What People Are Trying To Communicate With Their Profile Pics

“I am a 45 year-old professional that ‘gets’ the internet”

Also known as “The Professional Profile Pic,” this strategy is most often employed on websites such as LinkedIn and, of course, Facebook. The Professional Profile Pic attempts to convey relevancy (i.e. irrelevancy) by ‘re-interpreting’ the traditional business profile picture circa the 1990’s and is engineered to procure in the viewer the belief that the individual is a sincere, well-rounded, no-nonsense, capable type of guy/girl who “gets the job done.” An implant from the pre-Internet age (with its original genesis in concepts such as “Glamor Shots” and “real estate company advertisements”), one most often witnesses those that propagate the Professional Profile Pic claiming that they’re “web 2.0 gurus,” “wordpress ninjas,” “freelance marketing analysts,” or any online entrepreneurial term that to their knowledge is incredibly relevant and cutting edge but in reality is antiquated and alien to the large majority of the internet community. One might argue that indeed the only difference between Professional Profile Pics of the internet age and Professional Profile Pics of the pre-internet age is the extreme exudation of “trying to convey that [individual] ‘gets’ the internet, the blogosphere, Twitter, etc.”

“Webcam shots as profile pics do not seem embarrassing to me”

Also known as The Webcam Shot, these profile pictures depict a lone individual in his room, face illuminated by the glow of the computer screen, grinning or (worse) making some strange facial expression. Many find Webcam Shots to be unsettling and somewhat difficult as the result of the widespread preconceived preference for candid photographs as well as the inevitable mental imagery of the individual in question taking photos repeatedly (and thus smiling and making the same ‘strange’ facial expression – for whatever desired effect – over and over again), perhaps for a duration as long as a half an hour until the ‘perfect’ pic is achieved, which can lead to a sort of ‘crawly,’ suspicious feeling of inauthenticity, vanity and ‘fakeness’ in the viewer. Perhaps uninhibited use of Webcam Shots as profile pics is also unseemly to many because of the apparent narcissism it communicates; the ‘shameful’ display of sufficient interest in oneself to turn on a webcam, look into it, smile to an invisible audience, and snap the photo until the ‘right’ one is achieved (implying a conscious desired effect or a conscious decision to manipulate the viewer into feeling something).

“I am an international traveler”

People that wish for everyone to know that they are currently traveling in a foreign country or that wish to personally brand themselves as ‘international travelers’ often have profile pictures of themselves in front of some large, easily-recognized monument, either looking pensive, sagely and into-the-distance (as if they are ‘discovering themselves’ abroad or as if they are currently having ‘spiritual’ experiences due to being in a foreign culture) or looking directly at the camera and making some sort of powerful gesticulation, such as a mid-fist pump or a bodybuilding pose (as if they are having a powerful but traditional ‘time of their life’). People that wish to convey that they are international travelers do almost all of their socializing on Facebook, as in traveler-bars and international hostels the transference of Facebook profile pages has almost entirely replaced the exchange of phone numbers, room numbers or hostel addresses.

“I am hip hop”

People that are hip hop often take pictures of themselves with their webcams or a digital camera and upload them to their MySpace profiles to communicate that they are indeed hip hop and as such will ‘beat you down’ if you ‘front on’ them and/or beat you in freestyle battle, beat you in a breakdancing battle and speak in ebonics. One expects a person that ‘is’ hip hop to also be interested in modifiable cars, bling, money, women and possibly latent homophobia. One wonders how people that ‘are’ hip hop come to justify such profile pictures, or being on the internet at all, for any amount of time (for that matter, even knowing what computers are), as using the medium itself (the Internet) seems to betray or make impossible any real sense of ‘street cred’ or ‘being from the hood,’ which, I think, are some of the core values that exist in the mainstream hip hop persona.

“I am unattractive but taken from a certain angle a small part of my face looks conventionally attractive”

In the interest of [something] I won’t include this kind of profile picture in the body of this article and so I hope that what I have so far written appeals to the stereotype I’m attempting to identify. This type of profile picture is also known as “The Profile Pic Taken From an Angle That Diminishes Unattractiveness,” and on top of communicating that from a certain angle, a small part of one’s face is attractive (despite the fact that generally the person is unattractive) it also communicates insecurity and/or the knowledge that others perceive the person as unattractive. These people are also likely to keep profile pictures of a singular feature of their faces, such as an eye, or an open, pursed mouth. In the author’s opinion, it is unfortunate and genuinely sad – while understandable – that these profile pictures exist, as it’s typically difficult to watch someone communicate so clearly that they don’t feel ‘worth’ other people’s judgment and thus have to ‘relegate’ an ambiguous part of their body to the task while on a superficial level attempting to manipulate others into believing that they (i.e. the person in the profile photo) believes they’re ‘worth’ judgment.

“I am a young person having experiences that I will later feel nostalgic about”

Also known as “The Polaroid or Faux-Polaroid,” this profile pic strategy is most often employed by the 18-24 year-old demographic in times of party and candor. Gravitating around websites such as Facebook, Lookbook, Flickr, Tumblr and (in the past) MySpace, the pictures are limited to a relatively narrow subject matter or range of conveyance. One can expect to see Polaroids or Faux-Polaroids of the sky and other nature scenes; pictures of lone, alternatively-dressed individuals with pensive but ultimately inscrutable facial expressions, and shots of parties (i.e. “ragers,” “houseparties”) – specifically of two or three individuals arm and arm, sweaty, holding cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and grinning, having “post-high school” or “post college” “times of their lives.” While Polaroids or Faux Polaroids do have a thematically limited subject matter, they employ the use of the medium to produce a relatively wide variety of effects. Namely, providing scenes with a deeply vintage (albiet by definition inauthentic) fairy-land quality as well as dramatic, nostalgic and beautiful tonal sensations which compels one to sigh upon the picture fully loading.

“I am more artistic than you”

Also known as “The Postmodern Bullshit Profile Pic,” people who wish to convey that they are more artistic than you have their friends take pictures of them in objectionably meaningless/ nonsensical situations such as, for example, behind two pieces of oddly-shaped wood with a serious or ‘looming’ or ‘ominous’ facial expression in an orange-lit door frame. While pictures such as these do display an element of ‘coolness’ (via, for example, Andy Warhol), one often is forced to speculate if the person who wishes to convey that they are more artistic than you is actually more artistic and cooler than you (and thus didn’t mean to post such an ‘authentic-seeming’ picture, making them by definition more artistic than you), or if they simply mean to convey that they are more artistic than you, which would be inauthentic and in effect less artistic (most likely the case). Thought Catalog Logo Mark

I am the co-publisher of Thought Catalog. Follow me on Twitter. I also use a pen name called Holden Desalles.

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