The OKCupid blog debunks 4 myths about profile pictures. (And I really should have found the post without Andrew Sullivan linking to it. I’m not on the ball this weekend.)
The basic advice they give–and this is tailored strictly towards straight people, which I find sort of annoying but I suppose it’s understandable–is:
1. It’s good to smile and look at the camera if you’re a woman, but it’s better to look away and not smile if you’re a man, and the worst thing you can do is make the flirty-face while looking away from the camera, for both genders.
2. It’s not a bad idea to use a self-portrait taken with your cellphone or webcam, and in fact the “MySpace photo” (coy face from above shot) will get a girl the most messages.
3. It’s a good idea for a guy to take his shirt off for his profile pic, but only if he’s young and hot. It’s a good idea for a woman to use a cleavage shot, especially better as she gets older. However, you will get the best conversations, both genders, if your picture shows you doing something interesting.
4. You don’t really need to show your face, you just need to use an eye-catching picture.
As I said above, the data they gathered was all for contacts between men and women, and it’s based on a particular model of courting: the man initiates contact, and the woman chooses to respond, or not. If the woman initiates contact, it’s noted but it’s treated as a surprise. For those reasons, the results are probably not universally generalizable. If they expanded their survey to men seeking men and women seeking women (I don’t know if their research on men pursuing women included bisexuals of either gender), they might get somewhat different results. They would, at the very least, have to use more flexible query methods. Even so, I think these are useful questions they’re asking. I’ve been in online dating for several months now, and I’ve seen an awful lot of profile pics that make me wonder what these people are thinking.
To their findings on webcam photos, I would like to add this basic rule of thumb: it’s okay to use a webcam or cellphone self-portrait, just make sure it’s a good picture. Is it well-lit? Is it in clear focus? Is the color balance okay? Does it show as much of you as you want to show? Are you well-groomed and otherwise presentable?
In fact, I will expand that out to profile pictures in general, and suggest this primary criterion:
The “Really?!” Test
There are just so many users out there whose profile pics make me want to say, “This is the image you want to show the online meat market? Really?! You’re looking for dates, and maybe even a serious relationship, and this is how you’re presenting yourself? Really?!”
You took your own picture in the bathroom mirror, and there’s a lens flare obscuring most of your face, and that’s the image you put on your online profile? Really?! You photographed yourself shirtless under a ghostly blue light when you look like that, and that’s supposed to turn me on? Really?!
Before you post a photo, just take a good look at it first, and try to imagine yourself as a person who is attracted to your gender, and then ask yourself, “Would I want to talk to this person? Does this get me interested?”
That is the “Really?!” test. It is about seeing yourself from the perspective of the people you are trying to attract. Maybe that’s why the OKC staff only collected data on heterosexuals. The rest of us know what it’s like to be a person attracted to our gender. A woman interested in women knows what a woman likes to see. I haven’t looked at the profiles of any gay men, but I’ve seen pics from a lot of straight men and a lot of gay and bi women, and the men have this problem far, far more often than the women: they just don’t seem to have looked at their own pictures. Or maybe I just attract the ones with no sense. I’m aware that my own experiences are not universal, but either way, I think it’s a valid question to ask: you think that’s a good way to present yourself? You set up your webcam to get a picture for your dating profile, and this pic is the best you can do? Really?!
You don’t need to be naturally good-looking, but can you at least go to the trouble of finding a shot of yourself that doesn’t look ridiculous? Please?
Also, in case you’re wondering: the picture I use here is NOT among the ones I use for online dating. Those all show my face. No I will not share them here. Like hell I’m going to connect my dating profile to this blog.