How to Deal with Unflattering Photos

By Jenni Schaefer

You are logged onto your social media page when all of a sudden, ding! you get a notification that you have been tagged in a photo. You brace yourself. And then, a (what you consider bad) photo of yourself pops up one you didn't even know existed. Cringe.

You know how it goes: you are logged onto Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or some other social media site and then all of a sudden, “ding!” you get a notification that you have been tagged in a photo. You brace yourself. And then, a (what you consider bad) photo of yourself pops up — one you didn’t even know existed. Cringe.
This used to annoy me.
As someone who didn’t grow up with social media, it felt weird that other people, had the power to broadcast an image of me — and, secondly, why would they choose such a bad photo of me to share with the world?
I felt like my privacy had been violated. If I had wanted everyone to know about the double pimple on my chin, I would have posted about it myself.
After my irritation subsided, I inevitably faced a choice:
(If we are being honest here, it wasn’t just a choice; this was going to be an extended period of wasted energy, anxiety, and questions).

  • Do I de-tag myself?
  • Will removing the tag hurt the tagger’s feelings? Will they even notice? Does it matter if they notice?
  • Shouldn’t I be in charge of what photos of myself appear online?

I realized that, for me, the actual answers to these questions didn’t make much of a difference. I also learned that trying to answer these questions became exhausting and a time-drainer.

What to do with tagged photos

So, today, I have a “no de-tag policy.”
It’s simple: I never remove a tag based on how I think I look in the picture.
It is easier for me to just let all photos of me remain online than to worry about my appearance.
Now, instead of wasting all that energy, I can devote more time to the activities I love — time that we could all use more of.
Plus, I figure, if someone liked the photo enough to post it online, then, I just go with it. No energy. No questions.
Happily, today, I am not irritated at the tagger, not even a little. And, here’s what I like best about this process and this decision:
I’ve reframed the tag. Now, instead of bracing myself, I think, someone cared enough to tag me. And that’s a good thing.

How to have a healthy body image

Whether you decide to implement my no de-tag policy or not, here are some helpful body image tips that we can all remind ourselves of from time to time:

  • Our bodies are vehicles for life. Online and in real life, practice gratitude for what your body does for you and focus less on what your body looks like.
  • Stop “checking” your body, which research proves to only make us feel worse. This means do your best to stop comparing photos of yourself to your friends’ pictures. Try not to compare your body to versions of your previous self. Offline, stop pinching your fat, hopping on and off the scale, and trying on your skinny jeans, just to see if they still fit.
  • Get informed about media literacy, and then feel good about making a difference. We all know that images online are filtered, edited, and just plain not real. Yet we often don’t let this truth sink into our core. I like to think that leaving bad photos of myself up, in a small way, helps me to be a positive role model. Please join me in the bad photo revolution.
  • Learn the truth about our actual vision. Selective attention skews our perception and causes us to miss things. When we focus on our perceived flaws, we miss the bigger picture of health, energy, and joy. We miss what others see. This is demonstrated in a classic study of a phenomenon called “inattentional blindness.” You can test to see if you are wearing “Ed” glasses yourself (“Ed” is an acronym for “eating disorder.)
  • Consider how much you base your self-esteem on your appearance. There is nothing inherently wrong with leaving the tag, so the questions become this: why do you de-tag? If you de-tag as a way to preserve your sense of self-worth, consider rethinking things. Life has so many more domains than just body image. Take your focus off the less-than-flattering lighting and instead think about your fascinating career, your fun relationships, and your cool hobbies.

All in all, try looking at images of yourself through a lens of curiosity rather than a filter of negativity. If you think that you look particularly bad in a photo, consider that you might just be feeling bad in the moment. Or, possibly, your vision — or even your relationship with the tagger — is off.

Let go of perfectionism

My no de-tag policy is also about letting go and embracing imperfection.

Each time I see a photo of myself appear in my Timeline, I do my best to embrace it. I think, Yup, that’s me, with all of my perceived flaws and all.

And, even better, I try to use these perfectly imperfect picture reminders as a springboard for gratitude:

  • Being tagged in an unflattering photo = I’m grateful that my arms are strong.
  • Being tagged in a really bad photo = I appreciate my legs for getting me around the planet.
  • Being tagged in an awful picture = I love that my body can sing, swim, and laugh.

In a way, my no de-tag policy is a form of what therapists refer to as exposure therapy. If we sit with something uncomfortable long enough, it won’t bother us anymore. Consider trying it, even just once.
The next time someone tags you in a photo that you don’t like, refrain from immediately moving your cursor to the “de-tag” button. Embrace your humanity. Sit in your realness. Try to find gratitude.
Then, de-tag it — or not. That isn’t what matters. What matters is that you spend your life living and focusing on the things that you love — not agonizing over images online. Even a few seconds wasted is, indeed, wasted.

We are more than our bodies

Unfortunately, Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t yet figured out how to create a tag for an awesome personality, a creative sense of humor, and a gentle-hearted, kind soul.
You are so much more than a body. You already know it intellectually. Now, go out and live it, online and off.

Written by

Jenni Schaefer

Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author and popular speaker on eating disorders and related disorders, including PTSD. 

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