How virtual interaction influences body image

Taylor Burnfield

tburnfie@uccs.edu 

Eight months ago, our lives drastically changed. A major part of that change included the replacement of face-to-face interaction with virtual interaction via webcams and smartphone cameras.  

     There is nothing normal or natural about seeing yourself while simultaneously speaking with others. You know what I’m talking about: that little window on the side of your laptop or phone screen that shows you a virtual version of yourself. 

     If you are anything like me, seeing your face in that little image everyday can be stressful. No matter how good the lighting is, or how well I think I’ve applied my makeup, I always think I look like a potato.  

     I can’t be the only person whose body image has been negatively impacted by our daily virtual interactions. Staring at a virtual version of ourselves on a screen all day, nearly every day, can have devastating effects.  

     Why? Because cameras are liars. 

     Cameras do not capture reality. Instead, they convert a three-dimensional world into a flattened, two-dimensional format. In the process of converting 3D to 2D, a lot of information gets lost in translation.  

     There are several factors that can influence how you look on camera. Everything from the lighting to the focal length of the camera lens can drastically change your appearance.  

     Most significantly, the distance between a person’s face and the camera has the biggest impact on how we look in front of our screens. 

     For example, photographer John Cornicello experimented with photographing the same mannequin at different distances, and what he captured was astonishing. 

Photo by John Cornicello.
Courtesy of PetaPixel.com

The image on the left was taken at a distance of 18 inches, while the image on the right was taken at 60 inches. At the closer distance, the face appears narrower and the nose is more prominent. The further away the camera, the more flattened out the image becomes, causing the face to appear wider. 

     There is only about a one-foot distance between your face and your smartphone camera when using FaceTime. Similarly, we sit only a few feet away from our webcams during Zoom calls.  

     In 2018, Vox published an article titled, “Why selfies can make your nose look bigger,” and reported that more people are receiving rhinoplasties (nose jobs) to make themselves look better in selfies.  

     It is not my place to judge anyone’s reasons for opting to get plastic surgery; that is a personal choice. However, I think it is unfortunate that some people feel the need to change their physical appearance to look good on camera, when cameras are misrepresenting their appearance. 

Photo courtesy of Vox.com

Next time you see an unflattering image of yourself, just know that cameras do not capture reality. Also, please remember that we are all our own worst critics. I promise you that no one else in your Zoom calls are noticing any flaws you think exist; they may be too busy examining and criticizing their own image.