So here is an interesting side effect of the pandemic: Zooming is affecting our self esteem.

Zoom fatigue is not just spending too much time having meetings or conversations online. Also, it is the propensity that many people have to staring at themselves and seeing how they appear to others. In other words, Zoom makes us self-conscious, especially about our faces.

Suddenly, we feel our age. We judge our weight. We see we haven’t been sleeping enough. We spot wrinkles and jowls. Or we confirm that we badly need a haircut, or at least should have brushed our hair.

One columnist for Glamour magazine lamented early on in the pandemic, “our new video chat existence means we’re sitting across from our own faces for hours on end every single day. As someone who rarely uploads a photo without a filter and a few Facetune tweaks, this has been a rather disheartening reality check, compounded by the fact I haven’t been able to have any of my regular beauty tweakments. … Throw in the already hypercritical approach I take towards my appearance and it’s a surefire recipe for waning self-confidence and an unhealthy obsession with the aesthetic nuances of my identity.”

It seems like an ongoing “Saturday Night Live” sketch. But it’s a real thing, and it is affecting many people.

The constant self-judgment is driving moods and compulsion, and is raising new concerns about eating disorders, OCD behavior and depression. Articles are appearing in magazines and online offering tips about how to look better online as well as how to not be so hard on yourself.

That columnist laments the reality of the situation: “If this was any other time, we would advise one another to avoid anything that triggered such a crisis of confidence. Sadly, however, we can’t simply turn the cameras off in the way we can indulge in a digital detox or a short social media hiatus. Video calling is part and parcel to our new way of living, essential for productivity and the continuation of our daily working lives. We have brainstorms, meetings and interviews via video, as well, of course, as being the only way we can catch a glimpse of our friends and family.”

Another columnist, for HuffPost, wrote, “Zoom fatigue is real and well-documented. It’s psychologically and physically draining to be on camera all the time, unwitting reality TV stars, constantly making eye contact. And we’re not meant to witness ourselves at all times. But what I have experienced goes beyond that: the lowering of a few rungs on the self-esteem ladder, which wasn’t all that high to begin with.”

This columnist describes that as her eating habits changed, so did her weight. And she ended up resorting to using Zoom’s “hide self-view” feature in order to get through mandatory meetings.

She writes, “There are many horrors taking place in the world right now, more than anyone can list or accommodate or fix, far graver than dealing with my face on Zoom. The pandemic has claimed lives, devastated families, evaporated bank accounts and exacerbated inequality in all forms. It is a privilege to complain about how looking at myself on Zoom has affected me. And yet, though COVID-19 has robbed me of more than my self-esteem, this is a real and insistent part of how I’ve been affected.”

Zoe Weiner, a writer for the blog Well+Good, noted in a May column that Ben Holber, co-founder of teledermatology platform Apostrophe, observed that the site has seen a 60 percent to 70 percent increase in new patients, and attributes at least some of it to the fact that people are spending more time analyzing their own skin on video calls.

A 2016 study of 144 girls, aged 14 to 18, found that exposure to “manipulated” photos — in other words: pictures where women had been retouched and re-shaped — directly led to lower body image.

Similarly, as the pandemic has gone on, search engines are reporting a record number of people inquiring about skin care, wrinkle creams and weight loss.

Naturally, all of this is worrisome to professionals who deal in body dysmorphic disorder, or the mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance. In other words, a flaw that appears minor or can’t be seen by others. But you might feel so embarrassed, ashamed and anxious that you tend to avoid many social situations. See body dysmorphia.

In an age of Instagram filters and Photoshopped perfection, experts worry that when quarantine is over, there will be a rush on Botox, plastic surgery, skin care, teeth whitening and more.

We need to accept ourselves for who we are and not judge. And we certainly should not be making decisions about our self care based on Zoom calls to work.

In the meantime, the good news is, we can wear a mask when we go out into the real world. Go figure.

— Rutland Herald