Brave Face

I don’t like pictures of myself but, increasingly, I need to have them. I’m not totally averse to a selfie (for Twitter and Facebook friends only) but I’ll almost always include a friend or group to soften the blow. And I certainly view these pictures solely as sources of information; they are definitely not disseminated for any aesthetic purpose. I’d happily remove myself from almost all of those images if it wasn’t (a) a memo to self that I was actually there and (b) a little narcissistic to think anyone would care what I look like… or think I look like… or care what I think they think I look like. Lots of people don’t have a problem with their own photos – the Kardashians, Joey Essex… they’re good looking, so there’s probably good reason for that. But even some pretty ordinary -looking people love to propagate their image across the web, and I know that some attractive people have the same problems I (and lots of others) have. So the “hate my own photo” thing is almost certainly, largely a psychological issue.

Last week, I had a set of photos taken for the Institute’s webpages, email banners and other publicity-type things. Actually, extensive therapy and research for this blog mean that I am for once OK with this set of photos. Jodie the photographer was great – that helped. And I embraced doing the full gamut of emotion expressions for “serious face”, “sad face”, “brave face”, and “good news face”. I’m stopping short of posting these here but as part of my ongoing personal therapy, here’s the first public output from that.


Why do so many people hate photographs of themselves? Inevitably, there’s been some research. First there’s the mirror image or mere-exposure hypothesis: basically, we’re used to seeing ourselves in the mirror but not as others see us as we appear in photos. So we’re accustomed to the mirror image of how we appear to the world, and when we see a photograph – the mirror image of what we are familiar with – that unsettles us and we rate ourselves lower for attractiveness as a result. Apparently mere exposure effects of appearance have even been observed in other species. How one earth did they test that? Next time I look at my cats – who are beautiful – I’ll feel a little sadder knowing that they may be suffering from esteem issues. (I suspect self-ratings of attractiveness were not a dependent variable in the animal studies).

Selfies are different. They are a more recent phenomenon and arguably say something interesting about esteem issues in the world we live in today. Recent research suggests that selfie-takers may have a self-favoring bias. Do not adjust your sets. Actually it’s a proper study and there were no differences in narcissism (NRI) ratings between the selfie-takers and control (non-selfie-takers) groups. Both groups took a selfie and had an experimenter take a picture of them. Those two images were then rated by others online. For both groups, these independent raters felt that the selfie pictures were less attractive and likeable than the experimenter pictures. However,  the selfie-taker group rated their own images as more attractive(and likeabile) than the non-selfie-taker group, compared with the independent raters. In other words, the selfie-takers were furthest away from reality in judging their own attractiveness (and likeability) in a positive way.

You know what – there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a little way off from reality if it gives you a little aspiration and a boost to your self-esteem. But prolonged disconnection with reality, as I’ve intimated before, causes problems.

kardashians selfie



  1. You would certainly know about it if your cats had self esteem issues – a normal, well adjusted cat thinks it is beautiful!

  2. Having just had an official King’s portrait for work purposes I’m familiar with this feeling! Much to my surprise I now have a picture of me that I like. I started my career as a photographer in the 1980s and met lots of people who loved having their pictures taken and equally many who didn’t. I used to discuss this with colleagues and we felt it was to do with vanity and self confidence, very much as you say. Avoiding a photo was a way of protecting a fragile self-image and volunteering for one was either a way of expressing or building self confidence. What I would be equally interested in exploring is why some mirrors in my house reflect an image of me that I like and approve and others don’t.

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