Hating photos of ourselves

Children seem to love photos, good ones, bad ones and blurry ones, sometimes the worse the better. But then adolescence arrives and we’re too self conscious to allow others to capture our vulnerability and imperfections in a photo. Carefully curated selfies aside, many of us lose the ability to relax when confronted with a camera and the potential of an unflattering shot. We need the right angle and light, the perfect expression and definitely the right outfit. And even then sometimes we still can never be satisfied, rather preferring to live with the label of “unphotogenic” and dodge the lens indefinitely.

I worked as a Santa photographer a while ago and noticed time and time again that parents would overwhelmingly buy photos that only featured their children, regardless of whether it was a good shot or not. The kids were usually just delighted to see their own faces on the computer screen and later on the print.

If the parents themselves were in the photo as well however, they ummed and aahed, nitpicked and frowned. Occasionally I could convince them that they really did look great (I meant it), but usually it was a grudging choice. That’s if they’d even jumped into the shot at all, many (particularly the mums) declined altogether.

But surely what we consider to be a “bad” photo now can become a “good” one in years to come, when we wistfully look back on our youth and looks? Or perhaps it can be a source of relief that we left that particularly regrettable hairstyle in the 90s where it belongs.

A photo is a moment in time, never to be recaptured. It’s not just children who grow and change, we adults do as well. We grow inside and out, we age, we change. I think this deserves to be documented as well because we’ll never again be the person we are at the exact moment a photo is taken.

For an interesting read about why we often dislike photos of ourselves, have a look at this study performed in 1977- Reversed Facial Images and the Mere Exposure Hypothesis (PDF). Many articles on the topic of camera dodging mention this study, but interestingly it was set up to test a hypothesis about familiarity of stimuli and how it effects our perception, not to explain why so many people run at the sight of a lens.

Perhaps the solution is to just let our well meaning friends and family snap away so we become more familiar with our “true” selves and learn to laugh off the inevitable disastrous shots. And maybe, in amongst the horror, there will be some occasional gems that make us glad we straightened up, looked at the camera, smiled and said cheese.

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