Welcome to the Age of the Selfie: the perfect confluence of digital photography, social media, and rampant smartphone usage.
We take a lot of pictures of ourselves, but this inward focus isn’t always positive. If you’re a living, breathing human in 2023, chances are you’ve taken a photo of yourself and immediately scoffed in disdain at least once in your life. Because despite how much we love taking selfies, we rarely love the snapshots themselves.
Hating pictures of oneself is a widespread phenomenon, and no, it isn’t because we’re all unphotogenic. On the contrary, there are several reasons why our brains are hardwired to dislike our own photos.
I reached out to several mental health experts (and even an art historian) to get the scoop on our selfie scorn.
1. You Aren’t Use To Seeing You
One major reason why we hate our selfies so much is that we’re not used to seeing ourselves—not the real us, anyway.
“The face you see in the mirror isn’t your true face (the one that everyone else sees),” says Tyler Woodard, wellness expert and founder of Edensgate.
“It’s a mirror image,” Woodard continues. “It’s the same thing that happens when you hear your voice on a recording, and you don’t recognize it. Despite your face belonging to you, you actually aren’t familiar with your own face as you’ve only seen a reversal of it.”
“Because your face isn’t symmetrical, this can add to the confusion when looking at a non-mirrored image of yourself. This is made even more confusing when you factor in Snapchat and any image-altering apps that can leave you believing you look one way when, in reality, your face is perfect just the way it is.”
2. They’re Low Effort And Easy To Criticize
Liam Davis, an art historian at the Academy of Art History and Editor-in-Chief at Artfile Magazine, poses another idea for why it’s so easy for us to disregard selfies: they’re easy to take (and retake, and retake, and…you get the point).
“They’re low effort,” Davis explains. “We often call something we made ‘bad’ because they’re easy to do over.”
“It only takes a couple of seconds to snap a selfie, and you can take dozens of them in one go. That means you can always do another one if your previous one looks bad. This raises our standard when taking selfies, sometimes to unreasonable heights,” Davis says.
In the era of disposable (and thanks to photo editing software, unrealistic) content on social media, it can become even easier to assume you have a better selfie in you—whether that’s because you have an extra few minutes to take another ten snaps or because you’re comparing them to someone else’s selfie.
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3. They Carry A Lot Of Weight
However, as easy as it is to take selfies, these self-portraits tend to carry a lot of responsibility.
“We may be able to understand why we initially hate our selfies when we think about the concept of representation,” says Emma Loker, mental health specialist from Healthy Minded.
“Representations are symbols and signs that index, stand in for, or represent us to others. [They] become even more important when they take the form of self-representations, such as selfies. When we post them on social media, they inform others’ views of us and the reach we get on the platform.
“Self-representations form a part of our identity—the things, people, norms and conventions, and practices we identify with and collect throughout our lives serve as our identity. This makes whatever we choose to stand in for us—to represent us—incredibly important, which may explain why we notice the tiniest of imperfections in our selfies.”
4. The Power Of Perspective And Time
Finally, there are two powerful forces at play to consider: perspective and time.
“Our self-esteem, or how we view ourselves, can influence how we feel about photos of ourselves. If we have low self-esteem, we may be more critical of our appearances and less likely to view pictures of ourselves favorably,” explains Alyssa Roberts, Doctor of Psychology and senior writer at Practical Psychology.
“When we look at a photo of ourselves, we often do so from a third-person perspective, which can be disorienting and even distancing. This can make it challenging to connect with the person in the photo and may lead to a negative reaction,” Roberts continues.
“When we look back on the same images later on, however, we may have a different perspective and be more able to see the beauty and value in the person we see in the photo. We may see ourselves through the lens of nostalgia and be more able to appreciate our younger [even by a few months] selves in a way that we couldn’t when the images were first taken.”
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We mustn’t underestimate the limiting nature of our immediate perspective. As Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek put it, “one day, you will look at those photos with much kinder eyes and say, ‘dear God, I was a beautiful thing!’”
While it might be tempting to write off a lousy selfie as a personal case of un-photogenicism, there is a whole slew of reasons why you might dislike the picture—none of which have to do with the presence or absence of beauty.
So, go ahead and snap away. Even if you don’t like the selfies you took today, you might look at them more fondly tomorrow.
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