What Do I Look Like?


The mirror in an uncrowded elevator is an invitation to look at myself, as are the floor-to-ceiling display windows in the mall. Rarely do I say no. Ever notice that when presented with a group photograph, your eyes search for you first?  Is this vanity or normal self-absorption? I have sixty-one selfies on my phone. Perhaps I should not call them selfies. The Oxford Dictionary defines a selfie as a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media. Not one of my digital self-portraits is uploaded on my social networks.

My favourite ‘selfies’ are those where I employed the tricks my eighteen-year-old friend taught me to make a selfie not resemble a selfie. All that posing and angling, so I look as though my photo is the view from another’s lens, why?

Apart from a desire to pretend that I did not tilt my head, tuck in my chin, suck in my cheeks, and find the best lighting, before stretching my hand to click, I want to try to replicate an unguarded moment—what others see when I am unaware that they are looking at me, an honest picture of me. But a selfie is manipulation, a digitally enhanced, filtered, and cropped representation of how I want to see myself and how I want others to see me.

I find selfies useful as picture diaries to share privately with friends, but too subjective to tell me what I really look like. Sam Anderson captures this paradox in his New York Times‘ article. He begins by asking: What do you look like?

You are the world’s leading authority on the subject. You have studied your face for many years, with life-or-death intensity, in almost every mirror and tinted car window and unrippled pond you have ever passed. You are the Sir Isaac Newton of your own face: the one true discoverer of its laws of motion, its particular gravity.

You are also, simultaneously, the very least qualified person in the world to know what you look like. You have no idea. You have never actually seen your face — not truly, from the outside, the way other people see it. This is because of a nonnegotiable quirk of the human anatomy: You have to use your own face to look at your face. You are both observer and observed.

Is this why we ask others, “How do I look?”

As a child, my mother was the first yardstick I used to measure my looks by. When people called me little Gina, alluding to our resemblance, I realized I was beautiful. External validation aids self-perception. I have wished on occasion that I could step out of my body and see myself. The next best thing is my reflection in the eyes of those I trust, a realistic picture that transcends the selfies on my phone.


Related: Beauty, A First-Class Ticket
                A Fading Glory


©Timi Yeseibo 2015

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45 thoughts on “What Do I Look Like?

  1. Intriguing post, Timi! When it comes to photography, I realize that posing is a necessary evil at times, however, candid shots will always be my favs. I think all of us are beautiful, but especially when we’re not “trying” to be. Candid pics capture us in our most relaxed and authentic state of being. That is when we are reconciled with a semblance of the true beauty of how we look to others. Even then, however, due to certain levels of self-bias, I don’t think we ever really see what others see when they see us. I agree with the Sam Anderson paradox you mentioned in your post, and find it quite fascinating. This indeed can become quite a philosophical discussion if we’re not careful. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There have been times that men have looked at me with such love and admiration that I catch it and think, “I want to see what they see in me.”

    But everytime I see myself in an unguarded way, perhaps someone’s photograph or when I first saw my nose from a profile view, I’m shocked at how ugly or unattractive I look.

    My appearance is not my strong suit, in my estimate, but my humor and warmth is.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am intrigued by the idea of imagining stepping out of my body to see what I look like. As a kid, I used to imagine traveling into other people’s bodies to see if they saw around them what I see or this entire life was just one giant big projection. I take lots of beautiful selfies with my cat- I say beautiful in that they look like the two of us are having a grand old time together when in truth, he is not thrilled at all to be subject to another photo shoot and the only reason we look like we are posing for the camera together is that I’ve kept pressing the photo button enough times until a good image finally stuck.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, that desire to know and be known … I guess as an adult you’ve come to realize we see the same things or we can see the same things, but differently.

      We put our best foot forward, whether in a photo or person, don’t we? I imagine that your selfies with your cat are super cute!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello Timi,

    Hmmm… You casually select a seemingly random topic, then you proceed to dissect it and pump it full of common-sense (and reasonable steroids). Then voila! suddenly there’s a brand new, brilliant perspective. 😀

    You always make us think, we look inwards and we wonder. Thank you.

    @”Is this why we ask others, “How do I look?” Indeed, a fresh set of eyes provides another dimension that gives clarity, but isn’t this question sometimes a thinly-veiled request for confirmation of what we already know? Lol

    I often bang the drum of self-validation, but the way you’ve put this- “External validation aids self-perception” I smiled and shook my head in agreement. It is so true.

    I’m reminded of the day someone told me that I had a child-like telephone voice, I disagreed. You know, it’s funny how one doesn’t really know what they sound like when they are speaking.

    One day, I filmed a video with my phone and I played it back, it was then that I actually heard my own voice. I laughed and laughed, I had stepped out of my body and heard myself.

    If we are lucky, we find ourselves surrounded by people that provide honest ‘playback’ that help us to see ourselves more clearly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. @but isn’t this question sometimes a thinly-veiled request for confirmation of what we already know?
      Maybe, extra confirmation, validation, doesn’t hurt, I guess …

      Yes, we need honest playback because we often imagine that we are different than we actually are. I know that I imagine I have virtues that to my shock, I’m told I dont! 😮
      So are you working on your voice?

      Nedoux, thanks for your kind words. I especially like ‘reasonable steroids’ XD

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you, extra validation sometimes gives one’s self esteem a much needed boost.

        Ah! I have learned to accept my voice, there are perks to having a voice that drips with perceived innocence, especially when making requests . XD

        You are most welcome.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. My son-in-law and 7-year-old grandson always take good pictures. They’re always ready with a natural smile when someone pulls out a camera. Plus, they’re young and good looking.

    I don’t usually take selfies, but I like family photos and group photos of me with my friends. We start documenting our lives and the lives of our children from the moment we’re born.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve decided that women who knew they were good looking when young, often still feel that they are even when they no longer are. Also, I’ve noticed that women who were not naturally pretty often learned how to make the most of their looks and as they age are much nicer looking than the ones that were naturally pretty when young. Recently I solved the puzzle of why I think I look so much better than my photographs. I only look closely in a mirror when putting on make-up. And to do that, I have to take off my glasses, so I don’t see all the new spots and wrinkles! Unfortunately cameras have better sight than I do:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting observations.

      Do cameras lie? Can mirrors deceive? Do we kid ourselves? Perhaps our reflection in the eyes of those who love us is kinder than any other, whether we are young or advancing in age.

      Btw, you look lovely in your photo. The camera isn’t lying 😉


    1. Someone call the Apple Store! XD You should take a selfie, it’s fun. It’s fun with friends too.

      It’s another form of expression… a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
      Of course there are those who take things to the extreme, who have no boundaries, who depend on them for affirmation …

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Why?

          As I see it, selfies pull us out of our true identity. Being tied to our external self-image creates insecurity because how we look is ephemeral. That insecurity encourages us to seek external validation ~> over and over and over.

          We are millionaires walking the streets like beggars because we have forgotten we have untold wealth in the bank.

          In contrast, self-esteem is entirely an inner experience. True being offers everything the ego wants ~> peace, joy, fulfillment, security. Because those qualities reside in being, you don’t have to struggle to find them . . . or try to capture them in a selfie.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I hear you Nancy….

            A selfie is also a fun way to capture the time we spent together. We could ask a stranger to take our phones and capture the moment or we could stretch out our hands and do it ourselves.

            I’m not one for throwing the baby with the bath water XD

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha nice video. There are some photo apps that make it quite simple to look better than you really are. Many of us use them … 😉 They say that’s why you can’t use an Instagram photo to locate the person in ‘real’ life! XD


  7. This is a good read Timi. There is a blessedness in having people around us who are sincere in their estimation of what we look like. When we bring ourselves to trust them, their observations plus ours form the bedrock of our self esteem. It is also wonderful to know what God sees when He looks at us! Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You definitely are beautiful–and so is your writing. For most of my life I avoided having pictures taken of myself (I still don’t have a phone so I have no selfies). One day I realized I was being extremely vain and selfish. There are so few pictures of me and my kids–together.

    I think there was a self-loathing in there too. Maybe it’s just the other side of the coin to those who take endless selfies trying to find a good one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Adrienne.

      @I think there was a self-loathing in there too, hmmm. We can’t always beat our chest and claim the “moral” higher ground. As you allude, just because we don’t do A doesn’t mean the B we do is better. I admire your openness, which gives me more to chew on.


    1. Thank you.

      After writing this piece, I began to mull over it. Perhaps my reflection in the eyes of those I trust isn’t the next best thing, it is the best thing. What if I step out of my body and don’t like what I see?

      The people whom I trust, those who love me, to them, I’m always beautiful! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

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