It's holiday season and, after the last troubling couple of years, it's likely your social media will be full of fun, beachside snaps. We are back in the swing of summer socialising, meaning more photos documenting our lives in summer outfits that can leave us feeling a little exposed, both physically and mentally. While well-meaning friends and families might be quick to take a snap and post on social media, for some this can trigger anxiety due to a fear of photos.
Former "Love Island" star Georgia Townend shared a powerful post last month on body confidence after admitting she felt hugely self-conscious when her promo images were released. "I remember seeing my promo pic for the first time on my villa phone and thinking, 'Oh my god I look so fat and ugly, no one will pick me', I was so embarrassed that this was what people were going to see of me for the first time," she wrote.
Townend also recalled the moment she had her photos taken, adding: "As I stood and posed, the echolalia in my head was going like the clappers: 'breathe in . . . make sure your thighs aren't touching . . . don't have your arms down by your side, it will make you look bigger . . . stand up straight'."
While many were shocked and saddened to hear the critical opinion that Townend had of herself, others applauded her honesty, with many saying they felt the same about themselves in photos. This anxiety is, sadly, not uncommon.
Image Source: Getty / Kate Green
Recent research found that 44 percent of women aged 25-40 have low self-confidence in the way they look naturally. Among these, 81 percent said they don't like how they look in photos while almost half had asked friends to remove photos of them from social media.
Instead of unashamedly celebrating summer with memory-making photos, we are quick to delete them due to low self-esteem. So what is causing this sudden rise in photo fear? And how do we combat it?
April Lane, Body Confidence Expert for ResultsWellnessLifestyle.com, says a lot of this anxiety stems from losing control over photos. "In the age of social media we have been taught to overshare every aspect of our lives in a way in which we have complete and utter control over the image of ourselves we share," she tells POPSUGAR UK. "From which photos we choose to post, and which we don't, to how we filter, edit, and style ourselves in these images, we are spending more time looking at ourselves than ever before."
"We aren't born preprogrammed to hate our bodies, we learn to."
Lane explains the fear of photos is greatly reduced when taken on our own devices, but this changes when the control is given to someone else. "Everyone now has a camera in their hands at all times. They often use it without warning, and when they do so, we have no control over the edit and when it might be shared. It is this that causes a spike in anxiety and a fear of that photo."
Townend's experience of this was exacerbated due to her images being used in the media. Her photo was taken by someone else, she had no control over which one was to be used, and when she finally saw it, it had already been put out into the world. "When we see an image of ourselves uploaded by someone else, we can find ourselves prone to staring at it for long periods of time, overanalysing every aspect of it - and this only makes the fear worse," Lane continues.
"People know they will be seen in images more than they are seen in real life nowadays, so the obsession with these images is heightened. We aren't born preprogrammed to hate our bodies, we learn to." Lane has identified some of the reasons so many of us have low self-esteem when it comes to photographs and how to combat them.
Why Do We Dislike Photos of Ourselves?
The mirror-image falsehood: The face we see in the mirror every day is the one we assume is ours, but it isn't actually the one everybody else sees. A photo can look slightly "wrong" to us because it's the flipped version of ourselves.
The filter familiarity: We've become more used to seeing edited or filtered images. Our minds don't know what is real or which is not. Similarly, we might hate a filter that someone else has put on us.
Self-enhancement bias: The truth? We think we're more attractive than we actually are. Studies have found that people identify enhanced photographs of themselves as the real them. This natural instinct then causes us to dislike pictures of ourselves because many photos fail to measure up to how our brains tell us we look.
The shareability factor: We catastrophize the moment a photo is shared and build up a fictional story in our heads about what people will say or think when they view the image, yet this is rarely the reality.
How to Combat Your Fear of Photos
Realise No One Will Analyse You . . . Like You
You might spend time zooming in on certain areas of a photo and analysing every part of it, but, the truth is, no one else is doing the same thing to images of you. They are too busy thinking about photos of themselves. As much as our brains like to tell us that other people obsess over us, they don't. We promise.
Face the Camera
It's time to face your fears. Instead of worrying about other people taking pictures of you or what angle you are being pictured from, face the camera head on. Remind yourself that this is just one image of you, it won't define you. You are so much more than a snapshot!
Look Back on Photos of Old Memories
So many of us have fond memories thanks to photos. We hang them on our walls and we revisit them to make ourselves feel happy. Look back over some of your favourites and realise that your happy memory is not dependent on how you look in the picture, but on how you felt. Photos are our opportunity to capture connections, emotions, and stories for the future.
It's not something you have to give up all together if it makes you feel confident, but trying to filter your images less will prevent you from forgetting what is real and what is fake. Change them up and choose some unfiltered images so your brain gets used to them.
While we can be guilty of thinking we look the worst in images, we can also be guilty of thinking that others look perfect in theirs. Try not to fall into the compare-and-despair trap. No one is perfect, and comparing yourself to images of others is not realistic or helpful for you. Look at a photo and move on, don't stare at it - whether it's a photo of you or someone else. You are the only you there is, embrace it!