Say Cheese: The Fear of Being Seen


The other day, I took part in a photo shoot with the members of my translator’s collective since we wanted professional photos for our new website. The atmosphere that reigned in the room, at least in the beginning, was varying degrees of discomfort.

We didn’t know how to stand, we didn’t know where to look or what to do with our hands. There was a lot of nervous laughter. Most of us were just very self-conscious and wanted it to be over with as soon as possible.

The group pictures were uncomfortable, but we managed to make one another laugh by telling jokes. Then came time for the dreaded individual head shots. Even though I was with a group of friends and the photographer was kind and understanding, I felt so exposed, pinned by the eye of that lens, heart beating fast, wanting to crawl out of my skin. Ordering myself to relax did not really help. Those 15 minutes seemed to last forever.

Why do some of us so dislike having our pictures taken? Or giving a presentation? Or having all eyes turn to us in a conversation? Did someone teach us through words or looks of disgust or disapproval that our flaws, be they physical or otherwise, are not acceptable? Meaning that we are unacceptable? Is it because someone criticized, humiliated or laughed at us and we vowed to stay under the radar ever since?

I know that some people are more quiet and private, more inclined to only open up with people they know and trust, but I think this goes beyond introversion or personality. In my case, situations like these trigger my flight response, or since fleeing is not usually possible in circumstances of my own choosing, the hide or “deflect attention as best possible” response. It’s uncomfortable and it makes me avoid things that might be really fun or rewarding. And once I’m back in the comfort of my own surroundings, I regret not being more outgoing.

Why do we fear being seen?

I know that in addition to not enjoying being the focus of attention, I have difficulty showing my work or writing to others. I even hesitate showing my friends and family, those who would be least likely to criticize. I worry that they will find mistakes or disagree with me. That I will be judged. It’s one of the reasons it took me so long to create this website. And why I’ve been holding onto this post and considering scrapping it altogether. Publishing posts about productivity and organization is easy. Publishing posts about my own fears and weaknesses is hard.

But if sharing my thoughts can help someone feel less alone or better understood, that’s worth a little discomfort, I think. I know that I appreciate and applaud others who bare their souls and share their struggles. It makes us all a little more relatable, a little more human.

So, enough is enough with this fear. I am a person with flaws like everyone else. So are you.

I make mistakes. So do you.

We are worthy of acceptance and positive regard exactly as we are, without changing a single thing. Let’s be more accepting of one another and most importantly, let’s be more accepting of ourselves.