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
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):
You’re on an online dating/hookup site, and someone who is TOTALLY AWESOME says they don’t send photos. Do you:
— Girl on the Net (@girlonthenet) December 8, 2015
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:
- I hate having my photo taken
- 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.