Why Do I Look Fat in Pictures? (How You Can Fix It)

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woman wondering why she looks fat in pictures

We’ve all spent a long time checking out our outfits in the mirror, only to see ourselves in photos later on looking much heavier than we remember. This makes it hard to be as confident as you feel in the mirror, even when you think you look great.

Fortunately, the truth is that it’s really the camera responsible for those less-than-flattering photos. There’s also something you can do about it.

So, why do people look fatter in pictures?

People look fat in pictures because of lens distortion, barrel distortion, lighting, and a number of other reasons. Factors like the thickness and curvature of the lens matter, as does the choice of camera and where the picture is taken. The position of your body relative to the camera also makes a difference, too!

Below, I’ll dive a little deeper to answer the question, “Why do I look fat in pictures” and I’ll also provide tips regarding what you can do to get that perfect photo that actually reflects how you look.

Let’s jump in!

I Don’t Feel Fat, But I Look Fat in Pictures: Why?

The reason that you look bigger in pictures than you do when looking at yourself in the mirror is that a camera is meant to capture a moment, but it doesn’t always do this without some distortion. This is especially true when the person snapping photos is a friend or relative, rather than a professional working with a high-quality camera.

The average person doesn’t know a whole lot about things like barrel or lens distortion and the way that the camera affects how people are portrayed. This is especially true in the age of technology, where anyone can take photos on their phone. Let’s take a closer look.

Barrel Distortion

The barrel of a camera is the structure that holds together the lens or lenses. Some are fixed to a certain focal point and used for certain types of photography, while other barrels move and let you adjust the focal point depending on your subject.

Barrel distortion is most likely to happen when using a wide-angle lens. Wide-angle lenses do serve their purpose. They are great for capturing scenery and when you want to fit the big picture into a smaller photo, like when photographing architecture or landscape.

However, the way that it “squeezes” images to make them fit skews proportions. Here’s an example of what barrel distortion usually looks like compared to the typical dimensions of a photo.


The width of a lens depends on the specific camera, but generally, wide-angle lenses include anything between 16mm and 35mm. For portraits, a lens with a range between 35mm and 85mm is ideal. Sticking with this range helps with image distortion and creates a more accurate portrayal of the person in the picture (and their weight).

Pincushion and Mustache Distortion

Pincushion distortion is the exact opposite of barrel distortion, as it happens when straight lines are curved outward toward the corners of the photo like in this image.


Pincushion distortion is very common with consumer-grade lenses, as well as professional lenses that have a zoom feature. While it’s something generally fixed in post-photo editing, the average person at your family get-together isn’t going to have access to the editing software to fix this.

By contrast, mustache (or wavy) distortion happens when there is a wave effect. Mustache distortion is the hardest to fix, even with editing software. Here’s how it skews the image.


Rectilinear vs. Curvilinear Lenses

Finally, mustache distortion actually creates a wavy effect that makes people appear a lot bigger than they are. It happens when using curvilinear lenses, rather than rectangular ones. For example, a fisheye lens would create this effect.


This happens because rectilinear lenses straighten objects out by stretching them toward the edge of the frame, while curvilinear lenses turn straight lines into curved ones and heavily distort them. This would skew anyone’s appearance, but especially someone who was curvy to begin with.


The distance that someone stands from the subject of their photography also plays a big role in how much the image is skewed from it’s true proportions. This also plays into camera roles, zoom functions, and how much the image as skewed.

As a general rule, shots that are closer have a narrower appearance, while your curves relative to a big landscape are going to make you look bigger than you are. Those photos taken of groups of people at get-togethers are unflattering because the camera is so far back.


As a bigger woman myself, I cannot stress the importance of proper lighting in photos enough. Lighting can make or break a photo. Lighting that is too dark creates more shadows and makes you appear bigger, while lighting that is too harsh creates unflattering skin tones that doesn’t really do any favors either.

Sometimes you can’t be in complete control of the lightning, like when you have to take an ID picture or a picture for your driver’s license and you end up looking fat.

If you want the perfect shot for your profile picture, Instagram, or just because it’ll make you feel good about yourself, try taking pictures outside during the golden hour. The golden hour is one hour before sunset or one hour after sunrise. Everyone looks flattering in this light.

Here’s a video that explains a little more about lighting and how your position relative to your light source effects the finished photo and how big you look.


The final reason that you might be uncomfortable with the way you look in photos is that it’s just unfamiliar to you. We all perceive ourselves differently when looking in the mirror than we do in a photo. Part of this comes from the fact that a mirrored image is flipped, while a picture taken with a camera is captured.

Even though we may look the same, our minds can tell the slight differences between how we look in mirrors compared to photos. If you are in the habit of checking yourself out in the mirror, then you’ll likely find it hard to capture photos that look the same as what you are seeing in the mirror.

This is the same reason that you might hear a recording of your voice and not like it, or even recognize it. What we hear internally when we speak and are actually experiencing is often different than the reality of the sound of our voices.

Why Do I Look Fat in Pictures But Not in the Mirror?

People look fat in pictures for many reasons, most of them having little to do with actually being overweight. It’s important to remember that while cameras are meant to capture moments, they also are translating real-life, 3D images into a simple, flat design.

This means that the curves that make you feel confident in real life blow up your figure and make you look bigger than you are in pictures. Factors like how close the camera is and its focal point, the curvature and thickness of the lens, and lighting also play a big role in how pictures turn out.

Are Pictures or the Mirror a Better Representation of What I Look Like?

Something to remember is that when you are looking into a mirror, your image is reversed compared to a photo that snaps a moment in time. That being said, that doesn’t mean that a photo is the most accurate representation of how you look either.

When you look in the mirror, generally you are standing pretty close to it. If you are close or it’s angled in any way, then it’s going to distort how you look and isn’t really an accurate representation.

Plus, a lot of people see photos and think they are “off” from what they saw in the mirror because they are seeing their image reversed in the mirror. While we are generally symmetrical, our minds still notice the slight differences and it causes discomfort in the brain. When you pair that with camera distortion, it’s hard to know what to trust.

Why Do I Look Fat in Pictures from the Front?

When you’re looking at photos, it’s important to remember that you’re looking at a 2-dimensional, flat photo. This means instead of capturing your curves in all the right ways, a lot of forward-facing positions are going to make your curves appear rounder when they are stretched to fit the dimensions of the photo.

Why Do I Look Fat from the Side?

Most of the time, looking fat from the side happens when you have rounder proportions on your hips and stomach. It’s most likely to happen when you are sitting or leaning forward, especially since this squishes your belly upward and makes it more prominent.

Women who are full-figured with rounder tummies may notice that it’s more prominent when photographed directly from the side, too. You might also look fatter from the side if you are being photographed next to people who are smaller in size.

Why Does My Face Look Fat in Pictures?

When photographing your face (or taking “selfies” if you want to call it that), things like lighting and the angle of your camera drastically change how your face looks. While the shape of your face can also make a difference,

Why Do My Arms Look Fat in Pictures?

Your arms look bigger than they are in pictures depending on how close you are to the camera and how “squished” they are. When you put your arms straight at your sides, you tend to press against the rest of your body and squish them, which makes them look bigger.

You’ll also notice this happens with areas like your tummy or thighs, especially if you’re seated or wearing shorts. We’ll talk a little more about posing to prevent this later in the article.

Why Do I Look Fatter on an iPhone?

When you’re looking at photos on different devices, you might appear wider on some than others. This happens because different devices have different dimensions. Your device automatically “optimizes” photos by stretching or skewing them to the dimensions.

Unfortunately, this optimization isn’t always an upgrade when it comes to how you appear and you’ll look bigger on some devices. You might also find that your picture looks different on social media platforms for this same reason.

Tips on How Not to Look Fat in Pictures

While you shouldn’t judge what you see in photos too harshly, especially those surprise photos that are taken from less-than-flattering angles when you get together with the family, we all want to look as good as we feel when we planned our outfits. These tips will help you get the perfect selfie or full-body shot and prove that the camera doesn’t always add ten pounds.

How to Take a Selfie When You’re Fat

With selfies, the location of the camera relative to your face plays a big role in how wide your face looks and whether or not you have that dreaded double chin. The key here is to even out your face with the camera or have it higher. Anything lower than this is going to accentuate your chin and capture that extra fold that a lot of us have.

Even when taking full-body photographs, the position of your face matters. You can eliminate your double chin by stretching your neck forward a little more and then tilting your head down slightly. A lot of celebrities do this on the red carpet- just be sure not to tilt too much or you’ll make your forehead look bigger than it is.

Lighting is also something that matters. When the lighting is too bright or harsh, it makes your face look flat and washed. It just has a way of making skin pale and unflattering. By contrast, lighting that is too dark creates extra shadows that make your face appear rounder than it is.

While nothing can replace good, natural light, I would recommend a ring light if you really want that perfect shot. Ring lights ensure you get the lighting you want regardless of the time of day. Plus, a good ring light is relatively inexpensive and comes with features that make it easier to take photos, too.

How to Take Full Body Pictures When You’re Fat

Full-body pictures pose their own struggle, especially since it’s almost impossible to take these photos yourself. For me personally, I get nervous every time I hand my husband my phone to snap a few photos. (He just doesn’t get my angles).

Even when you aren’t taking the photo, though, there are a lot of different tricks you can use to pose your body and get the best possible result. Let’s take a look.

Choose Flattering Outfits

If you’ve already picked out that perfect outfit in the mirror and you love how you look, that’s great. For the people who haven’t, keep in mind that certain clothing just looks better on certain people and might be more flattering, especially if you’re still finding the confidence to wear the clothes that you love.

This has less to do with being plus-size and more to do with knowing your body shape and how to accentuate your best features. Especially because some manufacturers don’t really try when it comes to plus-size clothing, which explains why they are ugly sometimes.

People have bodies of all shapes and sizes (they’re all beautiful, too). However, knowing which of your features you feel most confident with and showing them off can give your photos that extra boost they need for you to be happy with them.

For example, a midi-style pleated skirt has a slimming effect, while certain styles of pleated skirts make you look rounder. You’ll also find that the colors and patterns of your clothing change how your body is perceived, whether you’re wearing stripes, polka dots, or another pattern.

Create Lines with Your Body

Creating lines with your body also helps. By this, I mean angle your body to the side slightly, rather than facing directly forward. You can also cross your arms or put your hands in your pocket to break up your body and create the illusion of being thinner.

Avoid “Squishing” Your Body

Any time that you sit, squat, bend, or otherwise put pressure on areas of your body like your arm and thighs, it’s going to flatten fat out and make your limbs look wider than they actually are. Choosing poses where you aren’t squishing things goes a long way in helping you appear slimmer in photos.

Practice Posing with Your Phone

With all things, practice makes perfect. Even though you may have practiced posing in the mirror, it’s a lot different positioning yourself for a photo with a camera because your image in the mirror is being reflected.

Instead, set your phone up on a tripod (or prop it up on another surface). Take a video of yourself doing different poses. If you do love any, you can screenshot the video for the perfect photo. I really like this idea too because you have more options for that perfect moment than when taking pictures yourself.

Curvy bodies look great when posed at a 45-degree angle (just trust me on this). It eliminates some of the distortion that happens when you position yourself facing the camera, but won’t show off if you have a round tummy like pictures from the side. Instead, a 45-degree angle really accentuates your curves.

As you pose, you should remember to use your body to accentuate areas you want to show off. For example, standing up on your toes or bending one knee shows off your hips and buttocks.

You can also position parts of your body that don’t want to be as prominent further back from the camera. I always try to tuck my arms a little farther back to make them appear less bulky, too.

Consider a Boudoir Shoot to Boost Your Confidence

While I haven’t had a boudoir shoot myself, I did attend a few weeks of pole dancing that I received as a gift from a friend and that did wonders to boost my confidence. You see, bigger bodies really are sexy and the photos taken by friends, family, or even your significant other don’t always show that as well.

A boudoir shoot gives you the chance to work with a professional who knows how to pose when you’re plus-sized and how to adjust lighting and shadows so you look your best. They’ll also have access to better cameras and editing software that lets them adjust the distortion that naturally happens with most cameras.

Final Word

While there are ways that you can make yourself look a little closer to what you see yourself as in the mirror, don’t judge yourself too harshly when someone takes a photo of you. Nobody can be ready to take a perfect picture every moment of the day.

For the people who are wondering, “Why do I look fat in photos?”, hopefully, this article has answered your questions. A lot of times, how big you look actually reflects things like camera distortion, lighting, angles, and a bunch of other factors. This is why it’s hard to get that perfect shot.

By being aware of the best way to pose your body, practicing poses, and adjusting camera distance and lighting, you can nail that perfect shot. Hopefully, this article has given you plenty of tips to try out!

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

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