Self Image: Perceptions of the “Real You”


(Excerpted from Dr. Peter Adamson’s book Fabulous Faces available on and edited for our blog.)

Did you begin the New Year with resolutions to be more physically fit, eat better, and generally care more for your appearance? In today’s age, this often includes considerations regarding cosmetic surgery.


If you’re thinking about cosmetic surgery, it’s probably because you don’t like something about your body. Our dissatisfaction with our appearances is on the rise. All women seem to have something they dislike about their bodies— and the men are catching up, which I can verify from my growing number of male patients.

In Survival of the Prettiest, Nancy Etcoff writes, “Every person knows the topography of her face and the landscape of her body as intimately as a mapmaker. To the outside world, we vary in small ways from our best hours to our worst. In our mind’s eye, however, we undergo a kaleidoscope of changes and a bad hair day, a blemish or an added pound can undermine confidence in ways that equally minor fluctuations in our moods, our strength and our mental agility usually do not.”


Caroline tells a story that could have been penned by the Brothers Grimm. She saw herself as the goose in a family of swans. She grew up in a house with two very beautiful sisters. When she looked at them, she saw perfection. When Caroline looked at herself, all she saw was a nose with a bump in it. She was personally sure it looked like a deformity. She obsessed about her nose, though no one else remarked on it. Caroline’s self image appeared to be at odds with how others saw her.


In one scientific study of self-image, subjects were asked to grade their own images and those of friends in two ways: first in the mirror, and second in a photograph. The findings: We like our own images better when we view them in a mirror while our friends prefer photographs of us. Why is that? It’s simply because we’re drawn to the images that are most familiar to us. You’re most comfortable looking at the reversed, reflected image of you. Others see you differently.

Some people don’t like a particular feature, such as a bump on the nose or a bulbous tip. When we improve the things they don’t like, then—in their mind’s eye—this is the way they’ve always wanted to be and the way that they feel they are. Some psychologists would say that it’s bizarre, that this shouldn’t be, that what you are is what you are. Others would say you should be happy with your appearance because it’s what God gave you.

But the reality is that people think of themselves with their nicer noses as looking the way they were meant to look. This is the real them. And they get into that new feeling very quickly.

Caroline had rhinoplasty and called it the best decision she could have made. “I no longer feel like the girl behind the huge nose,” she says. “When people comment on how beautiful my sisters and I are, I actually believe that I’m really included in that. I feel 100 percent better about myself.”


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