I Asked My Coworkers to Evaluate My Selfies

Haley Nahman | April 18, 2017

And literally everyone disagreed with my favorite

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The other day, I told my friend she has a knack for complimenting me when I think I look like shit. Funnily enough, she said she felt the exact same way about the timing of my compliments to her. “Maybe you have bad taste in you,” she laughed. Both of us found the notion that we didn’t know our own best angles a little unsettling and oddly comforting.

If you’ve ever been puzzled by someone’s choice of profile picture, you probably drew a similar conclusion. Most of us hope such a blind spot wouldn’t extend to own choices, but according to a new study, it probably does. Recently published in the journal Cognitive Research, it explores the kind of silly but not insignificant topic of profile picture selection. Namely, whether we are actually effective at picking our own best photos.

Per Well & Good’s headline about the study — “You Might Want to Tap Your Friends for Photo Advice Before Your Next Tinder Swipe Session” — this has implications in the dating world, if you’re app-inclined. And it’s certainly material vis-a-vis Instagram. But it’s also bigger than that. As the actual study notes, “We make inferences about an individual’s character and personality within a split second of exposure to a photograph of their face.” Photo selection has been proven to affect political elections, company profits and even Airbnb reviews.

The study was small (they tapped just over 100 college students), but researchers hoped to piggyback on their 2015 research that found people aren’t good at determining which photos most accurately reflect how they look. (I definitely feel that way.) This time, they asked participants to rank 12 photos of themselves and then compared their assessments against those of strangers.

The results? “Strikingly, we found that people selected images of themselves that cast less favorable first impressions than images selected by strangers,” reports the study. “At face value, this result appears to run contrary to a vast literature showing that people portray themselves more positively than other people.” Scientific proof that we don’t totally understand our own faces. How strange.

My curiosity and vanity lead me to immediately wonder if this was true for me (please don’t forget I’m a millennial). I took some quick selfies in the bathroom so I could quiz the team. I took care to make them decent enough to be pick-able, but I made two expressions I normally wouldn’t post online (#2, #3). I knew my preference (#1), and was curious if they’d agree it was the best one.

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In a result that was good news for this story and less so for me in general, not a single person agreed with my choice. Not one! Most responses were split between #3 and #4. Said Leslie: “#3 is more ‘come hither.’ You look too tentative in #1 and too chipper in #4.” Harling, who also picked #3, said it was most pretty-at-first-glance. Weird, since I’d privately deemed that one too try-hard-with-the-head-tilt and was kind of embarrassed to show it. Leandra picked #4, noting that I looked the most relaxed and like myself. Amelia and Yvonne concurred independently. Shari was the lone chooser of #2, which features my most honest, toothy smile, an expression I very rarely post on social media.

It’s worth noting that I hate myself for even writing the above paragraph, but that’s probably only because most of the time, we don’t voice these kinds of inner monologues. But that doesn’t mean they don’t happen! David White, one of the lead researchers in the study, suspects we don’t choose our best photos because we’re too familiar with our own faces. “We find it difficult to see through the eyes of an unfamiliar person,” he says. “When it comes to choosing the best version of ourselves, it may be wise to let other people choose for us.”

Do you think or worry that you’re blind to yourself? Do you ask around before posting or selecting a photo to be made public? Have you spent time thinking about this or are you a superior being to me?

Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.

  • Cassandra

    I like #2. You look so friendly!

    • Ell

      Me too! I’m surprised more people didn’t choose 2!

      • Holly Laine Mascaro

        I agree, i like the smile in 2. and i know i often don’t choose smiling photos of myself so that’s making me wonder….lol

        • Haley Nahman

          Wow I am surprised by this thanks guys!

  • Jen

    I would have gone for number 1 🙂

  • Kaitlyn

    Perhaps people prefer pictures which portray themselves in a way that they want to be perceived, and that may not always mean looking the most attractive to other people. I think I have begun to prefer (now that im a ripe old 31 years old) photos of myself that divulge something real about my personality or convey something about myself that i value…even if they aren’t necessarily cute. BUT I’ve been married for a long time so its probably easier to feel that way when I’m not looking to attract a mate.

    • Babs

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. I’m not looking for an attractive photo, rather, one that feels like me. Still, for dating apps, etc., I’m TOOOOtally going to get my friends’ advice after reading this. Yes it’s shallow, but the split-second decisions go both ways.

  • Adrianna

    This reminded me of when friends ask “does this look good on me.” I never have an answer, because I don’t know what you want to look like

  • Laura Hamilton

    I’d pick #1 too. It looks the least distorted and most normal.

  • Kay Nguyen

    I would go with #2, big smile makes you look more friendly and approachable! I would I have the courage to do an experiment like yours but I’m to embarrassed haha <3

    https://www.myblackcloset.com/

  • Agnes

    Number two! It looks the most natural.

  • all 4 looks decent enough for a selfie, but i like 3 best

  • Senka

    You look so cute and real on all of them! Nr. 2 maybe seems the most natural.
    My mom has a habit of pointing out I don’t look like me in any of my selfies, but I can’t stand how I look on most other photos. I guess we really do have twisted perception of ourselves.

  • Emma

    You look lovely in all of them!

  • For what it’s worth, #1 was my favorite!

    • Emily

      Same!

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    Ugh! I hate taking selfies. I don’t think I’m that photogenic of a person so it seems no matter what I do I hate every picture I take lol. And I hate smiling in photos – I’m like Victoria Beckham that way. I always do the closed lip Mona Lisa smile. Which does nothing for my resting bitch face. My personal fave of the pics you took was #3.

    • Adrianna

      I don’t like smiling in photos either, so I try to lightly *smize.* I’m able to move my ears, and I find that moving them back (and therefore the rest of my skin) perks up my resting face

  • Erica

    you look like a total babe in all of them, but #3 is my fave!!

  • Dymond Moore

    I always feel like my best angle is from the side, and not from the front!
    http://www.thechicmachine.com

  • Olivia Adamczyk

    It’s fascinating how even the *slightest* difference between photos makes *all* the difference.

    P.S. You look great in all the photos, but something draws me to #3 the most!

  • Santiago

    I also think it has to do with the fact that we se a flipped version of ourselves in the mirror and thats the most common “picture” we see everyday, being that perfect symmetry is not easy to come by. So when it comes to pictures, we are the actual face the rest of these common strangers see, not what we are used to seeing in the bathroom every morning.

    • Haley Nahman

      def def def

  • Bo

    What the hell everyone except Shari, #2 is adorable

    • Haley Nahman

      you’re 2 sweet!!

  • Chrissie

    this is crazy, are we blind when it comes to ourselves? do we not see the same things others see? my boyfriend always hates my “good” selfies, and asks me why I always choose the bad ones?!!! grrrrr …. anyway I am drawn to number 3!

  • Sara Mesquita

    This reminds me when my friends ask me why do I always do the same face when checking myself out in the mirror and everytime that gets me like “what do you mean??? Is this not my face?????!”

    • Beasliee

      I used to work in a clothes shop and it was brought to my attention then that I have an automatic mirror face when I see my reflection. When I relax my face in front of a mirror I don’t like what I see until I put my ‘mirror face’ back on. What this means for how I look to others in reality I try not to think too hard about!!

    • Marie-Eve

      It’s your “mirror face”! (Re: Love, second season on Netflix)

      • Haley Nahman

        Yes just saw this!

  • Ana Vla

    I always ask my mom to approve my new profile pics before I upload them. The ones she chooses get like 30+ likes. The ones I choose… 5 at best.

    • Haley Nahman

      good call

  • idk man, i like number 1

    • Haley Nahman

      HIGH FIVE (this is so self-indulgent)

  • Deanna

    Crazy. I was just having this conversation with my husband. He always thinks I choose the worst pictures of myself to post online. (Worst, of a quick set of four or five).

  • Crystal

    My husband and I both think #2 and #3 are adorable.

    As someone who isn’t a big fan of her own face, I think I probably prefer pictures that look least like me.

    • Haley Nahman

      I think we are all like that and it’s so saddd

  • Hélène

    Mostly, I love your haircut and color, it all looks “new”, isn’t it? It’s beautiful! Are you still doing keratin treatments? (Sorry, not here to weigh in on the selfies, I’m just captivated by your hair situation <3 )

    • Haley Nahman

      Thank you! Story coming on it!!

  • Anna Olivia Sundsli

    In Scandinavia we have an expression/word called “houseblindness” which refers to the fact that small annoying disturbances in a home is often forgotten and never fixed or repaired (can be a broken handle or a slightly leaking sink) It therefore takes a guest or visitor to rediscover the unrepaired things and make the inhabitants remembering to actually do something about it.

    (Definitely NOT saying that our faces are broken or disturbed until someone says to chose a different facial expression in photos and on a live basis!!)

    This story made me think about this Scandinavian expression so much though, since I also have a tendency to evaluate my face in pictures according to routine and what “version” of myself I´d like people to see me as. The choice always falls on the safest one- the one where I show too many teeth and look enormously happy. (I just want to look like I have the time of my life at all times) My friends always tend to like the ones where I look more serene and relaxed which makes so much sense. I guess we are all “faceblind” when it comes to ourselves. Maybe it´s good because since we don´t really understand our face we might look extremely beautiful and remembering this may make us less occupied comparing ourselves to every other person on the street.

  • Gaby Lebron

    #3 is my fav