A woman called into a radio show I was on recently, talking about online dating, and asked, “I heard all guys look at are the pictures. Is that true?”
The undertone of this question-slash-fear is, “Are looks the only thing that matters to a guy?” Not the only thing. But a big thing. Yes. Looks matter. If you think a guy isn’t going to look at your pictures first, then you’re nuts—especially when chances are it’s the first thing you look at, too.
What I don’t get is why this comes as a surprise. This is just one of the many things I find confounding about people’s expectations around online dating: We’re still humans, not data bots. Why would you think that the way a person appears to you doesn’t matter?
But I Just Want Him (or Her) to Love Me for Who I Am!
Well, who are you? Are you someone who makes an effort to be sexy, appealing, attractive? That’s like saying you shouldn’t ever have to make an effort and so, yeah, go on a first date
without showering, wearing whatever you rolled out of bed in. We all want someone who piques our interest and pleases the senses. And since this is digital dating, the only way to approximate what you’re like is to show your best self; i.e., not looking like a total slouch.
I can’t even believe I have to even say this, but it appears I must: Prospective dates don’t want to know what you look like on a Sunday when you haven’t run a comb through your hair, or shaved, or put on a stitch of makeup. Someone you date may eventually see you that way, but I wouldn’t say it’s what you lead with.
So let’s go over the do’s and don’ts of online profile pictures, shall we?
DO: Feature several clear, current shots of you. A self portrait is ok, but not ideal and at best should be flanked by pictures someone else takes of you. Reason being, the “here I am holding up my iPhone in the mirror”—especially when we can see the phone—is, well, extraordinarily lame, no matter how you slice it. It was fine in like 2005 maybe, but no longer. Do what you can with lighting etc to create a more flattering shot (tip: shooting up at yourself with your camera isn’t going to be your best angle). And then look at it. Would you date you?
DO NOT: Share your photo archives. Sure, you looked great in 1992, but since I don’t have a time machine, I can’t meet that person. I can only meet this one. So I need to see what you look like, present day. As a rule, women tend to fudge their weight while men fudge their height. And both lie about their age (something I do NOT recommend). I don’t see the benefit in doing any of these things. The picture should be you now, not you ten years or ten pounds ago. The oldest picture on your current profile should be less than 2 years old.
(P.S. EVERYONE says they look young for their age. Everyone. So don’t go on a whole rant in your profile defending your age, etc. But we’ll cover profile responses another time.)
DO: Show your whole body. In context, of course. Again: It’s important to get an idea of what you look like, below the neck as well. When else would you ever have cause to only ask a disembodied face out on a date? Never. So having some shots of you where we can at least see what the head is attached to is a good idea. But in context. And keep your clothes on.
DO NOT: Show pictures of random body parts. Dudes are especially prey to this kind of digital dismemberment. As soon as I see a headless torso online, especially as a main profile shot, I hit delete. I’m not going to be holding a conversation with your abs. Nor am I shopping for a male escort. I’d love to see some full-body shots, sure, but preferably clothed and in a normal context (you on a beach or whatever), not you doing your best impression of a centerfold. I will say I saw a woman’s profile recently in which she took what had to be the most unflattering shot of just her body—in an ill-fitting, horizontal-striped top. No head, nothing, just the shirt. It was terrible. I thought, what on earth gave this woman the idea that this would help her situation?
As for nudity, use your brain. There are plenty of places online to view naked people. An online dating site is not one of them. Dudes, no one wants to see random naked body parts. Or, maybe they do, but they don’t then want to meet it out for a beer.
Ladies, if you’re showing a ton of stuff on your profile pics, or focusing in on specific anatomy, don’t be surprised when the guys who fill up your inbox are NOT the kind of guys you want relationships with.
DO: Show yourself doing different stuff. It’s great to showcase your interests, whether it’s skiing or apple-picking or rock climbing. As long as we can see your face, a little context may add some interest, so sure, go for it. However….
DO NOT: Share an entire vacation album. Please don’t bother with a 50-yard shot of you on a mountain in a hat and glasses. Skip the shot of you in a snorkel mask. We don’t really want to see what you did on your summer vacation; we want to see who we’ll be sitting and talking to for the better part of an hour. We get it, you like water sports—but you in gear does nothing for us. If you really want us to see your vacation shots, we’ll see it when we become Facebook friends. I can’t tell you how many guys seem to be under the impression that if they include pictures of a rugged mountain range or the Eiffel Tower, I’ll want to run away with them. If I want to see shots of the Grand Canyon, I’ll google them myself.
DO: Keep the focus on you. We want to see YOU, not your friends, not your family or the
whole wedding party you were in, where we have a good chance of being confused (“Is that him? Is that?”) or worse (“Man, his friend’s really cute. How do I find him?”). Don’t do it. This isn’t about everyone you know. It’s about you.
DO NOT: Include pictures of pets. OK, if you’re an avid dog lover and owner, and want to include the pooch in a photo, fine. Like any dog owner knows, it’s a nice way to break the ice. But as soon as the focus of your profile starts to be animal centric, you’re in trouble. One man called in specifically to say he did not want to see a woman’s cats on her dating profile. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough.
DO NOT: Include pictures of you with your ex. Seems like a no-brainer, right? And yet, I see people doing this all the time. But while it may have been a great shot of you, it’s now spoiled by either the gorgeous woman (or hunky dude) you’re with. Or worse: a picture of you with your arms wrapped around some blonde whose FACE YOU HAVE DIGITALLY SMUDGED OUT. While you may think this is an attempt to keep it anonymous, protect her identity, it looks so bad. Just, so bad. We can’t help but wonder what happened to that person, and if you hate her or aren’t over her, or vice versa. Don’t introduce these human dramas into your profile. Plenty of time for those to out themselves.
And yes, this includes the phantom hand shot. Even if you crop down that picture, if all we see is a well-manicured hand on your shoulder, yeah, there’s something creepy about that too. Don’t tell me those are all the pictures you have of yourself. Take some new ones.
DO: Post at least 3 pictures. Preferably, smiling. Just one is cheap–and usually a red flag. It could be a good shot—or a bad shot. Either way, the person viewing it is wondering what you “really” look like. The more, the better, I say. But quality over quantity. And smile! Show pics of you smiling. I know you may think differently, but that forced sexy/moody look doesn’t look as great as you think. It comes across as either moody or suicidal. A smile is welcoming, warm, and shows you in your best light.
DO NOT: Post weird ones. Do not, I repeat, do not, post the following: You in a costume, you sticking your tongue out, you making a quirky, stupid face. It’s not cute. It’s disturbing. It will also make someone think twice. You don’t want people to think twice—especially when one click and they’re onto the next person.
Also, we weren’t there at the Halloween party and thus don’t know what a huge hit your Carrie costume was (though now we know what you look like covered in blood). We don’t realize that you were going for Indiana Jones and not the Village People. The whole point of looking at your profile is to see what you’re “like” on an everyday basis. Not one day when you decided to make yourself look weirder than usual.
Lastly: DO: Consider a professional.
It’s not the worst idea in the world to get some nice shots done of you. I have a friend who decided to do this, and has some really great pictures, that yes, she uses on her dating profile, but she also has. Just because you can take a picture at any moment of the day doesn’t mean they’re going to be all that great. And rather than less authentic, I find professional shots MORE authentic—because a professional can capture you at your best, at your most natural. They’re paid to show the essence and beauty of someone’s personality—which you never will in your bathroom mirror.
P.S. If you’d like some help with your online profile–and dating in general–I have a few slots open for new coaching clients. AND: New York locals; I have a photographer at the ready who can help you with some great shots. Just hit me up.