This past weekend I was in Savannah for a coaching retreat with my coach. As part of the retreat, my coach arranged for us all to have short photo shoots with professional hair and makeup and a great photographer. As soon as the photographer started shooting she said, “Oh my god, you’re so photogenic!”
This blew my mind. Because I realized that was the first time anyone had said that to me . . . and I actually believed her! I realized that building my body confidence, and all the work I’d done on loving photos of myself, was changing both my own thought process and how I looked and showed-up in the world.
The photographer wasn’t lying to flatter me. In that moment I was super photogenic—because I was confident and happy. This mindset changed my external reality. The confidence, self-love, and excitement were radiating outward and making me more photogenic. This new mindset also allowed me to hear that compliment and accept it.
Seeing how far I’ve come in this area is astounding, because when I started working on my thoughts to change my body image, photos were one of the most challenging areas I worked on. It’s also a place a lot of my clients have trouble, so today I’m going to teach you my favorite brain hacks for learning to love how you look in photos (bonus: those thoughts will translate into liking how you look in real life, too).
Scientific studies prove that your brain gets used to the images it sees most often and comes to find those images visually pleasing. One of the reasons unrealistic images of women’s bodies in the media is such a problem is that your brain adapts to whatever it sees most often.
So expose your eyes and brain to non-photoshopped photos of real people who look similar to you (or have an even more exaggerated version of the features you don’t like about yourself). Self-conscious about your nose? Look for photos of women with even bigger noses.
Next, expose your eyes and brain to more images of yourself. You’re going to hate this part, and it’s going to be uncomfortable. Your brain is going to have a lot of mean things to say, and those thoughts are going to cause physical sensations in your body of anxiety and shame. That’s ok. Think of it as exposure therapy. Don’t underestimate the power of exposure and repetition of visual images to literally reset your brain’s appreciation levels.
#2 Thought Work
Exposure notwithstanding, the reason you hate photos of yourself is what you think when you see them. That feeling of shock, disgust, or shame that you feel when you look at a photo of yourself? It’s caused by your thoughts.
One of the primary thoughts people have about photos is believing that photos show how they “really” look. We all see ourselves in the mirror all the time, and other people see us through their own eyes, which perceive light, shadow, height, color, and all sorts of things differently. Angles also make a huge difference.
There’s no such thing as the way we “really” look. A photo is just one lens, as is a human eye or an animal eye. Any professional photographer will tell you different camera lenses produce vastly different photos and appearances. Your appearance only exists as it is perceived, which depends on who is looking, from what angle, with what kind of eye or lens. So one good thought-work tool in loving photos is to practice seeing a photo as just one perspective on you.
A final tool I’ll recommend for photos is preparation. We all know that when we look at photos, we tend to have a negative reaction, so let’s plan on that. Instead of fearfully looking at the photo without preparing, pause before you open that photo, take a breath, and decide ahead of time what you’re going to think. Something positive is awesome, but something neutral is also great. These neutral thoughts can help vaccinate you, so to speak, so practice them before checking-out new photos of yourself going forward.
Obviously, the more work you do on your thoughts about your body and appearance, the easier it is to look at photos, but practicing these photo-specific tools will also help make looking at photos of yourself easier, and in our social-media-heavy world, that’s a big accomplishment!