I got into an debate with my friend the other day about a topic that I never thought I’d have to discuss — photoshopping your online dating profile picture. She’s a recent adopter of OKCupid, and is what I would consider a power user, actively pursuing suitors, sending messages and going on countless dates, that swing wildly between enthralling and depressing.
“You know,” she told me one day over Gchat, “I Photoshop my profile picture.” She seemed unfazed by this admission, and took my shock and awe in stride.
“Isn’t that … dishonest? Isn’t that defeating the point?!” I asked.
“Eh … not really,” she wrote back. “Isn’t everybody lying, anyway?”
An online profile is nothing more than a carefully constructed web of half-truths, our flaws carefully hidden. We mention certain things in our profiles partly because they’re true, and partly because we use them as shiny objects intended to attract the kind of person we want. The TV shows you dutifully type as your faves, or your confidently glib response to “Who you’re looking to meet” requires a kernel of truth to maintain sincerity, but is generally wrapped in a projection of the person you want to be, and the kind of people you want to attract. The inherent dishonesty in putting forth what you think is the “best version” of you — which is present in all dating, from meeting some rando at a bar to exchanging countless messages with someone before meeting them in person — usually dissipates with the first in-person interaction. The lies your present with a Photoshopped profile photo will too, but the feeling of betrayal might cut even deeper.
Think about the tiny ping of disappointment that hits when you meet someone you’ve only conversed with online, and realize that they are shorter than they said in their profile, or when it’s clear that the picture they used is from high school. I’m not saying that looks are all that matter — clearly, they’re not, and any lingering disappointment about someone’s physical appearance can clear up instantly upon discovering shared interests. But still, the initial deception is there, like a shadow over the entire date.
To be fair, the amount of Photoshop work that my does to her pictures is nothing serious. When I looked at her main photo, something did seem a little off, the colors heightened and tweaked, a weird blurring around the edges — but nothing major. Nothing noticeable, really, until I asked precisely what kind of work she was doing.
“I play with color filters and border effects, the kind of stuff that Instagram does, because I don’t have Instagram. I also make myself look better in various ways like adding more shadow around the face, trimming arm fat, adding space between the thighs or blurring chins together,” she told me. For her, it’s a smart way to play the game.
“I am very happy with the way I look, but I spent six and a half years with the wrong man. I am 31, new to dating, and want exposure to the highest caliber guy possible. The photos simply open more doors”, she said. “Plus, no one looks like their best OKCupid photos, because there’s always a level of deception. I assume everyone is playing to win.”
If you view online dating as a game to be won, then using Photoshop on your pictures to enhance what is already lovely and wonderful about yourself is another tool in your arsenal, something else you can deploy that will put you a step above the competition. I’m not entirely sure that this line of thought is correct, though I am not arguing for aggressive earnestness when it comes to online dating. A healthy dose of side-eye while perusing the annals of OKCupid or Tinder is necessary. It keeps you on your toes, and lets you realize that at the end of the day, none of this really matters. Maybe for some people, it’s best to look at this endeavor as one big game, each man you bag another trophy to add to your wall at home, another story to tell friends over beers and sandy strawberries at the beach. Sometimes dating isn’t necessarily about finding someone for the long term, but instead about finding someone for the here and now. That’s not a bad thing.
I finally asked my friend how she’d react if she thought someone she was on a date with had Photoshopped their picture. “Well, it’s not sexy, but the date chemistry is the only thing that matters. You can’t photoshop a personality, confidence, or real life beauty,” she said. The point remains — no matter how many Instagram filters that picture is run through, no matter how many times you make a pass over your face with the smudging tool near that one big zit that won’t go away, the real life human being you’re sitting across the table from on your first date is still an unknown quantity, full of potential to be either good, bad, or absolutely wonderful. All you have to do is take the chance and look beyond what touchups Photoshop may have done.