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Occupation: Girl

Please close the door and switch on the fun without fail.

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Give me a moment to blow your mind
I was walking around outside, letting my thoughts ramble (as you do), and suddenly a number of things I'd heard coalesced into a coherent whole. These conclusions are from various articles I've read over the years--or from what people I know have said, or from interviews various people have given (including the inevitable celebrity refrain of "I'm not attractive, I don't know why people think I am"):

1) Very few people have perfectly symmetrical faces, and while I personally find quirks and asymmetry really attractive, scientists tend to quantify beauty in terms of perfect symmetry. "Look at this face, rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. Oh, look, the highest scores had the most symmetry! LOOK, WE MAPPED IT OUT WITH GEOMETRY."

2) Many attractive people do not think they are attractive. We tend to assume they're modest, deeply insecure, or fishing for compliments.

3) Furthermore, a lot of people specifically think they look bad in photographs.

4) Faces can look really, really weird if you reverse the image. There was a site that did this with celebrity faces, and some of the pictures were, truly, pretty strange-looking. Maybe this is only because it's the reverse of what we're used to seeing; maybe--although I'm not sure how this is logical, but I'll throw it out here anyway--maybe something is attractive when it's flipped one way and legitimately unattractive when it's flipped the other.

5) I'm guessing that this is due to natural asymmetry, which most people have to at least some degree--the more uneven the features, the more drastic the difference. A perfectly symmetrical face would look hardly any different, if at all, but few people have perfect symmetry.

6) What you see in the mirror, in any reflection, is the reverse image of your face. In fact, the only time you're really going to see yourself the way other people see you is... in a photograph.

7) So the reverse image is what you usually see. The reverse image is "me." And therefore, people don't like photographs because photographs aren't "me."

8) People don't like the way they look because they only ever see the reverse image. If flipping an image results in something that is genuinely unattractive (rather than just "not looking like what we're used to seeing," because people are used to their own reverse image), people may only know the "unattractive" image in the mirror as "me."

9) You may actually be really, really handsome/pretty and not know it.

10) But if you're vain--the mirror-kissing type, as it were? You may not be as hot as you think you are.

Food for thought?

(Don't feel bad. I look okay in mirrors and terrible in photographs.)

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Wow! That actually makes a butt-ton of sense! I feel better now!

Someone should have told this to Heidi Montag, just saying.

at burning man in 2006 there was an art piece with a bunch of mirrors set up so you could see your unflipped face. it was better than a photograph because you could move your face and experiment. it was really weird!

relatedly, i am weirded out by what my voice sounds like when recorded.

This. I;m much higher pitched on recordings than I am to myself (has something to do with hearing the vibrations of your voice inside your head as well as on the outside?) and I think I sound much, much ~girlier and I can't stand it.

This just blew my mind a little.

mine too. so the way i look in a mirror - what i like to think i look like - is a LIE? HELP, I THINK I'M HAVING AN IDENTITY CRISIS.

Oh, geez. Now I have to figure out which person I am.... aaaahhhhhh

I've actually thought this for a while, so it's very cool to hear someone else say it! (I also wonder if people who photograph well are people with more symmetrical faces?)

Well, I think a lot of people photograph well, probably regardless of the symmetry; it's more the discrepancy between how they photograph and what they think they look like.

Hmm. *pondering this* Interesting.

Hey, didn't you have a headache when you did the glass of water thing? I am thinking that either headaches give you ideas or epiphanies hurt you. :P

(I do hope that your headache has gone away tho and that you are feeling better.)

I actually feel pretty good right now, knock on wood.

You mean something similar to the Uncanny Valley? Makes a lot of sense.

Whoa. I now feel the need to make faces at a mirror.

This makes an AMAZING amount of sense. I've had sorta similar thoughts, but they've never coalesced in quite this way.

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This is quite amazing and mind blowing. I feel like you should send this to be an Op Ed piece in the NYtimes or at least a magazine targeted at women.

Seconded on the Op-Ed piece!

Okay, wow. My mind, it is blown.

The thing is, I'd noticed many of these pieces before. I've contemplated the fact that what we are mostly used to seeing of ourselves is the mirror-image, which is reversed. And while I hadn't thought about it so specifically in relation to people, I know as an artist that reversing a picture that you are working on can help you spot some of the flaws.

(Which aren't always a matter of symmetry; even when you're working on something that isn't symmetrical, flipping the image can, for example, highlight that you've drawn one eye way too much higher than the other, or put the mouth in the wrong position, even on a 3/4ers face. Whenever I'm drawing, I look at the image in reverse, either via a lightbox, or after I scan it in, in order to fix what I can.)

But I'd always just kind of assumed that the reason people don't like the way they look in photographs had to do with the fact that we usually see ourselves in 3D and in motion, and that maybe it has something to do with the frozen quality of the photograph. Like, a photo isn't a good representation of how people react to you in real life, because in real life, people are reacting not only to your features but to your expressions and manner and all kinds of things. Somehow, a photo freezes and highlights the "flaws" of some features, which you don't notice as much when you're interacting with a live person. You may be aware of the flaws but they recede in importance in comparison with the rest of the visual input that is creating your impression of the person.

I always figured that that related to how people can say of other people, "they don't photograph well", as opposed to, "the camera loves them". For some reason -- and I'm not sure it always has to do with symmetry -- we do react that way to pictures of *other* people, even though the photo is the same view of them that *we* see (i.e. to us, it's not a reversed view). Often when we say that someone doesn't photograph well, I think what we mean is that the photo can't capture an ineffable something about their manner and expression that is a big part of their charisma. (But then, I've also always wondered, how does the camera sometimes manage to capture that, in the people who we say the camera loves?)

However... all that said, your theory here REALLY resonates. I think you've definitely hit on a key thing about our perceptions about ourselves versus images of ourselves. I'm *definitely* in that category of: I haaaaate the way I look in almost all photos, but I don't experience quite the same level of dislike for my image in a mirror.

Well, I think that can also be it--people can also photograph better than they look in real life. I think it depends on isolating a specific angle and expression--someone who's really attractive (and possibly symmetrical and even-featured) will look good from many angles. Other people look good from their favorite angle (their "good side"), but when you see them in 360 degrees, the forest is not as attractive as that one tree, to mangle a metaphor. Whereas someone who might not photograph well at any particular angle--is more than the sum of their parts in person.

And yeah, I like my face, particularly my eyes, from a couple of very specific angles in the mirror, but I am always horrified by photographs.

Did you know you can buy a "True" mirror? They're rather expensive, but still. Nifty concept.

True Mirror

Definitely an interesting theory, and actually something I could run a study on. Very easy to do. By default, the current macbook camera, iSight or whatever they call it, will take reversed pictures (i.e. what you would see in the mirror). It can, however, be set to auto-reverse them to "normal." You could get people to rate how good pictures of themselves are with and without that auto-reverse. If they preferred the mirror image, or if there was any significant difference at all, it would indicate that people are sensitive to this reversing.

Photographs also have the issue of people being self-conscious, though. A lot of people I know, starting with my mother, look their best in photos when they don't know they're being photographed.

It is an interesting theory, however. If I have a moment, I might look up some of the psych research on reversed faces (there has been some) and see what it says.

Looking good (and real) in photos also depends on who's taking them. If it's some bozo who holds the camera an arm's length away at waist-level, well, no one's going to look like themselves!