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Weekend: Picture Vs. Reality

weekend (1 of 1)

The camera was invented to mimic reality. That was and still is its primary function. Yet, the camera has become anything but a documentation of the actual. Just one example – Instagram, where filters make everyone a little skinnier, younger, and prettier.

When I was editing the photos for Carter Rae, the green maxi dress I just finished sewing, I kept thinking how I didn’t look like myself in the images. Not better or worse, just different. I can only describe is as when I look in the mirror, I see someone completely different than who is in the photo. I’ve noticed this before and I’ve half written several posts about it. I haven’t been able to articulate what I was thinking well, so I scrapped them all. This week, I finally pinpointed what was in my head.

As I’ve been concentrating on constructing a wardrobe more than ever, the cuts and silhouettes I feel good wearing and believe are flattering for my figure in real life aren’t that way in photos. One example is a crew cut neckline. I like wearing them because they’re modest, feminine, and a little 1950s. Also, the roundness balances my sharp facial features, at least in my opinion. But when I see myself in photos wearing a crew cut, I’m not a fan.On the other hand, when I see myself wearing a v-neck, like in this dress, I think I look good. Funny thing is, I don’t like wearing v-necks in person. Ironic conundrum, isn’t it?

So, which one do I believe? Real world or photography? Feelings or reflections? Should I consider photographs as a true testament of how I really look or should I rely on what my eyes see in real time? There are some people who don’t translate exactly into photographs. Am I that case? Another thought is that as I age, I don’t recognize myself Β as I change. I don’t recognize myself as a 26-year-old because I still feel like a 22-year-old. Has anyone else experienced this and if so, what do you do?

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  1. Reply

    Flower Wild

    I definitely often feel this way about mirror vs photograph. And I wish I had the answer but unfortunately I don’t! I have to admit though, I do recognise myself at my age. I’ve always felt this age (27), always been fairly mature and serious. I feel now like I’m who I’m meant to be. Although maybe that just means when I’m 38, I’ll still just feel 27, ha.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      And I wonder if I will still feel 26 at age 50

      • Reply


        Yes! You will feel all the ages you have already been, depending on the circumstances. Pretty cool, actually.
        Here’s a fun photoshop experiment — open a photo of yourself, then flip it horizontally — that’s how you would look if you were gazing in a mirror.

  2. Reply

    Blogless Anna

    An interesting post that I can relate to. When I’m hemming a dress or making any alterations & I’m not sure, I get one of my girls or my hubby to take a photo. For me the photo is the truer truth than the mirror. Why us this so? I have no idea!. And if the photo doesn’t help me decide I text it to one of my sewing buddies for a second opinion.

  3. Reply

    The Lingerie Lesbian

    Photography is a difficult medium, I find, because it becomes so personal while pretending to be ‘objective’. I am no where near as good a photographer as you are and I really struggle with capturing things in a way that is both true to the way I experience them and that make me feel positive about myself (especially when I am the subject).

    Just a historical note– oil paints are much older than photography (popular at least since the Renaissance) and acrylic wasn’t invented until the 20th century. Tempera and watercolor were the non oil paint of choice pre-1946, with egg-based tempera used for things like illuminated manuscripts because the of the richness of color and watercolor for quick sketches, especially outdoors. Landscape artists like Turner would frequently record scenes outside with watercolor and then do large oil paintings in his studio to better control his work. The Impressionists were famous for doing their oil painting outside partially because the invention of premixed tubes of paint let them travel around easily.

    • Reply


      Ha! Yes, I just said the same thing!

      • Reply

        Amanda Russell

        LOL I was gonna too, but you guys already said it perfectly ! ^__^

  4. Reply


    Hey Maddie, I totally get what you’re saying. I feel like our perceptions of ourselves can be totally different from the reality. I think it’s best to go with what we FEEL most comfortable and confident in, because that will translate best in person, and even in photographs.
    Quick art history note, however – oil paints are a very old medium. They were ‘invented’ in the 12th century and began to be used widely by artists in the 15th century. By contrast, acrylic (which is basically a plastic) is a very new medium, created in the mid 1900’s. Most artists worked with oils doing landscape paintings on site – they would make a small ‘sketch’ with paint and then return to their studio to work on a larger scale work. And many observational artists didn’t, and still don’t, rely on photography, but rather use sketches and drawings as their basis.
    Also, interesting that you mentioned how different you feel you look in a mirror versus in a photograph. This isn’t all in your head. Mirrors actually reverse our features – so they aren’t a ‘true’ depiction of how one looks to the outside world. Also, psychologically we tend to distort our features when we look at ourselves and others. The camera can capture what we look like in an almost clinical way, but it can’t replicate the way the human eye can ‘create’ an image.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Just goes to show that I should always fact check. I’m not sure why I thought that, but thanks for the correction. Learn something new…

  5. Reply

    Amanda Russell

    When I first started blogging my makes it was a very painful process for me. I could never be happy with the way I looked in a photo even if I was happy with what the mirror showed me. The struggle was so much for me that I did a bunch of research on it to try and figure out why photos look so different from ‘real life’. Apparently our eyes can perceive much more detail of light and colour than a camera lens can, and because the play of light over features is partly what makes us look the way we do, the camera really can’t capture that accurately – that’s why people with sharper features often photograph much better; the camera somewhat ‘flattens’ three dimensional shapes if they are not very clearly defined.

    Totally relate to the age thing too – I am ALWAYS forgetting my age because I still think I’m a lot younger than I am – haha!!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      That’s so interesting about the camera flattening out features!

  6. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    There’s always going to be a disconnect between how we think we look (our sense of self) and how we actually look. I think this is because most of the time we can’t see ourselves so we visualize how we look based on how we feel.

    Sometimes our face in the mirror is unrecognizeable as we get older as we have updated our self image. Sometimes odd things happen too. Despite gaining 100lb I gained cheekbones in my 30’s invisible to the camera but people often comment on them. Damn camera washing away our best attributes.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Another thing to think about is a theory called The Looking Glass Self, which basically says that our perception of ourselves is based off of others. I believe it.

      And here’s something else. After losing 100 lbs, some people still see and view themselves as “fat” or “overweight.” Sometimes, an image of ourselves is ingrained and we can’t let go of it for whatever reason. There might be a memory or time of your life you want to hold onto.

      • Reply

        Natasha Estrada

        I remember the looking glass theory but I think they have come to discover now that it’s more about a collective social identity that just what’s reflected back at you.

        I have 2 personas. My real self and my nurse persona.

        • Reply

          Maddie Flanigan

          And I have my real self and my sewing self

  7. Reply

    Emily Adams

    This is a very interesting concept – one that hadn’t even occurred to me until recently, when I started going through old blog photos (also working on figuring out my personal style/silhouette, thanks to Sarai at the Coletterie). I’ve always felt awkward taking photos for my blog – I find myself wanting to compare my “modeling” abilities to those of other bloggers, etc., and end up feeling very self conscious. I don’t have that “faux model” look that so many bloggers seem to have! Now that I’ve started using a self-timer instead of having my husband take the pictures for me, however, I think my pics are starting to capture more of the “real me” and less of the rigid, staged shadow of myself.

    Interestingly, I’ve always been keenly aware of this whole “image vs. reality” thing as a singer – I’m a professionally trained opera singer, and I never thought I sounded like myself on recordings. The voice in my head was always different than the voice on tape. I would twist myself in knots analyzing my undergrad and grad school recordings to figure out why I didn’t like them. It turns out that, when I was in school, I was training as a soprano, but after school I discovered I am a mezzo (the opera singer version of coming out!). Ever since then, my recordings have felt like “my voice,” because I had finally learned to sing in a natural, healthy way. I wonder if there is a correlation to feeling more like myself in pictures as well.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Funny that you mention you didn’t sound like yourself on recordings. For my Portrait of a Seamstress and Handmade series, I tape the interview and then type it up later. When I listen to myself, I don’t hear the same voice I do when I speak!

  8. Reply


    Boom. It’s a thought trail I’ve led myself down countless times. After taking some photos of a sewn item I’m always a little curious to see if the photos match what I see and how I feel when I wear said sewn garment and look in the mirror. Quite often it doesn’t! Cameras don’t tell the whole truth. They capture reality, but only a small portion of it – the context is lost. But, hey – what can we do? I’d rather be sewing than working on my photography skills πŸ™‚

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      The more I think about it… photography is not real life. People see us real time, so we should trust how we see ourselves in real time as well.

  9. Reply


    Hmm interesting. I generally think that photos are just a side of me I hadn’t explored much, like when I realized that I had a bump on my nose ridge at something crazy like age 16. all those years I hadnt really seen a good side angle of it? surely it changed with age, but that was surprising and then i’d always forget about it until i saw pictures also. i also took some pictures today and saw oh, this skirt is very unflattering in this angle, which is an angle any person i was interacting with in real life would see… but at the same time, photos can deceive and hide other imperfects so much, and hide reality, like a sweet smile hiding a horrible mood. interesting thoughts you shared. and for whatever it’s worth i think you look good in both necklines.

  10. Reply


    Very interesting! To me a photo is a snapshot in time, reflective of that five second period, whereas a garment you wear all day and feel great in, means you’ll be exuding that feeling of being at ease, maybe radiating joy, the whole day. However the flip side is when there is a great photo and then you think, man, why don’t I look like that all the time! Anyhow, my opinion is that i love the green dress and that you don’t save fancier clothes for fancy occasions! Myself am trying to sew more basics so it is nice to see you sewing and wearing “icing” clothes just for the joy of it!

  11. Reply

    Kirsty Bunfield (kbfield)

    Great post. In real life I’m always smiling and laughing but I hate all photos of me where I’m actually like that. I can’t explain that at all. I think we see oursleves and others through lenses that are so much more complex than any camera lens and for me that camera lens is so much rawer.

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