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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 Adele 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 photo phobia, 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.


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Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a
sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and
said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed.
There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off
topic but I had to tell someone!

Drew Sullivan

Haha, that’s the last time your daughter will take your advice! Thanks for sharing Zola 🙂


My brother suffers this phobia. I suspect he suffers high functional autism too. He is extremelly intelligent but he have many problems to fix in society. Eventhough he is an excelent employee with high qualifications. He refuses all time to participate in a picture and I fear for this time he has destroyed all his pictures. This have happened since some years ago. Before, he had no problem with pictures at all. Now he refuses to appear in a picture and became irritated if one tries to took a picture of him even in the normal scenarios when pictures are a by default social norm as familly celebrations or social events. I fear this could be a sympthome of something more serious. I am pretty sure this have nothing to do with religious believes as I understand very well about my brother’s religious background.


I think my phobia began as a 12 yr old child. I had a hard time sitting still in front of an audience. So when asked to sit for a picture I would tense up and feel uncomfortable. It has continued through my adult life and has become more intense. The heart pounds and the shoulders shake. I avoid sitting for a photo at all cost. I want to overcome this as I know it is stupid. Any suggestions?


I’m in the same boat my one of photos started this year
I was okay but then knowing everyone was staring and I was in this que and finally my turn came and it felt all eyes on me I sat down my head was shaking like freaking crazy and at the end I stood up and said I can’t do this and left
Next day I calmed myself I went to a non busy place then I was a bit shaky but after 3 snap shots my heart was pounding I was soo nervous and said that’s all I can do but thank god the photo looks brilliant and it’s a good thing I got multiple copies so I won’t have to do this for a long time


carol there is nothing stupid about your phobia
when i had cancer a second time and was in hospital the media were relentless i had no hair one time after having a bone marow biopsy i was making my way back to the ward i was in a lot of pain and the media came after me i fell over my iv cord and it came out the media photographers cornered me
then told the nurse i pulled my iv line out deliberately i got screamed at and they made sure it hurt when it was put back in from that time on i was teriffied of photographers it became a mental barrier my fear caused me to collapsed on year 8 photo day the school sent me down down to the phototgrapy studio
i suffered a mental brake down the photographer wilfred told me to talk about my fear witch he totaly understood and helped me over come my fear in a non threatening i managed to compleatly over come my fear totaly way he is the nicest person i ever knew and became a frend as we have known each other for 21years maybe you need to discuss your problem with a friend or phycoloigist the more you discuss your fear the easer it will be to over come it
your not alone this fear affects a lot of people


Thank you for this article. It made me realize that I’m not the only one. It’s really hard living with this phobia. Where friends want us to take countless pictures and to capture important moments in our lives. ☹


This article describes me perfectly. I cannot stand and just smile. I feel like it’s fake. I don’t understand how everyone can just pull a genuine looking smile out of their bag. I have to really be smiling or you can see in my eyes it’s not genuine. Every time I get my picture taken I look weird. People tell me I’m beautiful all the time and are very disappointed/ surprised that I have such hang ups. I worry that I’ll have a job where I have to have employee photos taken.. anxieties….. is there anyone out there that knows how to help people like us? This is debilitating!


I can totally relate, when I see photos taken of myself I don’t see myself at all..the smile I put on looks so fake and nothing like how I see myself when I’m genuinely smiling and enjoying myself.
I’m still trying to overcome it and recently met a friend online that understands my struggles, slowly he eases me into confronting them and just taking the leap when I feel adventurous enough to video chat. I find having someone you can talk to and them being able to push you a little out of your comfort zone helps, never once has he made me feel uncomfortable or regret my decision, I was able to always have a great time just talking to him so I think that really helps.

JoAnna Moore

I work at a place that absolutely loves to take photos everyone in the office loves it except me, I even find it most difficult to smile and I end up being the only one not showing teeth. Which makes me feel even more self conscious.


I suffer with this phobia too. I’ve been told that I’m attractive and they don’t understand why I fear photos or video chats, what they don’t get is it doesn’t matter to me what others think of myself cause my fear of seeing myself is cause of how I see myself.
Besides photo and video I also fear having my voice recorded, self esteem issues and I know I need to work on it and just love myself for who I am. It’s hard and takes a lot of encouragement from people that understand your fear.

Deborah Kimberley

Hi, I hate what this does to me. I’m a head cook at a Care home in the uk. I had care staff trapping me into trying to take my photo yesterday being Christmas Day. They were waiting when I came out of the toilet and caught me then. I started to shake and cry after I’d demanded for them to delete it, and was sick. I got accused of being miserable as it was Christmas, and was told quite nastily by the assistant manager that I was a miserable pig and to go back into the kitchen as I was not wanted out of it. She then decided to pick me up and try to humiliate me over other points through the shift. Ruined my Christmas Day. I hate it and wish I was different but I’m not, and don’t see why I should be treated like this


Thank God it’s not only me. I thought I’m really strange that I don’t like posing and I really hate having to stand/or sit for a ‘nice’ photo they will publish! Even if it’s only my dad taking it for his phone wallpaper, no no no. This makes each of my trips horrible :'(

Elyssa Serpell

Yeah, I’m only seventeen and I’m terrified of taking photos and it’s really difficult in a society that is overrun by social media. At my formal last year I begged my friends not to take photos but behind my back they did and posted them and I just cried for a solid hour at how ugly I looked, and even today I can’t do it. And I feel like I can’t tell my friends either because they’ll tell me I’m being stupid and whatnot. I never used to have a problem, but four years ago I became incredibly insecure and I can’t stand being filmed or photographed. I ended up clearing my camera roll not long after I developed this and oddly don’t have any regrets. In fact I feel totally relieved. And I’m just constantly scared at school because every single teenager will pull out their phone to take a picture and I just pray that I don’t ruin the mood or end up in the background of one. Photo days have become a nightmare. This year I wore glasses and plates so that no one would be able to recognise me and if they did, they would think I was pulling off some sort of joke but that’s not the case. I just wanted a disguise of sorts. I think if I had a different face then I wouldn’t have developed this fear, but I can’t stand it anymore and I feel like I’m alone in combating this anxiety. I suppose it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in this.


I have this. I didn’t always. Hit me about 8 years ago. I’m 28 now. No idea why… used to think maybe it was drug related because I used to dabble with things here and there growing up. I actually can take gorgeous selfies by myself when I’m alone and comfortable. Also occasionally am comfortable taking selfies with certain friends. I avoid places with photo ops at all costs. I am now dating a man who may propose soon and I am dying inside thinking I may not be able to because weddings = pictures, baby showers = pictures, meeting his family = pictures. I can’t do it and those are all things I want to experience. Not to mention he’s a bit of a “celebrity” in the metal world so the pressure is really on now. I even dread holidays, birthdays, other people’s events all because of pictures… It’s literally ruining my life. If anyone knows any treatments for it I would be beyond grateful. I can’t live like this anymore <\3


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