+
upworthy
Identity

Here’s why you look better in mirrors than you do in pictures

A scientific breakdown that explains why it's so hard to take a good selfie.

Here’s why you look better in mirrors than you do in pictures
SOURCE: iSTOCK

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.

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.

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.

istock

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.

iStock

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.

assets.rebelmouse.io

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.


This article originally appeared on 7.21.21


Family

Dad takes 7-week paternity leave after his second child is born and is stunned by the results

"These past seven weeks really opened up my eyes on how the household has actually ran, and 110% of that is because of my wife."

@ustheremingtons/TikTok

There's a lot to be gleaned from this.

Participating in paternity leave offers fathers so much more than an opportunity to bond with their new kids. It also allows them to help around the house and take on domestic responsibilities that many new mothers have to face alone…while also tending to a newborn.

All in all, it enables couples to handle the daunting new chapter as a team, making it less stressful on both parties. Or at least equally stressful on both parties. Democracy!

TikTok creator and dad Caleb Remington, from the popular account @ustheremingtons, confesses that for baby number one, he wasn’t able to take a “single day of paternity leave.”

This time around, for baby number two, Remington had the privilege of taking seven weeks off (to be clear—his employer offered four weeks, and he used an additional three weeks of PTO).

The time off changed Remington’s entire outlook on parenting, and his insights are something all parents could probably use.

Keep ReadingShow less

Millenial names are now "old" names.

You can’t turn back the hands of time and so it’s impossible to avoid being labeled “old” by younger generations, no matter how hard you try. For many of us, our names are tied to the times when we were born and can start to sound really dated, no matter how fashionable they were at one point.

TikTokker Amber Cimotti found this out the hard way when her daughter noted that she has an “old” person's name.

“My daughter told me the name Ashley or Amanda — or my name is Amber — are like old people names and I never thought about it this way,” Amber explained in a video with over 3 million views.

Keep ReadingShow less

Christine Kesteloo has one big problem living on a cruise ship.

A lot of folks would love to trade lives with Christine Kesteloo. Her husband is the Chief Engineer on a cruise ship, so she gets to live on the boat pretty much for free as the “wife on board.” For Christine, life is a lot like living on a permanent vacation.

“I live on a cruise ship for half the year with my husband, and it's often as glamorous as it sounds,” she told Insider. “After all, I don't cook, clean, make my bed, do laundry or pay for food.“

Living an all-inclusive lifestyle seems like paradise, but it has some drawbacks. Having access to all-you-can-eat food all day long can really have an effect on one’s waistline. Kesteloo admits that living on a cruise ship takes a lot of self-discipline because the temptation is always right under her nose.

Keep ReadingShow less

Woman shows her misbehaving cat to 'the trenches'

You always hear about a "bad dog," giving the furry goofballs a reputation for getting into mischief, but what about bad cats. Not all cats are angels just lounging around the house until someone gives them food while fanning them with a giant palm leaf. Some cats have a sketchy "catigree" and every once in a while they let that wild streak show. When that happens, what is a cat owner to do?

A cat mom that goes by the user name Lambo Licia on Instagram posted a video showing exactly how she gets her cat in line when he's misbehaving. No, it's not with a spray bottle. She shows him what life is like in "the trenches." You know, the area of town where homeless cats roam and cat burglars have real whiskers and thumbs that don't work, leaving a strange fish smell wherever they lurk.

If Scared Straight: Cat Edition was an actual thing, Mega, the orange tabby would be the first to turn his life around. He looks absolutely petrified from all of the unruly cat behavior he sees out the window and his mom's commentary.

Keep ReadingShow less
Science

College students use AI to decode ancient scroll burned in Mount Vesuvius

“Some of these texts could completely rewrite the history of key periods of the ancient world."

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E., it buried entire cities in volcanic materials. While Pompeii is the most famous site affected by the natural disaster, the nearby villa of Herculaneum was also laid to waste—including over 800 precious scrolls found inside Herculaneum’s library, which were carbonized by the heat, making them impossible to open and recover their contents.

Which brings us to the Vesuvius challenge, started by computer scientist Brent Seales and entrepreneurs Nat Friedman and Daniel Gross in March 2023. The contest would award $1 million in prizes to whoever could use machine learning to successfully read from the scrolls without damaging them.

On February 5, the prize-winning team was announced.
Keep ReadingShow less
Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons

Shaquille O'Neal retired from pro basketball in 2011, but he's still one of the most famous players ever.

Fame comes with a lot of challenges, but it also comes with some pretty obvious perks. There's the money that frequently follows fame, of course, but there's also the special treatment people automatically offer you.

Some famous folks might revel in that special treatment and some might even express gratitude for it. But occasionally, you find a celebrity who refuses it altogether.

Take basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal, for instance.

Keep ReadingShow less