Eight years ago, I sat at a desk in our stairwell apartment on Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, and created my first Facebook profile. Technology was not my forte, so it took hours for me to figure out how to upload a digital photo. The image that I used that afternoon is the same one on my Facebook profile today, but not for the reasons one might think.
I’m not trying to fool my friends into thinking that, in the last decade, my double chin hasn’t grown any bigger, or my eyes haven’t gotten baggier, or a new crease hasn’t formed in my forehead. I don’t mind if everyone knows that I started coloring my grays or that I sprouted a liver spot on my left cheek.
I’m not hiding my age, I’m just too lazy to post a new pic.
I admire people who have the technical know-how, energy, and vision to change their profile photos frequently. They are the same people who know how to use filters to soften edges, make photos look vintage, or overlay a translucent screen of the French flag, rainbows, or the Yankees logo.
I on the other hand, have the same image I’ve had since I uploaded it on January 23, 2009, and I’m now wondering what that says about me …
In today’s social-media savvy world, profile photos are not just for identification anymore – these carefully selected images convey a message about one’s personality, political affiliation, financial success, sex appeal, fashion sense, spontaneity, worldliness, athleticism and intelligence.
In a University of Pennsylvania research paper published in May 2016 titled “Analyzing Personality through Social Media Profile Picture Choice”, scientists studied 66,000 social media users and over 100 million tweets, determining that personality can be predicted “with robust accuracy” based on the type of profile photo posted by the user.
The researchers used the “Big Five” personality trait model common in psychological analysis (extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness and neuroticism), and found correlations between the traits and distinct features of profile photos.
For example, neurotic people tend to post simple, less colorful photos that do not include faces. Extraverts post colorful pictures of multiple smiling faces. Open people post more artistic photos that may not include faces but are aesthetically pleasing. Conscientious users post natural shots of single faces. Agreeable people tend to post colorful but blurry photos of people expressing positive emotions.
Perhaps I should update my old profile photo to show more of my personality?
I could find a photo that just happens to have the Taj Mahal, the Sphinx or the Eiffel Tower in the background, thereby implying that I’m adventurous. Or should I get a photo of me wearing ski goggles, clutching a surf board, or smiling victoriously with a marathon number still pinned to my sweaty spandex top to fool everyone into thinking I’m an athlete?
I could project professionalism by posting one of those $29.99 Sears Portrait Package photos of me wearing a nice blazer in front of a mottled mauve backdrop.
I could feign quirky intelligence by borrowing someone’s glasses, then striking a head-resting-on-one-hand-with-eyes-looking-up-into-a-corner pose. If I could only figure out how to make a “fish face” or “duck lips” without looking pathetic, I could even sex it up a little bit.
But seriously, do I really need to change my profile photo just because it’s out of date?
My husband, Francis, took the shot of me on a dreary day in 2007, while he was home during a year-long deployment for two weeks of R-and-R. We were walking on the beach, happy to be together after nine months apart. I’m wearing his fleece jacket and some outdated hoop earrings, my hair looks damp, and the photo is a bit blurry, but I’m showing a genuine smile.
According to science, my blurry smiling profile picture means I’m “agreeable.” And the fact that the photo was taken in 2007 just means I’m old. Either way, the picture tells the true story about me and our military life, and that’s something I’ll never want to change.