The Real Reason You Hate The Way You Look In Pictures

Do you look great in the mirror but horrible in pictures? Here's the reason why.

woman looking at her phone progressman/ Shutterstock

You check your makeup in the bathroom mirror before you head out. Perfect! Your hair is curling perfectly, and your eyeliner has never looked better.

You take a selfie to immortalize your look forever, but you don't have time to make sure the selfie came out OK because you're already running late, besides you know how to pose and use lighting to your advantage. You take your Tinder profile very seriously.


Later, when a friend asks to see a different picture, you scroll by your earlier bathroom selfie and you're horrified. Your hair looks like a bees nest and you might as well have tried to dress up as a raccoon with the way your eye makeup is looking.

The real reason you hate the way you look in pictures

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Is that how you really look? What you thought was perfect is actually a big mess. How could you have been so wrong, and why do you hate the way you look in photos? Why didn't anyone tell you how horrendous you looked?

The problem is that most of us are used to seeing ourselves in mirrors, and unfortunately, the mirror lies.

When we look at ourselves in a mirror, we might think we're seeing how we really look, but we're actually seeing an inverse image.

Most people's faces aren't absolutely symmetrical, but that's OK; we get used to seeing how their left eye is slightly larger than their right, or how their smile seems to turn downward.

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After years of looking in the mirror (pre-teens spend half of their lives doing this), we get used to the face staring back at us.

And this is where mere-exposure comes in.

Mere-exposure (developed by a psychologist named Robert Zajonc) shows that people react better to things they see more often.

Zajonc found that mere-exposure works on everything from facial expressions to nonsense words.

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We like what we're used to seeing, so it makes sense that we prefer the image of ourselves that we see all the time — the image with our flipped facial imperfections. 

According to the mere-exposure effect, when you see a photographic representation of your face unflipped by the mirror, it looks odd to you, off-kilter, and kind of strange.


But before you swear off selfies, make a promise to yourself to only take Snapchat selfies.

Why? Because Snapchat doesn't flip the image to its inverse; it takes a photo of you that you know and love, and you can rest assured that you don't actually look like a monster in real life.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.