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15 Jun

The horror of being perceived and why you hate

The horror of being perceived and why you hate

Don’t look at me

“Being perceived… how do u stop that,” one person tweets out into the void. “I’m so sick of being perceived I literally cannot cope with people having an opinion of me,” one other adds. “I wanna delete all the pieces, I need to deactivate every social media I’ve ever had in my entire life. I need every trace of me to be gone and I don’t wanna be perceived,” a preferred soundbite on TikTok, originally from @jacobvanlue, ruminates. The notion that all and sundry we encounter holds a distinct perception of us, beyond our control, is unsettling, even a little bit horrifying. Yet, being perceived by others is an inherent aspect of existing as an individual on the earth – a fundamental exchange in the material of human interaction. So, why does the realisation of this fact evoke such a visceral response?

In today’s digital landscape, the paradox of perception has never been more prevalent. From curated online personas to the fear of being spotted unfiltered, how we present ourselves and interact with others has undergone a profound shift. This sense was first mentioned in a 2013 Latest York Times essay “I Know What You Think of Me”. In it, author Tim Kreider discusses the sensation of being objectively observed. The sensation he describes is identical as taking a selfie on the front-facing camera and being met with the horror of the flipped image or hearing your voice within the background of somebody’s Instagram story: hideous.

“It’s really our awareness of [other people’s judgement] that makes being perceived so uncomfortable,” explains psychotherapist and creator Eloise Skinner. “An example of this may be when people admit to watching their very own Instagram Stories through a burner account – it gives us a way of perceiving ourselves, with a view to mirror the perception process that we assume others do for us. The means of self-reflecting in this manner could make us feel anxious, or bring up feelings of insecurity.”

Nevertheless, concurrently shying away from being seen in real life, we’ve got turn out to be hyper-visible in online spaces. Our lives unfold in Instagram stories, are documented in photo dumps, and the minutiae of our day-to-day lives are captured in vlogs. Yet, at the same time as social media pervades every facet of our existence, there stays a large contingent who recoil from the camera’s gaze, swiftly erasing selfies and adamantly requesting to be cropped from group photos. Our friends in pictures? Stunning, angelic. Yet, on the subject of our turn, the pictures don’t at all times reflect how we see ourselves, or how we imagine others see us. It’s because typically, we depend on the mirror’s reflection for our idea of ourselves. In consequence, the mind develops a preference for this familiar image, expecting it whenever you see yourself tagged in an upload. In consequence, the confrontation with reality may be jarring.

“Photographs, particularly candid photographs taken by other people after we should not aware, are notoriously tricky within the work I do,” explains registered psychologist, Dr Carolyne Keenan. “Once we look within the mirror we regularly adjust ourselves to create a more appealing angle, we will manipulate parts of the face or body by adjusting our pose or facial features. We also experience ourselves in the best way that others do after we are in front of them in real-time. A photograph freezes us in a moment after we could possibly be sitting in a way that makes our bodies look unfamiliar, or making an expression we don’t often see after we look within the mirror”.

Another excuse we could be unhappy with our likeness captured on camera, is that it doesn’t live as much as the faces we’re endlessly fed through our web algorithms. The present beauty ideal, coined Instagram face by Jia Tolentino in 2019, is designed to be captured on camera. This is commonly the explanation those that haven’t perfected the “Instagram face”, or have simply been caught from an unflattering or unfamiliar angle, are left upset with their pictures.

Nevertheless, as much as it could sometimes appeal, opting out of being perceived obviously isn’t a great option. We’re prone to becoming more socially disconnected as a generation, with the world being increasingly designed to avoid the inconvenience of human contact. From working remotely, to self-service kiosks and automatic chatbots, it is simpler than ever to go about every day life completely without human interaction. “I’m a firm believer that social isolation has never made things higher. It makes them worse,” Dr Petya Eckler, senior lecturer in Journalism, Media and Communication on the University of Strathclyde, tells Dazed. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was probably the most extreme example of what this world would appear like. “Not socialising in larger groups for a few years could have sensitised some people,” explains Eckler. “Post-pandemic mental health in our Western societies has definitely been worse off than before.” Loneliness is a growing epidemic. Young people aged 16 to 24 feel more lonely than every other age group, with 73 per cent of Gen-Z reporting feeling alone sometimes or at all times. 

So while an aversion to being perceived could also be a tongue-in-cheek excuse to cancel all plans and decay in bed, we should always watch out about how far we take the joke. Whether we prefer it or not, being perceived is an inherent a part of being an individual interacting on the earth. “Take it as a part of being a social person, a social animal, which all of us are,” says Eckler. “Possibly people just need a lift of self-confidence in that regard – chances are you’ll look worse off than your digital persona, but so does everyone else.”

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