When you make the study of relationships your work as I do, you end up talking an awful lot about dating. So nothing was out of the ordinary when a female client in her 20s came to see me because she’d been blown off and hurt by a guy she really liked.
“I saw his profile pictures, and I guess I should have seen the red flags,” she said sadly as she played with the zipper on her pink hoodie. My client, whom I’ll call Abby, was beating herself up because she had not seen from the beginning that the guy she’d been out with twice was a “player.” Abby continued to show me a few more of his pictures.
“Hold on a minute!” I protested as she flipped through a couple that were, uh, problematic. I focused on a picture of a fairly attractive dark-haired guy in a gym, with the photo zoomed in on his bicep muscle as he made a curl. From there (yikes), we scrolled to the next one, which had no one in it at all—just a new Mercedes parked in front of an anonymous garage. The rest of the session kind of ran itself, you can imagine.
There is simply no denying that you can read a lot into the photos someone posts online. The craziest part is that gender doesn’t seem to matter, because both men and women alike post pictures that send the wrong messages if their true goal is to find a good partner.
Guys, What Are You Thinking?
Sure, I’m a psychologist, but I’m also human. I understand wanting to put an impressive image out there to attract the best potential dates. Intelligence, attractiveness, and professional success are universal turn-ons, so it’s wise to be open about your strengths. Boasting, however, is another story entirely.
The goal with your photos should be to show people your personality. Are you a wild child or more of an introvert? A sports fanatic or, perhaps, a car aficionado? What’s your thing? For example, posting pics of yourself swimming, boxing, or even lifting weights tells the world that you like the actual practice of sports and that you’re probably pretty body- and health-conscious too. On the other hand, posting pics of yourself receiving an award or bragging about your biceps tells the world that you value obvious signs of power and praise. (I don’t know about you, but the first guy sounds like a lot less trouble to me.)
Ladies, You Too!
I wish I could blame bad romantic judgment on just one gender, because that would mean there are fewer people out there making self-destructive romantic decisions. Yet women, too, regularly post pics of themselves that are deeply problematic. You know exactly what I’m talking about: girl as materialistic, girl as wild partier, and so on.
Because the media is full of so many disturbing images of females already, women should be careful to send a positive online image of themselves as smart, capable, and strong. What’s more, most men find women like that so much hotter in the long run anyway. So if you have a great body, that’s terrific. Include a photo of you and a friend at the beach, but don’t post the one in the sexy pose that zooms in on your chest and crops out your friend’s face!
What Motivates People to Post Inappropriate Pics?
If you’re not someone who would ever—like, e-v-e-r—post pics that make you look promiscuous, boozy, or superficial, you probably have a theory about why someone would do such a thing. If you guessed “insecurity,” ding, ding! You’d be right. If you have a truly healthy ego, meaning that you like yourself well enough and you don’t have problems being consistently nice to yourself or others, you simply wouldn’t need to flaunt your strengths. With such confidence, you care far more what you think about you than what anyone else thinks about you, and that vibe paradoxically attracts others in droves!
At the end of the day, it’s perfectly fine to post pictures of yourself that cast you in an attractive, interesting, and fun light. If you’re not sure which traits to promote through your online photos, reflect on what makes you different from everyone else around you. Whatever it is for you—maybe that quirky sense of humor or your obsession with reality television—that’s part of who you are, and you don’t have to explain or justify it.
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When it comes to posting pics, the secret is not trying too hard. Don’t worry about immediately hooking anyone in when they first go to your profile. The world is full of awesome men and women, and the one you’re going to end up with is going to choose you because of who you are as a package—not because of some silly photo.
Ultimately, your personality has to be your best selling point, so capture it authentically in your pictures. Finally, please spare the world of photos of your flashy cars, body parts, and bank accounts!
Psychologist Seth Meyers has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.