Your Webcam Is Making You Look Bad, But This Cheap Hack Instantly Helps

It's hard to believe that back in March 2020, I would venture to say I liked being on video calls. What kind of twisted individual was I? 

Putting aside the truly apocalyptic scene at our local grocery stores with their graveyards of Dasani and frozen okra, there was a time that fateful March, when this whole COVID-19 thing all seemed kind of like camping in your backyard as a kid, or like some form of mega-disaster cosplay. Many nights were spent hopping into video chats with a half dozen friends, all taking turns saying "iSn'T tHiS cRaZy?", then doing tequila shots from our hoarded stash of Hornitos.

Then, just a month or two into the full-blown pandemmy, the burnout arrived—and frankly, it never left. WFH culture took over and, for many people in corporate jobs and self-employed situations, became the new norm. But staring at yourself on video calls all day is not something that human beings, with their delicate sense of identity, are meant to do—let alone indefinitely. Thankfully, back in October 2020—(2020? Never heard of her)—I discovered a trick that would make sitting on all of these calls wayyy less painful: I took a dinky clip-on phone lens that I'd bought for a road trip, and I stuck it on my laptop camera.

Henceforth, everything changed. For 45 bucks, I halted the frightening downward trajectory of the appearance-based arm of my self-esteem. I recommend that you do the same, especially after numerous friends that I've spoken with have discussed also being emotionally terrorized by their webcams. 

That fateful week in October, I popped into a meeting with my colleague Robby to chat through some Halloween stories (including a particularly amazing piece he was working on about making demented homemade masks of our coworkers). When he signed on to our Google Hangout, I noticed that he looked different in a way I couldn't place… more relaxed… less stressed… cuter… more like a 90s music video than anyone else I've been interfacing with recently, despite the fact that I knew that he, like myself, was using a years-old MacBook Pro with a crappy webcam. Intrigued, I asked for his secret, and he bestowed it upon me: Get thee a clip-on wide-angle lens meant for amateur photography, and bring it to thy computer.

To back up for a second: You may wonder, as I did, do I really look as lousy as I do on my laptop screen during a miserable work meeting, or when I first open FaceTime? And friend, I have some good, scientifically supported news: no, probably not. There are actually tech-based reasons that on video calls, you look 1) eerily unfamiliar to yourself; 2) like shit. The first reason is simple—that we're used to seeing ourselves in the mirror, and in numerous apps, we're looking at a flipped version. This means that any even minor asymmetrical features we may happen to have are exacerbated by that swap, whether it's a slightly droopy eye or a dimple. (In actuality, everyone else is seeing you that way all the time, so to them, you just look like your loveable self!) 

The second and even more whoa reason is that the cameras in our computers and on FaceTime make pretty much everyone look worse. The camera on an iPhone XS, for example, is equivalent to about a 26-millimeter lens on a full-frame camera, meaning that its angle emphasizes and visually enlarges the features in the center of your face. And I don't mean just a little bit: Your nose looks up to 30 percent bigger in a selfie taken with a phone! That's a considerable difference, and while, of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with having a big nose, I don't think any of us want to be fed distorted images of ourselves without our knowledge or consent.

To make matters even worse, many of us work from home in less-than-ideal lighting conditions, which further create unflattering shadows and highlight skin imperfections. This is why so many celebs/influencers/YouTube skin care witches use those ring lights, which you may not realize unless you notice the telltale white circle reflected on their eyes. (They really do make your skin look way better; you can get a decent, cheapo version on Amazon for around $20, or a high-end pro light like Lume Cube's for $150-200.) 

So despite the fact that we may know, deep within, that overhead lighting and bad photography create the most hardcore-untaggable versions of ourselves, we're still internalizing those images. Many people are even getting plastic surgery based on a false impression of themselves, because we're staring at ourselves through crappy cameras all day long.

Anyway! After Robby rocked my world with his advice, I realized that as it turned out, by incredible coincidence, I had actually recently bought a clip-on lens for my iPhone since I was about to embark on a Southwestern tour de beautiful hikes, roadside Taco Bells, and Airbnbs with my then-boyfriend. While there are plenty to be found out there, I settled on the Xenvo Pro Lens Kit, even though it had one of those scary SEO-packed product descriptions, because it also had truly fabulous reviews:

And I soon found that not only did that lens, which is actually a super wide angle and macro lens set (they screw together), produce delightfully kickass scenery photography, instantly transforming the lackluster iPhone XS cam into a DSLR-level art machine: 

…But! As Robby had described, it also can be clipped onto your laptop camera to help correct some of that horrific, why-does-I-look-so-close-to-the-screen-I-hate-this-let-me-get-off-this-call-ASAP energy. The super wide angle actually makes you look farther away from your computer, which makes many of those bumps/shadows/threats of a double chin magically disappear. See for yourself! (Be forewarned that with this being an honest review in the hopes of genuine service to readers, I did not do any beauty prep in advance of taking these screenshots.)

See how above, despite being the same distance from my computer in both shots, the wide angle makes my stance feel far less… threatening? How I suddenly have not just shoulders, but arms?! Even if I’m/you're the same ratio of hot/fugly IRL, this merciful lens offers the benefit of the doubt. As an added bonus, the curvature of the glass also adds a little bit of je ne sais quois cinematic appeal. It's a blessing, with the only tradeoff being that then your coworkers will be able to see more of your house, so if you have a pile of garbage just off-screen, you might want to move it into another corner before smashing that clip button. 

If $40 feels a little steep for your video-call vanity, there are oodles of versions for cheaper out there as well. Read the reviews, get one that is made of sturdy materials (aluminum and glass, rather than all plastic parts), and make sure your set includes a 0.45X or even a 0.62X super wide angle lens. Most of these kits also include a macro lens, which will come in handy if you ever get really into nail art or selling Warhammer figurines or something.

These are stressful times; the least we can do is give each other tips on how to feel hotter during all those painful work meetings. Just like Christina Aguilera said, "You are beautifullll, and definitely not as ugly as your webcam tells you." Truth. Anyway, I’m now thinking of getting a ring light.

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This article was originally published in October 2021 and is periodically updated.


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