On Profile Pictures
And their function as a precursor to selfies
I’d always admired people with “joke” profile pictures. Those weird-but-funny anti-headshots; the five-chin creep-face crops reserved for the unbridled and carefree.
A few kids I knew went into their first years of college represented by shirtless photos of David Hasselhoff. Then there was this guy who made his Facebook debut with a brightly-lit picture of his gut with drawn on abs. There was also the friend-meme: when someone’s embarrassing photo went viral thanks to his or her group of friends setting the same photo as their own profile pictures. It wasn’t out of solidarity so much as it was a guerrilla group inside-joke, and when pulled off correctly it was the perfect punchline.
But trickiest to perfect was the ironic profile picture. One person’s faux-glamour shot was another’s actual glamour shot (no judgement — who doesn’t love blue eyeshadow, a chin propped up by a fist and teased hair), but there is a fine line that stands between earnestness and irony.
A group of my guy friends, for example, had a professional photo taken of themselves in white turtlenecks with an American flag as their back drop. The word “friendship” was written in cursive across the flag. They’ve all set it as their individual profile pictures at least once, but if I didn’t know them, I’d probably assume it was a sincere homage to 80’s patriotism and brotherhood (as opposed to an idea that manifested courtesy out of boredom and an afternoon at Walmart).
The joke’s on the person who doesn’t get it, I guess.
I remember my first profile picture. It was the summer of 2006 and I’d just received my dot-edu. I recall selecting the picture: it was a tight shot of me, cropped in a vertical rectangle to eliminate the ten other girls who joined me in the original photo. But the editing didn’t stop once I voted my friends off the visual island. I emailed my solo to a girl named Tina, the first person I knew who could work Photoshop. And not only did I have her grayscale it, but I asked that she isolate my eyes so that they would remain blue.
Cool. Because that looked totally normal.
What I was doing, essentially, was setting the stage for who I would be as a college freshman. No one would know me, and my slate, although cherished, would be wiped clean. Exactly what this image of my Windex colored irises was supposed to say though, I’m still not so sure.
It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t ironic. It could have been mistaken for one of those aforementioned glamour shots but because it was set on football bleachers and sans star spangled backdrop, it was probably a lot more like the selfies we see and consequently emit today. Which leads me to wonder whether our profile pictures were the first to incite the current epidemic of hashtag beauty shots we’ve all, at one point or another, fallen victim to?
Is the same thought process that went into selecting the perfect, long lasting profile picture akin to the one that propels the ephemeral selfie? Why do we do it? What do we hope to get out of them? And most importantly — what did your most embarrassing old-school selfie, new-age profile picture look like? Show us. Come on!
-Edited by Leandra Medine