Susie Dent

Susie Dent

… on the “agony” of being photographed

Our columnist reflects on how she hates mirrors and photographs of herself, despite regularly appearing on our TV screens.

The origin of the word “mirror” has always puzzled me. Not only does it come from a Latin word meaning to “marvel”, but it’s also a relative of “miracle”.

Neither of those two things seem remotely appropriate to me as I look in my own mirror every morning – assuming I dare to even give it a go.

For starters, I am always sporting what were once known as “elflocks”: knots of tangled hair thought to be the work of mischievous elves overnight. That, together with a few frumples and frounces (wrinkles and frowns) and I find it’s best to keep the bathroom light off. 

There are other risks. For some who in Yorkshire might once have been described as ‘crambazzled’ (prematurely aged from excess drinking), a quick glance in their mirror might reveal a grogblossom or two: those telltale patches of redness on the skin or nose that speak of a few too many quafftides. However you look at it, miracles are often few and far between. 

But in my book there is something even worse than the reflection in a mirror, and that is the shock of a bad photograph. In fact, we’re talking about any photograph taken of me at all.

In my industry, unfortunately, this is of course a bit of a problem. After all, we live in the age of selfies, and my children still laugh at the fact that the only selfies I ever ask for among the impressive people I meet through work never feature me: instead I just take a solo photo of the (slightly perplexed) celebrity while ensuring I am never in shot. 

This is not false modesty on my part: I just never know what to do with myself when being photographed. I watch in awe when colleagues turn on the magic the moment a lens is pointed at them. Somehow, it’s never forced; rather it’s
as though their instinct takes over and their body immediately knows how to respond. Look at any teenager or millennial filming a TikTok and for a moment they become someone else: someone who knows their good side, which foot to put where, and how exactly to tilt their heads to capture the maximum beauty. 


Perhaps there is a course I can go on that could teach me how to look decent in a photograph.

Of course, although today we snap and post every aspect of our lives for others to see, the world has always been divided into good and bad photographees. Some people just possess the “It” Factor, the instant grace that seduces the camera and that starlets like Marilyn Monroe had in spades. I, on the other hand, offer up a rictus smile and a squint, while fervently hoping it will all be over soon. 

Somehow I don’t mind myself too much in animation: if I’m distracted I am infinitely more myself. But any formal ceremony event I am invited to can be agony. Not that the waiting paparazzi are remotely interested in me, but one can get caught in the crossfire, and I consequently race up the red carpet in the toddler-like belief that if I close my eyes and run, no one will see me. Forget a catwalk, this is the dash of a startled moggy. 

Perhaps there is a course I can go on that could teach me how to look decent in a photograph. Once it’s done, I will confidently swish and sashay up to a camera before adopting the model position of hand on hip, and one leg placed strategically in front of the other (I have no idea why everyone does this, but it’s worth a go). 

Until then, the adjective that I shall continue to swear by whenever I look at one is “idiorepulsive”: self-repellent. But then, there are of course far more important things to worry about. Like what to read next. In fact, forget selfies, give me a shelfie (aka a photo of your bookshelves) any day. 

Susie Dent

Written by Susie Dent