Default Pics: Distance and Clarity

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There’s a common trend in online dating profiles - or, more specifically, in their pictures. It’s not unusual to see someone try to sneak in one (or several) old photos - even if those photos aren’t necessarily more flattering.

In fact, you don’t even have to have an online dating profile to see this in action. Just show someone an old (but still post-adolescent) photo of themselves. “Wow,” you might hear. “I looked so young! And cute!”

“I worried about my weight so much at that age,” one might say with a sigh. “And look: I was just fine. I should have enjoyed myself then - if only I weighed that much now!”

Once I was helping a friend compile photos for his online dating profile, and he tried to include a few that were at least three years old. He actually objectively looked much better in the present: he was dressing in more flattering clothes, he was more confident, and his haircut in the old photos seemed dated.

“I feel like I should include these photos to show what I looked like at my best,” he explained. “I mean, I was in the prime of life back then!”

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we automatically assume our older photos are more attractive?

Well, perhaps we fall a bit into a trap perpetuated by the media and society: that younger is better. Unless we’ve undergone a radical transformation for the better, we tend to assume that our younger selves are automatically more attractive, and that we look worse the older we get. Women tend to fall prey to this more than men - many men consider themselves “baby-faced” prior to a certain point, whereas many women might consider that same phase the height of their attractiveness. While it may hold true in Hollywood, that’s not necessarily the case in love.

However, the real factor may be more internal than external. It may simply be that we are less judgmental of our “former selves.” In the present, it’s easy to nit-pick every blemish, every bump, every flaw. We’re also used to seeing our current selves in a mirror image, and seeing ourselves in a photograph - not mirrored - can feel unpleasant and wrong. Once we get some distance, however, we can see ourselves more objectively - and, in many cases, more kindly.

So as you go to choose your default pictures, ask yourself why you prefer the ones you do. Are these photos that really show you in your best light - photos that friends and family would agree reveal the real you? Or are they shadows from a past remote enough that you can actually see yourself clearly?