Looking at yourself while videoconferencing can have negative consequences, especially for women
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have switched to remote work, and thus face-to-face meetings have been turned into video conferences, using programs such as Zoom or Teams. Such programs have one feature that makes videoconferencing significantly different from face-to-face meetings, namely during a videoconference we see not only other meeting participants, but also ourselves.
Instead of looking in the mirror occasionally, many of us now look at ourselves for several hours a day. This leads to a constant focus on one’s appearance, and this, research suggests, can be damaging to mental health, especially for women.
Objectification and self-objectification
We live in a culture where objectification, that is, being seen or treated as an object, often sexual, affects women much more often than men. Women from an early age learn that they should look pretty, which leads to self-objectification, i.e. they begin to focus very much on their beauty and treat it as an object to be watched.
Self-objectification, i.e. focusing on one’s appearance, can also be temporarily increased by various factors, such as being near a mirror, taking a picture of oneself, or feeling that one’s own appearance is being judged by other people. All these factors occur during meetings on Teams or Zoom.
Thinking of oneself as an object can cause behavioral changes in both men and women, but research shows that women experience greater negative consequences.
For example, in one study, participants put on a bathing suit and then looked at themselves in a mirror. In women, this resulted in worse performance in math tasks, suggesting that self-objectification may be cognitively taxing for women. What’s more, many women developed feelings of shame that led them to cut back on food. Such phenomena have not been observed in men. Other studies have found that women who objectify themselves speak less in gender-mixed groups.
Self-objectification also causes women, in a sense, to distance themselves from their own bodies. This may manifest itself in difficulties in recognizing one’s emotional states and other signals coming from the body, and even worse motor skills. One study showed that girls who were prone to self-objectification had worse motor coordination than girls who were not as prone to focus on their own appearance. In other studies, it turned out that women who are highly focused on their appearance, feel the cold less when they are lightly dressed in cold weather.
Although the direct impact of videoconferencing on self-objectification has not been studied so far, there are publications that indicate that such an impact may exist.
Researchers point to a phenomenon called “Zoom fatigue,” or more generally, “virtual meeting fatigue,” which is the exhaustion many people feel after long online meetings. This phenomenon is stronger in women than in men, and in people who have their camera turned on during meetings compared to those who turn off their camera. Moreover, greater fatigue due to the camera being on is more pronounced in women, and an additional factor that influences exhaustion is dissatisfaction with the appearance of one’s own face. And here also, women are more often dissatisfied with how their face looks than men. It has also been observed that looking at yourself during video calls has an impact on worse satisfaction with the appearance of your face, especially in people who tend to self-objectify.
All this suggests that videoconferencing can negatively affect the well-being and psyche, especially in women, and the simplest thing you can do to avoid the harmful impact is to turn off the camera or use the option to hide the view for yourself.
- Staring at an image of yourself on Zoom has serious consequences for mental health – especially for women. The Conversation
- Ratan R., Miller D. B., Bailenson J. N. (2022). Facial Appearance Dissatisfaction Explains Differences in Zoom Fatigue. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 25(2).
Author: Maja Kochanowska