You Don’t Need Plastic Surgery to Excel in the Virtual World

Centuries before zoom and other online virtual platforms turned us into the worst kind of insecure self critics, human beings have been holding themselves to an impossible standard.

“Hey, c’mere and look at this. Does my ass look huge in this cave painting?”

“Hey, c’mere and look at this. Does my ass look huge in this cave painting?”

For most of us, leaving the house after getting ourselves together, feels pretty good. We get in the car, smoothly deliver ourselves to our destination, arrive on time, and generally feel pretty secure, but we can be thrown for a loop by simply walking past a highly reflective surface or standing in a mirrored elevator and wondering, what is my hair doing? Has my nose always been that big? Do I need a facelift?

There’s been a lot of attention paid recently to body dysmorphia due to Zoom and the amount of time we spend on camera in the virtual world. But it’s not our on-camera time that is the problem, it’s the watching ourselves on camera that is the problem. The simple solution is to minimize or turn off your own view of yourself and focus on other people but let’s face it that’s almost impossible to do because we want to be monitoring how we appear to others and so we obsess about what we see, which is problematic on a number of fronts. First of all, while we are obsessing about our haircut, skin color, or bags under our eyes, we no longer are listening to what everyone else is saying and so we are losing out on the content and potentially import of the virtual meeting.

The other thing to know is that the relative proximity Zoom and its virtual meeting colleagues provide goes far beyond the line of intimacy that we are normally experiencing at work. Imagine sitting around a boardroom table with your team. Now picture the scene across the table from you: not only are you seeing the room in a broader context but the people at the table are four, five maybe feet away and so you are seeing them probably from the waist up and at a distance. Now, look at your zoom screen. You are seeing those people at a distance that in real life would be more like 18 inches. When was the last time you’re business encounter was that close-up? I guess it depends on your profession.

Virtual AT FORTY FIVEThis wild level of self-judgment in the virtual space has resulted in increased interest in cosmetic surgery and other visual enhancements. I’m certainly not here to judge those decisions IF one is making the decision for the right reasons. However, finding fault with your appearance in a virtual world is fraught with illogical conclusions. Before you throw yourself under the knife, get a second opinion: your own! Try these couple of steps before you do anything drastic; you will save yourself a lot of money, pain, and recovery time:

  • Take a close look at the quality of your webcam. When did you buy it and how sharp is it? How sensitive is it to lighting and does it have any adjustable features (usually accessed via companion software)?
  • Are you relying on available sunlight to illuminate your face? You will have much more control over the overall look if you cover your windows and replace Mr. Golden Sun with one or more decent lights. The ring-light, promoted as being designed for the virtual world, is relatively inexpensive and will give you lots of options.
  • Like available light, your default background is whatever is behind you when you are on camera. In many cases, it’s either messy, distracting, or downright inappropriate in that it doesn’t support how you wish to be seen. For only a few dollars you can buy a green screen and truly provide yourself with the best, most creative, and suitable backdrop that works with your face, clothing, hair, and content.
  • And finally, COVID has allowed us all to take shortcuts with our wardrobe (waist up only please), hair, and makeup. Play around with these aspects because you show up differently in virtual versus in the real world. Check to see if your light is reflecting in your glasses, making it impossible to see your eyes. Check to see if your clothing is enhancing or detracting from your overall look.
Let’s not forget the story of Narcissus who couldn’t get enough of gazing at himself in the reflecting pond (the virtual platform of his time).

The time you spend on this research, and trial and error testing, will pay off handsomely. It will show you to your best advantage on camera and it will cost a lot less than cosmetic surgery!

I have been training people for interviews, speeches, meetings, and presentations – both live and virtual for many years. One of the most frequent responses, when I flash their videos up on the big screen, is “Oh my goodness my hair/face/weight/posture”. We notice and obsess about things that most other people do not even see. That’s because they are busy obsessing about themselves. Human nature.

And then there’s those who err on the other extreme. Let’s not forget the story of Narcissus who couldn’t get enough of gazing at himself in the reflecting pond (the virtual platform of his time). Eventually, he realized that he could not possess the object of his desire and killed himself. OK people, a little moderation at each end of the spectrum, please.

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Joanna Piros
Joanna Piros

Joanna is a mother of five, grandmother of 5 (and counting), a communications coach, avid cook and often runs out of olive juice before running out of olives for dirty martinis.

  1. Love this! Putting ourselves out there (on any platform) can be daunting – I 100% can relate. I love the part where you wrote “But it’s not our on-camera time that is the problem, it’s the watching ourselves on camera that is the problem.” In my opinion, when we start to become more obsessed about how we LOOK on camera vs. what we are SAYING on camera – not only do we lose the message – but we begin the rabbit hole thought process of picking apart ourselves.

  2. Great professional tips. Also staying light hearted compassionate and loving smiling from the inside out always radiates your beauty at any age.

  3. A timely story! It’s so true how distracted we become by our image online. We chat regularly with family in England and I’m frequently looking at myself to see how I present. Last time we chatted there was a problem with our camera and I couldn’t see myself. So much better! I really listened to our conversation for a change. Vanity!!

  4. Very helpful – and funny! Thanks for the uplifting read. I still feel nervous being “seen” but it’ getting better, these tips will help.

  5. I really appreciate your observation of the intrusion into one’s personal space experienced on zoom versus your standard board meeting or any physical business encounter. I hadn’t really ever considered that was what made virtual conversation uncomfortable but I believe you have hit the nail on the head. It is definitely worth considering for all of us. Thanks for sharing Joanna.

  6. Excellent article! I’m guilty of obsessing (particularly when it comes to my double chin). I’m going to take a couple of the author’s suggestions, beginning with the ring-light.

  7. Perfect timing on this! I am setting up my space to see clients via zoom and did not think about the background or lighting. Thank you!

  8. It’s so true, up close and personal in Zoom meetings. Similar to putting a magnifying glass on yourself.

  9. Colleagues, friends and your target audience can tell when you are authentic in your words and actions, so be true to yourself. I have followed Joanna’s suggestions for a number of years and they have helped build my confidence in the boardroom, on ZOOM and in everyday negotiations. Great article Joanna, thanks for the inspiration.

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