Dan photographed 60 women in the Mamamia office. We all said the same thing.

Recently, at Mamamia, we all trundled one by one into an office that'd been converted into a photo studio to get new headshots for the business. 

Our colleague, video producer Dan Harding, was tasked with being behind the camera, and over the course of a few days he photographed more than 60 women (and a handful of men) in the Sydney office. 

Every single man in front of the lense took two minutes, barely looked at the photos and were in and out of the room with minimal chit-chat, minimal care. 

The women, however....

If he had to put a figure on it, Dan estimates only 35 per cent looked at the tester shot and had something positive to say about themselves. Usually it was something fairly neutral and with an air of surprise like, "actually, that's alright". 

Watch: Apparently diamond lips are now a thing? There's a lot to keep up with. 

Video via Mamamia

He took on average 60-80 photographs of each female employee. They'd try multiple positions, jacket-on jacket-off, hair to the front, hair to the back, smiling with an open mouth, smiling with a closed mouth. 


At the end, Dan would do a quick flick through the pictures while the woman watched on. Lots asked him if they were going to be edited, many declared that they "looked tired," but the number one comment Dan received from the majority of the women he photographed was: "It's not you, it's me". As in, you're a great photographer Dan, I just don't like the way I look. 

Dan isn't a photographer by trade. He does take pictures in his personal life, but headshots are new territory for him. Going in, he knew his number one hurdle would be making people feel comfortable. 

"99 per cent were uncomfortable," he told me. 

Double chins. Clothing sitting weirdly. Too many lines. Too much smile. The self criticism Dan witnessed was constant, albeit subtle. A little comment here or there shielded by a polite giggle or a compliment in his direction. In fact, Dan (who thoroughly enjoyed the experience), had anticipated worse. He was pleasantly surprised, and remembers the great chats with his colleagues more than their negativity. 

But then I spoke to the women. 

Honestly, I was shocked. The level of self doubt and the inner monologue of hatred for their appearances in a 'love your body' age astounded me. 

"It was my idea of hell," said Talia. "I feel more comfortable taking a selfie, but only when I'm by myself because no one can see me and I have more control over it." 


"I hated my tester shots immediately. It had nothing to do with his [Dan's] skills, and everything to do with my double chin. I'm just not a photogenic person and that's definitely been internalised basically my whole life since high school photos. Triggering," Michelle told me. 

"It's funny — Dan was amazing and incredibly patient — but nothing seemed to be 'good' enough," shared Charlie. "It was like a sense of repulsion (and I know how bad that sounds) seeing images of yourself trying to look professional but also nice and also attractive."

It took me days to convince enough people to send me their headshot to participate in the feature image used in this article. Literal days. I had to beg people in the kitchen, corner them at their desks, explain to them how small their picture was going to be in a sea of other images. 

We work at a place that exudes confidence. A women's media company where being yourself — whoever that may be — is welcomed and appreciated in all its forms. When I decided to write this article, I had no idea the depths of self critique I would discover amongst my colleagues. 

Alix booked a hair appointment a few days before her photo was taken. She got up extra early the day of to put on a full face of makeup (which she doesn't usually bother with), even going so far as to Google 'good eye makeup' tutorials on YouTube.


But despite all the effort she put in, Alix told me, "I didn't look as good as I hoped or thought I would, for all the effort I put in."  

She admitted that she was trying to emulate her 2018 headshot which she loved. 

"It came down to choosing the one in which I thought I looked the 'least bad' rather than something I thought I looked amazing in. Which is... kind of sad," she said.

We're all our own worse critic, but what I realised after asking people to share their inner-monologue with me, is the beauty tropes we've grown up marinating in have as much of a stranglehold on us as ever. We're all just better at faking it to the outside world. 

Usually we can, (in the privacy of our own home), flick through a bunch of self-snapped selfies and pick the ones that we feel comfortable with. Headshots are largely out of our hands and awkward by design. 

But the fact the men in the office didn't think twice, while the women agonised over every element of the process is not a surprise. 

The fact that women on every level of our business were picking apart their appearance in such detail, trying to make sure the picture exuded what they wanted it too, is not a fluke. 

This is the world women are born into. Still. 

I'll admit I too didn't love my photos. I agonised over all 60 trying to pick 'one I might like' to use professionally. But after collecting photos of everyone else, and seeing how truly beautiful I thought everyone's images were (despite their protests), it made me look at my own image with kinder eyes. 


Like Alix, I was comparing it to my last headshot - a photo taken when I was 25. A photo taken before I was a mum, before I met my husband. Before I had lived an extra eight years of life. Of course I don't look the same, I shouldn't expect too. 

How sad it is that our society is so cruel to women, especially as we age. 

How sad that 60-odd strong, confident people can feel crushed by something as trivial as a photo of themselves.

I wanted to share the behind-the-scenes of the Mamamia headshot photoshoot, because deep down I know this is sadly how most women feel. I imagine this experience being repeated in offices around the country. Women critiquing every fold of skin on their bodies in the pursuit of perfection. 

It took me actually hearing everyone else's to realise how bloody mean I was being to myself. 

I'm taking this as a little wake-up call. I'm hoping my desk-mates do too. 

Because we all need to be a little kinder to ourselves. It shouldn't be this hard to take a photo.

Feature image: Mamamia. 

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