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How to Stop Hating Photos of Yourself

body image Jul 31, 2022

When you feel self-conscious about your body, seeing a photo of yourself has the potential to instantly propel you into a deep cycle of shame and self-hatred.

It’s even more of a shock when the image staring back at you from the screen looks nothing like the way you felt when the picture was taken.

A friend took a picture of my husband and me on Friday night.

At first glance, I was quite excited to see a full-length picture of us since, until now, we’ve mostly just taken selfies during our Bali trip. But then my eyes locked onto my arms.

I felt a wave of emotion coming over me — shock, shame, disgust.

I’ve never liked my arms much, and even though I’ve done a lot of body image work these past few years, I’m still prone to having those old triggers pop up every now and then.

My initial instinct was to alter the photo. I loved the rest of it — surely I could just crop that bit out?

But if there’s anything I’ve learned on this healing journey, it’s that every trigger presents us with an opportunity to heal. If you’re feeling triggered by seeing photos of yourself, here are 3 things you can do to shift those feelings:

1. Cherish the moment

The real reason why we take photos is to capture memories. But when we don’t feel comfortable in our skin, it’s common to not want to have your picture taken — or to delete them after the fact if you don’t like what you see.

I’ve spoken to many women who look back on their life and feel sad they didn’t take (or keep) more photos — especially at those milestone moments like kids’ birthdays, graduations, weddings, reunions, etc.

When they reminisce later in life, they often realise that while they took a lot of photos of other people, they struggle to find photos of themselves. It’s almost like they weren’t there.

While it’s easy to hit the delete button these days since almost all photos we take are electronic, I beg you to resist the urge. Future you will thank you.

Have you ever looked back at photos of yourself a few years later and thought: “I looked pretty good back then!” even though in the moment you didn’t feel very good about yourself? Odds are high that in a few years, when you look back at those pictures, you’ll actually like what you see.

So for now, cherish the moment. Remember the day, the people you were hanging out with, the conversations you were a part of, and how much fun you had. Then, rather than zeroing in on those body parts you don’t like so much, attach all of those memories to the photo.

That’s exactly what I did too.

I looked at the photo again and remembered how much fun we had that night. The people we met. The deep and meaningful conversations we had. And I know that in a few years we’ll look back on this photo and feel happy to have captured such a special moment. “Remember that time we spent 6 months in Bali? How cool was that?!”

2. Focus on the parts of your body that you do like

When we look at photos of ourselves, it’s tempting to look at the parts of our body we don’t like.

Since a lot of the body-positive messaging out there today can easily make you feel guilty for not loving yourself, I won’t tell you that you should learn to love those parts of yourself that you don’t like. It’s simply not realistic.

We all have parts of ourselves that we like and others we don’t, and that’s ok. But when you notice those parts that you don’t like, it does present you with an opportunity to focus on the parts of your body that you do like — just to balance things out.

I took another look at the photo and noticed my smile, my eyes, my hair. I loved how happy I looked, and how it captured such a beautiful moment of intimacy between Warren and me.

And as I focused on all those different parts of myself, it’s as if suddenly I saw the photo in a whole new light. Sure, I could still see my arms — but the more I focused on those other parts of myself that I did like, the less they seemed like a big deal (pun intended).

3. Remember it’s just one angle

One of the reasons why it can be so shocking for us to see pictures of ourselves is because they only capture one angle.

When we see ourselves in the mirror, we see a living, breathing human being. We move around and see many different sides of ourselves. Yet, when we see a picture of ourselves, it’s a 2D snapshot. It’s actually quite unnatural.

I know many of you panic when you see a picture of yourself that you don’t like, and worry: “Is this how other people see me?”

The answer is no — they don’t.

Because what that 2D snapshot cannot capture, is how your eyes light up when you talk about something you’re passionate about. Or how you get those cute little dimples when you smile a certain way.

It also doesn’t capture the way people feel in your presence.

You are so much more than just a body. And you are loved — not for what you look like — but for who you are.

While a picture can speak a thousand words, it can’t capture your essence. And that’s what truly makes you, you.