I often criticise my boyfriend for being terrible at taking photos of me, despite me feeling like I look super fine. I have a number of photographer friends who always upload stunning photos of their significant other to Facebook; you know the ones. They are candid, perfectly framed, flawless photos.
However, I can’t blame my boyfriend. It feels as though every time someone else takes a photo of me, I could’ve done a better job using even the dodgy reverse-camera on my phone. I’m not one for taking copious amounts of selfies, however I will admit that I get that ‘super fine’ feeling when I do take the occasional picture of myself. Love it or hate it, this selfie phenomena is one that refuses to die. Why?
Let’s explore two reasons why we love capturing ourselves.
The Mere Exposure Effect
Social psychologist, Robert Zajonc, conducted a set of experiments in the 1960’s that supported his hypothesis that the mere repeated exposure of an individual to a stimulus object enhances his or her attitude toward it (Zajonc, 1968). Essentially, we prefer things that are familiar to us. We spend far more time looking in the mirror than we do looking at photographs, so we are more inclined to like the former rather than the latter.
“We see ourselves in the mirror all the time—you brush your teeth, you shave, you put on makeup,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Center. “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” (Feeney, 2014).
The mirror also offers more than familiarity; it offers a consistent image of our assymetrical faces, however what we see in the mirror is the exact opposite of what everyone else sees. Due to the familiarity we have of mirrored images of ourselves, we are more comfortable with the reversed shape and construct of our face, and not the way it looks to others. The reason I think my selfies are better than the photos my boyfriend takes is because I never see myself from the non-mirrored perspective as my boyfriend does. When he say’s the photo looks good, he means it. To him, the photo is an almost true depiction of my face and me.
So how do we solve the issue of stressing over how we look in photographs? Rutledge thinks it is simple: take more selfies.
“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,” she says. “Flipped or not flipped, the ability to see themselves in all these different ways will just make them generally more comfortable” (Feeney, 2014).
Feeney, 2014, ‘Why Selfies Sometimes Look Weird To Their Subjects’, The Atlantic, accessed 19/3/15 http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/why-selfies-sometimes-look-weird-to-their-subjects/359567/
The True Mirror Company 2012, ‘Seeing your non-reversed image for the first time: First Impressions’, True Mirror, accessed 19/3/15, http://www.truemirror.com/FirstImpressions.asp
Zajonc, R 1968, ‘Attitudinal Effects of Mere Exposure’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Monograph Supplement, vol. 9, no. 2, accessed 19/3/15, http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic472736.files/Zajonc.pdf