Why we do not like ourselves in a photo

why we do not like ourselves in a photo

Most of us, we do not like ourselves in a photo. Have you ever thought why? What are the reasons behind it? Let me bring a bit of psychology into photography and show you how you can deal with this.

Just to be clear, I will talk about the photos that are technically and aesthetically alright. The fact that somebody creates a bad photo which is blurry, wrongly exposed or has a poor composition is an objective reason for disliking it, of course. I will focus on the cases when everybody tells you that the photos look great, but “something” still bothers you. Being a photographer, I encounter these situations on a daily basis. So what is going on here?

Self-enhancement effect

Whether you admit it or not, everybody has a tendency to evaluate his own traits and abilities more favorably than is objectively warranted. A series of experiments show that this enhancement extends to more automatic and perceptual judgements as well, such that people recognize their own faces as being more physically attractive than they actually are. Your dissatisfaction with your own photos may reflect this self-enhancement bias. When you perceive yourself as more attractive than you really are, the reality of your true appearance (a photo) can disappoint.

Mere exposure effect

The hypothesis is offered that mere repeated exposure of the individual to a stimulus object enhances his attitude toward it. If you think about it, the whole marketing industry uses that principle — you like things that you see more often, because you are familiar with them. When applied to the situations where you see yourself often, your reflections in glass walls or mirrors, you should find yourself more attractive. However, the catch is that when you look at yourself in the mirror, your image is reversed. Unlike in photos where it is usually not. This could be another reason why you do not like photos of yourself — because they display versions of your face less familiar to you.

What you can do about it

Now when you know how the brain may deceive you, you can use the information to your advantage. If you want to look more attractive, smile more. Smile more at people, smile more in the photos. Everybody likes happy people, so do you. And keep exposing yourself to your photos. Not necessarily to permanent wall decors or posters, because a research shows that exposures of shorter durations are more effective at increasing liking than longer duration exposures. Few photos in your mobile phone or occasional browsing through your family album may do the trick. And last, but not least, be less critical and less hard on yourself. You are perfect the way you are, and your relatives, friends and colleagues like you the way you really are. So embrace the fact that you are less familiar with your real images and trust more people who tell you that the photos look great.

Epley, N., Whitchurch, E. (2008): Mirror, mirror on the wall: Enhancement in self-recognition
Zajonc, R. (1968): Attitudinal effects of mere exposure
Mita, T. H., Dermer, M., & Knight, J. (1977): Reversed facial images and the mere-exposure hypothesis
Bornstein, R. (1989): Exposure and affect: Overview and meta-analysis of research
O’Doherty, J., et al. (2003): Beauty in a smile: the role of medial orbitofrontal cortex in facial attractiveness 
Fugère, M. A (2017): Why seeing photos of ourselves disappoints us