Some jokes are timeless.
That’s certainly the case with this meme — often referred to as “how you think you look vs. how you really look” or “what you think you look like vs. what you actually look like.” Recently, the construction trended virally, with internet users sharing photos of themselves at their finest compared to photos of less-than-ideal appearances.
But as it turns out, the conceit is nothing new. In fact, as Twitter uncovered over the weekend, you can trace this comparison joke all the way back to a 1921 comic strip in a humor magazine called Judge. Surrounded by cringe-worthy written jokes on a page the magazine’s July 2 issue, the two-frame illustration stands out. “How you think you look when a flashlight is taken” and “How you really look,” the captions read, identifying a very handsome sketch and a rather more amateur version of the same.
As Gizmodo has pointed out, the reference to a “flashlight” harkens to an era before the invention of the modern flash bulb. The “flashlight” in question was a chemical explosion of sorts that helped to light photography, albeit somewhat dangerously. As for Judge magazine? Unlike the illustration, its days were numbered; the publication shut down in 1947. But thanks to their archives, we can recognize the long history of a meme — and the fact that some humor is forever relatable, no matter what century.