Have you ever noticed that the first person that people look for in a group photograph is themselves? Many people think that the whole photograph is ruined if everyone looks perfect but they happen to be the only one not looking their best. How we think others view us is a revealing insight into our sense of self and our face is the most conspicuous aspect of this preoccupation.
The developmental psychologist Phillpe Rochat in his excellent book, “Others in Mind,” has made a compelling case that the sense of self is one that is constructed largely by how we feel we are viewed by others. My favorite quote from his book is, ” To be ignored and rejected by others is indeed the worst punishment and the worst suffering of all. It is psychological death.” Maybe a bit melodramatic but for some, I think he is right. Hence the need to look good in group photos.
In the case of individuals who make a living from their appearance, looking good in any photograph is a preoccupation – hence the term I discovered this week – “same face syndrome.” It’s not a real syndrome, but rather the peculiar behavior where individuals strike the same pose in every photograph. If you rely on your looks then it is understandable why many celebrities refuse to be photographed from certain angles and strike the pose that they feel best represents them.
However, I think that this cannot be the whole story as Paris Hilton is a perfect example of someone who suffers from same face syndrome but still has a few bob in her pocket. No I think, the reason comes back to our self-perception and need to project what we think is our best image.
Maybe such individuals who are pathologically preoccupied with their sense of self might do well to have lesion to their fusiform gyrus that often produces prosopagnosia – a disorder where individuals lose the ability to recognize faces. Better still is mirror misidentification where one loses the ability to recognize one’s self in the mirror.
I jest of course – there is nothing funny about brain damage and losing the sense of self – topics to be covered in the book I am working on.