This is one of the complaints I hear a lot. Whether it’s a client coming to me for a session, or just a comment in the course of casual conversation, the sentiment is the same. Most of us don’t like how we look in photos.
I ran across an article (What’s Up With That: You Hate Pictures of Yourself) the other day that hit the nail on the head. It talked about a term called mere-exposure:
Formulated in 1968 by a psychologist named Robert Zajonc, it basically says that people react more favorably to things they seen more often. Zajonc tested this with everything from shapes, to facial expressions, even nonsense words. Since we see ourselves most frequently in the mirror, this is our preferred self-image. According to the mere-exposure effect, when your slight facial asymmetries are left unflipped by the camera, you see an unappealing, alien version of yourself.
And wow. I can’t believe I never quantified this reason before, but it makes total sense. We all know ourselves based on part of our daily morning routine — the mirror. We’ve grown up seeing ourselves a certain way — and the bathroom mirror is we spend time making ourselves look beautiful, or examining the intricate details (and yikes, flaws) in our facial features.
So what’s that got to do with this?
Well, our faces aren’t perfectly symmetrical.
One eyebrow may rise a little higher on your left side, your smile might pull back a little more on the right. But when we see these things in photographs, it’s on the “wrong” side.
When you see yourself in a photo — it looks “wrong” because it’s different.
The photo is flipped — it’s not a mirror image, so the facial features you’re used to are on the opposite sides.
And that’s where this sentiment comes in. Even if you look great in your photos, they probably will look a little foreign to you because you don’t look the same as you see yourself in the mirror, day in and day out.
This is why sometimes everyone loves your photos but you. They see you and know you as the photos capture you.
But you? You know yourself in the mirror — the mirror image of that photo.
It’s not that you hate how you look though. It’s just that you don’t really recognize yourself (This is The Real Reason You Always Hate How You Look in Photos):
Ultimately, when we dislike a picture of ourselves, it’s not that we think we look necessarily ugly. It’s just that we find our other self — our inverse self — more attractive.
If you ask a third party for their opinion on the photo, chances are you’ll get a different perspective on whether that photograph actually looks like you than if you tried to make that decision yourself.
Depending on the person, they may like one image of you better and another image less — purely because of which facial features and expressions of yours they have seen you make most!
So next time you see yourself in a photo and think about saying you don’t like how you look, just take a moment to remember — you know yourself as you see your face in the mirror. There’s definitely no exact science to which photo of you is best.
But chances are, you do look good — like yourself — in photos after all (although maybe not to you!).