MANNO: Checking out our obsession with checking ourselves out

Buried among a hundred presidential inauguration stories in the New York Times this week was an unrelated story that caused me some introspection.

That’s exactly what it was – folks looking at themselves. Some creep photographer in New York took it upon himself to set up cameras in two-way mirrors around the city and take pictures of people looking like buffoons and checking themselves out. From the pictures it seems they’re looking right into the camera – when in reality, they’re mostly just fixing their faces to look presentable for the strangers on their afternoon commutes.

If you find your way to the story (“Check Me Out”), look at number 16. You know he knows he’s looking good.

It’s a little weird, I guess. But it’s also a great snapshot of people at their most candid. You’ll never get that view of a stranger just by looking at her or him on the street, especially in cities like New York or Milwaukee. Lots of people keep up appearances, and the biggest part of that appearance is the ease with which they carry themselves.

But what’s going through someone’s mind as they pick the cilantro out of their teeth? Judging from the photos, it’s got to be the most intense look of determination you will see on these people all week.

I’ve been using public transportation a lot lately, and it’s the perfect place to catch people looking at their reflections. Mostly because there are only three things to stare at on public transportation: the seats, other people and yourself. So I decided to play the photographer for the day and pick people out. It was great fun – people were looking in storefronts, mirrored glass, puddles, subway windows and car doors. “Just gotta make sure,” they must be thinking.

It’s scary, though, because every time you catch someone, their eyes dart up and look right at you like they can sense your presence.

I really don’t understand why we find the need to check ourselves out. Are we that self-conscious? That ugly? Is it for mating? It’s hard to put my finger on it, but there’s something satisfying about the mirror look. Maybe we see ourselves in that candid way when we look at a street reflection – just a face among faces and among buildings. Maybe there’s something cathartic about the self-check-out.

Eh. Or maybe we’re just ugly.

Tony Manno is a junior in the College of Communication double majoring in journalism and writing-intensive English. Email him at