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  • Writer's pictureSinéad Feeney

Why do we not like ourselves in photos?!

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Have you ever looked at a photo of yourself and thought, “Is that really what I look like?” You're not alone. Many of us struggle to reconcile our self-image with the person we see in photographs. But why is there such a disconnect?

Firstly, it's important to understand that the camera sees things differently than our eyes do. Unlike the dynamic, three-dimensional perception we get through our eyes, a camera captures a static, two-dimensional image.

We are used to seeing ourselves in a certain way, primarily in mirrors. This mirror image is actually a flipped version of our face – the opposite of how others see us and how a camera captures us. When we see a photograph, it often looks slightly off to us because it's not the mirror image we're so used to seeing. But why does it matter?

A fascinating aspect of how we perceive ourselves in photos relates to asymmetries in our faces. Our brains are wired to process facial features in a certain way, and this plays a crucial role in how we perceive asymmetries in photographs.

In reality, very few faces are perfectly symmetrical. However, our brains are really good at smoothing out these asymmetries when we interact with people in real life and when we see our own familiar mirror image. This processing happens so seamlessly that we hardly notice minor asymmetries in others' faces. Our brains basically reorganise the asymmetries so that we don't see them in other people or in our own reflection.

When we look at photographs, this totally changes. When we see ourselves in a photograph our faces are both familiar and unfamiliar to our brains so the brain can't "reorganise" it or smooth out the imbalances the way it usually does.

Also, a photograph freezes a moment and a facial expression, allowing our brains to focus on details we would normally overlook in real-time interactions. This is why we often notice asymmetries in our own faces in photos – details like one eye being slightly larger than the other, or one side of the mouth curving differently. You are not the only one and your face is not any less symmetrical than the majority of us. There are some people with unusually symmetrical faces and these people will usually like how they look in pictures because there are no real differences between a flipped/unflipped image of them.

While we might be hyper-aware of these asymmetries in our own photos, others usually don’t perceive them in the same way and don't see them in your photograph either.

When we look at ourselves in a photograph, we tend to focus on flaws and imperfections, magnifying them in our minds. However, when others view the same photograph, they're more likely to see the overall image – the smile, the eyes, the emotion – rather than zeroing in on minor details.

As a photographer, I try to minimise this impact as much as possible. I gently encourage parents in the family shoots to try different angles or to not look at the camera at all and this is always so flattering. You will love these pictures because usually our instinct is to look straight at the camera dead-on and this is when you will notice the less symmetrical aspects of your image.

So the take-home message here is that firstly, everyone has asymmetries to their features! Secondly, other people's brains automatically adjust those asymmetries in your pictures so they don't see them like you can. Finally and most importantly, remember that what other people really see in the photograph is the person they know, love and cherish and that is you! :-)

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