Your screen keeps freezing. There’s an awkward audio delay. Six faces are staring out at you, and you’re staring down at your own face in the corner of the screen. Most of us reached Zoom fatigue a few weeks into the shutdown, yet it’s still a daily reality for most remote workers four months on.
n May, a survey by NUI Galway’s Whitaker Institute and the Western Development Commission found that 83pc of employees want to continue working from home at least some of the time after the crisis ends, and according to a PwC study, more than 60pc of Irish companies are exploring how they can continue to support remote workers post-lockdown, while firms including Twitter and Facebook are already making the shift to permanent remote working.
All of which indicates that we’re going to be spending a lot more time sitting across from our reflections, gazing into our own eyes, or maybe our own chins.
For many, the Zoom phenomenon has been an unwelcome wake-up call, offering up a particularly unflattering mirror that invites us to scrutinise our appearance for sometimes hours on end. It is little surprise, then, that cosmetic surgery clinics are reporting a rise in enquiries and bookings since reopening.
“I’ve definitely noticed an increase in demand for a certain type of treatment, and I would say women in particular have reported being a little unhappier about what they see in video calls,” says Dr Peter Prendergast, Director of Venus Medical in Dundrum. “The treatments that I’ve noticed a surge in would be treatments in how to lift and tighten the lower face, and treatments to improve the neck.”
He notes that the most popular are the one-stitch facelift – a thread lift that targets the lower face – and FaceTite, a procedure which reduces the appearance of jowls and tightens loose skin under the chin.
“What I’ve heard from patients coming in is that the position of their phone or computer when they have calls means that they’re seeing themselves at angles they haven’t seen themselves in before, quite unforgiving angles. When you look down slightly, the jowls sag a little bit, you can see wrinkles in the neck and even the fat under the chin looks more obvious,” says Dr Prendergast. “Also, depending on the lighting around them, sometimes they see dark circles under the eye become darker, and they’re looking at their skin more closely as well.”
He adds that although facial treatments are the most sought-after, he’s also noticed greater interest in body sculpting procedures. “I’m seeing new consultations and enquiries around fat reduction, because with the lockdown, people have been more sedentary so they’ve put on some weight.”
Dr Prendergast observes that the majority of enquiries are from women aged 35 to 65, which is the primary demographic at his clinic anyway.
“That’s the age where people start to see the signs of ageing, so I think this has just exacerbated it, and obviously people have more time to think about these things,” he says. “They also have more downtime, so if they are doing treatments and they have to wear a certain garment afterwards or to tolerate a bit of swelling for a couple of days, they can do that because they’re not out and about so much.”
Tweakments – non-surgical cosmetic procedures including Botox, lip injections and fillers – were enjoying a boom well before the lockdown and have been the biggest trend in beauty for a couple of years. Kylie Jenner’s confirmation that she had lip fillers in 2015 to enhance her pout sparked an influencer sensation that trickled down to the rest of us and, in turn, generated wider interest in plumping cheeks, lifting brows and smoothing lines.
“There’s been a growing trend within cosmetic procedures anyway toward non-invasive or minimally invasive more than the surgical [procedures], and just because there was a hold on everything else in our lives, it doesn’t mean that the interest has waned or that people can’t afford it anymore,” says Dr Prendergast. “They seem to still be able to afford these things, despite the pandemic. The trend is just increasing, regardless. It seems immune to what goes on in the world.”
And just as everyone high-tailed it to salons to get a haircut the day of reopening, many rushed back to cosmetic clinics for their Botox, which will have worn off three or four months after your last appointment.
“We really didn’t know if people would come back,” says Dr Jane Mulrooney of reopening the Mulrooney Clinic in Donnybrook, though she soon discovered demand was so high that the clinic is now struggling to accommodate new patients while working through the backlog of previous bookings. “What we see consistently is patients come in and say, ‘I’m so glad to see you.’ A bit like your hairdresser – they have waited for so long, and it’s the relief of feeling some degree of back to normal when the world is a bit crazy.”
The most popular treatment is Botox and, in general, her patients are “more concerned about eyes”, because when they go outside, masks cover the area around their mouths.
As well as regular patients seeking top-ups, Dr Mulrooney points out that tweakments can offer quarantiners a pick-me-up after a difficult few months in lockdown.
“It’s been very tough on people, and it’s something we’ve never experienced before. People can’t go to restaurants, they can’t socialise, so they probably have banked a bit of funds and now they want to spend it on themselves,” she says.
“They’re not investing in the clothes, handbags and shoes as much because there’s nowhere to really wear them, yet they are investing in their faces because that really is what’s being seen.”
On top of that, being shut inside without much offline social interaction has provided a moment for reflection, leading many of us to emerge from our homes determined to refresh our look, whether with a new hairstyle, different clothes or a tweakment. That change, however frivolous it may seem, can go a long way to delivering a small sense of control in a frightening, uncertain time – we may not be able to do anything about the pandemic, but we can do something about how we look and, by extension, how we feel.
“It’s a bit of an ‘aha!’ moment, where they say, ‘my whole life has been turned around, the only thing I can control really is taking care of myself and the way I look’,” says Dr Mulrooney. “I think it transgresses all areas – people are eating healthier, they’re probably exercising more, and then they want to look the best that they can.”
Although catching sight of ourselves on Zoom can be distracting, Dr Prendergast says we should be cautious of being over-critical of our reflections.
“If they’re looking at themselves as most people do when they’re on a video call, take a little bit of time to prepare. The lighting is important, so make sure that they’re facing light so they don’t start to become concerned about shadows they hadn’t seen before,” he suggests.
“I always tell patients when they’re looking in the mirror to look at themselves in a neutral gaze, straight-on. Not looking down, where things will obviously change and appear to be more lax when, in fact, they’re not. Position the phone or computer higher up than they normally would, so they don’t tilt their head down when they’re looking at themselves – that’s very unforgiving.
“Of course, there are cosmetic treatments and procedures that we can do for people if they really want to do something, and there always will be, but I would advise people not to be too hard on themselves.”