By November, I will have completed an entire year of my degree online (bar the one glorious day I had on campus in March), rehearsed and produced four separate pieces of theatre, and worked three of my jobs from home for about eight months. It’s safe to say that after living nearly a year of my life online, I’ve perfected the comfy-bottoms-cute-top look.
I’m not here to shame my classmates who roll out of bed and onto Zoom, never once turning their cameras on throughout twelve weeks of classes, but I am an avid member of Team Camera On. My stance is partly driven by my desire to make class more enjoyable for my lovely but underpaid tutors, but in all honesty, it’s mostly due to vanity.
Online class, work, and meetings have added a new and sometimes uncomfortable aspect to interpersonal interactions; we can now see what we look like when talking to other people. Whether realizing that your mouth is slightly off center when you speak, or that your concentrated face looks more like a confused face, the ability to see ourselves how others see us can be a massive blow to our self-perception.
The days of going hours without knowing how we look are long gone, replaced with long hours of looking primarily (let’s be honest) at our own appearances while we try to engage with others in a meaningful way.
A hyper-fixation on appearance can undoubtedly yield negative consequences. When combined with feelings of isolation and limited time outside, it’s unsurprising that during Melbourne’s second lockdown doctors have reported a significant increase in anxiety, depression, and eating disorders in people up to the age of 14.
Zoom fatigue is real and it’s adversely impacting young people at disproportionate rates. Coming out of my second lockdown, my advice to those facing a potential tightening of restrictions as case numbers climb internationally is to ditch the camera and call your friends the old-fashioned way. If you’re allowed to, go for a walk, forget about what your face or body looks like, and have a chat while getting some much-needed fresh air.
You’d think that after hours upon hours of Zoom calls I’d get tired of my own reflection, but in 2020 my vanity has known no bounds. Sure, there’s the “hide self-view” option, but in all honesty, I find my own face is the most interesting to look at. I recently read something which made me feel seen: “I am narcissus and my little zoom square is my lake,” the tweet read. I promptly sent it to a group chat with the apt caption “me.”
I’ve decided that there is absolutely no shame in Zoom vanity. Having survived two (long) lockdowns, the fact that my self-confidence has improved by the end of it feels like a miracle. I’ve railed against my body since I was old enough to compare it to others’, well before social media had even entered my life. Spending time with my appearance has allowed me to make peace with what I look like and even begin to like what I see. It’s been a bit like successful exposure therapy for my own face.
This isn’t to say 2020 has been a wonderful year of self-actualization. This year I’ve encountered some of my worst mental health on record, but it’s been less of the self-loathing type and more of the the-future-is-fucked-and-that’s-scary category of stress, which I’m setting aside as a future-me problem.
By becoming a little vain this year, I’ve found some benefits in what has otherwise truly been a shitshow. So from here on out, I’ve chosen to focus on myself, figuratively and quite literally over Zoom. I’ll be trying to create some meaning out of one of 2020’s most quoted adages, “find comfort in the discomfort.” Looking at my own reflection this year more than ever before has been uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding.
My specifically curated Thursday look may have failed to make the hot boy from my philosophy class last semester fall in love with me over Zoom, but I thought I looked cute and that’s unequivocally more important. So here’s to vanity and small victories in 2020.
By Madeleine Burgess
Illustration by Julia Tabor