Awkward Me

Earlier today, I asked my teen daughter to take a photo of me wearing my NinjaBeats shirt. I’m helping my 10-year-old son with his new business – selling t-shirts with his original NinjaBeats design. I had the idea of posting a photo of myself wearing the shirt to a) show people how the shirt looks when worn, and b) show people how a ladies small size fits.

This was the photo. I looked at it and cringed. It’s weird. I looked weird. But no surprise here. I don’t take selfies and I don’t like having solo photos taken. They make me feel awkward and ugly.

With the hope that this will help my son’s business, I posted this photo on my Facebook page. Then, (no surprise to people who know me well) I read up online about why people like me hate seeing photos of ourselves. I wanted an explanation, a validation for my sentiment. I found an article on io9.com, written by Robbie Gonzalez¬†entitled “Why do we hate seeing photos of ourselves?”¬† So there is a scientific explanation for it, and it’s called the mere-exposure effect.

In its simplest terms, the mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon whereby a person develops a preference for a stimulus based solely on his or her repeated exposure to it.

Since I see myself most often in mirrors, my mirror image is how I perceive myself. My photo image is different from my mirror image. Because of that, my photo image looks somehow wrong to me.

In this same article, Gonzalez mentions a TED Talk video by photographer Duncan Davidson also entitled “Why do we hate seeing photos of ourselves?”

Davidson has a simple answer for this question:

What is the map that we use to view ourselves? Well, it’s like what no other camera sees; it’s a mirror, in your bathroom, at arm’s length. That’s a very personal view; you’re the only person that has this view in the world. Whenever somebody takes a photo of you, it does not match….My theory…is that when we see a photograph of ourselves, it looks almost right but not quite, and therefore we feel a big sense of rejection.

Ah, my intellect was satisfied. But as the day went on, I kept thinking about why I don’t like seeing photos of myself and why I don’t like having photos of only myself taken (I don’t mind family or group photos). While I went about my routines, my errands, these thoughts persisted in the background:

  • I don’t look good in photos. This only becomes more obvious when there is no one else in the photo.
  • I don’t like being photographed by myself. I am self-conscious when I am the focus of attention.
  • The most recent photographs that I looked good in were my wedding photographs – which were taken more than ¬†decade ago.
  • I look average, and that’s fine. I know I have other talents, other assets. But am I really fine? Or do I lack self-confidence? Do I love myself enough?

I know I will continue to ponder these. I know I still won’t take selfies and I am still an awkward solo photo subject. But thankfully, I heard some reassuring words from Duncan Davidson at the end of his short talk. To paraphrase, he says that if you see a photograph of yourself and you don’t like it but everyone else says it’s great, believe everyone else. They know how you look better than you do.