I can’t stop staring at myself during virtual learning

Google meet photo (Photo by Jacob Wendler)

During a normal, non-pandemic year, I would look at myself in the mirror an average of four times a day: to brush my teeth, brush my hair, make sure my outfit matched and get ready for bed. But now, with our whole lives taking place over a screen, I look at myself constantly. From virtual school to family zooms to online club meetings, my life is consumed by a tiny-box with my face in it. 

When I am on Google Meets for class, I can’t help but find my eyes plastered to my own box. Never before have I watched myself participate in a discussion, write notes or take a test, but suddenly, it’s all I can do. According to insider.com, Cyberpsychologist Andrew Franklin explained that staring at your face when on a video chat may be a way to cope with being overwhelmed by our new virtual world. Or maybe we stare at ourselves because we are curious about how others see us throughout the day. But, whatever the reason may be, I can’t stop fixating on my own face. 

Because I am staring at myself all day, I have become more self-conscious than ever. Just like if you keep looking at the same picture of yourself over and over again, you are going to find something you don’t like about it, the same goes for video chats. Usually, at school, I forget about what I look like and all my attention is directed elsewhere, but now, I am constantly questioning myself. Does my hair always look like this? Why is my skin so dry? Why are my reactions so over-the-top? What used to be out of sight out of mind is now all I can think about. 

I am not alone in my experience. According to wellandgood.com, in a study where 50 adults were asked to stare at themselves in a mirror, after one minute, 66 percent of them said they saw “huge deformations” in their face. This concept is translated from one minute in a mirror to hours on end on a video chat.

This phenomenon is psychologically sound. According to vogue.com, Doctor Hillary Weingarden said, “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.” 

Consequently, all the attention I have placed on nitpicking my appearance has taken away from the attention I should be placing on school. I frequently have to stop myself from staring at my own face when I am in the middle of a lecture and return my focus to the shared PowerPoint. I have to make a conscious effort to watch my classmates when they are speaking rather than solely watching myself. I have to remind myself to spend less time worrying about what I look like and more time absorbing the information I am learning.

Unfortunately, virtual learning isn’t going away anytime soon, so I better adapt in a positive way before I can no longer stand the sight of my own face. So, maybe instead of critiquing my bed-head and flushed skin at 7:30 a.m., I will remember to compliment myself. Maybe instead of obsessing over how I react to a funny story, I will take the time to appreciate the smiling faces of my classmates. And maybe instead of being self-conscious about how others are seeing me through their screens, I will realize we are all in the same boat.