I was talking about self-image with a friend today, and I was thinking about how when I picture myself in my mind doing something, I'm never quite clear in the image. My image of myself is an approximation, but always fuzzy, I can never quite focus in on myself. I know that I have blond hair, blue eyes, and the approximate arrangement of my features but the arrangement never works out. I wondered if this was psychologically healthy for me, but then wondered, do we really know what we look like at all?

Of all the people who see you every day, you see yourself the least. Even the most dedicated to personal grooming among us spend an hour, or two at the most, staring at ourselves, and we see ourselves from one, maybe two angles in the same lighting. Your good friends and family who see you hours of the day in many different situations have an infinitely better picture of what you look like than you do. Even someone you barely know who has an hour meeting with you during the day or something knows better how you look than you do!

Then there's the psychological factor that goes into looking at yourself in a mirror. Many people instantly go into fault-finding mode: a slight blemish becomes a lesion, a small roundness of the belly is instantly huge. I would be willing to argue that the longer one spends looking in the mirror, the less aware they are of how they really look since they break their parts down to a sum of its flaws. Mirrors lie.

I'm one of those people who checks themselves out in every slightly reflective surface out there. There are several reasons for it, vanity among them, and it's one of those things that I really can't control. I also realized that there's another reason that I do this: I'm always trying to catch myself off guard, to look at myself before I realize that I'm looking at myself, to see how I really look. I've succeeded at this a few times, but the reflection has been in the transparent light of a store window, so I'm no closer to a concrete image of myself than before.

OK, opticians on E2 will know that the area of what your eye sees that is actually in focus at any one moment is about the size of a quarter held at arms length. That said, try this next time you have a chance to do some 'grooming'.

Stand in fromt of the mirror, with your face about 35-40 cm away from the glass. Stare at the space between your reflection's eyes. Try not to let your eyes leave this spot, and blink as little as possible. After a few seconds you will start to notice that you reflection's features are dissapearing. The mouth goes first, followed by the nose and most of the eyes. It is similar in effect to those blind-spot tests, but much more drastic.

Quite fun when you're drunk too.

A friend of mine once advanced the theory that the reason we pick faults with our own looks is because we are only able to see ourselves in parts.

As push rightly points out, it is impossible for us to get a proper look at ourselves because of field of vision limitations. This is what makes us look at different parts of our face separately, and because we're incapable of constructing a coherent picture, we seem somehow distorted and unreal.

When looking at other people, we see more of the whole, which is why we're alwasy suprised when they hate their own looks or a photo of themselves we think represents them perfectly. It's half psychology, but half optics, too.

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