Seán Moncrieff: My daughter looks awful in pictures

In real-life she resembles Shirley Temple. In the picture she’s more like Mattress Mick

You may have had that surreal experience of coming out of Dunnes only to see someone like Beyoncé sail past. I'm not about to tell you this happened to me, though I did once see Clare Daly in Penneys. It's surreal because you don't expect to see an A-lister while you're going about your humdrum life, but also because they don't look quite like themselves.

They’re recognisable, but now you’re seeing them in daylight, possibly without layers of carefully sculpted make-up and the small corrections of Photoshop. They seem fleshy and mortal. Suddenly, you can imagine them going for a poo.

The slight difference in appearance is also a function of photography. Previously, you’d only seen their image mediated through a lens, and cameras do alter the way we look. A lens sorts out the foreground and background differently to the way human eyes do, which can slightly exaggerate the differences between parts of the face. It can make the nose seem larger and the ears smaller. And the cliché is true: it can add a few pounds.

Before you (and I) exclaim, that’s why I look awful in photos! there’s a further wrinkle: you’re not used to seeing yourself. Most often, you see your own face in the mirror, but that’s not actually the way you appear to other people. Your mirror image is a back-to-front version; which is why in photos your face seems somehow wrong. Despite the distortion, the photo version might be more like the real you. You’re just not used to seeing how truly hideous you are. But everyone around you has got used to it. At least that’s what I tell myself.


But back to the beautiful(ish) people. Often, the distortions of photography suit their features. In real life, their nose might be a bit too small and their ears too big, thus a photo can nudge them from pretty hot to absolutely smokin’.

Sadly, the opposite can also be true. And I don’t mean when people say it about themselves – which can be compliment-fishing anyway – I mean when you realise it about someone you love. And they have yet to find out.

Deteriorating arc

Before the smartphone, anyone with kids would notice a deteriorating arc in child photography. For the first, every moment would be snapped for possible future significance. The vast majority of these photos would be thrown in a box and never looked at again. There would be far less photography for the second, and if there was a third, they’d be doing well to feature as a fuzzy blob at a football match no one can remember.

That’s all changed now. And Daughter Number Four, being the toddler, is constantly photographed by her parents and siblings who stick it all on Insta-whatever.

Don’t get me wrong: she is super-super-cute. She’s bright. She’s charming. She’s funny. At the creche I often catch other parents jealously eyeing her up while they have to drag their wailing snotty child out the door. They don’t say “I wish my child was like yours”. But I know they’re thinking it.

It's just the photos. The lens makes her face bloat like she's had an allergic reaction. Her frozen expression often makes her appear gormless. In the real-life situation she resembles Shirley Temple. In the picture she's more like Mattress Mick. Yes, I'm dreadful. Herself says Daughter Number Four's head looks like a potato with sinus issues. So, she's dreadful too.

Not that there aren’t any nice pictures of Daughter Number Four. There are. Not that any of this is important. Or shouldn’t be. In ye olden days, the bad snaps could be chucked in the bin. But hers is the most photographed generation in history. Now all those pictures seem to exist in some spooky digital limbo, waiting to ambush Daughter Number Four in ways it’s impossible to predict.