That little image of myself in the corner of my video calls is enough to make me never want to reach out to my loved ones again. No offense to Shrek, but I look like an ogre, and not even a hot one like Fiona. My face looks completely lopsided, my eyes seem buried in six-foot holes of dark circles and I have about three new chins I hadn’t noticed before. But if, like me, video calls leave you hunting for the nearest paper bag to place over your head, take some comfort in knowing it’s actually the camera’s fault, and that nobody thinks you’re as grotesquely ugly as you do.
“People often find themselves much more unattractive than usual on video calls because apparently, the front-facing camera is an extreme wide-angle, which can cause shadows around the eyes and nose, highlight one’s facial imperfections like blemishes and wrinkles and add enough bloating that it can look like one has a double chin,” says Yvonne Thomas, a L.A.-based psychologist, whose specialties include self-esteem and body image.
“From a psychological perspective, if a person already suffers from insecurity about how he or she looks and/or has a poor body image and shaky self-perception, seeing oneself on video with any of those effects can hurt their self-image and confidence in one’s appearance even more,” Thomas continues.
There are some other theories as to why we loathe our video-call-selves so deeply, too. Put simply, the primary way we view ourselves is in a mirror. But this is simply a reflection of what we look like — that is, a reversed image. On a smartphone, both selfies and video calls taken on the front-facing camera re-flip our image, thus presenting ourselves with the version the outside world sees. The differences are subtle, but your brain is an anxious idiot. Rather than registering as a portrayal of your normal self, your brain takes a look at your video-call face and is like, “Who the HECK is that?”
“We see ourselves in the mirror all the time — you brush your teeth, you shave, you put on makeup,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Center in an article for The Atlantic. “Looking at yourself in the mirror becomes a firm impression. You have that familiarity. Familiarity breeds liking. You’ve established a preference for that look of your face.” In other words, we only really like our faces when they’re on backwards.
According to Thomas, though, our video call ugliness is probably primarily the result of the tiny camera, and not because you’re actually ugly in real life. “It’s very important to remember, when doing a video call, that what you see of yourself is probably the result of the apparatus and mechanics of the video-call device, rather than an accurate image of how you really look,” she says.
Your mom probably thinks you look great on the call anyway. And if you’re really worried about it, I recommend just using the pig Animoji instead.