Why we look so different in selfies vs. the mirror


We’ve all experienced that frustrating moment when we feel like we look super cute in the mirror, but when it comes to taking a selfie, we look entirely different. It doesn’t seem to matter what angle we use, how we change the lighting, or how many hundreds of pictures we take, the way we look in a mirror just doesn’t seem to translate well onto a photograph – so why is this?

The mirror image

It is important to remember that when we look in a mirror, we see a mirror image, which is, of course, the flipped image of what we would see on a photograph. Most phones, apps or even an old-school cameras will capture your face in the same way that others will see it, and as faces are not perfectly symmetrical, we can often notice things in photographs that didn’t look the same way in a mirror. We have an image in our head of what we look like, which is usually based on what we see when we look into a mirror, and yet really, other people see the reverse of that.

We like the familiar

As we tend to spend more time looking at our faces in a mirror, that becomes the preferred version of our face, which is why we often dislike how we look in photographs. The mere exposure theory suggests that just by repeatedly encountering something, we are likely to like it more, which is why a lot of us feel that we look better in real life, rather than on a photograph. Not only that, but we tend to focus on our ‘best side’ subconsciously turning our face in the mirror to the part of us we like the most. You are seeing your face in action in a mirror, rather than completely still in a photograph, which is where you can focus on any flaws.

The technical side

Of course, cameras do not work in the same way a human eye does, and there are different camera lenses that will make you look entirely different. For example, a longer lens will likely make you look slimmer, whereas a shorter lens is going to make your face look a little wider. Being too close to the camera, as we often are in a selfie, can make certain features look a little distorted or emphasized, for example, noses. Light can make a huge difference to how we look on camera, for example, lights that shine downwards are quite harsh and can cause dark shadows which do not make for a very flattering photograph.

The person you see

It might be weird to realise that the way you look at photographs is closer to how you look to those around you, however, it might help to know that studies have shown that other people generally prefer the version of you that they see, rather than the image of yourself that you see in a mirror.

So take that selfie, and add whatever filter you want but don’t be too disheartened if you look different to the way you do in the mirror – embrace it!