Surely I’m not the only one who winces when viewing what I think is an unflattering photograph of myself that’s been uploaded online for all to see. There could be 400 people in the picture and all I will focus on is me. It’s as if we have some sort of selfish radar that zooms in on our reflection and alters how we feel about ourselves. I would try to deny this and nonchalantly say something like “Oh, what a great picture of you! I didn’t even notice myself in it” until I was put to the test.

A few years ago I put my camera on a timer to get a picture of my then boyfriend and me before we headed off to a concert. The picture turned out great. I uploaded it on Facebook right away and wrote something cheesy underneath it like “Having some wine before the Our Lady Peace concert with the love of my life.” It took about three minutes before the boyfriend said “You didn’t even notice what I look like in that photo, did you?” and I chuckled at him and took a glance. He’d made a face like he was running in a 100km/hour wind tunnel with his mouth wide open and his tongue hanging out. You could practically see the spaces his wisdom teeth were aiming to invade. I was honestly taken aback; it was a horrific picture. But I’d been so focused on me that I hadn’t even noticed his ridiculous photo-bombing tactics.

We live in a world where our online persona is so often deemed more important than our real life one, and it’s easy to become self-conscious about how we look. We see a picture of ourselves online appearing heavier than we really are and decide to go on a diet. We see a picture where we’re smiling genuinely, maybe even laughing, and think we look so unattractive that we from then on refuse to smile on camera.

Photographs dictate how we present ourselves to others who don’t see us on a regular basis, and for that reason we feel the need to always be at our best. What a huge amount of pressure! Is it not already bad enough that our frequent status updates on Facebook are expected to be full of positive, brag-worthy details? Are we pursuing specific things in our lives merely so we can appear to the world to have an envious life? We’re doing ourselves a disservice every time we allow social media to disrupt our lives and derail us from who we are when not behind a computer keyboard. There’s an expression I heard a while ago that best describes the foolishness of such actions: “The only thing you get from keeping up with the Joneses… is finding out what the Joneses like.”

The invention of photo beautifying programs has taken us off track. We all know the models in magazines are retouched to eliminate any ounce of cellulite or any traces of what may have once been a blemish. Regardless, millions of people have developed Body Dysmorphia Disorder and yearn for an unrealistic level of flawless skin and ideal body weight. Unfortunately, our own ideal body weight is horribly skewed in comparison to what health experts advise us it should be. Picture altering programs are perfect for changing landscape lighting or eliminating/adding shadowing effects, but we abuse these programs to alter our own self-image to present ourselves publicly to others we think we should be, but really are not. Why do 30-year-old women want to look like 13-year-old skinny girls without bodies? Why do they sacrifice enjoying their favourite foods and treats because they’re afraid of being judged in their photos? Sure we need to feel comfortable in our skin, which to some may mean losing a few pounds and practicing a healthier lifestyle, but is “in our skin” the same as in a photo? Why we all seem to care so much is beyond me.

I openly admit I’m guilty of all the above. I’ve asked people to remove pictures of me online and tried to come up with all sorts of reasons why they should do so rather than simply admitting I’m being vain. I went through a stage where I always offered to be the photographer preferring not to be in front of the lens as I would spend too much time obsessing over my appearance in any photo. It took me a long time to realize that no one was actually looking at me in these pictures or judging me harshly (well, unless they are scandalous, of course), as they were too busy staring at themselves and picking out their own flaws.

My favourite pictures of other people are ones where they’re smiling so genuinely that, just like contagious laughter, make me grin. The next time you zoom in on photographs of yourself with a ping of embarrassment or sadness, realize that few are really looking at or judging your appearance, as they’re far too busy obsessing over themselves and wondering what you’re thinking about them. It is said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and it’s time that we start seeing our very own special beauty.

For another perspective on self image read SELF LOVE: Understanding true beauty

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels