What Lets Us See Our Real Selves: Photos or the Mirror?

Undoubtedly, many of you will find this situation familiar: the person you see when you’re facing the mirror looks nothing like the person you see when you’re looking at your photos. It’s as if the camera filters the image in some radical way. Or should we blame the mirror?

Today, the staff of  smartzune.com  tries to find the answer to these questions: Which is closer to our actual appearance — reflection or photograph? And why is it that we often perceive our mirror reflections and photos in different ways?

Psychological aspect

The concept of mental workload (MWL) has become increasingly important since modern semi-automated and computerized technologies may impose severe requirements on human mental or information-processing capabilities within both manufacturing and administrative tasks. Thus, especially for the domains of job analysis, evaluation of job requirements and job design, the conceptualization of mental workload has become even more important than that of traditional physical workload.

What Lets Us See Our Real Selves: Photos or the Mirror?

We tend to look in the mirror the most when we are at home — an environment where we feel at our freest and most relaxed. As for photographs, we usually end up in the frame while on “foreign turf,” which means that we naturally look more tense and unprepared. That is why, sometimes, when glancing in the mirror before going off to a party we see an irresistibly good-looking individual. And then the next day, looking at ourselves in the party photos, we suddenly notice quite the opposite.


There is no agreed-upon definition of mental workload. The main reason is that there are at least two theoretically well-based approaches and definitions: (1) MWL as viewed in terms of the task requirements as an independent, external variable with which the working subjects have to cope more or less efficiently, and (2) MWL as defined in terms of an interaction between task requirements and human capabilities or resources (Hancock and Chignell 1986; Welford 1986; Wieland-Eckelmann 1992).

What Lets Us See Our Real Selves: Photos or the Mirror?

The simple fact is that our faces are not symmetrical. This is true for absolutely everyone — more so for some, less for others. And there lies the cause of all the confusion. Every morning, as we look in the mirror, we stand in the same spot, seeing ourselves from a familiar perspective. As a result, we get used to observing our face from one particular angle. But when it comes to photographs, you don’t always receive prior warning regarding how, when, and from which direction the picture will be taken. Unless, of course, you are a star of the likes of Audrey Hepburn, who was almost always photographed from her best angle.