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Do I really need an online dating photo?

About five years ago when my online dating activity was at its peak, and I spent at least as much time checking OKCupid as I did checking Facebook, I didn’t have a profile photo. Nothing.

I had previously had a profile furnished not just with a picture of my face but a couple of online dating photo ‘action shots’, by which I mean ‘pictures of me in a pub drinking’ and one awkwardly posed ‘full body’ shot. Because having just one photo meant I got messages from people asking for more. They kept asking, though, and eventually I got rid of all the photos – roughly around the time I started this blog.

When you don’t have a profile photo, most of the messages you get will be from people demanding one.

“What do u look like?”

“I won’t date u without a pic.”

“How do I know you’re not a man tho lol.”

They will explain to you, in patronising terms, that you will get far more responses with a photo. Like they think you simply forgot, and you’ll slap your forehead and go “Of COURSE! Thank you kind stranger for telling me what OKCupid tries to tell me every FUCKING TIME I log in!”

I was, probably twattily, quite suspicious of people who demanded photos of me. I would react with immediate annoyance if someone’s first question was about the lack of pics, mainly because to me that’s not the most important thing when it comes to meeting someone. What’s more, I made it clear in my profile that there were reasons I didn’t have a picture up, and that if they wanted a profile photo they should pick someone other than me to send that first message to.

I was reminded of this the other day, when an article popped up in my Twitter timeline about online dating photos. In it, the author says:

“I will not even bother with someone who doesn’t have a photo on their profile. Nor will I indulge the self-importance of some jackhole who has to defend his decision to crop his face in half or insist we exchange messages before he reveals himself. Get bent, Fredo.”

To be fair to the original blogger, she’s talking about dating sites, rather than sites on which people are specifically looking for casual hookups or kink, where there might be the off-chance that a nosy boss or judgmental relative might stumble across them. And it’s her prerogative, of course. As it’s your prerogative if you want to insist on pictures. When I threw this question out to Twitter a fair few people said similar, and explained that there are plenty of nefarious reasons why people might not post one.

But I do think that, while it’s anyone’s personal choice whether to interact with a photo-less nobody, so it’s also anyone’s right to be a photo-less nobody, ideally without people patronising them by trying to explain the obvious – that most people expect a picture. While my picture-profile got me far more messages than no-pictures, no-pictures wasn’t actually a dealbreaker – I still met interesting people I wanted to fuck. After all, back in the day of newspaper ads, people still managed to hook up, didn’t they?

When I said ‘there’s a reason I have no photos’ on my profile, some people would simply trust my description and join me for a beer if they fancied me. Understanding, of course, that they could always sod off if they walked into the pub and I turned out to be a giant polar bear in disguise or what have you. The people I met generally understood that there could be many reasons why someone wouldn’t want to put a picture up online. Including, but not limited to:

  • previous stalking/harassment
  • a job which frowned on you having ‘casual hookups/BDSM’ in your profile
  • the fact that you’re gay/poly/trans and in a community which would give you untold grief for one or other of these things
  • being married/in a monogamous relationship
  • they hate having their picture taken
  • they are just quite a private person
  • etc

So I understand people’s reasons for saying ‘I’d like to see a pic’, as equally I understand that there are many people who’d prefer not to post one. I would happily hook up with someone who didn’t have a profile picture – as long as they can give me a description good enough that I can pick them out of a crowd. In fact some of the loveliest people I met on OKC were ones who had either no profile pic or a photo so vague it could have been anyone.

I did one of those fancy-pants Twitter polls, and here’s what people had to say (if you can’t see the results, vote and then you’ll be able to):

I was actually quite chuffed with how many people chose option a, which is the one I’d have gone for, because I genuinely thought – as a result of having so many nags on OKC who used to tell me pics were compulsory – that I was a bit of an outlier. It’s been really interesting to see people’s responses, particularly from people who would insist on a picture, as there were a fair few interesting reasons that I hadn’t considered.

Quite a few people, in response to my tweet, cited safety as a reason to insist on a profile photo. Given how many people said it I’d feel awful if I didn’t add this: having a photo does not guarantee your safety on a date. If you prefer to get one from people, go for it, but please don’t think that simply because you have a picture you will be safe. Apart from the fact that a picture could be old/out of date/whatever, it could potentially be a picture of someone else. Some of these dating safety tips are a bit nannying, but the ‘dos’ for meeting someone off the internet are generally pretty sound. 

I am in a very small minority on my ambivalence towards pictures, I know. And if I haven’t persuaded you with the above, I doubt I’ll persuade you with the fact that photos (in my biased opinion) rarely capture what makes a particular individual sexy anyway. But having bored you with reasons people might prefer to be photo-less, let me try and convince you that the fact I’m photo-less might actually be a good thing…

I hate having my photo taken

When it comes to having my photo taken – for online dating pics or not – I get awkward and uncomfortable. This translates into me making what one of my friends refers to as ‘dead face.’

“You’re making your dead face again. Smile.”

“I AM smiling.”

“Yes, I know. But your eyes are empty and your smile says ‘I am dead. I have literally been killed and then stuffed in this position.'”

*I attempt a new smile*

“Still dead. OK, look, I’m going to not take a picture, just hold the camera here for a while…”


“Still dead face.”

It’s not – I hasten to add – because I don’t like my face. I quite like my face – it’s pretty average-looking, but it’s mine. When I stand in front of a mirror and smile, my smile is mine and I recognise it. The problem is not with my face, but the fact that when I see it on a screen I do not recognise it. It genuinely look to me like a completely different person to the one I see in the mirror. WHO IS THIS WOMAN AND WHAT HAS SHE DONE WITH MY FACE.

Given this, I have fewer photos of myself than I have of my Christmas Tree, or my hoover. In the age of infinite selfies this is not only bad for online dating purposes, it’s also distinctly odd.

But it’s also, surely, one of my unique quirks. It’s a thing about me that isn’t true of many other people on 3inder or OKC or whichever other app you’re using right now. If an online dating profile is for anything, it’s for working out someone’s unique quirks and deciding – on the basis of those – whether or not you want to meet me. Not fuck me, marry me, or pledge your life to protecting my immortal soul: just meet me. In a crowded area, which you’re free to leave at any time.

My lack of photos tells you two things:

  1. I hate having my photo taken
  2. If photos are a dealbreaker for you, then that’s a dealbreaker for me

Voilà! Yet another quick and easy way to filter out people I won’t match with. And another way for you to do the same. What’s more, not demanding pictures when I’ve said up-front that I’d rather not send them, is an excellent way for a potential date to demonstrate that they’re happy to respect my limits.

I’m not going to try and pretend I’m someone else just to tempt a stranger into bed, and that stranger can, in turn, decide not to meet me. What they can’t do, though, is try and change what I’m comfortable with. Nag me for photos because they’re ‘expected’ or ‘a dealbreaker.’

You do you, random stranger, I’ll do me. And if you do decide to date me, then when we meet in the pub you will know me by my excessive camera-phobia, and some sort of ridiculous hat.


  • RB says:

    Was interested to see the twitter responses to this – although I feel similar in that I hate photos of me and realise it’s not the sure path to security, I still feel more comfortable having seen just the one off the other person. I think everyone has their own methods of feeling relaxed. What has bothered me immensely before on kink sites is someone asking for more and more naked pictures of me and when I’ve said I don’t feel comfortable, just ignoring me. The ‘don’t be a dick’ rule is always in force.

    I have a ‘security man’ for my new dates; a friend who I text with the address of the person, and their name (having seen some ID) – he’ll respond with “have a good bang!” and we’re good to go.

  • Where we’re going, we don’t need names says:


  • Steve says:

    I was reading only yesterday about a new dating app (only currently available in the US) which was started and is run by women for women. Currently has a higher female to male ratio of users, does not focus on photos in the profile (although you can reveal photos to other users) and has a strong social aspect in the form of a daily question which you can answer in public forums. Seems like the perfect dating app for people who hate online dating. Most user currently in and around Seattle (where the start up is based) but expanding. I really hope it takes off.

    • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

      I remember reading about another ‘female friendly’ app not long ago, which was intentionally designed to be for women sick of the normal online dating environment; to the extent that only women could initiate conversations with men, not vice versa (possibly even all men had to be invited by a female user, I forget).

      I wonder how far these alternative takes on the dating app succeed in their stated purposes. On the one hand, I can see the appeal of anything which claims to offer a less pressured atmosphere and a greater proportion of decent people. On the other hand, something like Tinder can make up for in quantity what it lacks in quality: even if there are plenty of asshats, meet enough people and you’re (theoretically) sure to hit some good ones eventually.

      I guess it’s a big Internet, there’s plenty of room for different approaches.

  • Very interesting results, though I’m curious to know how it breaks down by gender. I don’t use online dating sites because I always assumed not having a profile photo would be an automatic dealbreaker and I have a pathological fear of having my picture taken. I’m also one of those people who doesn’t need to see a photo first; I never know how I feel about someone until I spend time with them anyway, so they never feel all that useful. If I crush on a guy it rarely has anything to do with how they look. Messaging is a much better way to get to know someone.

  • Jessy says:

    There are times when I don’t connect with my face. I don’t know if this makes sense but there are times when I look into the mirror and I ask if I really look like this. I’m not ugly, neither am I that beautiful, I’m okay. But that question never leaves.

    As a profile pic on OKC, mine is a Grey’s Anatomy meme where Meredith tells Cristina, “You’re beautiful.” And she says, “I know.” :-D :-P


  • Valery North says:

    It’s interesting to note that on OK Trends, OKCupid’s stats and correlations bog, they reported that pictures that don’t show the user (or user’s face) were if anything more effective at producing dating outcomes than the traditionally mandated face pictures. As a result, OKC did away with that requirement.

    So maybe, if you don’t like showing yourself in your pics, find pics that say something about you but don’t show you.

    It’s interesting that the poll is basically a statistical tie with all three answers being within margin of error of 1/3 of responses.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ooh, thanks Valery that’s really interesting! I agree on the poll too – I’d expected it to come out at mostly b and c, so I was quite chuffed that I’m not the only one who’d pick a.

  • I started to reply, but then I decided to write this instead…


  • Rose says:

    I have a friend that’s made a whole career out of taking professional photos specifically for dating sites. She comes up with some really interesting theories on what makes a good, or not so good, dating profile pic. Take a look if you get chance

  • I hate having my face photographed, it’s that “dead face” that you mentioned. My recent task from my husband was to take some photos of my face, and it was just terrible, and I cried. He didn’t realize it was that hard for me.

  • Poo says:

    I suspect it’s not really a choice available to a straight guy online, since the websites are over-represented with male users and there is natural suspicion towards men arising from physical safety and historical twattishness.

    However, on grindr I’ve received messages even without a profile pic or info. Same would go for straight women as well I imagine.

  • Greg says:

    In fairness to men, men are visual and attracted to pretty women. In addition some men prefer women who are not greatly overweight. A photo can give an honest answer to the questions of whether the woman is generally pretty and not massively overweight without requiring obtrusive questioning and reducing the likelihood of an inaccurate answer. I think it’s not unreasonable to want to generally know what a potential date looks like before going on a date.

  • Peter Stone says:

    I used a dateing service after my first wife died and long before the Internet. I had to provide photographs and theway you made contact was by looking through folderso f the opposite sex.

    It never worked forme because each woman I dated, despight being as described and similar to their pictures, really didn’t have any spark for me or mef or them. That seems to support your point of view.

    I suppose I dated 5 or 6 times then gave i tup. I did meet a working girl at one point and was completely out of my depth. You do silley things sometimes after something traumatic hapens in your life. Then, in a supermarket car park, a woman fell over, spilling the contents of her trolly, I helped her an dwe then dated for ages, despite the difficulty with me having three adolescent children. You never know when that ‘spark’ is goin to happen.

    You can never be sure who might tring your bell, but I still think, if I were dating today, that I’d like to see a picture or a really good description. Attraction is such a difficult aspect to dating. I’ve never liked heavy-breasted women, for instance, so why waste her and my time dating? I suppose it come sdown to how honest the description is. Sorry. My arguments are not very convincing, but honest.

  • twiglet says:

    your line about not asking as a sign of respecting your boundaries, but given it is unusual not to have pictures, asking shows an inquisitiveness about you and your choices which I view as a good thing? maybe too there’s a difference in asking after a conversation with you, and nagging you?

    • Girl on the net says:

      Yep, you’re right – there’s definitely a difference. My general pissed-offness came from people whose first message constituted ‘where are your pics?’ when it was clear I’d rather not post them. Perhaps after a long chat, if someone said ‘I know you said you’d rather not, but I’m nervous about meeting someone with no pics’ then I’d be a bit less annoyed. But then as a general rule I tended not to spend too much time chatting online. Maybe I’m just super-odd, but my general rule was: 2 messages back and forth, and if I’m interested I’ll ask them for a drink.

      • ValeryNorth says:

        A lot of dating advice-givers online write on their blogs that the 2 message back and forth is about right (and claim if it takes longer, people lose interest).

        This appalled me because it usually takes longer for me to warm up and start to feel attraction (and on at least one, another commenter enthusiastically agreed with me).

        I guess like everything, everyone has their comfort zone that works for them.

        I’d generally like a pic before meeting just so I’m not approaching random strangers like a weirdo, “are you my date?” but apart from that, I’ll settle for a textual description anyway :)

  • Chris says:

    Dave Gorman did a very funny show based around someone who’d used his photo as a profile shot (and turned out to be a con artist)

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