We all have had to adapt our lives after the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the world. Facemasks, infinte queues at the supermarket, limited mobility and tons of hours spent on Zoom. Whether it was a video call with colleagues or a virtual get together with friends, most of our interactions during lockdown happened through a computer or a phone’s screen.
Even if we are trained to spend hours on video calls, it sure as hell happens to everyone to get distracted for a moment while someone else is talking. Not because the dog is barking in the garden, the water is boiling in the kettle or because there is noise in the background. You get distracted by looking at your image on the screen. OMG look at the bags under my eyes!, Did my ears always stick out that much?, I’m so pale!, There’s something wrong with my nose!.
This is called Zoom Boom and it’s among the side effects of the pandemic. It comes from the United States and it is an unexpected phenomenon linked to the massive use of video calls and the ‘not very dazzling’ perception that men and women had after seeing their reflection during the virtual meetings. Those who observed themselves did not like what they saw: they saw big and small defects, flaws that they perhaps were not aware of before. "It was one thing sitting in a boardroom meeting, but it's another thing when you're staring at yourself a foot away from your computer screen - said Dr. Kevin Brenner to the Hollywood Reporter about the impact of videoconferencing - People are like, 'Oh my God, I didn't realize I had all these wrinkles around my eyes’.”
This effect is the result of what the scientists of the British Psychological Society have renamed ‘Perceptual Distortion’. A different angle from the laptop’s camera or a less flattering light, creates an image that we tend not to recognise as ours. We find this image very different from the one we see in the mirror when our attention is more occasional, more sporadic, less scrupulous. Moreover, during online video calls, you are not only looking at your own face, but also making comparisons, whether unconsciously or not, to other people - and that has its own effect.
Inevitably, the relationship with one's own image in the conversation window on a video call has become a daily occurrence. Our screen, that has been defined by many as the new mirror of society, has led to the emergence of aesthetic needs linked to comfort during online meetings. That’s why, some people decided to take action, resorting to plastic surgery and fueling a greater interest in cosmetic surgery procedures. Plastic surgeons and aesthetic doctors (who for a moment feared that the crisis would reduce the budget that people allocated for the care of their image) saw what today we called the Zoom Boom, that is an increase in requests for a variety of interventions, which arrived immediately after the lockdown.
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The data undoubtedly tells us what is happening. American plastic surgeons received 64% more consultation requests as soon as their studios opened again. But this is a widespread trend on a global scale, ranging from the United States to Australia via Europe. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) has reported a “massive upswing” in demand for virtual consultations during lockdown, as patients continued to consider treatments they’d be able to get once they could see their surgeon face to face again. Minilifting, blepharoplasty, rhinoplasty but also breast implants, seem to be the most popular surgeries during this pandemic. However, BAAPS urges the public to remain cautious.
The insane growth of plastic surgery requests, especially by women, is nothing new. According to the latest data, in 2017, over 28.3 thousand cosmetic surgeries were carried out in the UK, while in the US the number reached 18 million people. For this reason, some say that the Zoom Boom is just a continuation of a trend that’s been happening for years: “Essentially, it’s the same problem - says to the BBC Ashton Collins, director of Save Face, a UK government-approved register of accredited cosmetic practitioners - Before it was ‘Selfie Dysmorphia’, and I think now it’s less about photos, and more about video calls. You see yourself in a certain way, and you scrutinise that and become obsessed with certain things.”
We cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater. It would be inaccurate to say that people undergo plastic surgery only for silly or vain reasons. However, those considering cosmetic surgery should ask themselves why they are doing it and understand if there are other aspects in life that may need to be looked at and addressed.
Written by Miriam Tagini