During the early stages of my eating disorder recovery, I hated seeing pictures of myself. Each new photo I came across was picked apart and examined for every little imperfection. I tortured myself by focusing on the rolls of my stomach, the roundness of my hips, and the lack of definition in my upper arms all the while fondly thinking about my eating disordered thinner self. This activity never did me any good and only made me want to return to my old restrictive ways.
As I distanced myself from my disorder, I began to see pictures in a different light. After taking some pictures of family members, I realized that my brutal self-critique was undeserved. Of all the photos I took, none of them did the person justice and this helped me see that, as much as I may dislike a picture of myself, it doesn’t mean that I look like that in real life.
I know that I’m not the only who has flinched at seeing pictures of themselves, but I had never taken the time to figure out why the image in our heads is so different than the image in the photograph. My curiosity finally took over and my research led me to these conclusions:
- Taking a picture is complex. These are some of the factors that go into taking what would be considered a “good” photo: posture, lighting, background colors, proximity to the camera lens, the angle at which the picture was taken, body position, clothing, make-up, and filters. Considering that all of these can come into play, it’s no wonder that we may not like a photo of ourselves.
- A picture does not capture reality. When I see myself in pictures, I remind myself that seeing a picture is not the same as seeing a real-life person. A picture is a static, two-dimensional representation of a something dynamic and three-dimensional, so what is seen in the picture is different than what is reality.
- Pictures are often meant to manipulate and fool us. I like looking at those pre- and post-photoshop photos of celebrities and models because it helps me remember that the person was airbrushed, posed, etc. to sell an image or product. It’s also enlightening to see celebrities when they’re not filming a movie. Everyday Hugh Jackman doesn’t look like Wolverine and the guys from 300 don’t normally look like Spartan soldiers.1
- The final picture is one of dozens. After a particularly excellent ride on my spin bike, I decided to take a selfie. I rarely take selfies, but I wanted to take one anyway for my Facebook page. Well, it was harder than I thought it would be. I took dozens of pictures from different angles and ended up with one that I thought was social media worthy.
- We naturally pay attention to the negative. When looking at a picture of myself, I would home in on my perceived flaws and imagine that others were doing the same. In reality, no one is looking as closely at the photo as much as I am.
- Focus on the moment. Rather than letting my inner critic come out, I now focus on the moment the picture captured.2 When I look through old pictures of loved ones, I don’t care that their hair was a mess or what their bodies looked like. Those pictures are cherished because I care about the people and the memories that they bring to mind are irreplaceable. It will be no different when people see pictures of me.
Now that I’ve transitioned away from my eating disorder, I am much more accepting of how I look in pictures. One thing that helped was to take more pictures of myself so I could become used to how I look in photos.3 Since I started doing this, I have learned that a picture is just a moment in time and does not capture any of my finer qualities as a person.
How do you react when you see yourself in a picture? Please share in the comment section below.
1Though they’re sure nice to look at!
2Some of the moments were moments of misery though. Yes, I was thin, but I was mentally and physically unwell.
3I now even feel comfortable videotaping myself doing yoga. It’s amazing that my belly rolls and cellulite don’t really bother me anymore!
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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