I've never liked the way I look in photographs. My smile's twisted, my eyes are vacant and my face looks all wrong. I often look startled, usually look uncomfortable, and always look plain unnatural. I hate my work mugshot and I despise my holiday snaps. In short, photographs of me don't look like me at all. Or so I think. Everybody else, however, always comments on how lifelike my photographs look ("Cor, that's such a good likeness.") ("Oooh, that's very you!") as if they think I really do look like the inane boggle-eyed gimp in the picture. Because (and this is the hard part to come to terms with), I really do look like that.
Every day since I was small I've looked in the mirror whilst cleaning my teeth or brushing my hair and assumed I was looking at an image of myself. I've grown used to every blemish on my skin, every curve of my face and every slightly wayward eyelash. My entire self-image has been generated from this daily reflection, because it makes sense to think that I look like what I see. But, of course, I've been deluding myself. The face I see in the mirror is a reflected fake, reversed from reality. What I see as my left eye is really my right, and that mole on my right cheek is really on my left. My face is truly asymmetrical, and I'm viewing it the wrong way round. However hard I try, I am not who I think I am.
I'm sure I'm not alone in this. You don't look like your photographs either, neither do you appear to others as you appear to yourself in a mirror. And you all know this, deep down, but it's a hard thought to shift.
Here, as an example, are two images of Prince Charles. One of these is the real Prince Charles, as printed in photographs and as seen by Camilla when she wakes up each morning. And the other is the reflected Prince Charles, as seen by His Royal Highness as he peers into the mirror above the royal sink. One's real, one's an illusion. Is it the left Charlie, or the right Charlie? I bet you've already spotted which is which, because one image somehow looks 'right' and the other doesn't. Unless of course you're Prince Charles himself, in which case Sir will instinctively have plumped for the incorrect image because it's the image with which Sir is most familiar.
Annoyingly, I prefer my reflection to the view everyone else sees. I may be wrong, but I think my mirror image looks slightly more handsome than reality. Not by much, you understand - I'm not being smug here - but to my mind I look better through the looking-glass. Maybe I've become conditioned over the years to tolerate the view I see every day, or maybe I genuinely have been asymmetrically unfortunate. Whatever the case, it's probably no bad thing that I'm comfortable with my looks, even if they are merely a visual deception.
And don't get me started on what I sound like to other people. Recordings of my voice always sound completely wrong, and nothing at all like the voice that I hear in my head. Again I know I'm wrong, deceived by vibrations travelling along my jawbone, but that doesn't make listening to my true voice any easier to bear. I mean, did you hear me talking on the video podcast yesterday. Sounded nothing like me, honest. (damn)