Here’s why you look better in mirrors than you do in pictures
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Usually the greatest fear after a wild night of partying isn't what you said that you might regret, but how you'll look in your friends' tagged photos. Although you left the house looking like a 10, those awkward group selfies make you feel more like a 5, prompting you to wonder, "Why do I look different in pictures?"

It's a weird phenomenon that, thanks to selfies, is making people question their own mirrors. Are pictures the "real" you or is it your reflection? Have mirrors been lying to us this whole time??

The answer to that is a bit tricky. The good news is that there's a big chance that Quasimodo-looking creature that stares back at you in your selfies isn't an accurate depiction of the real you. But your mirror isn't completely truthful either.

Below, a scientific breakdown that might explain those embarrassing tagged photos of you:


The mirror is a reflection. It's not the real you.

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Although we're the most comfortable and familiar with the face staring back at us while we brush our teeth in the morning, the mirror isn't really the real us. It's a reflection, so it shows how we look like in reverse. Because we're so used to seeing the reverse version of ourselves, seeing how we look in pictures can be jarring. And unless you're blessed with a perfectly symmetrical face, the photo version of yourself can be even more wonky.

"We see ourselves in the mirror all the time—you brush your teeth, you shave, you put on makeup," Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Center, told The Atlantic. "Looking at yourself in the mirror becomes a firm impression. You have that familiarity. Familiarity breeds liking. You've established a preference for that look of your face."

Scientists call this the "mere-exposure" effect. Basically, it's a behavior concocted by psychologist Robert Zajonc that says people react favorably to things they're most familiar with. So, when you see a flipped version of yourself, you immediately hate it or even find it grotesque because it's the opposite of what you're used to.

So although we think we look better in a mirror, we're more psychologically inclined to feel that way even if we truthfully look better in photos. Weird, huh?

The camera lens also plays a part.

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So if your reflection isn't the real you, does that mean your ugly selfies are your "true self"? Although mirrors show a flipped version of yourself that tones down the harshness of your asymmetries, the myth that "pictures never lie" isn't true either. After all, most people take more than one selfie before they find their most flattering one, and usually it takes a combination of angles, lighting, and duck lips before landing one that's Instagram-worthy.

But the problem might not be your angles, it could be lens distortion. Because of the proximity of your face to the camera, the lens can distort certain features, making them look larger than they are in real life. Pictures also only provide a 2-D version of ourselves. Depending on your features, if you have a soft, round face, photos can flatten your features and further distort the "real" you.

For example, just changing the focal length of a camera can even change the width of your head. As Gizmodo writer John Herrman pens, the fancier the camera, the better you'll look in the picture:

"Telephoto lenses are usually seen as more flattering, giving the impression that the subject is flattened, and slightly compressing the width of your foremost features, like your nose or breasts. So you might want to think twice before fleeing the pesky paparazzi and their fancy zoom lenses; it's the tourist with the pocket cam whose snaps will make you look fat on the Internet."

And because cameras don't show the 3-D version of you, it's easy to "trick" cameras to present a reality that's not even true. Professional models have perfected this, which is why people can do photo sorcery like this by merely tweaking their angles:

It's also the camera flash.

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Although good lighting is the key to all flattering photos, a harsh flash from your iPhone can actually make you look a lot worse, especially if it's taken in a dark room. In fact, according to OKCupid, harsh camera flashes add seven years to your face.

In addition to making you look shiny and greasy, cameras can't adjust to lightness and darkness the ways our eyes naturally can. Cameras can only focus on highlights or shadows, and sometimes that can result in lighting that can be less than flattering. A good rule of thumb is to stick to natural or outdoor lighting instead.

Your smile could also be the culprit.

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Everyone knows what it's like to pose for an awkward photo, like a driver's license or a passport. The photos never turn out looking nice, and they hardly look like our natural smiles. When you're looking at yourself in the mirror, you're relaxed, confident, and more likely to smile and act naturally.

If someone shouting "Say cheese!" at you makes you feel self-conscious about your unphotogenic reputation, obviously you're going to tense up and have a photo that looks different and foreign from the version you see in the mirror. It's best to relax when taking pictures and try to focus on something else. That tense, forced awkwardness will always translate to a bad photo.

It's possible you're less attractive than you think.

But no matter how many factors you want to blame for your crappy pictures, it all boils down to psychology. Perhaps the reason you look different in pictures is because the version of yourself you like best is a figment of your imagination.

According to a 2008 study, people tend to think they're more attractive than they really are. In the experiment, researchers photoshopped pictures of participants to make them look more attractive and then mixed those with photos of strangers. Next, they asked the subjects to pick their picture out of a line-up. People were quicker at picking photos where they looked more attractive, concluding that "attractiveness" was the version of themselves they were most familiar with.

However, other experts have also said the opposite, that people tend to think they're less attractive than they really are. Whatever the case, if you're beating yourself up about why you look different in mirrors and pictures, there's a good chance that all your fear and anxiety is just in your head. It's sort of similar to how people hate the sound of their own voice. Perhaps the key to looking better in pictures is taking as many selfies as you can to help familiarize yourself with both the "mirror" and "camera" version of yourself.

"People who take a lot of selfies end up feeling a lot more comfortable in their own skin because they have a continuum of images of themselves, and they're more in control of the image," Pamela said. "Flipped or not flipped, the ability to see themselves in all these different ways will just make them generally more comfortable."

Or, you know, just download FaceTune. Might as well fight science with science.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
True

It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.
Photo courtesy of Macy's
True

Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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