Women hate getting our pictures taken. Or, rather, as Leah Hardy muses in her first-person essay in the Times of London, we hate the way we look once they're taken; over two thirds of women surveyed by Hewlett Packard revealed that they are "deeply embarrassed" by the way they look in pictures. We hate it so much that an industry has built up around airbrushing and improving our digital selves for posterity: "www.digifacelift.com will whiten your teeth, slim you down and tidy your hair for around £12, while www.retouchphoto.co.uk can even give you a complete facelift, wiping away sagging jowls and eyebags, with prices starting at just £2. And for those who think that prevention is better than cure, Hewlett Packard digital cameras now include a "slimming" feature, which stretches your image, visually removing about 10lbs in the process - a practice dubbed "digital dieting."' By the same token, people have learned to 'de-tag' themselves on Facebook, so as not to be identified with less than flattering images.
And yet, we're photographed more than ever before. Whereas our grandmas could get away with one glam studio portrait for a fella to take overseas, our candid mugs are slapped all over Facebook and MySpace, company websites and phones. Says one shrink, "Our degree of liking or disliking snaps of ourselves depends on how closely they match not our real self, but our ideal self." Ideal self, nothing; most of us would just like to not look ten pounds heavier than we do in real life, and this can become a vicious circle: knowing how awful you'll look in a picture, that this is the image strangers and future generations will have of you, adds a stress level that invariably sabotages the shot. And of course, this is an anxiety that's far more prevalent amongst women; as Dodai put it, "sadly i think that it is just like everything else; women scrutinize themselves so much because they expect to be under the microscope by whomever is seeing the picture — but guys rarely care if they look dumb/fat/stoopid/stoned/red eyed."
That said, women are far more prone to document and chronicle; I have friends who scrupulously record every event and get-together, and have legions of well-organized albums, records of their lives from which they are conspicuously missing. My own grandmother was devoted to her albums of family pictures, but cut her own face out of every group shot with nail scissors, leaving sinister gaping holes from the years 1947 on. When queried about picture-taking, Jezebels were unilaterally negative. Moe's gone on record in her hatred of the portrait. Anna contrasts her current camera-shy stance with her un-self-conscious childhood mugging. Jessica worries about red-eye and crone-like stooping. Dodai saysshe'll do it - but only if she can control the angle and pose. Intern Anna, on the other hand says, "I kind of like having my picture taken but I always hate the result. I am like a rat pressing the shock-button of picture-taking overnovernover." Iintern Margaret was the one holdout - but only because "during a more body obsessed time I perfected my picture smile Tyra style and figured out which obnoxious pose makes my arm look skinnier. I still automatically snap to that when someone takes my picture." I find it hard to believe any such thoughts would ever have occurred to a group of guys.
I had a disturbing revelation recently. I realized that part of what I subconsciously fear about people looking at my picture is not being able to be there and say, "I know I'm not that good-looking, but I'm really nice!" which is I think a mentality I developed around the age of 14 or whenever. This has nothing to do with the reality of how you look in a picture, and everything to do with control and how you are perceived in the world. And in this way, maybe it's good to have to surrender sometimes to the purely superficial. I'm sure we've all been traumatized by the stark duality of celebrity presentation; the air-brushed perfection contrasted with haggard, dog-walking horror. In this universe, the stakes are raised and control becomes more important than ever. And so we become more and more fearful, and we take more and more pictures, hoping that this next one will be the one that shows us who we really are and want to be - but validated through the objectivity of a lens.
Why do women hate photographs of themselves?[Times of London] Picture Your Name Here[New York Times]