“Can you take a picture of us?” we asked the young unsuspecting gentleman at the table next to us. While I’m generally bad about remembering to snap pictures, this was my last girls night…as a Louisville resident…with two of my oldest friends. It was a capture worthy moment.
“Sure,” he responded with a grin as he pushed back his chair and stood up to walk around to our table.
He had a huge task in front of him: take one picture capturing favorable lighting in a super dark restaurant, that all three girls like. He snapped a few, checked his own work, commented something about the flash, took a few more and handed the camera back to us.
As we passed around the iPhone to view the shots, there were several: Ewws, Ughs, Yucks and finally, I guess that’ll work.
“It takes me 12 months to like a picture of myself,” I admitted to my friends.
In unison they exclaimed, “same!”
We spent the next few minutes trying to figure out why it takes us a year to like a picture of ourselves. Our best theory: 12 months after the picture is taken, we are a year older. The face in the picture is a year younger than the face we are seeing in the mirror daily. Suddenly that picture from a year ago isn’t so shabby.
I wasn’t convinced. I turned to googled, where I can find most of the answers to life’s most important questions.
Turns out, the reasons are embarrassingly simple.
First, the mere-exposure theory which was conceived in the 19th century. In the 60’s Robert Zajonc, a social psychologist and professor at Michigan for almost 40 years, further developed the theory. At its simplest level, his work suggests that the more we see something or the more familiar we become with it, the more we like it or have a preference for it.
If in a 12 month period, we see the same picture multiple times, the mere-exposure theory explains why we will like it: because we’ve seen it more.
His theory provides the platform for the second reason (and the most obvious):
Three other psychologists decided to test a hypothesis related to the mere-exposure theory: does mere-exposure apply to photographs? The premise is derived from the reality that we see ourselves in a mirror; while the rest of the world sees us how we see ourselves in a picture (somehow this has NEVER crossed my mind: that how I see myself in a mirror is different from what everyone else sees). So when we see ourselves the way a camera lens sees us, we aren’t used to it.
My asymmetrical face with only one dimple makes this obvious. When I smile and touch my face, my lone dimple is on my left cheek. When I look in the mirror, that lone dimple is reflected back to me on the left side of my body. When I’m looking at a picture, the dimple stays on my left cheek, but its orientation to me is now on the right. What we see in the picture is not what we see in the mirror everyday.
The psychologists confirmed the theory by testing pairs of friends, images and their preferences. Subjects preferred images of their mirror reflection while the friends preferred images from pictures.
This doesn’t give me much hope that my habit of liking pictures a year later is going to change. It does suggest that I could cut my 12 month acceptance period down to 6 months or even 3 months, just by repeatedly looking at the same picture of myself, but that seems a little vain (and creepy).
At least it doesn’t take that long to fondly remember events. This same night, capped off with a Moochie music special and fireside chat, already has a warm place in my heart.
It’s killing me that I posted a day late this week, but Wednesday night, instead of writing, I chose to have a glass of wine with my mom before we move 8 hours away. I call that a valid excuse. Now I just need to learn how to give myself the latitude and humanity to believe it’s a valid excuse.
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