Emily Hemendinger, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus – Zooming in on Appearance Dissatisfaction

Do you like the way you look when you’re on Zoom calls?

Emily Hemendinger, assistant professor with the department of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, says if not, you’re not alone.

Emily Hemendinger is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Assistant Professor with the Department of Psychiatry, and Clinical Director and Deep Brain Stimulation Coordinator with the OCD Program, at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Emily completed her dual degree program with her Masters in Social Work and Masters in Public Health (MSW/MPH) from the University of Pittsburgh. She has over 10 years of clinical experience working with OCD, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. Emily has a background in behavioral and community health sciences, health education, and health promotion. She has been published in The Scientific American, The Conversation, The Lancet Psychiatry, and several online media outlets. She has presented at national and local conferences on the topics of social media and mental health, eating disorders, disordered eating, OCD, and anxiety disorders. Emily is dedicated to helping our society rework their relationships with food and their bodies. Her research is focused on mental health conditions and quality of life, as well as the effects of social media and new technologies on self image.

Zooming in on Appearance Dissatisfaction

Have you noticed that you are constantly staring at yourself during your Zoom meeting or on FaceTime? This can be a natural human reaction to having our reflection presented to us.  For some, this act of mirror gazing can be linked to an increased preoccupation with thoughts, feelings, or images of one’s own appearance. These negative fixations on specific attributes or minor flaws can lead to intensified preoccupation with these attributes.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, videoconferencing has provided many benefits and it’s clear that videoconferencing will be with us for the foreseeable future. However, being more exposed to our own image, not surprisingly, has contributed to our society’s ongoing preoccupation with appearance.

Several years into the pandemic, surgeons are seeing a boom of cosmetic surgical requests related to videoconferencing, with some cosmetic surgeons reporting videoconferencing as the most common reason for cosmetic concerns among their patients.  

Researchers are suggesting that negative self-focused attention, cognitive overload, and anxiety around being stared at or negatively evaluated based on appearance could be contributing to increased appearance dissatisfaction. Another contributing factor could be that videoconferencing allows people to easily compare themselves with others in real time. Recent studies have found that those who engaged in more videochatting appearance comparisons experienced lower appearance satisfaction.

With the pervasiveness of Zoom meetings, FaceTime calls, and the constancy of documenting our lives, access to our own image can often feel inescapable. And for some people, this can intensify feelings of appearance dissatisfaction. However, when used in moderation, videoconferencing is a way for us to connect with others, which ultimately is a key piece in satisfaction and well-being.

Read More:
[The Conversation] – The ‘Zoom effect’ and the possible link between videochatting and appearance dissatisfaction
[The Conversation] – Mounting research documents the harmful effects of social media use on mental health, including body image and development of eating disorders
[ScienceDirect] – Zooming into cosmetic procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic: The provider’s perspective
[CU Anschutz] – Can ChatGPT and TikTok Fads Hurt People Struggling with Eating Disorders?
[Liebert Pub] – Nasal Distortion in Short-Distance Photographs: The Selfie Effect
[ScienceDirect] – Zooming in: The relationship between appearance concerns and perceived performance whilst videoconferencing among Australian adults
[SSRN] – Nonverbal Mechanisms Predict Zoom Fatigue and Explain Why Women Experience Higher Levels than Men