Our bodies often look drastically different in selfies compared to photos taken by others – why does it still affect us so much?

‘Is that really what I look like?’

It’s something so many of us have said after seeing pictures of ourselves, right? It’s confusing, because often, it comes as such as contrast to what we see in the mirror – and usually, unfortunately, it’s because we look bigger in the photos.

Look: in an ideal world, we wouldn’t care that our bodies looked bigger in photos than we do in the mirror and we wouldn’t recoil in horror at pictures that make us look larger than how we perceive ourselves. Our dismay and disappointment is so rooted in fatphobia and the deep-seated hatred of fat that is baked into our society, which is toxic and damaging and just so, so wrong.

But I get it – we don’t live in this ideal world and we are bombarded with messaging that we have to be thin and being bigger is bad. It’s not true, but it causes so much anxiety and concern around how our bodies look. Which is why it’s so disorientating and distressing to see ourselves at different sizes and not know which one is correct; which one is the real us?

I flagged this in a recent post I did on Instagram that showed two pictures of me – one taken in the mirror, a ‘mirror selfie’, and the other taken with a professional camera. I am exactly the same weight and same body in both, but there is a very noticeable difference, which is that my body looks significantly bigger in the picture taken with a professional camera.

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Neither bother me – I think both look fine and I don’t really care which one is ‘truer’ to my actual size. But I’m fascinated by just how much cameras can distort an image – which is, sidenote, another massive argument for not comparing yourself to anyone else, right? How can we compare ourselves to an image we see on social media when we have NO idea what has gone into the making of it – including, of course, potential post-shoot editing, too. It’s a totally unfair comparison.

Cameras can alter subject size depending on a multitude of factors like lens, camera settings, angles and lighting conditions. Wider-angle lenses, thick lenses and lenses with a short focal length cause more distortions and make the subject look bigger, while direct and harsh light has a similar result. Angles, meanwhile, have a huge effect on how the size of the subject – you know how the person on the end of the photo in a group shot is always stretched? And you know how when you take a picture from close to the ground, people always appear taller and thinner, while when you take a picture from a higher above, people appear shorter? Right.

Lastly, you know how sometimes you see a full moon or a sunset and it’s so pretty that you’re compelled to take a photo? But you take the picture, go back and look at it and it’s just… a bit rubbish. It totally failed to capture the beauty of the moon, or the sunset.

That applies for us, too. Cameras aren’t always perfect and capturing images and a picture cannot truly capture the beauty of a human… Because, namely, we are living, breathing, 3D beings – we can’t rely on a static 2D visual of us to help form our beliefs around how we look. And we can’t allow how we look to subsequently impact our self-esteem or dictate our worth…

There is far, far, far more to us than how we look. In fact, how we look is the least interesting thing about us.

You Are Not a Before Picture by Alex Light, is out now.


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