What Your Facebook Profile Photo Says About You
What starts out as a fun and relatable list soon turns into an exercise in self-loathing.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK
Don't know about you, but vast (if crumbling) pillars of my personality are built around Facebook, a social media platform that has dogged my life for near on ten years. Wow, I— I remember, how:
I remember the first day I signed up to Facebook. The sky was blue and blistered with sunlight. White clouds floated high above. I was at university, and full of hope and possibility. "I'm going to pay my debt off within my lifetime!" I used to say. "Heh: my Linguistics degree is going to keep my financially solvent for the rest of my adult life!" Our friend Jane who lived down the road and had WiFi (nobody in our house wanted to sort the WiFi out so we didn't have WiFi) helped us all sign up. "It's like a website," she said, "for all your party photos."
Instantly, we were in love with Facebook. The blue, the white, the connections. Every day a new 'friend' notification popped up, a new album of photos from the night before. "You have to set a profile picture," Jane explained. And then I did. I thought about it carefully, through each of the five photos available of me at the time. I stood. I sat. I squatted. I considered the options in front of me. And this. This was the best representation of who I am and what I stood for:
No: it's not your nan, fresh from her life-altering cataract surgery, finally able to see again through the gauzy haze that's ruined the last six months of Countdown: it's 20-year-old Joel Golby, the sunglasses-indoors-at-a-house-party cardigan-wearing prick. Let's look through some other highlights through the years, shall we?
Ah, yes, how fun. This photo says, 'I like to drink... and have fun with my friends!'
Wow, more... more precious and not at all embarrassing memories with my friends. God, remember when badges on T-shirts were a thing? No, you're right: they never were. But I always had to undo them before running my T-shirts through the wash in case they went rusty. Heady days. Heady, heady days.
Anyway, now I've self-bodied myself in revisiting ancient and embarrassing Facebook profile photos, time to go fully in on yours. Just a photo of you, isn't it? Just a brave little emblem that shows you at your best, shows the people what you're all about. Just a simple square representation of self. Not worth going in two-footed on, is it? Not worth it. Not worth it. But let's anyway.
BLURRY, 35MM PICTURE OF YOU WEARING AN $100 JACKET AND DRINKING A CAN OF RED STRIPE, OVER EXPOSED AGAINST THE BLUE-GREY OF THE NIGHT UNDER AN IRIDESCENT STREETLIGHT
You work at VICE as a social media editor.
ANYTHING WITH A TRAGEDY-RELATED FILTER OVER IT
I can 100% with certainty tell that if I text you with any bad news—I just lost my job, or something, my house burnt down, all 18 of my beloved cats died in an attack—that you will reply with at least two somber emojis and at least one instance of the word "hun."
PHOTO OF YOU W/ FACEPAINT ON TAKEN AT SOME FESTIVAL OR STREET PARADE TWO YEARS AGO
You just cannot get over that one time you had fun.
PHOTO OF YOU DRINKING A PINT, OR A COCKTAIL, OR A PINT AND A COCKTAIL
You are the person at work who says, "pub?" half-jokingly at five to five every single day. People are busy, they have plans. They obviously have plans. They have plans beyond spending the evening spending $20 getting half-pissed with someone they barely like from the office. You're shouting across the room, reaching out in turn, desperately, someone, please. "Dan: Pub? Jenny? Pub? Come on, Aoife: Pub?" You're looking around, a picture of faux exasperation. "I can't believe nobody wants to go to the pub!" It is finally Friday, it is the day after payday, everyone wants to go to the pub. You insist you all eschew the local pub a one-minute walk from work and instead suggest a place where the barman remembered your order that one time. When you finally get to the bar (40-minute wait) you order two cocktails but just miss out on the last seconds of Happy Hour so have to spend $25 on your card, and inside you are hollow and screaming, you know deep down that nobody likes you, and nobody can hear what you are saying over the hubbub of this awful, awful place, you can see people whispering to each other and slyly grabbing their bags and leaving, you are losing the room, you are losing them, nobody will ever listen to you again, can't they see your cries for pub attendance are actually a cry for help, that you are nigh-on alcohol dependent, that you are lonely, that please, anyone, please, hold me, talk to me, listen to me, and you lean over to your line manager, phone already unlocked and in camera mode, and say, "Mate, mate: get a picture of me?" And you pose alone, big goofy grin on your face, you cannot smile genuinely anymore for photos since that void opened up inside you, two Mud Slides slowly melting to your either side, and you know right there that that's the one: that that's it, your essence, your crux, your Facebook profile picture.
PICTURE OF YOU IN THE DISTANCE ON A BEACH, STANDING W/ YOUR BACK TO CAMERA AND ON A SINGLE LEG, OTHER ONE BENT AT A PERFECT ANGLE, YOU ARE BRONZED AND LOOK GLORIOUS, YOU ARE PEACE AND YOU ARE ZEN, YOU ARE IN COMPLETE CONTROL OF YOUR BODY, YOU ARE POWERFUL, YOU ARE GLORIOUS, YOU ARE YOU
You have a special app on your phone that tells you how many days it is until Christmas and you once started a healthy eating blog in which each of the three major posts (March '14, September 14', April '15, the blog is now marked as 'on hiatus') are 800 words about how wellness is important, how great you feel now you stopped eating bread, and then the same recipe for pesto.
YOU AT A WEDDING, POSING HALF-IRONICALLY FOR THE CAMERA
You are always the guest at weddings, aren't you, never quite part of the bridal party or usher alliance, just a guest, just you in your suit or your nice dress just making up the numbers, and I mean it's probably because you cycle through potential plus-ones at such a rate of knots that anyone planning their wedding—weddings, and you wouldn't know this because you are a mess, weddings take months of planning, even years—and because anyone planning their wedding doesn't quite know who to invite with you to theirs, so there's you, with the generic '+1' wording on your wedding invite, an extra in the crowd, eating your meal and listening to speeches by people you've never met or seen, secretly thinking, 'I could have been involved with this, surely?'; secretly thinking, 'I wonder if they'll all stand and ask me to make an impromptu speech?'; and obviously they don't so you just get fucking trashed and dance alone, and when the cameras come round to catch everyone joyously having the time of their life you break the fourth wall, stare straight into the camera, pop a rap squat, dab, whatever, and this is because you cannot face up to the harsh cold reality at the core of every wedding you have ever been to and that is this: you will never find love, true or otherwise, you are alone out here in the cold of the universe, you cannot take anything seriously even for a single second, you cannot be relied upon by even the best of your friends. But also: you look quite good when you actually try and dress in anything beyond jeans and T-shirt, a thing that happens exactly one time a year.
YOU TAKING A SELFIE WITH YOUR PET, WHO IS CLEARLY VERY RELUCTANT ABOUT THE WHOLE THING
The whole point of animals is to take your soft edges away, prove you can be responsible, that you can keep something that requires very little true upkeep alive, and that animal will reward you with blind, loyal, unconditional love, and you will use that love and take it into your body and crush it into something ugly, something dark, you will take that animal's love for you and turn it into a deep and debased thirst for Instagram likes. This is your life, now, as a pet owner: by making the aforementioned animal pose with your for selfies, you are saying: I alone am not worthy of a worthless Instagram like. You are saying: the only way I can indulge my deep and real love for selfie-taking is by subverting the idea of the selfie with the presence of my pet. You are saying: I am not remarkable enough to note with the taking of a single digital photograph, but this pure innocent dog or cat is. And the animal is the only thing patient enough to sit through a 20-minute selfie session with you. If anything, the pet selfie is the most indulgent of all the selfies. That's what you're saying with that.
JUST A PICTURE OF YOUR PET
You are 55, your children are grown, and it's just you, the cats, and that big empty house now. Your daughter set up a Facebook profile for you but you don't really know how to use it. You added all of her friends and comment on every single one of their statuses. But nobody ever likes your comments, do they? Nobody seems to notice you are there. You are a ghost gliding through the gaps in the machine. But the cat listens. Even though you've started to go a bit weird and post status updates as the cat—"I didn't want to go outside today because it was raining but Daddy made me because I scratched up the new sofas!"; "Proud to have bought in my third mouse of the summer—MEoW!"—even though you've gone a bit weird, alone here, even though the grey gloom seems to be setting in ever earlier and ever further these days, worse than ever now, even though: the cat still listens.
YOU POSING WITH A PLATE OF FOOD YOU DID NOT PERSONALLY MAKE
Oh HELL yes, we've got a Nice Thing Liker™ in the house right here! I bet you got a really tidy Pinterest-worthy bedroom and a most favorite and least favorite flavor of Diptyque candle! Bet your shampoo costs like $15 a bottle! You bought the shit out of that plate of restaurant ravioli! Reminder: just because you are spending a lot of money doing something, doesn't mean it isn't basic.
YOU, WEARING SUNGLASSES INDOORS, SWEATER KNOTTED OVER YOUR SHOULDERS, LEANING BACKWARDS INTO ONE OF YOUR MATES WHO IS DOING A SORT OF SID VICIOUS-STYLE PUNK POUT, WHO HAS THEIR ARM AROUND SOME OTHER GIRL WHO IS WEARING A WIG FOR SOME REASON, AND YOU ARE ALL REALLY SWEATY AND ON ECSTASY
You have anything between three and 15 old Dominos pizza boxes on the floor of your bedroom and you genuinely thinking moving house a lot is a viable method of shaking off the Student Loans Company.
A BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO OF YOU HOLDING A CAMERA
You took up photography two months ago and even though you're still not exactly 100% on what the concept of exposure is, you changed your Facebook name to 'Tom Sharp Photography' after that one conversation you had with a dude at a bowling alley about doing the pictures for his wedding next year.
A MEME OR A PICTURE OF A CARTOON CHARACTER THAT REALLY 'SUMS YOU UP'
You cannot deal with real life and you will never be able to deal with real life.
A PHOTO IN WHICH YOU ARE WEARING A HAT
A good rule of thumb, in life, I find, is to immediately unfriend anyone who is wearing a hat in their Facebook profile picture. It just saves a lot of trouble down the line.
A PHOTO OF YOU LOOKING HEALTHY AND HAPPY AFTER COMPLETING A MARATHON AND/OR OTHERWISE ENGAGING IN A SPORT, LIKE THERE IS A REAL THING AMONG LADS WHO AREN'T QUITE GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY LEAGUE FOOTBALL FOR HAVING A PHOTO OF THEM PLAYING SUNDAY LEAGUE AND DOING A GOOD TACKLE, AND LORD HELP YOU IF YOU'RE FACEBOOK FRIENDS WITH A CLIMBER
This says 'I do sports,' which also happens to be about the beginning and end of any conversation you ever have that isn't about where you work and how work is and how work is going and that promotion you got at work.
A PHOTO WHERE YOU ARE WEARING THE SNAPCHAT 'FLOWER HEADBAND' FILTER1
What you are trying to say is, 'I'm cool, I'm fun, I'm cute w/ a capital Q and a capital T, I am chill, my eyes glow like rare purple gems, I am ethereal and transcendent,' but what you are really saying is, 'I had to screenshot this, save it, crop it, send it from my phone to the Cloud, download it again, tweak the levels a bit in PhotoShop, upload it again, crop it down to a square, upload it somewhere on my Facebook timeline where a notification didn't blast it out to everyone I knew, then set it as my profile picture so it gets dragged through to Tinder because good Lord almighty I have to fuck or I will die.'
A PHOTO FROM A NIGHT OUT YOU TOOK BUT ALSO YOU CONSULTED WITH FACEBOOK IN THE LEAD UP TO THE NIGHT OUT—'WHAT OUTFIT SHOULD I WEAR, GUYS?' 'GIRLS WITH BIG BOOBS! LISTEN UP! NEED SOME HELP PICKING SHOES OUT!'—THEN YOU UPLOADED A SELFIE TO ANNOUNCE TO THE AWAITING FACEBOOK MASSES WHAT OUTFIT YOU HAD DECIDED ON, IN THE END (CAPTION: "SCRUB UP ALRIGHT X") AND THEN YOU WENT ON THE NIGHT AND UPLOADED LIKE EIGHT PHOTOS FROM THERE (CAPTION: "FRIENDS. FAMILY X" OR SOME IN-JOKE FROM THE NIGHT THAT ONLY ONE PERSON WOULD GET ("GORDON GET THE GIN IN!"))– AND THEN, EVENTUALLY, AFTER ALL THAT, ONE OF THE PHOTOS OF THE NIGHT BECOMES YOUR NEW PROFILE PICTURE, AS YOU SEND HUNGOVER STATUSES FROM THE McDONALDS YOU ARE EATING BREAKFAST IN, THERE THROUGH THE HAZE IS YOU, LOOKING GLEAMING AND YOUNG AND BRILLIANT, TANNED AND TAUT AND PERFECT, EVEN THOUGH WE KNOW IT IS ALL A LIE, A CHARADE, THE AMOUNT OF WORK TAKEN TO GET YOU TO LOOK LIKE THIS WAS UNVIABLE, AND ALSO: LIKE COME ON HAVE YOU ONLY EVER BEEN ON ONE NIGHT OUT OR SOMETHING? JFC SORT YOUR LIFE OUT, ALL YOU DID WAS GO TO BARRACUDA WITH THE GIRLS FROM THAT NURSING DEGREE YOU FLOPPED OUT OF
In the photo you are holding the straw from your vodka and red bull while leaning your head back and bending your leg, this I can guarantee.
PHOTO OF YOU WHERE THE LIGHTING IS EVER-SO-SLIGHTLY LESS THAT ORDINARY
W-woah! These toilets have a sort of green-blue light situation going on! Is it the two thin lines I just did or is this actually Extremely Cool! Wait here a second while I take 25 identical selfies, each of them blurrier than the last, hands shaking worse than dad's did after all those years of drilling, before accident helplines took all his savings and he ended up sleeping in the Citroen. No, I don't fucking care if the Uber's already outside! He's just going to have to fucking wait, isn't he!
YOU ARE WEARING SUNGLASSES AND A NICE COAT AND YOU ARE STOOD IN FRONT OF AN OUTSIDE WALL SCRATCHING THE BACK OF YOUR HEAD AND SMILING
Ahah, good sir! I spy you are a fellow 'don't like to make a fuss' gentleman! Yes, these ladies, with their selfies these days, with their eyebrows: very vain, aren't they? Very arrogant, the selfie culture. No, give me a good old candid photo of a man not making a fuss, standing in front of a brick wall, looking off to one side and scratching the back of his head, give me that any day over these infernal women, with their well-composed mirror photos! There is nobility is posing for a photo taken by someone else holding a camera! There is nothing but scum and hellfire for the harlots who take the photographs themselves!
YOU AT A FANCY DRESS PARTY
What this photo says is 'I spent two entire evenings, about $100 and subjected myself to a harrowing gluegun burn and nobody at the party I was at even knew who Waluigi is, so I'm setting this as my display photo until someone comments "WALUIGI! Haha, classic" with the cry-laugh emoji or I get sixteen likes, whichever is quickest to happen.'
A PHOTO FROM THE NEWS THAT IS 'ME AF' AND YOU CHANGE YOUR PHOTO EVERY TWO TO THREE DAYS BECAUSE IT PUSHES A NOTIFICATION TO EVERYONE ELSE'S FEEDS AND YOU REALLY DEEP DOWN NEED EVERYONE TO KNOW HOW ON IT YOU ARE
Nigel Farage in the British loafers? ME AF. Taylor Swift hopping on Tom Hiddleston's pallid, knobbly back? ME AF. Simone Zaza doing a mad little penalty kick run up? ME. ME. ME AF. I AM NOTHING BUT THE PROJECTION OF TINY FOLDS OF MYSELF ONTO THE CURRENT NEWS AGENDA. ALSO I REALLY PACKED IT ON A BIT LATELY AND I'M NOT WILLING TO SET MY FACEBOOK PROFILE PICTURE TO AN ACTUAL PHOTO OF ME UNTIL I'VE SHIFTED SOMEWHERE BETWEEN TWO AND SIX STONE.
YOU ARE BEING HUGGED BY YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER BUT YOU DON'T LOOK QUITE AS INTO IT AS THEY ARE
'This is what couples do,' your significant other is saying. 'It's been eight months. I just want people to know about me. I don't want that bitch from work asking you to lunch again.' You're half watching the TV behind them. Love Island. Malin's going back in. Going to be a stormer of an episode. Terry: mate. You look up. 'Mm?' Your S.O. sighs. 'Listen, I don't want to do one of those corny 'relationship status' things, but a nice photo of us isn't that much to ask, is it?' No, no. Of course not. You'll change it. 'Now?' You'll change it now. What photo do you want me to use? 'The one of us on Bonfire Night. We look cute.' Yeah, you say. Sure. You change your profile picture. Couple of likes. Nothing major. It's a nice photo. The two of you, smiling at the camera, beaming even. Leaning into one another. But winch in closer, closer still, right in on your face, up a bit, to the eyes: bit of a grey, dead sheen behind them, isn't there? Are you... are you even happy anymore? You've been thinking about it, lately, over that lunch, about how maybe moving in is a bad idea, how—No it's... it's fine. There's... no, it's fine. Don't worry about it. Ignore it. Everything's fine. You're fine.
Follow Joel on Twitter
1. Notice how the dog filter hasn't quite migrated over to Facebook yet, it is solely the domain of Twitter. If someone is really desperate for a sociology dissertation topic, there's one in there. Why is it dogs for Twitter, but flower headbands for Facebook? Seriously. I want to know. Give me 14,000 words on this, please. ↩