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As I prepare for a Zoom, I carefully position just my face and shoulders in the frame of the camera. As someone who has long struggled with body image, I consider this setup a dream come true; The majority of my body, an aspect of my identity that I have always been ashamed of, can be hidden off-camera. When the fall semester ended, I was finally forced to view myself as a whole.
I realized that I had failed to take care of my body and that my self-esteem was significantly worse than at the start of the semester.
For those with body dysmorphic disorder and other body image issues, it is easy to ignore household mirrors. But, once you are stuck in a Zoom meeting for hours on end, it’s nearly impossible to avoid your image. The effects of staring at your own reflection can wreak havoc on esteem and further distort self-perception.
To soften the effects of virtual classes the coming spring semester, I propose a few strategies to shift your frame of thinking to (hopefully) grow to love yourself as a whole a bit more.
To begin with, it’s important to recognize the toxic nature of the classic “no-pants-in-a-virtual-meeting” joke. The idea that the parts of you that exist outside of the camera’s frame don’t matter promotes body image dissociation. While it can be tempting to wear sweatpants (or no pants) in your classes, this choice affirms that not all parts of your body are equally important.
To combat this tendency, you should choose to wear an outfit that makes you feel put together at least once or twice a week. Besides possibly inspiring a bit more confidence, wearing clothes force you to consider your entire body and will expand your perception of yourself beyond Zoom. Your favorite pants can serve as a reminder that your legs are just as important a part of your body as your shoulders and face.
Another important truth that should inform your perception of yourself is that you do not live on Zoom (even though it can feel like it at times). Take advantage of where you are in the world to strengthen the connection between you and your body. An action as simple as a walk on a quiet path can recenter you, and it gives you an opportunity to see yourself outside of the Harvard-Zoom bubble. If a walk isn’t something that is possible because of the pandemic, any accessible activity that engages your mind and body will have the same effect.
In addition to these strategies, I hope that over the course of the semester, you hold yourself accountable. I did not hold myself accountable to maintaining my well-being until the fall semester was over which is why my mental and physical health suffered so severely.
Periodically, you should ask yourself: Do I feel able and strong? Do I feel proud of at least one or two elements of my identity and appearance? How can I improve how I feel about who I am? The answers to these questions can help you evaluate what steps you should take to begin to take care of yourself.
Your status as a Harvard student should have no bearing on your ability to love yourself. Yet, in the virtual world, I have found that the reflection you see on Zoom can distract from mental and physical health and make it much harder to appreciate the parts of yourself that aren’t on display.
As long as Harvard exists on Zoom, remember to try to love yourself for every bit of your mind and body — even the parts your webcam doesn’t catch.
Libby E. Tseng ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor in Pforzheimer House.
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