How video calls have impacted our self-esteem and what you can do about it

·7-min read
Spending so much time looking at ourselves online can have a negative impact on self-esteem. (Posed by model, Getty Images)
Spending so much time looking at ourselves online can have a negative impact on self-esteem. (Posed by model, Getty Images)

By the time we’d eased ourselves out of lockdown round one many of us were suffering from an extreme case of video call fatigue.

Staring at own faces, flattened on a screen, day in, day out, seemed to have a big impact on our self-esteem.

A rise in video calls has led to 50% of Brits hating their own faces on screen, according to a survey by skincare brand Medovie.

Skin (26%), yellow teeth (20%) and eye bags (18%) were amongst the top reasons why Brits were feeling more self-conscious due to video calls, with 75% admitting to concentrating more on their own looks than the meeting itself.

Read more: Why lockdown is causing a crisis of confidence and how to beat the paranoia

A separate poll by Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors, examined the impact of the increasing use of video conferencing technology on body image and found that almost half (47%) of people have felt negatively about the way they look since the start of the pandemic.

The survey, of 1,100 people, also revealed that almost a third (32%) reported their self esteem had decreased to some extent, while 10% said their self-esteem had ‘significantly decreased’.

All this self-analysis is having a knock-on impact on our wellbeing, with 23% of those respondents in the Medovie survey reporting seeing themselves on camera has impacted their mental health.

Read more: Pandemic anxiety leading to rise in jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding and facial pain, study suggests

Are video calls causing us to self-scrutinise? (Posed by model, Getty Images)
Are video calls causing us to self-scrutinise? (Posed by model, Getty Images)

Why are video calls causing such a crisis of self-confidence?

There’s no getting round the fact that seeing yourself on camera during a video call is pretty... well, unflattering.

For a start, there are no filters, which can come as something of a shock to some, as we live in an increasingly edited world.

Angles also have a role to play in chipping away at our confidence. If you’re video calling on your laptop you’ll inevitably be captured from below, which years of selfie-taking has revealed to be the most unflattering angle imaginable.

There’s also the fact that under normal circumstances we hardly ever watch ourselves talking. Sure we pose in pictures, but on a video call you’re suddenly faced with a whole host of facial expressions you never even knew you pulled.

Before you know it you’ve fallen down a destructive rabbit hole of critical self-analysis.

“There is no doubt looking at ourselves daily on Zoom or any video call we can fall into total self-sabotage and our self-esteem can be effected,” explains Charlotte Balbier, business, mindset and lifestyle mentor.

“We have not been used to constantly looking at ourselves when in meetings. With the video on and our faces looking back at us we see ourselves in a different light.”

Watch: Why we really need to stop apologising for the way we look on Zoom.

This new way of communicating, can spark an inner dialogue that is not always kind, leading us to focus on flaws and potentially manifesting in a lowering of self-esteem and imposter syndrome.

“When we see someone in person, it is solely their communication and body language that we rely on to understand what is going on and this helps us decide how we want to respond back to that person,” explains psychologist, Dr Juliet Anton.

“When we’re on a Zoom call, however, not only are we seeing their face but to the side of them, we are seeing our face and body language too.

“This is very weird because not only are we trying to attend to the person/people we are speaking to, we are trying to deal with our own reflection coming in the way too.

“This is a hard enough but if we struggle to see or look at ourselves in the mirror let alone a Zoom call, the struggle is insurmountable and can cause individuals to become very self-conscious of themselves and negatively impact their self-esteem.”

Read more: Why we're turning to nostalgia to get us through lockdown 2.0

Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy, says seeing ourselves online can also highlight any pre-existing vulnerabilities we may have.

“If we’re someone who already suffered from low self-esteem, having to look at ourselves multiple times throughout the day on Zoom calls might mean that we end up critiquing ourselves more.”

This crushing of our confidence can also have a knock-on effect on how we “perform” on a video call.

“Thinking negatively about ourselves impacts how we feel,” explains Clair MacKenzie, life coach and founder of The Best You Coach.

“And when we feel ashamed and self-conscious, we act differently. We are less likely to contribute and share our ideas. Less likely to engage with others and ask high quality questions.

“Ultimately, by thinking about our presence and performance so much, we can get stuck in our own head and could end up performing worse.”

Though to a certain extent this can happen in a face-to-face meeting, MacKenzie believes constantly seeing yourself on camera can certainly exacerbate things.

Conducting meetings via video is denting self-confidence. (Posed by model, Getty Images)
Conducting meetings via video is denting self-confidence. (Posed by model, Getty Images)

There are some ways to give your self-esteem a much needed boost.

Notice and call out negative chatter

Why do we think it is ok to give ourselves such a hard time about our appearance, when we wouldn’t dream of pointing out the flaws of others?

“Next time you notice you’re having negative thoughts about yourself, ask yourself whether you would talk to a friend like that,” suggests Dr Touroni. “And try showing yourself the same kindness and compassion you’d show them instead.”

Focus on your positives

Instead of concentrating on the things you don’t like about yourself, try to highlight those you do. “If you’re someone who struggles with low self-esteem, you probably spend a lot of time focusing on the things you don’t like about yourself rather than the things you do,” explains Dr Touroni. “Shift your attention to your positive qualities and attributes.”

Adjust your video call settings

Another way to manage this difficulty is to change the settings on the call, so that you can not see the reflection of yourself and can only see the other person/people you are talking to.

“Next time you are on a Zoom meeting, if you want to hide yourself on your screen, you can right-click on your camera box which would give you a menu with the option to hide yourself. When you click this option, your camera box will disappear,” advises Dr Anton.

“If at any point you change your mind and you want to show yourself again on your screen, you follow the same procedure, and this time, select the option show yourself.”

The other person/people in the call will not know if you show or hide yourself on your screen.

Dress for sucess

Show up on video calls looking how you do when you feel most empowered. “They say we are what we eat but I honestly think we are what we wear too,” says Balbier.

“I know it’s so tempting to slip on those comfy slippers while on a Zoom call and be what I call ‘newsreader’ ready on the top, but waist down in joggers and slippers.

“But from a mindset and productivity point of view this is not always good for our self-esteem. Instead slip on the clothes and shoes that make you feel empowered and appear on screen looking and feeling your best.”

Stick to a routine

Believe it or not, routine can be key to helping keep your self-esteem healthy. Balbier suggests getting up at the same time, getting moving, doing positive affirmations and keeping a gratitude diary. “All these set the tone for a more positive and productive day,” she says.

Watch: This year Father Christmas is taking Zoom calls from the North Pole.