivering. (Lucky for me.)

  6. People keep talking about an exodus from California, but I have not noticed real estate prices going down at all, even though every vacant lot in every urban and suburban area is being built on (there is a state law that pretty much requires municipalities to do so.) That, and there are some mega company build-outs going on in the North part of San Jose’s Golden Triangle.

    • There’s evidence – SF rents for certain sizes and conditions have dropped by ~25%, Sacramento and Reno median home prices are way up, and so on. And there’s a good chance that we’ve hit peak prices, for example, condo prices have been pretty steady for a while, and price reductions are starting in Tracy.

    • Real estate prices aren’t just due to population numbers. Plus state population drops aren’t uniform nor is the makeup of that population constant. People who move out may be replaced but there is no guarantee the replacements will have the same economic impact.

      The drop is real, though:

      “Between January 2020 and January 2021, the state lost more than 182,000 residents, per population estimates and data released in a report by the department, bringing the total population to 39,466,855. That represents a 0.46% drop.

      More than half of the decline — a loss of about 100,000 residents — was attributed to federal immigration restrictions, the report said, while deaths stemming from the Covid-19 pandemics accounted for the loss of about 51,000 residents, about 19% above the average death rate for the preceding three years. ”


      “The report comes on the heels of the release of data from the US Census, which found that while the state remains the nation’s most populous, it will lose one of its 53 congressional seats for the first time.
      However, the report indicated experts anticipated annual growth would resume this year.
      “As pandemic-related deaths decline and with changes in federal policy, California is expected to return to a slightly positive annual growth when calendar year 2021 population estimates are released in May 2022,” the report said. ”

      Going by the nunbers at the border–the highest in 21 years– growth will resume.

  7. Fast, reliable broadband access would seem to be a prerequisite for expanding the work-from-home base but that gets harder to come by as you move out farther from the urban centers. I recall reading some articles a few years ago about a proposed network of low-orbiting satellites that would bring that kind of access to just about everyone. Amazon may have been involved somehow. I haven’t heard much on the topic lately so maybe they ran into some unexpected challenges.

    • You haven’t heard of STARLINK?
      Easy fix.

      As of July STARLINK has 1735 satellites in orbit. They paused new launches (60+ at a time) because:
      – they finished the first shell of moderate latitude satellites from Kennexy
      – they are preparing to launch a high latitude shell (to cover everything but the poles) from Vandeberg
      – they are finishing up the version 2.0 satellites that use lasers to communicate among themselves and rely less on ground stations
      – there is a shortage of liquid oxygen for rocket launches since it’s needed for COVID patients
      – they are awaiting FCC action on a request to orbit a second shell at higher altitude and a third shell (slightly higher still) to hold backups to ensure constant service
      – they are moving forward on the STARSHIP/SUPERHEAVY orbital launch system that will let them launch 400 satellites at a time by next spring (STARSHIP itself is an ongoing legendary effort, of potentially APOLLO proportiins, but privately funded.)

      In addition, they are reengineering the customer dishes to cut cost by 50% and looking to get a further 50% cut in 2022-23.

      Now STARLINK isn’t the only such ongoing effort; the UK has a smaller scale project called ONEWEB with 60 satellites, and AMAZON’s AWB has an effort to compete with STARLINK with, so far, zero satellites. But they have lots of lawyers to sue and block STARLINK with. 🙁

      You might want to stroll by YOUTUBE and do searches on STARLINK or STARSHIP. The STARSHIP videos show up every couple of hours because the prototype develooment and ground facilities in south Texas are moving on internet time. (And because it makes great entertainment for pandemic shut ins.) What was an empty field two years ago hosts a dozen buildings, two launch pads and an ongoing launch support tower over 400 feet tall that has gone up in a few month.

      (The occasional explosions are awesome, too.)

      If SPACEX succeeds, historians will have 90% of their work documented before they start the history of the 21st century. The whole thing is ridiculous in ambition, speed, and success to date.

      As is, STARLINK is still in beta but delivering a mininum of 50Mbps with a peak of 150Mbps, hoping to double the bandwidth by next year. It is not, however, intended for high population areas like those currently supported by cablecos and telcos, but for exurbs and rural areas. 🙂

      Like so many things exploding because of the pandenic, the project was well on its way before the pandemic hit, making it the right tech at the right time. So fret not, the infrastructure needed for the mainstreaming of remote work will be in place as needed.

      • I was looking forward to Starlink, too, but then our exurb road suddenly got CenturyLink (Lumen) FIBER! Not sure how or why but am very much digging getting 500+Mbps Down and 600+ Mbps Up. BUT… people don’t realize it’s VOIP for the phone, which has it’s drawbacks (e.g., no electricity = no phone). So we’re making use of our existing copper lines + the fiber, so we’re covered (+ cell, too).

        BTW, I’m one of these Digital Nomads who moved from the City (L.A.) to the Country (central Virginia). It used to be a mix of farmers and newcomer city folk around here, but now it’s mostly city mice living the dream. 😉

        P.S. All those commercials you see about HughesNet?… Fuhgetaboutit. Way too expensive (for data) and “only” 25Mbps.

        • Ain’t competition wonderful?
          Especially when it’s competition for federal subsidies. 😀
          Entire regions tbat weren’t worth a sniffle for cablecos are now suddenly worth going after before Starlink and 5G get there.

          And yes, I’ve seen the HughesNet ads. That only started airing after STARLINK sats started flying. A bit late for that. Their sats are GEOs and their latency will never dent STARLINK’s cash cows: multinationals and financial institutions. Individuals are just opportunistic frosting. No shock MS signed up to use STARLINK for AZURE and Google wasn’t far behind. Who is and will remain behind is AWS since AMAZON will never deal with SPACEX and finish burying BLUE ORIGIN. What goes around…

          • The one thing that would worry me about STARLINK is that it is sat-based. We have Direct-TV and the sat signal disruption during inclement weather is ugly. Maybe STARLINK gets around that, but there’s nothing like having a fiber wire buried in the ground that I can see and hold in my hand. In fact, I watched and followed along as the DitchWitchers laid that fiber from the terminal on the road to the back of my house.

            • Cable is better, yes.
              But it is pricey to lay: something around $20,000 per mile.

              Bear in mind, though, that DirecTV and Disk are GEO, running a handful of satellites at 22,234 Miles while STARLINK runs at 500-1000 miles. Different frequencies, too.
              Most interference is trees not rain.
              Also, bear in mind the beta service is billed by SPACEX as “the better than nothing beta”. 😀

              They are delivering much better service than GEO and on latency (critical to the target financial applications) STARLINK betters transatlantuc cable: currently it runs 20-40 miliseconds vs 50-60 for underwater cable vs 80+ for GEO satellites. Fiber optic does 20ms but that’s the physical limit. Once STARLINK adds laser satellite to satellite links they should go lower than 20ms.

              As is, STARLINK is already good enough for online gaming shooters which Hughes definitely isn’t. Plus 50-150Mbps beats 18MBps.

              I’ve got cable myself but the lowest, cheapest level: 40Mbps is more than enough for 4K video streaming (20Mbps is marginal) and I only need one stream at a time. Now, folks running multiple streams in different parts of the house or a small business are different. I wouldn’t turn my nose at 250-300Mbps but not at double the price.

              Its an evolving situation with new tech and the feds throwing around bags of money.

              (Personally, I think Google blew it with their high altitude balloons. They needed to anchor the things at a couple thousand feet and use a variation of microwave tech. Much cheaper and better coverage in rural areas; one or two per county.)

              • Good points. Couple of things:

                * The trees are not the problem with Direct TV; it’s the weather. And I’m talking a little rain and some thick clouds. I can cut trees, but I can’t cut clouds.

                * Not sure if STARLINK will have data caps, but that’s one of the biggest downfalls of HughesNet. You’re capped at 500GB/month. We—and most streaming families I know—easily exceed that. We’re probably at 1 TB. With our current Fiber, there are no limits. Fingers crossed that doesn’t change.

                * Our cost for “Giga Fiber” (they advertise 940 Mbps but the actual is less) is way under $100/mnth. I’ll take that any day. And while it may cost $20k/mile to lay, the Feds are definitely helping here, and once it’s laid, it’s laid. Because, you know: “Rural Broadband.” Us digital nomads now living in the woods with the cows need it. Farmers, too.

                P.S. Just ran a speed test to rub it in: 743 Mbps Down, 705 Mbps Up. Lovin’ it!

                • No data caps at STARLINK.

                  The system is like cellular but in reverse: instead of the receiving stations (phones) moving, it is the sats. Some folks have tried it on moving vehicles and it works but it’s not (yet) supported. SPACEX themselves used it on their latest STARSHIP prototypes and got mountains of data, enough they cancelled the last scheduled vV1.5 prototype and moved directly to the next iteration. They’ve also used it on their robobarges and the USAF tested it with drones. They’re signing up. Once they cover the high latitudes they’re planning to cover planes and ships of all kinds. They’ve also discussed doing a similar system for the moon and mars; the sats are really cheap by satellites standards (thousands instead of millions).

                  As I said, its a fast evolving business now that it’s not just business.

        • You’re welcome.
          I do a lot of tech tracking and these days the epicenter of the space world is SpaceX. They may be building an empire, judging by the quantity and (lack of) quality of their enemies.
          Fun stuff.

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