Many moons ago, I signed up with an online dating website. They’re a great way to meet people with no surnames, but I’ve found them useful nevertheless. At the time, I’d only really started getting into photography as a serious interest, and the whole concept of a makeover shoot was something I didn’t really know much about. Man, was I in for an awakening.
Makeover photography is a large part of my business. I have no problem with people presenting themselves in portraits looking different from than they actually look in real life. Producing a good portrait for a client is about capturing their essence and personality, not necessarily showing them warts and all – though I don’t deny that there’s a market for that too. In my experience, most women prefer photos that show them looking great. It is, in my opinion, part of the whole masculine-feminine dynamic, but that’s a whole other debate. Leaving aside the fact that you want to make a sale, an image that shows them looking radiant and reflects their inner beauty is more likely to appeal to them than one which doesn’t.
Obviously the portrait needs to still be recognisably them, but often, the makeover portrait will present a woman in a way she will never physically look in real life. It’s a fantasy, but there’s nothing wrong with that. And in some ways, it’s actually reassuring – after all, if those models in magazines can look amazing, and she can too, then it says that actually, she’s just as attractive looking as those models.
However, online dating has nothing to do with the fantasy of how a woman would like to be seen. And in anticipation of anyone saying “but what about guys?” – yes, that’s true too, but men are generally less likely to wear expertly applied makeup and have themselves radically photoshopped. Okay, maybe the last bit might be the case, but certainly the first isn’t, at least not on the dating sites that I’ve been using.
In Online dating, the first thing everyone looks at is the profile photo. Women – and men – are selected or rejected primarily on this. This is very much tied in with how most men see women in the real world, less so how women see men. Generally, it’s accepted by (and indeed the expectation of) most most men that women will wear makeup which will present them (hopefully) at their best. We know that there’s so much that makeup will do to turn an average looking woman into an attractive looking woman, and it’s cool with us. It’s like that quote in Notting Hill, where Julia Roberts’ character says, ‘Rita Hayworth used to say, “They go to bed with Gilda; they wake up with me.”‘ We know that you’re going to turn up on the date wearing makeup, so we expect you to look pretty much the way you did in your profile photo, give or take the lighting. Just like you expect us guys to turn up with the same amount of head hair, etc.
Since people don’t have the Â luxury of photoshopping themselves in real life, and generally don’t have professionally applied makeup, the more it’s done in the profile photo, the more incongruent those photos are with reality, and the more the other person feels deceived. It can (and I speak from personal experience) totally ruin a first date.
So what’s the solution for online dating profile photos? Well, I’m not a big fan of blurry photos taken at parties, so reject those for starters. In fact, I’m not a big fan of photos at bars that show a woman with a glass in their hand, even if it she’s in focus. A glass of champagne can be a nice prop in a makeover photo, but, depending on what she’s written in her profile, it can suggest, perhaps unfairly, that she’s an alcoholic. I’d also like to point out that for guys, having a pint of lager in your profile photo is a definite no-no, regardless of what you write. I’m not saying don’t use photos taken when you’re out – in fact, I’d encourage it if they show you doing what you enjoy doing. Just make sure they accurately reflect what you look like, and show you at your best.
Here’s what I suggest for the ladies: put on your own makeup, as you would normally. Ask one of your girl friends (and perhaps a guy friend, one who doesn’t suck up to you) how your makeup looks. If you need help with makeup, seek it. There’s no shame in doing so. There’s plenty of information out there about how to apply makeup. Next, get some portraits done professionally (the look you are aiming for is realistic but flattering), either in a studio or using available light, such as near a north facing window with a net curtain over it. Â Obviously if you’re a photographer, self portraits are an option. For guys, much the same, except without the makeup.
There’s also the question of whether to use photos of yourself superimposed onto other backgrounds. I’m not sure Â it’s a great idea for online dating profiles unless either: a) you’re a photographer and you’re good at doing convincing composites (perhaps there is an element of showing off here, because I do this) or; b) the superimposing is done by someone who is good at doing composites, and is a photorealistic background that you might actually have been in, or a fun background (if it’s not the main profile photo). Don’t do those face in the hole ones. No one wants to see what your face looks like with Audrey Hepburn’s or Arnold Schwarzennegger’s body.
Here’s something else to think about. Photos are a slice in time, unlike real life. We all look different from different angles. So not every photo has to look identical, just make sure they look like you.
If you’re in doubt, the question to ask yourself is, “will I look like this on the first date?” Which also should answer the question of whether to keep your shirt on (I think this is generally more an issue for the guys though), and how recent your profile photos should be. If the answer is yes, go to it, and best of luck.
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