The Phobia of Being Photographed
We live in an age dominated by pictures. Photo sharing apps like Snapchat and Instagram now compete with emails and phone calls as a primary means of staying in touch with friends. For many, these advancements in technology are fun and fulfilling. But for others, they can bring severe stress and a crippling sense of anxiety. I’m talking about people with a phobia of being photographed.
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill ‘I look hideous today’ type scenario. These are people who experience panic attacks, nausea and even vomiting as a result of having their picture taken.
Sounds extreme? Well if it didn’t then it wouldn’t be a phobia, right!?
I’ve spent hours trawling through forums written by people who share this phobia. One woman in Canada wrote “I have the most intense crippling fear of being photographed… I didn’t join the library until they had an online membership. I can’t renew my passport… Or my drivers license. It seems like you need photo membership cards for everything now…” A lady in the UK responded with a comment “I cut myself out of every photo and threw my wedding album on the fire”. Others discussed how they avoid social occasions altogether when they know that they’ll be expected to pose for photos.
While cameras are a relatively new invention and a definition for the phobia of being photographed has not yet been established, there are similar phobias dating back thousands of years. Scopophobia refers to the fear of being looked at and Eisoptrophobia is the fear of seeing one’s own reflection. As many fellow Australians will know, some cultures fear cameras for religious or spiritual reasons, believing that photos can steal one’s soul or prevent it from passing on to the afterlife. This is the case with many Australian Aborigine cultures. However this modern day phobia does not seem to be about that. It seems much more rooted in issues of self-esteem, body image and self-identity.
My research showed me that one reason this phobia affects people so deeply is that on top of the anxiety it causes can often come a sense of guilt. A feeling that one is hurting family or friends by not participating in their ‘happy memories’. It’s easy to dismiss the phobia as silly, with comments like “Just get in the photo – you’re only making it worse.” But the first thing to know about phobias is that they are deeply-rooted and forcing someone to face theirs unwillingly can make it far worse. Would throwing a tarantula onto an arachnophobe cure their fear of spiders? I doubt it. So why would shoving a camera into someone’s face cure their phobia of being photographed?
The specific reasons that people give for their phobia are varied. Many commented that it’s because they feel ashamed or embarrassed at the way they look in photos. That they think they have a fake smile and look miserable, or that they look ugly and will be judged because of it. Other people said that the fear is more about the sense of permanence; in the not knowing where the photo will end up and who will look at it.
Social anxieties, body image disorders and self-esteem issues are deep, complex issues and I am by no means qualified to discuss them. I guess if anything I wrote this post with the simple intention of spreading awareness. Firstly, so that people who have a phobia of being photographed know that they are not alone. It is a common experience for men and women across the globe. Heck, even world-famous singer Adelle has this phobia and is reported to have undergone ‘photo-healing therapy’ with a Californian hypnotherapist! And secondly, I hope that this story reaches someone who has a friend or family member with this phobia, so that they will no longer dismiss it so flippantly. Recognize that this fear is connected with people’s sense of identity. And that is not a ‘silly’ thing.
Lastly I would like to say that in my research I discovered many people who overcame their phobia of being photographed, proving that it doesn’t have to be a permanent thing. While you may not wish to take new photos, try to resist destroying the ones that you already have… Maybe one day you will look back on them and smile.