He looked so different from his virtual image a friend told me last week.

She wasn’t describing a first face-to-face date but her first in-person business meeting with someone she’d been zooming with for months.

It seems reality is now hitting us hard. We’ve all moaned about the endless back to back Zoom - and various other online platform - meetings (although I suspect there’s more than an element of one-upmanship going on here) and how we’ve all yearned to break free from the gallery windows where we’ve resided for so long. But I’m wondering if we’re not yet quite ready to press the flesh?

Ham & High: Shelley-Anne is wondering about seeing people in the flesh againShelley-Anne is wondering about seeing people in the flesh again (Image: 1000words.co.za)

Covid variants are, of course, a worry, but is the lack of the touch up appearance button and the soft lighting camera filter accessory also a terrifying prospect? It’s amazing how much better good lighting makes one look (and therefore feel) – just ask Gloria Swanson and Mr DeMille. Many of us (myself included) have become accustomed to seeing these wondrous effects on ourselves and others. The difference without them is stark and, quite frankly, unsettling. The idea of someone pinning your window is much less alarming when your close up is bathed in the rosy glow of a forgiving light. But we need to remember we are looking at a virtual image of ourselves and not the real thing.

We can easily delude ourselves into believing this filtered image is our true representation, falling into a kind of Narcissus trap - until we finally meet in-person. Oh shock, horror. Of course, the enhanced self-image has been going on for centuries – just think of Holbein working his magic on the various Tudor royalty , the celebrity magazine touch ups and the enhancing selfie filters of the present day. A practice, once confined to certain societal demographics, has now become mainstream as a result of our enforced virtual communication.

Should we take the lead from our government’s latest delay in lifting all restrictions and impose a few delays of our own? Just to be safe of course. After all, seeing is not always believing.

Shelley-Anne Salisbury is a mediator (themediationpod.net), writer and co-editor of Suburb News