My friend Marc — a single dad my age — and I like to share dating war stories.
Recently, he giddily kept me posted on the pre-first-date chemistry he shared with a woman he met online.
“Extremely promising,” he texted me. “We talk every night on the phone and it is frightening how much we have in common. I hope I don't screw it up.”
Fast forward a few days: “She was much larger in person than her online pics lead on. Not gonna happen.”
Because he's a nice guy, Marc's telling of the scenario was polite. I've heard the same story — usually not as kindly — from lots and lots of guys.
What your online dating pics say about you
Pics posted online depicting a woman who is much smaller than the one who walks — shockingly, 30 lbs heavier — into a bar.
She's a great girl, really nice, but, uh … well … yeah. Not so much.
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On the one hand, what are you thinking? Of course people lie in their online dating profiles every day of the week: Men say they're younger and richer.
Omissions of children and spouses — not to mention STDs and bad breath.
But suggesting you are much smaller than you actually are is the dumbest lie in the world — the jig is up the second you walk into the Starbucks.
I know exactly what you tell yourself:
a) “Those pictures really are me, so it's not a lie.”
b) “Dating profiles are advertising, and advertising always shines the most flattering light on a product.”
c) “He just gets to know me and then he'll fall for the real me — which has nothing to do with how I look.”
a), b) and c) … all lies you're telling yourself, sweetie.
A pic from 5 years ago is a lie, no matter what.
Yes, you should depict yourself in the best possible light, but the SEC has laws against misleading advertising for a reason.
Re: c), He'll learn to love the real me. My soul.
Real life: your looks have everything to do with how a guy feels about you.
I don't make these rules. Men are far more visually driven than women for all kinds of anthropological, biological and cultural reasons.
Just accept that. Yes, there are times when men fall in love with a woman who is completely not his physical type because her beautiful soul shined so brightly that it blinded him to her overt physical shortcomings.
But that is not likely to happen when his first impression is that you are a liar who wasted his perfectly good happy hour with your manipulation.
All this is reason enough to keep things real.
But wait! There's even more!
Post honest dating pics for feminism.
Yeah, men can be pigs. Check out this online message a 35-year-old software developer (with cute pics) sent me:
Your profile is awesome, but I don't think I'm at a point in my life where I can get involved with someone who has kids. I hesitated to write this, since I could have just said nothing, but decided to write you as encouragement. You're foxy, and your profile is foxy, too.
He then offered to give me a guy's POV on my profile, to which I gladly accepted.
You look slim and in good shape, but aren't showing your body at all. Crass, I know, but even dudes who are down with kids want to know you've still got it, so show it off.
‘Nuff said. [I then added a couple full-body shots to my profile, and thanked him for the tip. Radio silence. Maybe he found me too big to bother to reply?]
Now, I get that you're not feeling good in your body.
You're lonely and you know very well that few men like very heavy women.
I sympathize with women who find it hard to meet men — even online — for this reason.
If you live in a big market like I do — New York City — there are so many people, and so many classically beautiful people.
How can you connect with a guy in person when they won't even click on your profile pic?
Misleading a guy into dating you isn't the solution.
In fact, posting misleading pics only perpetuates the societal message that only thin chicks are datable.
While there are so many unrealistic expectations of women to maintain a certain body type, lying about your real body type only sets the movement backward.
Post honest pics to be honest with yourself.
The second you start lying, you shame yourself and block your ability to find love.
When you post selfies from eight, pre-baby years ago, your opening line is: “I am ashamed of who I am. I am unlovable.” When you market yourself with shame, you deny your ability to be vulnerable — and connect with a man in a real and intimate way.
The more you are true to yourself, the more likely you will find someone who loves you just the way you are.
Very cliche, and also very true: There is someone out there for everyone.
I'm not immune from this pickle.
Before any particularly promising first date with someone I meet online there is always at least a glimmer of: “I hope he's not disappointed when he meets me in real life.”
When I first started dating in earnest five years ago, I was headed out on one such date with a hot movie executive who spent his vacations traveling around the world surfing with his kids — and also seemed super-cool and smart.
Pre-date flirting was high, and before I headed out, I fussed in front of the mirror. “I think he's out of my league,” I fretted to the babysitter, a friend.
Early in the evening, as I rose from the table to head for the bathroom, I was sure he disappointingly checked out my thighs, squeezed into a pair of black jeans.
Was this all in my head? Maybe. Maybe not.
But had I posted a swimsuit pic of myself when I was 27 and in top shape, well, then I could know for certain that he was checking out my sqeezy thighs, scratching his head and wondering: What was she thinking? Because that would have been the normal thing to do.
How to chose the best online dating photos
Online dating site Zoosk conducted some research about what kind of pics attract the most attention from men.
- Full body shots. Include at least one.
- No car shots. Skip the pic taken inside your Honda.
- No hats. Both men and women were less likely to be attracted to others wearing headwear. Same with shades: no sunglasses.
- Sports, apparently. Zoosk: “People wearing a jersey, t-shirt of their favorite team, or sports outfit in their photos get 32% more incoming messages and 17% more responses.”
- Vacation shots are good. Softball for a conversation starter, plus you look fun and probably relaxed.
- No group shots (for real: I can't tell who is the main attraction, and sometimes the other guys are cuter).
- Get a closeup: In a recent survey, 53% of men said that the first thing they notice about a woman’s profile picture is her eyes. Then, 32% of men said they notice a woman’s body, 12% said her hair, and 3% said they notice a woman’s lips.
- At least 4 pics. More photos = more responses and longer conversations, per Zoosk.
- Get the gear: Step up your photo game with good lighting (like this ring light I actually swear by) and this clip-on lens to give your iPhone camera that professional edge.
Thinking of getting back into dating again, but not sure where to start?
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Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.