Have you ever had that experience where you’ve left the house in a good mood, convinced that you look great, until you catch a glimpse of yourself in a shop window or a reflective surface and then your whole day is ruined? You were sure when you left the house that morning that your makeup was done to perfection, and you looked healthy and vibrant, but now it’s like you’re looking at a different person, someone who’s about ten years older and hasn’t slept for a week.

Apparently most people have this shocking experience every now and again, and in Japan it seems to happen a lot on the daily commute when people see themselves in the train window. You can get kind of depressed about it, wondering if you’re really this ugly, and if that bright-eyed bushy-tailed thing in the bathroom mirror at home was all just an illusion.

▼ When will my reflection show who I am inside?

mulan reflection

But don’t worry – that’s not the case! There’s actually a couple of reasons for this phenomenon. The first being that when you’re looking in a mirror you unconsciously make a nice face. Without even realizing you’re doing it, you raise your chin, lift the corners of your mouth, and ‘pose’. Also you’re not comparing yourself to anything else, you’re just looking at your own face, so your face looks smaller.

The second reason is light. This is something actors and actresses are especially well aware of. A person’s expression and aura can change drastically depending on the way light and shadow falls on the face.

One Japanese net user commented that ‘The number one ugly lighting is far and away train lighting. I urge Japan’s rail companies to do some serious soul searching.’


Hokusai’s ‘Beautiful Woman Looking in a Mirror on a Summer Morning’

 So let’s take a look at the top three situations to avoid if you want to look your best at all times.

1. Where the light hits directly from above or below

Light shining directly from above or below makes the bags under your eyes stand out in shadow and highlights wrinkles such as crows feet and laughter lines. It enhances all the natural shadows on your face so that you look older than your years.

Think back to those childhood sleepovers when you scared each other silly with a torch under the chin. The light shone from below creates unfamiliar shadows that you never usually see which is what makes it so eerie, in a similar effect to the the uncanny valley.


2. Under cheap fluorescent lights and lights with bad color rendering properties

The color rendering index (CRI), is a technical term denoting a quantitative measure of the ability of a light source to faithfully reveal the colors of an object in comparison with an ideal or natural light source. Basically, the closer an artificial light is to natural light, the higher the CRI and the better it is.

The least flattering light for your face is blueish light, and white LED and fluorescent  lights tend to create a gloomy atmosphere. Perhaps that’s the reason why cheap all-night diners can look like the most depressing places on earth.

Even newer fluorescent lamps with improved color rendering still can’t avoid color drift. They emphasize the yellow in your skin tone, so it looks dull and ill. Makeup also suffers under too-white light, making the reds look purple and the pinks look grey, so instead of a beautiful painted lady you’ll look more like a shambling zombie.

3. Places where you look down

When you look down, you lose your facial expression, your mimetic muscles weaken, and it makes your face slack. Because of gravity, your cheeks will look saggy, no matter how pert they really are.

▼ Check out this rather trippy video of how moving light can effect facial features.

In short, the solution is to keep the same face you make when you look in the mirror at home for the whole day, don’t stand under bright lights, and don’t look down. Simple, right? Or you could just never leave the house ever again, which might actually be easier.

Source: Naver Matome
Images: Mulan images (c) Disney, The Ring screencap from The Demented Stuff,  Ukiyo-e from Takashi Hara Blog