The Inescapable Pressure of Being a Woman on Zoom

by Leslie Goldman and edited by Lea Bishop

Our reliance on virtual workshops during this Covid crisis has triggered a virtual backslide on women’s body positivity. During the last few years, women have been told how important it is love themselves, wrinkles and all. However, the intrusion of the camera into our personal and domestic lives has brought out women’s negative feelings about our own self-image. Virtual meeting attendees often express self-deprecating comments like “My hair looks awful”, “Ignore my wrinkles”, “Please excuse my clothes” “I didn’t have the chance to put on makeup today.”

Women have always been super critical about their looks. But in this stress-rich, time-poor environment, they are juggling careers, children’s school schedules, and an increase in domestic chores generated by the quarantining of entire families. With this schedule, women do not have time to focus on their looks. Working from their own homes, casual dress and appearance is more appropriate than professional business attire. But experts in body image add to women’s insecurities by suggesting that women should now pay more attention to their looks. In an interview with the New York Times, fashion designer Tom Ford suggested that a white tablecloth be placed under your laptop to give you a “bit of fill and bounce.” According to a study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation in 2019, just over one in five adults (22%) and 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image. With a more widespread usage of social media during this crisis, it is understandable that body positivity has taken a step back…. at least for women. According to Renee Engeln, author of Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women, “the grooming women are expected to do for the workplace is much different than men…the pressure to keep up appearances is largely directed at women.” That level of up keep is very difficult to maintain now. Men may not have been to the barber in quite a while, but that’s about it, whereas women still may feel they need to wear makeup, style their hair, and dress like they did when they commuted to work.

Research has long shown that women say “I’m sorry” more than men. We’re always apologizing, even for the mistakes of others. Nowadays we apologize for not looking our best. In a 2010 Psychological Science study, it was found that women apologize more than men mainly because women are more likely to think they did something that warrants an apology, but men “have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.” According to Rebecca Scritchfield, author of Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out-and Never Say Diet Again , “women in our culture live with what I call our ‘inner monitor – the voice in our head that acts like the mean girl from high school, constantly saying some version of ‘You’re not enough’”.

So what are women to do? Stop apologizing for who we are and what we look like. Refuse to accept society’s standards of beauty.

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