I'm ugly. How do I cope?
January 9, 2011 8:15 PM   Subscribe

I got some pictures of myself from a recent party and it's depressing me, because I am ugly. Even all prettied up, I'm just not pretty. How do I come to terms with my appearance?

I try not to look at pictures too much, but I'm pretty sure it's my big, somewhat bulbous nose and my very lopsided smile that make me look "ugly." My body is okay, my skin is okay, and my hair and clothes can be altered easily, but the physical shape of my face is a bit harder to deal with. I'm not sure I'll ever want to change myself surgically-- and I won't have the money for it for a long time in any case-- so I need to accept the way I look. How do I change the way I think, or the way I perceive myself?

My boyfriend tells me all the time that I'm beautiful, but I feel like the photographic evidence of my ugliness contradicts him. I worry that someday he'll realize I'm not pretty (or he'll stop pretending) and go off to find someone as perfectly gorgeous as he is.

I like human contact, so I'm going to have to let my boyfriend and everyone else see my face. Rationally, I'm sure I could look a whole lot worse and that my level of attractiveness doesn't really matter in the scheme of things. People don't run in disgust when they see me and I know self-worth shouldn't be based on other people's opinions. However, when I see pictures of myself I want to destroy them and hide forever-- whether or not I'm just terminally unphotogenic, it seriously damages my confidence and self image. What do I do?
posted by Baethan to Health & Fitness (59 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
There are some people who do not photograph well. This is usually because they have no practice being photographed. I feel strongly that I'm one of these people. Not that I think I'm really gorgeous... just that I don't believe for a second that I'm actually UGLY.

Because honestly? The number of truly ugly people in the world is really quite small.

You have someone in your life who thinks, believes and likely tells other people that he finds you beautiful. Revel in that. Cause it's likely true.

My girlfriend feels she's horrifically unphotogenic and it makes me crazy. Because she's teh hotness. All of her friends, my friends and I'd be willing to bet a good portion of MeFi would find her an attractive woman.

So in the "what can I do?" realm... hire a photographer to work with you and find your angle. More than likely it exists. Once you see yourself in a series of photos where you feel good about the images there's a pretty good likelihood that you'll be able to recognize that it's the photos which are unattractive, and not you.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:29 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Self image is so mutable. You can see something so differently than other people see, even to the point of delusion. For this reason it's important to collect and consider outside data, such as your boyfriend's observations. Maybe you're not classically beautiful, but most of us aren't. But you've got a boyfriend, which is more than many women can say. You can't deny that fact, so put it in the plus column. And don't devalue him by writing that off. If he's so wonderful and he likes you and thinks you're beautiful, don't invalidate him by effectively saying that means nothing. Something drew him to you. Looks? Personality? Some of both? Whatever it is, it worked. If the point of being attractive is to attract, your combination of attributes got the job done. Given that, maybe consider that your self image is disregarding some evidence. If nothing else, maybe that can convince you to at least relax this disgust for yourself somewhat and be a little more tender with yourself. You've got somebody with you who clearly cares about you. Embrace it. A confident you will be more likely to keep him than an unconfident you who's always running herself down. Now that's unattractive. Good luck and be good to yourself. You only ever have the right now, so feel good in it. Don't throw it away on worry.
posted by Askr at 8:31 PM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Have you considered the possibility you might have body dysmorphic disorder? You might be suffering from it. Therapy is the answer.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:31 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is it possible that they were just hella unflattering pictures?

I think there's a gene in my family for making the "chicken's-ass-face" in photos. My mom does it. I do it. We both scrunch up our faces and pucker our lips when caught off guard, and it looks positively monstrous. We're both pretty uncomfortable being photographed, and as a result we photograph very very poorly in quick snap shots. Like, grotesque grimaces and distorted features bad. And don't even get me started on the flash. And if I'm tipsy? Forget about it! I'm continuously untagging pics on Facebook.

But there are a few friends who manage to put us at ease even when there is a camera around, and in those pictures we look more like our actual selves. Those are the photos I leave up.

Portraiture is an art. It's likely that a bunch of party snapshots don't show your true beauty, and they almost certainly don't reflect how others see you. Try looking in the mirror when you are content and well rested. Look in the mirror when your boyfriend is with you, when you are happy, and can see yourself as he sees you.
posted by ladypants at 8:34 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do nothing. You're fine. This is normal. You're completely unqualified to judge your own appearance. As far as making yourself look better to yourself, stop fake smiling in photos. Fake smiles are ugly. And give your boyfriend more credit.
posted by doublehappy at 8:34 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

I worry that someday he'll realize I'm not pretty (or he'll stop pretending) and go off to find someone as perfectly gorgeous as he is.

You say it like it's a fact, but we really only have your word to go on whether or not he's perfectly gorgeous.

No, no! I understand that that's your opinion of him, but that's totally subjective and not something you can just toss off like it's the sworn-in truth.

In fact, all we have to go on about your looks is your own testimony, a totally subjective (if not the ultimately subjective) perspective on a wholly subjective topic. Let's get some more opinions, like— oh! but wait! We have your boyfriend's right here too, and his doesn't jive with yours. He says you're beautiful. The sooner you start believing him—the sooner you start believing yourself when you say you're beautiful—the sooner you'll be beautiful. It's a fact.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, something to keep in mind when you look at yourself in the mirror.
posted by carsonb at 8:35 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Photographs are much less reality than you'd think. I know some really good looking people that can't photograph well for crap.

I also know people who are not objectively "pretty" but who are attractive as all heck.

Something else to consider-standards of beauty vary. I know myself I was never attracted nearly as much to conventionally attractive men as I was and am to more quirky types. Your boyfriend probably LIKES your nose. For that matter, I don't like my own nose that much at all but my husband swears he LOVES my type of nose and was glad I had it.

Dress neatly, groom yourself, wash when you need it, and smile-you look good. Tell the camera to go jump in a lake.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:35 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

"A confident you will be more likely to keep him than an unconfident you who's always running herself down. Now that's unattractive."

Man, I cannot agree with this more.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:37 PM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

Some years ago, I went and stayed with my brother to help him through back surgery. While he was in the hospital, his best friend "Dave" and I cleaned up his apartment (think "Hoarders"), got him new furniture, and generally macked the place out. During the trauma--I'm talking 5 truckloads of crap being rid of--Dave and I jumped from being acquaintances to friends in 48 hours. Which led to this exchange:

Dave: If I weren't married, I would totally go after you.
Me: Err....
Dave: No, I'm not going to. It's just weird because you aren't good-looking.
Me: Wow, thanks!
Dave: No, I mean that you aren't really pretty--you're kindof funny looking, but you're so mesmerizing... I don't know what it is, you're just really attractive... I don't mean pretty pretty, I mean you're goofy looking and have a big nose and are too tall and just strange, but I think you're amazing and almost wish I wasn't married...
Me: (collapsing in laughter) That was officially the best compliment I have ever had in my life.

The moral of the story: you might not be as ugly as you think.
posted by sfkiddo at 8:37 PM on January 9, 2011 [35 favorites]

Pictures and mirrors lie. A lot. Don't believe what your eyes show you.

Being good looking is more than just facial features. So much is body language and attitude. A picture just captures a brief facet of what you really are. I've known people who from a distance look like models but as soon as you start talking to them they lose all attractiveness. I've also met people who the opposite is true, they might not be somebody who you are immediately attracted to but people flock to them anyway. Confidence and charisma can easily make up for less than desirable features. Just like bigotry and hatred can erode physical beauty.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:39 PM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

Another answer that's really only sort of addressing an unasked question is to find your pose. You see that lens eyeing you, BOOM you strike the pose and hold it until the flashes stop. I've leafed through enough sorority photo albums to know that it is totally possible to strike exactly the same pose in every candid photo ever taken of you, and have it be a good one. That sort of consistency just takes dedication.

One other small thing to keep in mind is that you can remove yourself from tags of photos on FaceBook. When you do that the number of people who see you in that picture (that you care about) goes waaay down.
posted by carsonb at 8:41 PM on January 9, 2011

There was a question a while back from a guy who was dead set on having plastic surgery and he eventually posted some pictures online and his face was really astonishingly not in need of plastic surgery. You could sort of see where he got the idea of what his "problem features" were, but the idea that there was anything "wrong" with his face was really deeply questionable. So I have to say I find it perfectly likely that you are not anywhere in the vicinity of what anyone objectively and rationally looking at you would call ugly. I think you probably have a twisted, mixed up self-concept for some reason and that your fixation on specific features magnifies them in your mind.

Of course therapy is the end all be all answer for everything but I have to wonder if you generally demean yourself and beat yourself up, if you generally feel like the people that care about you are going to abandon you for shallow reasons? Do you have trouble maintaining positive feelings for yourself and does this make you sad and interfere with your life? You might be another fucked up human being who might benefit by talking to someone about these issues. Just a guess.

Almost none of us have the kind of remarkable aspect that will launch a thousand ships, or, you know, a hair care product line. Every single one of us has beauty that can be seen and admired by anyone who doesn't hopelessly mire themselves in the delusional fantasy world of photoshopped-beyond-recognition genetic freaks scientifically presented to encourage consumeristic impulses. Since I have set myself to try to go about the world with an open and compassionate heart, though it is a task I fail at constantly, I find more and more beauty in everyone around me all the time. I often find the features people dislike in themselves more beautiful. Read Rostand's Cyrano De Bergerac, or, if you're strapped for time, maybe just listen to the Tall Dwarfs play "Beauty"
posted by nanojath at 8:44 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Beautiful" isn't the same as "pretty". You can be beautiful without being pretty, and I don't think your boyfriend is lying to you about it. Besides, as long as he thinks that, what do you care what anyone else thinks?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:52 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

A few things I have learned over the years:
1. A large part of your attractiveness comes from the animation of your features. Photos flatten you by freezing just a split second while someone talking with you gets to see your features in motion.
2. Confidence and enjoyment of life project an aura that make people perceive you as more attractive. Similarly a genuine smile makes almost anyone more attractive. (Not prettier but more attracting to others)
3. In college, I couldn't see what my boyfriend saw in me until he pointed out another women that he thought was attractive. Her looks were similar to mine (and I did NOT consider her pretty at all) but apparently he liked that type, which meant he like my type which made me more confident that he meant those nice comments even if I didn't agree.
posted by metahawk at 8:54 PM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Overwhelmingly, all people - the lovely people you know and like in your own life, all your heroes, all your favorite authors, beloved adults you remember from childhood, everyone reading this now - are imperfect looking. We've got bad skin, weird noses, big ears, small eyes, creeping eyebrows, too big, too small, too pointy, too round, etc. Everyone. Even people you know in real life who are gorgeous, have some features that are off - but you don't notice it. So. You are probably average looking (or even better than average, according to your boyfriend) - welcome to the club! It's a great club to be in!

That aside.
There is also something objective going on:

You know how when you hear your voice played back from a recording, it sounds terrible? Doesn't sound like you? Seems off and disturbing? (I feel this way anyway, and I understand it's a common feeling.) It's because when you normally hear your voice "through your head", it actually does sound different to you because of the way the sound waves come through your head. So the voice you hear when a recording is played back -- which everyone else hears as your normal voice -- sounds objectively different from the norm to you.

Same thing with pictures. You are accustomed to looking at yourself in the mirror. But the mirror flips the right and left sides of the image. That is, the face you see in the mirror (your "normal" face that you're used to) is a flipped image. When you see a photo (which does not flip the right and left halves of the image) the face you're seeing looks objectively different. So there's an uncomfortable feeling, because your face "doesn't look quite right" somehow -- but the reason it looks wrong is not because you're ugly, it's just that you're used to seeing a subtly different face in the mirror.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:58 PM on January 9, 2011 [13 favorites]

"I feel like the photographic evidence of my ugliness contradicts him."

You're so wrong! You know what's so creepy it makes babies cry in laboratory studies? Frozen immobile faces. Know what a photograph is? FROZEN IMMOBILE FACES.

Not only are you terrifically badly qualified to judge your own appearance, not only do some people just not photograph well, but people in general aren't as attractive in snapshots as they are in person, since human faces are much more beautiful in motion. (This also makes it much easier to be critical of yourself in the mirror while staring at yourself unmoving.) It's weird and unnatural to see a frozen human face ... you just think it's normal because photography and realistic painting is so embedded in our culture. But it isn't normal at all.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:00 PM on January 9, 2011 [14 favorites]

One of my friends who I met on the internet said she couldn't believe how different I looked in person compared to the photos she'd seen of me on Fbook. I have a lot of photographer friends so she'd seen a ton of very different shots, but she says my face just doesn't look the same in two dimensions as it does in three-dimensional space. We even stood side-by-side in a mirror and she said, "I mean obviously that's you, but you just look better in real space than when you're flattened into an image." And I've heard similar comments from dozens of people: apparently I look better in real life than in photos or videos. But I can't tell because I've only seen myself in photos and videos!

I know lots of people who look better in person than in any photo I've ever seen of them, and on the flip side, I also know several professional actors who look FANTASTIC in 2D photos and footage, but kind of average in 3D real life. Changing dimensions just changes something for some people's faces.

Thinking about this has made me realize that we will never know what we actually look like- you can only see 2D images of yourself and there's a subtle difference when your face flattens out into 2 dimensions. So basically what I'm saying is that this is is a fact: You look different than you think you do. In your case, you might as well believe that you're more attractive in 3D since other people (boyfriend, etc) seem to like your looks. Trust that in 3 dimensions you project something you can never see, and it looks good.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:02 PM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Go back and read your question as if it were written by your best friend, or your sister. Your reaction would be a lot different. We see in some people the obvious, symmetrical, standard beauty which is empty and changes with arbitrary trends (go look at what was considered hot 100 years ago, for example). In the people we care about, we see their true beauty, which is why your bf is with you.

You've been brainwashed by our society to think your outward appearance and how well it conforms to an arbitrary standard is the only value which you hold. Only the most self-indulgent insecurity will do when there are billions of dollars to be made.

Recently I read a quote where Reese Witherspoon said she will google herself and think she looks hideous in every single photograph there. If she can't stack up, how can anyone else? No one can because the self-loathing drives billions of dollars of industry - hair care, makeup, clothes, plastic surgery, etc.

Go look at photos of normal people for a couple hours...1940s documentary street photos of just regular people. They are beautiful not for looking like movie stars, but because their faces show character - kindness, determination, strength, wisdom. Think about your face in those terms and stop holding yourself to a standard which exists to make you feel like shit.
posted by SassHat at 9:04 PM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

I do what carsonb says. I don't think I photograph well either, but if I smile one way, a big cheesy "flash all your teeth" sort of way I feel like I look okay. Hence every posed photo of me from the last two or three years has me smiling the exact same way. At least I always look like something really awesome or funny is happening. But that is what worked for me.
posted by tracicle at 9:07 PM on January 9, 2011

If your boyfriend tells you that you are beautiful, then you are. I hate pictures of myself. I think I look awful. But I have people (strangers but not creeps) come up to me out of the blue and tell me I am beautiful. I have a big nose, high forehead, and crooked teeth.

So, you are probably beautiful. Don't obsess!
posted by fifilaru at 9:12 PM on January 9, 2011

Haven't you talked with someone who obsesses over an aspect of their appearance ("my face is breaking out! god I hate my skin!") and wanted to say, "christ, calm down already, you look good" ?

They're not fishing for compliments; they think the say things you do about being 'so ugly'. You're the worse possible judge of your own image, you're so familiar with flaws and blemishes that they become magnified into the only thing you can see.

Consider: how many truly ugly people do you see? Not overweight ones, or those with bad hair/clothes/mannerisms/skin/anything else that could be changed: irredeemably unimprovable ugly facial features. It's not common. Most people are not ugly looking. You have a beautiful boyfriend who thinks you're beautiful... chances are very low that you're ugly. See This Comic.

More importantly:

I have to confess when I read your post it made me quite sad. Ultimately, I think you have bigger issues with self-confidence that no amount of reassurances can handle. I highly doubt you're ugly now, but beauty (like all things) fades. Base your self-worth on the great things you can do, or the wonderful relationships you have and the people that love you. Those people will look at a picture of you and not say, "ew", but rather think of how incredible of a person you are. You respect and love these people; don't dismiss their thoughts and opinions. Trust that they know what they're talking about.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:17 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Most point and shoot cameras, digital or film, default to a fairly wide angle lens settings, because most amateur photographers prefer to get a lot of stuff into shots like family photos, vacation landscapes, signage closeups, and indoor flash pictures, where there might not be much room between the camera and those being photographed. Unfortunately, that makes people's noses (and whole faces!) look, pretty subtly, waaay to bigggg/wiiiddde....

Hewlett-Packard even put out a range of digital cameras that tried to digitally correct for this.

If you don't like snapshots of yourself, it may help to know that, very likely, it's as much a technical issue with the lens of most point and shoot cameras, that can be easily fixed by using something closer to a 50mm or 85mm portrait lens, on a good DSLR, as it is your actual nose, cheekbones, etc.

So paste a smile on that pretty face, and go girl!
posted by paulsc at 9:20 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you're not good-looking, then you have to work on other aspects of yourself. Good-looking people are given an easier ride. We know this intuitively and studies have confirmed it. So make sure you get more education and tighter skills and make yourself indispensable to the world in other ways. The good part about this is that when you reach 50 the looks thing will start levelling off, and you'll be ahead of the game.

Note to other respondents: it does not help to insist to someone of undistinguished looks that of course she must be beautiful. Some people simply aren't lucky and telling them they're deluded (especially when you have not even seen them or their pictures) is condescending at best and can be hurtful.
posted by zadcat at 9:21 PM on January 9, 2011 [12 favorites]

Some folks just photograph well and others do not. I am friends with the son of one of my parents best friends. We did not grow up near each other. In high school, back in the late 70's (ugh) I went to stay with him for a few days to hang out. One of the people he went to high school with turned out 5 years or so later to be one of the first "Super Models" (Carol Alt). In high school, and I am told to this day in real life, without the makeup and the right photographer she is not without flaws. She is pretty but not so much that you would stop and take too much notice. She photos well and is a very confident person on the outside (who really knows on the inside?). If you have good skin as you indicate, a good body, and a boy friend who thinks you are beautiful, honey, you got way more going for you than 95% of the woman out there.

I myself consider me to be average. I have good days and bad. My children are constantly teasing/begging/encouraging me to comb my hair, put on a different shirt, tie my shoes, etc. When i ask why, they invariably say that so other people will know how good I can look. Well, first I recognize that teenagers are embarrassed to be with their father regardless so...I always respond that I do not care what other people think about my looks, I care what my family thinks about me as a person.

If you are going to worry about yourself, worry about what is on the inside not the outside. Sounds like you have little to worry about.
posted by AugustWest at 9:27 PM on January 9, 2011

I have no way of knowing whether your beliefs about your looks are true or not, but as others have said, it doesn't matter, because even if you are beautiful now, yes, your looks will become less conventionally attractive as you age.

So we all have to learn to care less about how "pretty" or "beautiful" we are.

Here are some things that work for me, and/or have worked for other people I know:

- Get physically fit and strong. Focus on how much awesome stuff your body can do. You can jump! and run! and swim! And open that can of pickles!

- Use the features you don't like for the functions they are useful for, and appreciate them when they do that. That nose? It might be crooked, but it can smell awesome aromas. Sniff that flower! It can wrinkle up and down like a rabbit and make a child laugh. Yay! That lopsided smile makes other people happy. Smile at 10 people today and watch them smile back.

- Learn to appreciate interesting textures, shapes, etc. Both objectively and subjectively. A good way to do that is to take some art classes, or otherwise learn to draw or paint. Draw "ugly" people. Draw old people. Draw people who society would consider fat or unattractive. Look at how interesting the lines are. How snugly the shapes fit together. How awesome that shadow is against that freckly spot. Once you learn to see like that, try looking at yourself like that now and again.

-Spend more time with old people. When you have some old people you love, you won't mind so much if you start resembling them.

- Stop reading crappy magazines. You know those ones. Don't look at airbrushed models if you can possibly help it. Try some feminist blogs, or websites written by happy people who don't fit mainstream society's beauty norms in whatever way (fat people, butch women, transgender people, disabled people, people of other races from yourself.) Get used to diversity.
posted by lollusc at 9:34 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know really good looking people who look like crap in still photos. You need to see them in motion - talking, smiling, laughing.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:51 PM on January 9, 2011

You have no idea how much I can relate -- though I can recognize that I have some attractive features, and I have a partner who relentlessly tells me that I am beautiful, more often than not I feel grotesque, like some kind of Frankenstein's monster cobbled together from body parts that don't belong together.

To be honest, the only thing that works for me is to make a conscious effort not to dwell on negative thoughts about my appearance. When I'm looking in the mirror and I start bemoaning how big my nose is or how weird my ears are or how whatever my whatever is, I stop and say to myself, "People have found you attractive; it can't be as bad as you think." And then I move on. When I look at photos of myself in which I don't think I look good, I focus on how happy I look to be with my friends, and I feel good remembering the time when the photo was taken.

My mother literally cannot see a photo of herself without making a negative comment about her appearance; she hates seeing herself in photos so much that she avoids being photographed unless absolutely necessary. I have a photograph of her that I took at my brother's wedding when she wasn't paying attention. In it, she's holding a sparkler up in the air and looking at it with a smile on her face. I love this photo because it shows her at a moment of complete, almost childlike unselfconsciousness. I've shown my mom all of my other photos from the wedding, but I haven't shown her this one. I can't show her this photo, because I know exactly what she'll say: "Ugh, look at my arms. Ugh, look at my hair. God, I look so old." She can't see what I see: a photo of my mom, looking happy and therefore beautiful. So I keep the photo to myself, a hidden treasure, and I try not to think about the fact that when my mother is gone, this is one of the only photos I'll have to remember her by.

I want to be more charitable to myself than my mother is to herself. It takes effort, but I try.
posted by pluckemin at 9:55 PM on January 9, 2011 [19 favorites]

I think a lot of people are beautiful who are objectively ugly. For example, when I look at my grandmother, I see kindness and love and her wonderful smile and her bright eyes. But if I take a step back and try to see her as a stranger might I have to admit that she is very old and her facial musculature has been severely affected by Parkinson's. She is nobody's idea of a supermodel, but she is beautiful to me because I love her. I will never stop loving her, and so she will never stop looking beautiful to me. Whether or not people see you as beautiful is a function of their feelings for you, not the reverse. It's a mistake to think that physical beauty causes love, or that the lack of beauty destroys love. Love creates the perception of beauty. You are beautiful to the people who love you, and you always will be.
posted by prefpara at 10:12 PM on January 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have a friend who is a fabulous photographer. One day several years ago I was bicycling along on my way to the office and looked up to see him with his camera pointed at me. Instantly I froze into picture-taking face. He never took the photo because my self-consciousness destroyed the picture he wanted. I know now that he wanted to capture the incongruous happiness I was feeling as I tooled along as if I were a child in that very old lady's body. It would have been a good picture. I am sorry I did that to him and to myself. I am sorry no one has ever been able to take a picture of me without my being frozen in fear of what I am going to look like. I could be pluckemin's grandmother.

Let yourself look the way you look and let the happiness and animation you have illuminate the way the world sees you. That is beautiful, however irregular your features. And greater luck, you have confirmation that you're beautiful from the one person who matters most in such questions.
posted by Anitanola at 10:16 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have a friend who could have a photo taken of her under the fluorescent lights in a Denny's bathroom after a night of graduate-level drinking, while wearing mom jeans and runny makeup- and she would still look beautiful. She's average- on the cute side- in real life, but for some reason she becomes one of those models for hair conditioner when her picture is taken, literally any photo. Whenever there are group shots, she makes the rest of us look like we were recently unearthed.

Certainly the corollary must exist, and that could be you. Your boyfriend seems to think so.
posted by palacewalls at 10:41 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I came in here to make a couple of points that I see have already been mentioned, but I'll repeat for emphasis:

1. Photos shot at close range, especially with point-and-shoot cameras, are unflattering to all but the most uncannily photogenic among us. The wide angle of the lens tends to make nose, eyes, and cheeks look more bulbous. Look how far away the photographer stands from the model in this fashion shoot—shooting from a distance with a long lens is a lot more flattering, but people just don't shoot photos this way at a party or in most casual situations.

2. It's common to fixate on unattractive details in photos of oneself. I once looked through a set of photos from a party I'd attended. I came away thinking "I look awful"; my unfashionable clothes, flabby figure, squinted eyes, lopsided smile, dull hair, and general ugliness seemed to make me stand out like a sore thumb among all the slender, chic, elegant partygoers. I mentioned to a friend that I thought I looked bad in the party photos and she replied something like, "It's funny how we're all so hard on ourselves. [Name] looked at the pictures and all she saw was her pit stains." I had no idea what she was talking about, so I went back and looked through the photos again. Yep, there they were: dark armpit stains the size of Lake Erie encroaching on either side of the woman's pale-colored dress. I had totally overlooked them at first, because all I saw in the pictures was a bunch of attractive, fashionable young women (plus ugly me) having fun at a party. Point being, what you see in photos of yourself can be quite different from what other people see in the same photos (or in real life).

I'm still somewhat unhappy whenever I see unflattering photos of myself, but I try to remember the moral of the pit stain story. Far from being undeniable "evidence," photos (especially close-range social photos) can actually be a really unreliable representation of what other people see when they look at you. I'm not saying this to completely dismiss your concerns, but since photos seem to trigger pretty drastic drops in self-esteem for you, it might help to approach them with a big dose of skepticism.
posted by Orinda at 11:00 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pictures don't tell as much as moving around does. Also, if you look at yourself or anyone enough, then you'll start to perceive them weirdly. I think I thought a very beautiful actress was very beautiful and stunning the first time and second time I saw her. Then even the most flattering pictures of her made me look very critically at her.

The key is never to pay too much attention to yourself. Your friends who love you will perceive you differently than you could ever do for yourself.
posted by anniecat at 11:18 PM on January 9, 2011

Also, keep yourself in check. My problem is that I often want to be totally objective about how I look and it's impossible because I am too used to my face and too used to using a critical eye. It would be stupid of me to demand myself to be objectively beautiful, because there is no such thing. Also, to make a comparison point, I used to think Jennifer Aniston was terrible looking based on professional photographs that were of her in her best light. I was very critical of her face and thought she was not attractive at all and weird looking. But recently I very strongly saw how extremely attractive she really is and I can't articulate exactly how. It's just how comfortable she is in her body and how warmly she smiles. They are pretty much the same photographs. Also, in the "Jizz in my pants" SNL digital short, there's an angle where Molly Sims looks like a man in a wig and a dress. It is bizarre and funny, and weird what lighting does. It's really just bad lighting. I have lots of pictures where I think I look awful, but it's not burning anyone's retinas and no one cares about my vanity, so it's not a big deal.

So don't waste anymore time worrying over pictures. Just concentrate on having fun and not getting bogged down in it because people are really not that critical of someone who is having fun or comfortable in themselves. Not everyone (even Molly Sims) is always going to look wonderful in photographs. It's really a trick of light, how we look, and learning how to work our faces to smile well for the camera (something I have yet to master).
posted by anniecat at 11:31 PM on January 9, 2011

Also, I looked at some of your previous questions and I think maybe talking to a professional should help, because becoming a shut in (if you have body dysmorphia or something like that) is not going to help. You really have to realize that no one is perceiving you the way you perceive yourself so you just have to let it go, keep yourself neat and clean and well groomed and have some fun.
posted by anniecat at 11:39 PM on January 9, 2011

As I have gotten older, I finally have accepted that no, I'm not pretty anymore. I have wrinkles, and age spots, my complexion is splotchy, and don't even get me started on my teeth. But, I have a partner who thinks I am pretty. My children and grandchildren think I'm pretty. I know because they tell me. And it's not based on physical beauty. It's based on my personality and how much I love them and show it. Love yourself and love your family and friends. It's not about how you look. It really is what's inside that counts.

And take bleebs advice...Rent Shallow Hal. Really. Seen it? Watch it again. Then rent Groundhog Day. Then volunteer at a homeless shelter.
posted by wv kay in ga at 11:45 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most of what makes people beautiful isn't their features. It's their smile, their posture, their gait, their movements, their enthusiasm, the expressions in their eyes, the way they look at you.

It takes an unusually amazing photographer to capture any of that stuff, but I bet that if you found that photographer you would get a beautiful photo.
posted by emilyw at 2:36 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's very hard to photograph well. The reason why models have the jobs they do is because they still-photograph well from every angle which is an extremely rare quality. You may be interested to know that Uma Thurman does not look good from every angle, despite being famous for her beauty.

A photograph is not an accurate record of your appearance by any means. It only ever looks something like what you look like. No-one here is talking esoterically when they say photos are not an accurate representation. What about when you see yourself on video? Does that look any better? My guess is yes.

Also, no-one here is talking esoterically when they say attractiveness is more than the configuration of your features. Let's say the worst-case scenario is true and you actually do have a really really ugly face. Nevertheless, your bf tells you he finds you beautiful and it's most unlikely that he is lying. So you seem beautiful to at least one other person. It is the complete Baethan that he sees when he looks at you. Studies (no I don't have a cite to hand) show that when we like people, they look more beautiful in appearance to us, and when we don't like them, we consider them less beautiful in appearance. This is an objective truth, not a platitude about "oh but personality matters more and it's inner beauty that really counts smarm smarm pass the sick bags".

Here's another way of expressing it. Take a look at some pictures of Diana Vreeland. Does it look like she was upset with herself because she felt ugly? Do you think that the answer to that question has something to do with why she was so powerful and influential?

And that's a worst-case scenario. We don't know what you actually look like, but even the worst case is only as bad as you make it.

Let me tell you something else. Someone I used to consider a friend used to post really beautiful, otherworldly photos of his girlfriend, looking like a snow queen, or standing next to him dressed up to the nines at a big event. (In fact, the one with him in it was his Facebook profile pic, which clearly shows that he saw her as part of his identity.)

Then he started verbally putting her down in his online posts.

Then he started very publicly flirting with another woman in his local area. Online. Where everyone could see it. This woman specifically describes herself, in her profile strapline, as having a face that "matches the golden ratio".

Then he started publishing really really ugly photos of his gf. There is no way that these photos were not intended to make her look ugly. He had deliberately photographed her in such a way as to make her nose look huge, and make the rest of her face recede from this apparently huge nose. I could go on, but I won't. Suffice it to say, I'd met her, and these ugly photos were not a true representation of her appearance by any means.

At the same time, he replaced his own profile pic, which had been a cartoon, with a b/w portrait photo of himself gazing dreamily into the camera with bedroom eyes and five-o-clock shadow, his mouth twisted into a radiant smirk. The picture makes him look substantially more handsome than he usually looks. All he needs is a premium-rate phone number and a madam, and he is in business.

He escalated the public flirting with this other woman, and continued publishing the ugly photos of his gf, while still living with his gf.

Don't get me wrong, I always thought of him as very good-looking. I thought of him as a pretty good friend, too.


How do you think he looks to me now? Thinking about him literally makes me feel ill. I stopped looking at his profile because I cannot physically tolerate seeing that photo.
posted by tel3path at 4:35 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're not ugly. You might be more or less conventionally attractive, but you're not ugly.

Some people really and genuinely just don't photograph well--myself included. I am hopelessly fugly in photos, but you know, no one's ever kicked me out of bed for eating biscuits. My husband openly says "Yeesh!" when he sees certain unfortunate photos of me, but he thinks I'm quite pretty in person. Also, keep in mind that people usually only post the most flattering pictures of themselves on facebook or other sites. *Everyone* has a secret archive of hideous images of themselves that you're just not seeing.

It's also possible that you have an insecurity about something else and are using your appearance as sort of a scapegoat. I think this is something women frequently do; our looks are so highly valued that it can be easier to blame our problems on our perceived ugliness than to focus on what's really going on. I mention this because of how intensely your photos seem to be affecting you. You may want to explore why it's bothering you so much, and whether being or feeling prettier would actually be the solution.
posted by tetralix at 5:35 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

my skin is okay, and my hair and clothes can be altered easily

Go spend a little time people-watching, and see if you can find any "ugly" person who has a decent haircut and a nice outfit, and a smile. Really, it's just about impossible. Most won't be remarkably attractive, but certainly nobody is recoiling in disgust. Nobody but total misanthropes, because these normal-looking people are the bulk of humanity.

it seriously damages my confidence and self image. What do I do?

Recognize that this is bullshit. Are you a mean person? A self-involved jerk. A whiner. Something objectionable like that? Let those sorts of shortcomings, which genuinely make the world less pleasant, wreck your confidence -- if applicable. What you look like is really not deeply meaningful; you need to base your self-image around things that punch at a higher weight.
posted by kmennie at 6:32 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

big, somewhat bulbous nose

Amateur photographer here - I'm thinking there may be an issue with perspective, that is, perspective from the viewpoint of the camera. If it's a party, I'd say you are probably getting pictures taken in closer quarters. This usually gives an exaggerated perspective. To give an extreme example, would be using a fisheye lens and taking a photo very close up. Mega distortion. I'm certain if you have a sit down with a *proper* photographer who understands perspective, and how to pose, proper stand off distance etc, you may feel quite differently :)
posted by TrinsicWS at 6:40 AM on January 10, 2011

You have a boyfriend.

He tells you that you are beautiful.

I'm sure you look just fine but there seems to be a major disconnect between what you really look like and how you judge yourself. Follow all the advice already given here and if that still doesn't make you feel better, maybe some sort-term therapy would also help.
posted by freakazoid at 7:33 AM on January 10, 2011

Another thing: how many of your favourite, as in most-fancied, actors/performers/etc are actually the prettiest? Make a list of the 10 most objectively pretty actors out there, and now make a list of the 10 you crush on the hardest.

How much overlap is there between the sets?
posted by tel3path at 7:51 AM on January 10, 2011

Pretty in pictures is not the same as pretty in real life. You can learn to be more photogenic.
posted by The Dutchman at 8:47 AM on January 10, 2011

It took me a really long time to fully understand the following, whcih I posted a while back to my blog:

it's strange how being sexy and being pretty are not at all the same thing.

(where "sexy" could generally mean simply attractive socially, fwiw)

In response, a friend said

I find this fact singularly intriguing and delightful, and I sincerely believe that it'll be one of the few treats in life that I will cherish to the grave.

And this discovery just grows and grows as I get older. There's a thread going on over at Steve Albini's testosterone-d up Electrical Audio forum about "odd thing you find attractive" and people are overwhelmingly saying things like "big noses, funny shaped mouths, snaggle teeth, braces, freckles, being 'too short'" and that rings true with my experience with guy friends and lovers.

Not that "relax, you're sexy even if you're not actress photogenic!" is anything more than a band-aid solution to a deeper issue though--I agree about maybe reading about body dysmorphia and realizing almost nobody is good at judging how they really look to others. Getting comfortable in your skin in a "primary agent" as opposed to "passive receiver of other's perceptions" deal is probably the real solution. For some that requires therapy. At a minimum some soul-searching, self-reflection, and an emotional support system (say, your loving boyfriend, body-positive lady friends, whatever).
posted by ifjuly at 9:24 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is kind of unrelated, but Black Swan reminded me of the "pretty ain't the same as sexy" thing too--being comfortable with yourself and unfettered is more attractive than being a gorgeous but stilted doll of a person just waiting around striving for frozen perfection in case it comes time to be photographed/noticed or whatever.
posted by ifjuly at 9:25 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

It might help to look at some of those "Celebrities without makeup!" photo series that one finds on the Internet.

Seriously. Everyone looks like crap in unflattering photos. It's not just you. Yes, you might be less photogenic than others. Heck, you might be less pretty than some or all of your friends.

SO WHAT? Good looks have pretty much no relationship with happiness or life satisfaction. Studies show it adds nothing to less than 1% to subjective well-being across surveyed groups.

Since you've asked several questions on related issues, yeah, this seems like something you want to look at more closely with a therapist. If you let go of the dream that you'd be happier if you looked more like whatever your ideal of beauty is, you'd probably enjoy your everyday life a lot more.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:52 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I mean, if you feel like that potential .7% improvement in your happiness is soooooooooo important that you want to spend time thinking about it and working on it and all that, go for it. But realize that even if you were able to be as beautiful as the most beautiful model or actress or whatever, it would be statistically likely to improve your happiness, at most, less than 1% over what it is now...it just seems a lot more efficient to work on your self-image with a therapist rather than get plastic surgery, yes?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:55 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know several people who are not "pretty" until they apply lots of makeup, hair products and spend lots of time with a blow dryer. You can probably improve your looks with a great haircut. Some people look a little nicer with slightly shaped eyebrows, though I find the current style of very thin eyebrows unattractive. If your teeth are really crooked or stained, that makes a difference, and you can use bleaching toothpaste. I like the look of a little mascara, a little blush, a little lip gloss.

Take that "ugly" picture to the mirror. Look at the picture in the mirror. You are not used to your true image; you're used to your mirrored image, so your true image looks odd, especially if your face is asymmetrical.

If your boyfriend says he thinks you're beautiful, then he's probably right. Look at him with love and a smile, both of which are the best natural beauty-enhancers.
posted by theora55 at 11:05 AM on January 10, 2011

The fact is, there aren't that many people who are really and truly UGLY. Everyone else is just a variation on a theme. So many variations on one incredible theme. Very few are gorgeous and very few are ugly, and those that are are the outliers. I doubt you're on one of those ends of the spectrum. And as someone else suggested, you are the least qualified person to assess your beauty or lack thereof. You do your boyfriend and everyone who sees you as you are an injustice each time you wonder if he'll someday wake up and see the "real" you, though I certainly can sympathize with the horror of seeing oneself in a photo and wondering who the hell that person is. I don't have someone who thinks I'm beautiful, and I would kill to have someone who did. At the very least, I hope you can reevaluate what that means to you.
posted by FlyByDay at 12:22 PM on January 10, 2011

Very few are gorgeous and very few are ugly, and those that are are the outliers. I doubt you're on one of those ends of the spectrum.

Yes, this, too. Can you come to terms with the idea that you're average-looking to strangers, and beautiful to the people who love you, just like almost everyone else in the entire world?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:41 PM on January 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

A photo is not an accurate representation of what you look like in real life. It is an approximation, but it everything is different from how we perceive reality. Photographs freeze their subjects, flatten them, filter them through a lens and alter light and shadows. Do not rely on a photograph to judge how you actually 'look' in real life.

On the unlikely chance that you are genuinely ugly, don't sweat it. This just isn't important to some people. Yes, it is possible for people to like who you are. And those who don't accept that . . . fuck 'em.
posted by quadog at 1:03 PM on January 10, 2011

And another thing - I bet this sounds like a bunch of old clichés. I bet you are reading this and thinking, "blah blah, I'm probably not ugly, blah blah, beauty comes from within, confidence, whatever... it can all mean only one thing, I must REALLY be ugly if they have to say this to me!!!"

Actually we're saying it because it's all true. The odds are that you are not ugly, but even if you are you can still kick ass with the totality of what you have to offer.
posted by tel3path at 1:07 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not pretty. I am beautiful even while I have a nose like a potato. When it comes down to a dispassionate look at my face, I look fairly nondescript and typical for someone of my age and ethnic heritage.

With any photographer who isn't a highly skilled professional, I look a lot worse in pictures than I do in the mirror or my friends' eyes: I've hated having my picture snapped as long as I can remember, and still to in general. Since it happens that I've got a years-long relationship with a good photographer I trust who values my skill as a model, a few of the tens of thousands of photos he's taken of me go beyond looking okay to showing one or another facet of my personality in a way that's pretty amazing.

It doesn't hurt that I've seen many dozens (probably hundreds by now) of photos of classically pretty people taken candidly that catch them in ugly poses and facial expressions.
posted by thatdawnperson at 3:57 PM on January 10, 2011

1) Pictures lie.
2) I don't know how one boosts one's self esteem, but as a couple of datapoint- I have a couple of women friends who aren't pretty, and they aren't ever short of male attention (or female, for that matter) because they dress in a distinctive fashionable style and in general are positive, interesting, and vivacious.

I think dressing well and being positive are the two most salient traits.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:54 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might find this post reassuring and somewhat illuminating.
posted by lollusc at 5:03 PM on January 10, 2011

I used to find myself terribly ugly in photographs and thought I was horribly ugly as a result until two things happened:
1) I developed self-confidence (which I guess translated through the camera)
2) I learned to photograph properly

The second is mostly a matter of being able to relax and smile genuinely when you know the camera's on you, and sometimes turning your head a little bit so you don't get flash full-on in the face. It can build on the first. It is amazing how in a matter of years (from my late teens to mid-twenties) pictures seem to indicate I got dramatically more attractive, when really all that changed were the angles and facial expressions.
posted by schroedinger at 11:12 PM on January 10, 2011

THANK YOU. Thank you to all of you, so much! I managed to look at the recent photos of myself and, yeah, they aren't quite as bad as I thought. You've pulled me out of the anxiety I was in!

Can you come to terms with the idea that you're average-looking to strangers, and beautiful to the people who love you, just like almost everyone else in the entire world?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:41 PM on January 10

I can accept that in my head, and it's how I want to think, but convincing myself of it is another matter! I'm hating the idea of therapy, but I'm also realizing (thanks to you guys!) that there are some major discrepancies in the way I look at myself, so that's at least worth an exploratory therapy session.

I'll be coming back and rereading all your responses, especially when I start hating myself again :)
If anyone has any suggestions on changing the way I think, I'd love to hear them!

Thank you all for your input, and your kind comments! I hope others will get the same value I do from what you've all said. There are many, many very beautiful people here!
posted by Baethan at 3:02 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out the recent OKCupid blog entry. It's all about women's appearances and how guys perceive them: http://bit.ly/gPH8h0. Honestly, maybe you're not your type, but you're totally your boyfriend's type. :)
posted by timoni at 12:05 AM on January 12, 2011

I know I'm late to the party but one quick suggestion: Do you ever get the chance to see yourself on video?

I am just like you. I hate myself in almost every picture taken of me. I look nothing in photos like the person I see when I look in the mirror. After my best friend's wedding, at which I was the maid of honor, she sent me photos and videos. I was horrified by how I looked in the photos. I was fat, pale, ugly, greasy and lank-haired, big nosed and looked stupid in my dress. Then I played the videos and it was amazing. On video, moving around and talking, I was adorable and totally, completely me. I wanted to hug myself. So you might try getting someone to take some video of you sometime and see if that makes you feel better.

And for what it's worth, having had many job that entail the checking of IDS, I've noticed the converse is often true. There are a lot of people who look amazing in their driver's license photos but are just kind of meh in real life.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:12 PM on January 13, 2011

« Older How to be a better board member.   |   Où sont les femmes? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.