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Mental Health

Tired of Worrying About How You Look on Zoom? Turn Off Self View

We’ve all been there: You join your 9 a.m. Zoom lecture, fully planning on spending your morning absentmindedly listening along, eating whatever breakfast-type snack was closest to you when you woke up and maybe taking notes. Then, disaster strikes. “Cameras on please,” your Professor says while you’re in the middle of a bite of a muffin. You turn on your camera and attempt to fix your hair. You spend the majority of the class trying to covertly eat bites of your muffin without seeming like you’re spending the whole class eating.

Or maybe, you came prepared. It’s your first day of class, it’s a job interview, or you just decided you wanted to look cute that day — there doesn’t need to be a reason. You turn on your Zoom camera because you know you look good, so why hide it. That’s when you realize you have a zit right on your forehead. How did it get there? How did you miss it? You’re not sure, but there it is. You debate whether it’s too awkward to turn off your zoom camera and then turn it on again. Would people notice you covered it? You spend the rest of class trying to ignore the glaring red monstrosity that has taken residence on your forehead.

Perhaps you turn on your camera for one of your favorite classes. You want to interact, and you enjoy the discussion. Maybe you even have friends in the class. It all seems to be going well until you are suddenly hyper-aware of your facial expressions. Am I smiling too much? Not smiling enough? Am I nodding enough to indicate that I understand? Would a thumbs up to reaffirm the professor be overkill? You spend more of the class thinking about your gestures and expressions than the material.

If you have ever experienced anything like these circumstances, there are two pieces of good news for you. First, you are not alone.

Recent studies and countless anecdotes point to one simple fact: people stare at themselves on Zoom (and they really don’t look at anyone else). To be fair, we’ve never had this constant sense of seeing ourselves before. Staring at yourself have conversations with others is alternatively fascinating and horrifying (“Finally I see myself as others see me and… yikes!”). You can’t help but think that others may be judging you – hopefully not as harshly as you are judging yourself. 

Additionally, Zoom-watching is fool’s gold for those hoping to see their authentic self.  “Over-focusing on your appearance for prolonged periods of time can actually distort your perceptions so that you’re no longer really seeing yourself clearly,” explained Hilary Weingarden, Ph.D., a body dysmorphia expert at Massachusetts General Hospital, when interviewed by Vogue this August. Basically, the longer you stare at yourself, the less you actually know how people perceive you. So, if you are feeling more anxious and more uncertain about your appearance than ever, you are not alone, and it probably has nothing to do with your actual physical appearance. (Yay!)

The second piece of good news? You can put these insecurities on pause through a Zoom feature called “Hide Self View."

It's not like turning off your camera. Everyone in the Zoom meeting will still be able to see you, but you won't be able to see yourself.  

Initially, this sounds like a crazy idea, [even to a renaissance woman like me] Like, I’m sorry, you’re telling me that other people will be staring at me, but I won’t be able to see myself? No way, thanks for the offer.

But wait, if you think about it before a global pandemic caused Zoom nation, didn’t we all just go to class, maybe taking a glance in the bathroom mirror before going in, if that?

Also, no one is judging you as harshly as you are yourself, especially on Zoom, where everyone is staring at themselves, worrying about the same things you are. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at another person on Zoom and thought much about their appearance and Zoom background, especially in a judgmental way (unless they were attractive, in which case I followed them on Instagram).

Think about the freedom from distraction you would experience if you just didn’t have to stare at yourself the whole class. You would not question your facial expressions and participate maybe a little bit more like an actual classroom setting.

I have only attempted this in one class so far. While it was scary to initially click the button to “Hide Self View,” I honestly didn’t notice it was off (and I would have noticed if it was on). Also, it only requires a few simple steps, so you can decide class by class, meeting by meeting, if you want your Self View on or off.

Steps to Freedom from “Self View:”

  1. Log into your Zoom Class and start with your Self View on. Make sure there’s nothing in the background that you wouldn't want to be seen and give yourself a once over. You look gorgeous, and you're already done with the first step.
  2. Once you’re in the meeting, right-click your video (the one with your beautiful face on it), take a deep breath and press the “Hide Self View” button.

(It's so easy, I’m not even sure if it warranted a list of steps).

This isn’t a magic fix. Zoom learning still sucks but ditching Self View might make your online school or work experience just a bit better. If you want to take the plunge and go cold turkey with "Hide Self View" in every class, go for it. If you want to just dip your toes in the water on only “Hide Self View” with one class, as I did, do it. But I challenge you to give it at least a try. You deserve it. It’s about time Zoom self-care had its moment.

Jacqueline McElroy

Northwestern '24

Jacqueline is a first-year journalism major at Northwestern University. In her free time, she enjoys walking along the lake fill with new friends and enjoying the beach when it isn't freezing outside. One of her lifelong goals is to make the perfect gluten free chocolate chip cookie, so you can often find her baking and watching New Girl on a night in.
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