From Camera Shy to Camera Hi!
How making friends with the camera can help you make friends with yourself.
Posted October 17, 2019 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
I’m happy talking to a room filled with 800 people. Put me on the radio with a listener area of 300,000, and I’ll be instantly charming. But stick just a single camera in my face, and I’ll treat you like celebrity hiding from the paparazzi.
I can be entertaining and funny, but as soon as I see a camera around I freeze up. It's torture. I know cameras don’t really steal your soul (they say), but they kinda do. And I'm not alone. One study done back in 2013 suggested that most people admitted that they worry about how they will look in photos.
Social media makes things worse because it can bring out horrible comments from strangers, but I'm not even talking about that. There are people whose self-perception makes them want to dodge the camera all the time.
Of course, some of us do have conditions that might make matters much worse, such as body dysmorphia or anorexia. But for even for those without such diagnosed conditions, many of us worry about how we look in front of the camera, which can have a negative impact on how we feel about ourselves. The same study I mentioned earlier found that nearly a third of participants stopped photos from being taken or later destroyed or erased photos from vacations, parties, or even their own graduations—gradually erasing the breadcrumbs of some of their best experiences.
But there may be a way to fight back.
I remember wanting to overcome my own camera shyness. I needed to figure out what it was about, what was going on in my head. I found an image of a camera. The biggest camera I could find. I printed that photo and stuck it on the wall. Whenever I looked at the image, I reflected on how it made me feel and what it made me think. At first, I saw this box with a big black hole, sitting there judging me, recording me, playing back every mistake I had ever made.
With that exercise, I realized that it wasn't the camera judging me: I was judging myself and blaming it on an inanimate object.
One study suggested that photography, confidence, and self-awareness are related. Not too surprising. Those with low confidence may eventually avoid looking at photographs or taking pictures altogether, hoping to avoid evaluation, especially from people they know. For some, this means that at best they freeze up in front of cameras and at worst they flee from them.
Such responses might reflect a metaphorical fleeing from the way they see themselves. A solution to this problem can be an inoculation of confidence, which helps remind us who we are, allowing the photo to capture our true selves and not simply our lack of confidence.
In my case, I decided to try to make friends with the camera as a way to make friends with myself. Not to join the selfie generation, but really to be okay with being seen. These may not be your reasons, but here are some tips for any of you who find yourselves hiding from the camera.
Come up with a positive self-statement
When in front of the camera, people often hunt for their imperfections. If that sounds familiar, try to summon a moment in your life when you made a positive decision, a turning point, that changed your trajectory. Something you're really proud of. Something that makes you ... you. These “I’m a person who” statements are a great way to remember something positive about yourself.
- I decided to go back to school to help people. Now I'm a licensed clinical social worker who is making a difference in people's lives.
- I adopted a dog last year. She has brought joy to my life. I'm a person who loves their dog.
In their TEDxCambridge talk, Anna Rowley and Peter Hurley called it psyphotology
Keep a loved one in mind..now and in the future
Even though you might not want to have your photo taken in the moment, you might want to have a photo of the moment later. Think of where you will be a year from now or 10 years from now. Taking a breath after someone shoves their phone at you and think about that point in the future might be a good idea.
Summon a real emotion
Need a smile for that happy birthday photo? Rather than just smiling, think about a wonderful birthday surprise. Maybe it was 3 years ago. Maybe 30. If you want a look of contentment, think of that time you got the surprise upgrade at your favorite hotel.
There's no need to contort your face into the emotion you want to show: Genuine memories will help you get that natural look of joy. This is especially true if you aren't feeling like having your photo taken.
So, the next time someone takes out their phone, points it your way, and says "Smile!", you don't have to run away or ask them to delete any copies of the photo. Instead, take a moment to consider thinking about something you really admire about yourself and see if that helps.
©2019, Kenneth Carter. All rights reserved
Howell, J. L., Sweeny, K., Miller, W., & Shepperd, J. A. (2019). Hot or not? How self-view threat influences avoidance of attractiveness feedback. Self and Identity, 18(2), 144-158.