What do I look like to other people? This is a question many of us have asked ourselves our entire lives. Whether consciously or subconsciously, it’s a nagging, unwelcome presence that lingers throughout our teens and into our 20s, 30s and beyond.
But more pressing even is the question of ‘what do I like to myself?’ I honestly have no idea. Because it keeps changing.
A study by British Psychological Society once confirmed this, as results showed that people should be careful when choosing a passport photo or profile image as we are all poor at choosing good likenesses of our faces. Strangers, in fact, make better selections.
When I was a teenager, I was mad photogenic. Every picture was spot on. And posing wasn’t even a thing yet – this was before social media. Now, at 35 years old, I see myself looking different every time. Spotting my reflection in a sliding glass door: grotesque. Catching a glimpse of myself in a restaurant bathroom mirror: hey, girl. Opening my email to find snaps of me at a press event, eating and laughing without a care in the world: not cute.
But it’s not just the ageing or the angle. Sometimes I know her (me), and sometimes I am shocked that my mouth moves in that way, that my forehead is that big and that my teeth, from certain angles, look more crooked.
“You should model. I think it’s the bone-structure thing,” someone tells me two days ago. I continued the conversation with her for a minute or two before realising she was speaking about me. Then another incident. I took an art class where I had to draw my self-portrait. They take a snap of you beforehand and print it out, so you don’t have to sit there craning your back for hours on end trying to master the task of painting while simultaneously catching your reflection in a handheld mirror.
I dreaded the printout, because I knew my face would look horrid. Yet, to my own surprise, I didn’t hate it.
The irony in all of this is that I’ve never considered myself vain. I don’t wear a lot of makeup, I like skin care but don’t fuss too much with things like threading – and I’ve managed to avoid the world of face-bras, Botox or K-beauty.
But it’s not about vanity. Despite the uptake in using airbrushing apps that transform you into a doe-eyed, ethereal-skinned anime character, I don’t think we are more vain today than before, rather it’s a case of curiosity. We just have more tools than cavewoman had. We want to know how we move, talk, come across to others, so that we can, therefore, know ourselves better. Because we are always just in our own heads.
Documenting our lives, capturing ourselves and showing those bits of ourselves while anxiously awaiting a reaction to confirm or deny our place in the world as positive or negative, is our cavewoman way of asking: “Who am I?”
Haley Nahman of Manrepeller grapples with this same question in an essay, and her conclusion peels an existentialist pickled onion that encourages one to focus on accepting the vast unknowability rather than fuelling your curiosity to know, to be certain of what you look like.
But how does one consciously push oneself to become less conscious? An innate curiosity about ourselves drives us to masturbate for the first time. So similarly, we are perhaps the worst judges of ourselves and our own photos and reflections for that exact same reason. We are always curiously criticizing, comparing and condescending, whereas a stranger is not in your head and just sees you at face value.
Are you curious about how others perceive you? Does it bother you that we can never perceive ourselves through others' eyes? Share your thoughts with us here.
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