In the winter of 1984, Bruce Springsteen had recorded most of the songs that would appear on his iconic album Born in the U.S.A., but his manager said the record still lacked a clear hit single. Angry and frustrated, Bruce headed back to his hotel room in the evening and wrote “Dancing in the Dark” by morning.
The song became a worldwide pop hit and helped catapult Bruce to superstardom, but its uptempo rhythm belied his mental state at the time he wrote it. He was sick of working on the album in isolation and in desperate need of connecting with his fans on tour.
In the song’s lyrics, he’s tired and bored with himself. He checks his look in the mirror and wants to change his clothes, his hair, his face. He knows there’s something happening somewhere, and wants to be a part of it. Bruce has said the song was “about my own alienation, fatigue and desire to get out from inside the studio, my room, my record, my head and … live.”
Maybe you can relate. At times, I can.
The isolation of our virtual work world, which for some of us will continue indefinitely, creates a natural seclusion. We’ve been forced to interact with our colleagues through virtual calls, during which we see unflattering live self-images. The cameras on our laptops and cellphones make faces look rounder and noses wider, according to Arianne Shadi Kourosh, MD, MPH, a board certified dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
These distorted self-images have led to “Zoom dysmorphia,” a term Dr. Kourosh coined to describe the impact live video displays of ourselves in motion — a perspective we aren’t used to seeing — have on body dissatisfaction and the desire to undergo cosmetic surgery to fix perceived flaws.
In this month’s cover story, Dr. Kourosh equated self-images on video calls to reflections in funhouse mirrors. Is it any wonder plastic surgeons are faced with unprecedented demand for facial cosmetic procedures?
During work video calls, I’m more focused on the carnival happening off camera. My mic might be muted, but my kids and dog most certainly are not. Maintaining the appearance of my background causes me more stress than how I appear on camera. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I once kept the camera off during an all-staff meeting to hide the quarantine haircut my wife gave me. (Great effort, poor execution.)
I’m aware of my physical flaws and have noticed my hair graying and my worry lines deepening over the past year. I’m familiar and comfortable with who I see in my bathroom mirror, but have at times been startled by the middle-aged dad staring back at me from reflections in car windows.
I also feel self-conscious during virtual meetings. It’s slightly unnerving to stare at the screen and wonder if anyone is staring back. Maybe no one is. The emergence of Zoom dysmorphia suggests we’re too focused on our own imperfections to notice anyone else.
The selfie culture, which has caused many people to have critical views of their appearances based on heavily filtered photos, created an initial spike in requests for cosmetic surgery. Now virtual meetings are doing the same. Dr. Kourosh says the isolation of remote work and unflattering images on video calls have created a perfect storm of self-criticism.
Are people who dislike their virtual selves vain or in pain? Let’s hope their desire for a new look is based on realistic self-images instead of perceived flaws brought on by the pandemic. OSM