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Picasso, “Self Portrait Facing Death,” 1972, from curiator.com

Rating Zoom

Jeffrey Denny

MEMORANDUM

To: Eric Yuan, CEO, Zoom Video Communications

From: Jeffrey Denny

Re: How I appear on Zoom

No doubt, sir, you are plenty busy.

You know, with everyone pandemic quarantining, “working” from home and depending on your fine videotelephony platform to stay in touch, have team meetings, try to virtually date and do adult-y stuff at a distance, etc.

And I appreciate that when Zoom experienced security and privacy glitches, you gave an actual apology. Not, “mistakes were made,” or “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or blaming the mainstream media. You said, “I really messed up” and promised to fix the problems. (Maybe a certain president of a certain country who said “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the lack of coronavirus testing will take note.)

But as I consider the post-Zoom meeting surveys about the sound and visual quality, I want to explain why I can barely give one star:

1. Trust me, in real life I do NOT look like Steve Buscemi and Paul Giamatti had a secret love child they’re embarrassed about and keep shackled in a basement.

2. My smile does NOT look like an evil jack-o-lantern’s three weeks after Halloween when the squirrels are done with it.

3. My nose does not really look like a rhinoplasty “before” or botched “after” picture. Ok, maybe from certain angles during daylight, but why does Zoom need to accentuate the negative? We’re all struggling out here to keep our spirits up. We don’t need to “face reality” or “stop lying to ourselves” at this present juncture in time.

4. They say “the camera adds 10 pounds.” Why does Zoom need to add 25?

5. I can’t tell for sure, but I think some people on my Zoom team meeting calls are staring at me, playing a very mean game among themselves they call “Which hideous Picasso self-portrait does he look like the most?” And deciding it’s Picasso’s last self-portrait as he faced death, titled, “Self Portrait Facing Death.”

6. Just a suggestion: Your “Touch Up My Appearance” feature that blurs me like Barbara Walters doesn’t go nearly far enough. Is there any way Zoom could team up with Adobe Photoshop or iMovie so we could make the best of what the Good Lord gave us? Nobody’s getting any thinner, sexier, or more hair-stylish the longer this thing goes on. Since I can’t get a haircut, could I at least give myself the thick, slicked Pitt or Clooney or Gyllenhaal or Dicaprio or Gosling or Timberlake that would complement my real-life imaginary chiseled granite jaw? If this is a billion-dollar idea, sir, my intellectual property attorneys will be in touch.

7. Zoom backgrounds: I appreciate how you offer this option instead of the Hoarders scenario behind me. Many of your default choices are winky fun and allow me to express my fantasy self. But the background function is not intuitive: How do I get rid of the shameful image I accidentally uploaded from my downloads? My friends, family and colleagues are a bit shocked, and many are offended, nay sickened, but I worry most about people who are intrigued.

Mr. Yuan, I have worked very hard all my life to build a shred of respect for who I am. In a matter of weeks, Zoom has destroyed my image, making people see me in the wrong light, quite literally. Worst is the impact on my self-image, making me see myself in ways I didn’t need to. I can’t un-see that.

Fortunately, my therapist offers Zoom sessions. She’s helping me not to worry about my appearance, whether on a videotelephony platform or in real life. I’m beautiful inside, which is what matters the most, she says. Her Zoom background helps a lot — an Adobe Photoshop of me winning “America’s Got Handsome.”

But I’d still like an apology.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.

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