How We See Ourselves… How Others See Us

“The difference between how you look and how you see yourself is enough to kill most people. And maybe the reason vampires don’t die is because they can never see themselves in photographs or mirrors.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Haunted

I disagree, perhaps wrongly, but I think the reason vampires don’t die is because they can see themselves in mirrors and photographs, and they reject what they see so violently that it ceases to exist. They reject their mortality and the humanity which goes with it. The pain of being human is too much for them to bear.

I also think most people when faced with what they really look like versus what they think they look like, feel relief. Often it is the illusion of what we think we look like which makes us want to kill ourselves, and when we actually see, usually fleetingly, what we really look like we suddenly like being alive. Gosh, I’m not as ugly as I thought I was, I’m actually quite beautiful in an individual kind of way… I didn’t realise…

Sure there are times when we feel that a mirror or photograph doesn’t see us the way we see ourselves, that we are more attractive than what we are seeing in a mirror or photo, but they can only reflect or capture a moment from the outside, and we see ourselves from the inside, and our vision holds within it many years of time, feeling, experience, and so we know there is much more to us than the surface, the facade.

Many of the photographs taken of us by others reveal more about the photographer and how they see us. The expression on our face often shows what we feel about the person taking the shot, or it reflects how we were feeling in that moment which is often very self-conscious in an awkward way – I hate having my picture taken and they’re telling me to smile and I suddenly can’t remember how to do it naturally – and not who we are. Self portraits or selfies on the other hand reveal more than we think they do. The reason for that is because we are both model and photographer. Muse and creator. We know who we are on the inside, and we capture it on the outside in an image. It’s still just a moment, but that moment has depth.

I saw a photograph which someone I knew had taken of themselves and posted on a social media site. I saw it briefly, but the composition struck me and stuck with me and I thought It was stunning. I made a mental note to look at it more closely later when I had more time, I also wanted to let them know what a brilliant shot they had taken, but when later came the image was gone. And I knew why it was gone. It revealed too much of the true character of the person. I decided not to let them know that I had seen it.

They are one of those people who try to control how others perceive them. They do not trust who they are, do not accept themselves as is. They play an endless game of hide and seek, with others, but mostly with themselves. There is someone else inside of them who every now and then spontaneously manages to slip out and reveal who they are. That inner being is beautiful, more so because they are flawed. Their outer self is disgusted by those flaws and is constantly monitoring their self expression for them, with their trigger finger ready to delete all traces of them. They savagely destroy their most genuine and striking creations, only allowing that which is empty and contrived to exist. They want to be perfect, an ideal self, so they censor and erase who they really are to become someone they can never be.

I wanted to recreate that photograph for this post, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was uncomfortable with the pose, it isn’t natural for me, I can understand it but I just can’t live it, it would be too forced, artificial, and that would show and ruin the image, make it something else, something which isn’t the thing I loved about it. I loved the bold attitude, and how owned it was. It wasn’t a pretty picture, it was raw and real. It was a spontaneous burst of self expression. The elements of composition which I thought were so stunning, were stunning because they captured the character of this person sharply.

The focal point was the rugged sole of a boot which seemed to be stamping on the camera lens as though trying to crush it. Beyond the boot sole was their face, smaller than the boot, slightly out of focus, with a sad and angry expression, sad and angry with fear, the kind of sad and angry fear which inspires those who feel it with a horrible sense of inferiority, and to stop feeling it they make themselves superior to others.

The image made the viewer feel like an ant about to be stepped on by a giant. A giant who could if they wanted to avoid stepping on the ant, because they knew the ant was there, they were looking right at the ant, so squashing it was not an accident but very deliberate. It was deliberate because the giant was afraid of ants. They needed the ants to suffer for the deep sense of inferiority the giant felt in their regard. I stomp on you! it shouted loudly, because I am afraid of you, it whispered quietly.

This person is one of those who discards their relationships with others the same way the giant in the photograph steps on ants. If anyone gets too close to them, sees the person inside hiding behind the controlled exterior facade, reveals their view and refuses to pretend they haven’t seen it, then just as they erase their flaws, they erase those who have seen the flaws. They don’t see how beautiful those flaws are perceived to be by others, because they see them as being ugly.

They are forever chasing an ideal of beauty which is beyond their reach, oblivious to their actual beauty. Their actual beauty is ugly to them as it is too real, too flawed, too human and brings them pain. The ideal they seek is painless. Immortal. Inhuman. In some ways they want to be a vampire, a supernatural being who is beautiful, powerful, with no regrets. No reflection. Never to be captured by a photograph, or anyone else, including themselves.

I knew a vampire once, they loved being immortal because it released them from the pain of being mortal… until immortality became more painful than being mortal. Until being unable to see themselves was no longer desired, they were tired of relying on others to tell them how they looked, tired of trying to control and being able to control how others saw them, just once they wanted to see their own reflection, raw and uncensored. So they let themselves be human and they looked in the mirror. Perhaps what they saw killed them, or perhaps it released them.