The quick answer is “yes”. I have been teaching my “How to Become Photogenic” workshop in different countries, for almost 25 years, and a common trait of most of my clients over 40 years old is disliking their photos for a reason they are seldom aware of. Their mental self-image does not match reality. They look at a current photo, subconsciously hoping to see a younger, more athletic version of themselves.
How can we fix this problem?
My studies of psychology, even more than my experience as a professional photographer made me identify this phenomenon in my first years coaching this program. Part of the “How to Become Photogenic” training involves a technique called Body Mapping, where I take several photos of my clients—face and full body—for the mere purpose of sitting with them and identifying what they like and dislike about themselves. From there, I can show them how to highlight their best assets and disguise their worst, not only during our photoshoot coming next, but also, in videos and real life.
The technique is pretty efficient and generates life-lasting results. From time to time, however, I encounter clients who are looking at the same images I am and seeing something entirely different. I am familiar with the fact that we tend to be tougher on ourselves than others would be, but my job during this type of training is telling my clients the truth. If I see something related to one’s body, posture or body language that is not ideal, my commitment is to point it out and help them fix the problem. With that in mind, when I sit with someone who is 125 pounds and thinks she is obese, I know she probably suffers from body dysmorphia. The same happens with aging, when someone is subconsciously looking for that skinny body or unwrinkled face that no longer exists.
So let’s start with how to properly face your self-image. Most people get impressed when I prove with multiple case studies that photos show more about one’s physical reality than the mirror, and here’s an example. Have you ever desired to start a diet, and you are always postponing it? Then one day, someone posts a photo of you on Facebook and you say, “Oh, my God, I need to start this diet now. I look worse than I thought!” and this time, you do start the diet. What happened here? Mirrors are the usual way we interact with our images, and yet, they are not the most efficient ones. The reason is that when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we are normally getting ready to go somewhere or just doing basic activities like brushing our teeth or shaving. In our busy routines, we are not really paying attention to how we look (much less what can be improved) unless we spot something out of the ordinary. Also, mirrors can evoke unreal feelings and perceptions. If you are truly analyzing your face or body in the mirror, there are a lot of voices in your head. If you got a lot of criticism about a certain part of your body, your reflection may still seem to show those horrible things, even years after the problems have been solved or at least minimized. On the other hand, if you have a lover who always says you are extremely attractive, you may be several pounds above your ideal weight and not see it.
Photos are implacable. They show the truth and during this initial study, of course there will be good and bad photos. My first lesson is, try to develop a scientific look when you analyze your photos. Pretend you don’t know that person, and just make a list of what is great and not so great about him or her. Most people laugh, beg me to delete their bad photos, and then, gradually detach their emotions and start developing that “eye” that will be their life-time ally to look amazing. Like in business, you can only solve a problem after you become familiar with all its facets. My clients go through this phase of the process, and once we find out their highs and lows, I customize a training program to help them with everything from production and body language, to poses and expressions that will favor their body types in all media.
This is a smooth and fun experience. What I recommend to those who may be having the “aging” problem I mentioned is, don’t let it be in your way. Even though we would love to remain young and fit forever, we cannot rewind the clock and our best bet is trying to look amazing for our age. I don’t say this lightly. Aging is not easy. I’m pushing 50 and adding up to the inevitable wrinkles, years ago I was ill and endured horrible physical changes like hair and weight loss and aging spots on my face. I also learned a lot about overcoming unpleasant physical changes by doing pro bono work for cancer survivors. Many had acquired scars and mutilations to be breathing today. Some lost their partners and we can only imagine how it must feel. The point is, if these brave people can face my camera and find ways to look good again, so can you.
Instead of avoiding cameras because you dislike the way you look, try this: take a moment alone, set up a location at home or outside that has good lights (see my tips on lights) and take a few photos of yourself, serious and smiling, looking straight at the camera and sideways. Big and tiny smiles. Don’t look at your photos right away. When you are done, remind yourself that those images you are about to see are not who you are. They are simply the way you looked a few minutes ago. With the right technique and production your look can change in days or weeks. It happens in my studio all the time. Then, take a deep breath to internalize this statement and don’t cringe if you don’t like what you see. Remember, the more scientific your eye is, the more objective you will be to point out what is really wrong with you and what you were fantasizing about the past.
If you manage to put your analysis on paper, you’ll discover a world of options to look the best you can. Get inspiration from regular people or even celebrities who are your age and have your body type. They have all the image consultants guiding them to shine. Pay attention and you will see that as people age, charm and elegance gradually replace physical beauty. Find your real flaws and see how other people with the same problems are solving the issue. Find your strengths and show them off. This way, you will gradually trick your brain into forgetting who you used to be and proudly embrace who you are now. Nothing will be more physically and emotionally rewarding.