The Science Behind Why People Don’t Like How They Look In Photos

Meghan Blalock

Have you ever seen a photo that someone else took of you, and recoiled in horror, thinking “I look like that?” Well, unless you’re Cara Delevingne, you’re not alone—and it turns out there might be a scientific reason why you have that reaction.

According to a recently uncovered study done by psychologists Theodore H. Mita, Marshall Dermer and Jeffrey Knight in 1977, people have a certain expectation of what they look like based on one very inaccurate source: the mirror.

The average person usually gauges his or her own personal appearance by looking in a mirror—usually many times a day—which sets a certain expectation of what they look like all the time. As you can imagine, when that person then sees a photograph of themselves taken from a further distance (or a vastly different angle), the results aren’t always what they had envisioned.

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“Individuals will prefer a facial photograph that corresponds to their mirror image rather than to their true image,” the report reads. In laywoman’s terms: we have come to expect our appearance to be a certain way because all we do all day is look at ourselves from a very intimate distance, in the pose that makes us look best, etc. Unlike a photo taken by another person, gazing into a mirror is a very controlled scenario.

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This also explains the rising prominence and popularity of the selfie. Unlike a photograph taken from someone else at a distance, a selfie is a more accurate replica of the experience of looking into a mirror—the photograph is controlled by you, taken at close-range, and generally not that representative of how you actually look. Selfies are just mirrors that you can access at any time with the touch of a button on a mobile device.

Are you ever surprised by how you actually look in photos? Sound off below!

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