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Why?

Techly Explains: Why you look great in the mirror, but terrible in selfies

This morning, as I was brushing my teeth, I caught myself in the mirror and thought, “Daaaaaamn, who is that solid ten stud looking back at me?” So naturally, once I finished up with my teeth – because hygiene comes first, obviously – I pulled out my phone and snapped a quick selfie.

And I was immediately disappointed with the result.

But according to science, that disappointment could simply be the result of my own perceptions of my face, rather than the potential likelihood that I am simply one weird looking sonofabitch. I prefer to think of it as the former.

Thanks in part to an interesting piece by Nolan Feeney at The Atlantic, here is a look at the various scientific reasons why photos of us never seem to look as good as we think our reflections do.

You see, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing a reversed image of ourselves in our day-to-day lives looking in mirrors, and so our brains don’t quite know what to do when presented with the real-world view that we see in photographs.

No one scrutinises our appearance as much as we do, we know where our freckles are, how our nose slightly tilts, the curve and almost imperceivable lopsidedness of our smiles – so when we see all of those details reversed from how we think they should be, we tend to react with confusion and dislike.

The mirrors themselves even play a minor role. As with funhouse mirrors, any curves in the mirror will distort your reflection. Most mirrors are pretty close to flat, so these minor distortions aren’t enough to be obvious – you don’t end up with a giant torso and tiny legs – but they can be just enough to make a difference in your perceived attractiveness levels.

For example; the Tyler who looks back at me in the reflection of my car’s rear windows is one handsome devil, thanks to the curve of the glass ever so slightly editing my proportions. The Tyler who looks back at me from my rearview mirror gets no such score bonus to complexion.

And finally, if it’s your selfies specifically that you don’t seem to like, that could also be partially due to distortion caused by the close-range use of your phone’s camera.

Daniel Baker, of the University of York, explains this phenomena on his blog, setting the record straight about the misattribution of this distortion – it’s not the lens, it’s just simple geometry.

The closer the camera is to your face, the greater the relative distance between your features – if the camera is a few metres away, all your features appear flat, because the distance between them is substantially smaller than the distance between you and the camera.

Holding your phone out at arms’ length tends to change this somewhat – suddenly your nose or chin or forehead are comparatively much closer to the camera than your ears or eyes, which leads to exaggerated (and often unflattering) proportions.

Ultimately, we’ll never truly know how other people see us – and maybe that’s a good thing. If we can like the way we look (or, at least, the way we think we look), isn’t that what’s most important?

And besides, my mum thinks I’m handsome.

About the author

Tyler is currently based in Canberra, though he rejects this reality and enjoys immersing himself in games, technology, and comics. You can usually catch him trying to find that last shard/flag/feather.
Twitter: @FinalAlchemist

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