What You Think You Look Like vs. What You Actually Look Like

What You Think You Look Like vs. What You Actually Look Like

Updated May 08, 2014 at 11:15PM EDT by Brad.

Added Mar 16, 2012 at 10:54PM EDT by RandomMan.

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What You Think You Look Like vs. What You Actually Look Like is a two-pane image macro series illustrating the discrepancy between one’s own self-image and outside perceptions of physical attractiveness. The first image typically approaches the subject’s self-idealized image while performing a certain act in a positive or attractive way, followed by a second image portraying the subject in an unflattering manner.


On July 20th, 2008, FARK[2] user Control_this commented in a thread about the state of casinos in Illinois with a photograph of a young woman playing a slot machine followed by a photo of an older woman smoking while playing another gambling machine.


The multi-perspective approach in visual jokes has been previously adapted by other survey template memes like “How People View Me After I Say I’m X” and “What I Watched vs. What I Expected vs. What I Got”.


On December 26th, 2009, the party photo blog Sorry I Missed Your Party[3] published a post titled “The Disparity of Self Awareness: Dancing," which compared a photo of a young woman in a club with lots of people to an awkward looking young man dancing alone in his bedroom.

On July 29th, 2010, the Internet humor blog Cracked[7] published an article titled “10 Mustache Styles That Must Be Stopped” featuring photos of various mustache facial hair styles with “what you think you look like” and “what it really looks like” versions (left below). On December 15th, Tumblr user itsjudytime[4] reblogged a post titled “what you think you look like when a guy sees you” which compared an animated GIF of actress Selena Gomez making a seductive face while her hair blows in the wind to an animated GIF of a drag queen’s hair blowing with her false eyelashes fluttering in an unflattering manner (shown right below).

The first Reddit post to use this trope was a rage comic[9] about taking a shower submitted on March 23rd, 2011; It went relatively unnoticed, only earning 4 points. Four months later, Redditor obvnotlupus submitted a post to the /r/pics[6] subreddit titled “What I think I look like… (the inescapable truth about mirrors)” with two horizontally flipped versions of his self-portrait for comedic effect. It hit the front page with 11,800 upvotes and 1382 points overall. Between that post and April 2012, approximately sixty other Reddit threads[10] using the two pane technique have been posted.

On May 31st, 2012, Buzzfeed[31] published a post titled “What You Think You Look Like Vs. What You Actually Look Like,” which featured a roundup of the meme. Buzzfeed[32] published a more specific roundup titled “What You Think You Look Like Drunk Vs. What You Actually Look Like” on April 29th, 2014. As of May 2014, the post has gained over 1 million views.

Notable Examples

The trope has continued to spread on sites like Tumblr[1][11][12], FunnyJunk[5] and the single topic blog Expectations Vs. Reality[26] in the form of image macros. Common themes often referenced in these image macros include facial hair, men’s suits, duck face photos, fashion accessories and hair blowing in the wind. The trope was also discussed on Thought Catalog[25] in January 2012.

Advertising Vs. Reality

On April 15th, 2007, personal blog The West Virginia Surf Report[13] began publishing photos comparing menu items depicted in American fast food advertisements with purchased versions of the items (below left), highlighting the lack of congruency between what one may expect versus what one receives. The blog was featured on foodie sites Chowhound[14] and ThisPiggy[22], as well as health blog Starling Fitness.[20] In 2008, Pundo3000[19] began comparing food items specific to Germany (below right) in a similar manner. These photos[24] were compiled into a book[21] in March 2012.

American blogger Dario D.[15] began another fast food project in late 2010, turning his findings into infographic-style images. These photos were reshared on Buzzfeed[16], Business Insider[17], Examiner.com[18], and culture blog Bored Panda.[23]

In Advertisement

In September of 2011, the Danish bus company Movia hired the Bocca Copenhagen agency to make Byturen.com[8], which featured an interactive video where the user could mouse-over a scene at a bar to see the difference between what people think they look like compared to what they actually look like while intoxicated. The site has since been removed, but a YouTube version is still available.

“Star Wars Day” Joke Controversy

In celebration of the Star Wars Day# on May 4th, 2014, Black Milk,[29] a Brisbane, Australia-based apparel company specializing in geek-themed clothing and licensed merchandises, shared a side-by-side image macro featuring a photo of a conventionally attractive woman in a Star Wars-themed bathing suit marked “expectation” and a photo of The Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler (played by Mayim Bialik) in a homemade Star Trek costume marked “reality" on their official Facebook page.[28]

Shortly afterwards, the company’s followers on Facebook, as well as the fans of Star Wars and The Big Bang Theory, protested that the photo was implying Fowler (Bialik) wasn’t as attractive, or looking like her would be an unfortunate outcome. Within 24 hours of the post, the company responded to the backlash by removing the original post, as well as a bulk of comments[27] criticizing the joke, from their Facebook page. This swift action was followed by an official statement explaining that the staff believed the joke was innocent and those offended should simply not buy their products saying:

1. This is a joke, harmless, not hateful. We like to have a joke and poke fun at ourselves. Be cool with it.

2. Yes, we removed a lot of negative comments because we felt like they had overstepped the mark! We are constantly hearing from our customers that our fan page has become a place of complaining and attacking, and they are sick of it! So we are working at trying to communicate that complaining and negativity all the time is not okay. We have the right to do that, and people should respect that.

3. Yes, people were banned, again, because we felt they had overstepped the mark and were being disrespectful. You can share your opinion, but you can’t attack our staff. We love them too much. Of course, many people are saying that they were banned for “respectfully sharing their opinion”. But there are two sides to every story.

4. We LOVE our customers, but yes, we believe that if you get really upset by the way we do things, you should probably move on and not be a part of what we are doing. That’s not mean, that’s just to save all of us more frustration!

5. “Why can’t you just admit that you were wrong and apologise. Is it so hard?” Because we have integrity. Because we didn’t do anything wrong, so we have nothing to apologise for! We stand up for what we believe in. People can have differences of opinions about what is right and wrong, right?

This statement was subsequently removed as well. On May 6th, Cameron Parker, head of sales and marketing for the company, issued an apology[30] saying:

““The intention behind the meme was to share a personal experience, and never meant to offend anyone. We misjudged the line between funny and offensive, and underestimated the true impact it would have. I am so sorry. I really hope any damage caused over the last few days can be repaired.”

Search Interest

External References

[1]Tumblr – what I think I look like

[2]Fark – What is a casino to do as they struggle to maintain

[3]Sorry I Missed Your Party – The Disparity of Self Awareness

[4]Tumblr – what you think you look like when a guy sees you

[5]FunnyJunk – think you look like=

[6]Reddit – What I Think I Look Like… (the inescapable truth about mirrors

[7]Cracked – A Guide to the Modern Moustache

[8]Byturen.com – Byturen

[9]Reddit – What I THINK I look like vs. What I ACTUALLY look like…

[10]Reddit – Search results for “What I think I look like”

[11]Tumblr – Posts tagged “What You Think You Look Like”

[12]Tumblr – Posts tagged “how you think you look”

[13]West Virginia Surf Report – Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality

[14]Chowhound – Website showing Ads Vs. Real Fast Food

[15]Alphailia – Fast Food – Ads vs. Reality

[16]Buzzfeed – Fast Food Ads Vs. The Real Thing

[17]Business Insider – Look At The Shocking Difference Between Fast Food Ads And Real Menu Items

[18]Examiner – Ads vs. Reality

[19]Pundo3000 – Werbung Gegan Realitat

[20]Starling Fitness – Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality

[21]Amazon.de –

[22]ThisPiggy – Fast Food Reality

[23]BoredPanda – Fast Food FAILS: Ads vs Reality

[24]Funtasticus –
Advertising Vs Reality – A Product Comparison Project

[25]Thought Catalog – What I Think I Look Like Vs. What I Actually Look Like

[26]Expectations vs. Reality – Home

[27]Ibtimes – Black Milk Geek Clothing Brand Sorry over Star Wars Day Facebook Meme

[28]Facebook – Black Milk Clothing

[29]Black Milk – Black Milk Clothing

[30]Courier Mail – Brisbane clothing company Black Milk cop backlash for ‘nerdy girl’ meme posted on social media

[31]Buzzfeed – What You Think You Look Like Vs. What You Actually Look Like

[32]Buzzfeed – What You Think You Look Like Drunk Vs. What You Actually Look Like

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