Face to face with ourselves in lockdown – Video calls and the rise of insecurities

  • Over 86% report that eating disorders symptoms have increased during the pandemic 
  • Self-objectification from staring at screens is linked to anxiety, shame and low mood
  • 85% of consumers attended livestream classes in 2020 versus 7% in 2019

Why the fitness industry may be indirectly responsible for the increase of eating disorders and body dysmorphia

“It’s the 16th of March 2020 and Matt Hancock has just told the House of Commons that all unnecessary social contact should cease. You have just finished a yoga session with a private client and you looked at each other with a hopeful smile, yet with that perceivable concern in your eyes, saying that you would be in touch for your next session. Little did you know you wouldn’t see each other for a long while. 

Days go by and the fear and sense of uncertainty increase rapidly. Questions as to what the future for fitness and wellness professionals looks like start popping in your mind. 

Yes, there’s the park, but not Royal parks unless you are licensed. The weather is still quite cold, but hopefully sunnier days will help you survive. Everyone is shifting online, you wonder if that’s the best solution for you. Of course, you might say, it’s the only solution if you want to support your clients and continue your job as a yoga teacher or personal trainer. So you get on your laptop and start typing “how to teach online yoga classes”. You lose your local gym or studio’s support. You are on your own. 

However, you decide to give it a go. Even if only your mum will show up.
You start spreading the word about your first online classes on this thing called Zoom, which your cousin uses for his meetings at work, almost thinking that this could be fun. Almost. You haven’t taken into consideration that you will be in front of a camera all the time. 

During your first class, you stare at that camera noticing all the imperfections, the weird camera angle, the unpleasant lighting and the unflattering outfit you picked out. You wish you could switch off the camera and just talk, crawling back to your comfort zone. 

On the other side of the screen, your students are ready to go, but some of them decide to switch off their cameras. You insist they turn it back on for “safety” reasons, so you can adjust their poses or know if they’re actually following your cues. Some will reluctantly switch it back on, some will lie and say they have a bad connection so it’s not worth it. On Zoom, it’s you plus all your fears and insecurities about your weight, about your appearance, about your body.

It’s the 31st of October and the second lockdown is about to be announced. 
During the first lockdown you managed to go on a few runs, but then decided it wasn’t worth it because who needs a bikini body without a beach to go to. So you switched to baking an odd amount of banana bread, because it was the cool thing to do. You realise that after over 6 months of being at home, your jeans don’t fit anymore and this breaks you. When you scroll through your social media feed, everyone is onto something, handstanding their way through life or running marathons up and down their street, but you can’t even bear to get off the sofa unless it’s to eat. The next morning you regret eating so much the day before so you decide to throw all the sugar loaded food in the bin and go on a detox cleanse. It lasts for a few days, until you go back to your chocolate chip cookies. 

Saturday comes and you have to put your happy face on for your online class, so you can be the rock for your students. But now you ask yourself, how come after all this time, no one has ever considered the effect on your mental wellbeing of seeing yourself on the screen day after day? How has switching your camera off become the only solution? They tell us to stick together because unity is the only thing that will get us through a pandemic, but how on earth are you supposed to be part of a community if you cannot even fully show up? 

There is definitely some irony through all of this. You are not alone in feeling this way. 

It’s now 20th Jan 2021, gyms are still closed, but we’re making progress with vaccinations and have had a lot of time for self reflection and have become stronger with support from our fellow yoga teachers and our community.
We’re still teaching online, we’re doing our best and most of us have a set up that works 95% of the time, waiting eagerly for that perfect streamlined solution. But many of us are still struggling with facing up to our own faces.

Students still switch off their camera and sometimes as teachers we are jealous that we can’t too! I hope that you know that if you’re feeling this you are not alone! In 2020 evidence came to light that video calls are causing ‘Zoom fatigue’ and burnout, and their negative effect on self-esteem and well-being is being well documented.

Many participants still turn off their camera and justify it with the fact that they do not want to be watched and judged by others. However, ironically everyone else is just staring at and judging themselves too. Research suggests that the reason for this is that humans are overwhelmed and overstimulated by the images and audio on the screen and cannot concentrate or  multi-task to this level.

By looking at ourselves we successfully reduce stimuli by focusing the brain on a familiar image which is easier to process, yet staring at our facial expressions, we don’t recognise what we see. In real life we are not used to watching ourselves speak and react in conversation. Through technology we are now viewing ourselves in a new way, seeing ourselves as an object rather than navigating our way through life as the primary subject, using visual cues and bodily senses for feedback on our interactions.

We are no longer seeking feedback from our peers but staring into our own eyes (look at those bags, I need more sleep, I should have worn mascara) we begin to scrutinise and objectify our body. We convince ourselves that what we are thinking must be how everyone else has been seeing us for years.
Every day we then watch, judge & manipulate our behaviour on camera, we become performance artists. This is tiring and takes a lot of our attention, energy and anxiety which can negatively affect our mood, body image and may even lead to body dysmorphia or trigger other mental illnesses.

Let’s bring this back to yoga. How many times have you said in class ’Notice how your body feels in space” and “feel and express your emotions”? Let’s start trying to use this in our daily life. Come back to your body, come back to yourself, do not view yourself as an object, you are so much more than that. No one else is judging you but yourself.

On Kuula, we are introducing a tool, the Kuula studio, which enables students to choose to hide their video tile from their own view, but remain visible and smiling to all other participants. We hope this encourages students to leave their camera on, interact with the community and seek teacher feedback, yet reduces self objectification and judgment. Let’s lift each other up!