In Dating, it’s Not the Size of the Fish That Counts

10 Ways for Men to Improve Their Profile Pics and Optimize First Impressions

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Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

I’m just dipping my toes into dating apps, and quite frankly, they scare the hell out of me. I’m newly separated after 25 years of marriage (although we were together 33 years total), so I don’t know how to date. I mean, I really don’t know how to date. So it may seem odd for me to give anyone advice.

I do, however, know marketing and communications and social media. And after spending just a short time on these dating apps, and seeing an excessive amount of blurry middle-aged men holding fish, I can tell that there is a lot of room for improvement.

Dear Men — you need to learn how to take better profile pics — not just better quality, but photos that go deeper than typical male posturing.

Your photos are not presenting you in the best light, and it’s ruining your first impressions. Yes, it’s shallow to judge someone by a picture, but this is our modern dating world. Two strangers look at each other across a crowded room — or in this case — on a tiny screen, and there’s either a spark or there’s not.

Before you get bent out of shape, please know I am offering this advice with the best intentions. I want you to succeed in presenting yourself in the best light. But you don’t seem to know what women want. I’m starting to think that when they took the girls out of class in 5th Grade to watch the menstruation film, they handed the boys a guide that said: In the future when you post on a dating app, you must announce your favorite movie is the Godfather. And you must pose with a fish, so she knows you will provide for her in the Zombie Apocalypse.

I also suspect that many of you feel insecure about these dating apps. There are so many rules dictating what ‘real men’ do and don’t do. Men must be successful. Men must be strong. Men must be active. Athletic. Virile. Must have hair on top of head, but nowhere else on the body. Must love dogs and children and their mothers!

I’m assuming you choose specific photos — like holding a fish — because you feel confident doing the thing you love. Perhaps you hope this will translate into an appealing, eye-catching photo.

The problem is — these photos have become cliche. The fish photo is so ubiquitous on dating sites (especially if you are over 50, own a boat, or live in Florida), it’s as if you guys are all the same. Instead of standing out, you blend into the background. The fish phenomena has been written about here and here and here.

I can’t speak for all women, but I don’t think the fish pic has the universal appeal men believe it does. Women want to see your uniqueness, not a man who appears to be following some unwritten man-code. Also, while you may imagine spending your retirement out at sea, most women have plans beyond that — on land.

I’m not trying to be rude or dismissive. I want you to understand women better. We are looking for a good photo because that’s all we have to go on with these dating apps. You want to make an excellent first impression, and you have only a few seconds to make it online.

And by the way, making a memorable first impression is hard for women too, maybe harder. Because we know a lot of men are judging us solely on our physicality or comparing us to air-brushed, surgically-enhanced girls in magazines and porn. We’ve had the male gaze focused on us since puberty, and over time we’ve learned to accept this.

We also understand men aren’t used to the female gaze in quite the same way and haven’t learned to compete for attention solely on looks. In-person, you can lead with your personalities, accomplishments, and vitality. Online, you are just another pretty face in the crowd.

Remember, none of this is a judgment of your level of attractiveness — externally or internally. Looks are subjective, and lucky for you, women don’t judge men purely on their physical attributes. But, when you post a poor quality or generic image, we can’t help but make an instinctual assessment. We think — is this the best they have to offer? And if so, what’s their worst?

Now some of you are probably thinking, “what’s this b-word’s problem? She’s no catch.” Right, I am no catch (at least not like the fish you’re holding). But taking a lousy profile pic IS your problem if you want women to respond positively to you. Let your uniqueness shine through.

Don’t be another dude with a fish.

Now fish aside, let’s get to the basics. The problem is that most of you are posting terrible quality photos. And you need to step up your game.

What makes your profile photos weak?

  1. Blurry, grainy, and out of focus. This is inexcusable. It’s not difficult to get a clean, crisp digital photo on your phone. If your photo is blurry, it is pretty much an immediate pass.
  2. Awkward angles. Never take a photo from below your chin, which isn’t a good look for any of us — but especially us middle-aged folks. Also, a lot of you like taking photos in the driver’s seat of your car, with your phone mounted on the dash. What’s that about?
  3. Do you understand how lighting works? If so, why are you in total shadow? Or worse — why are you lit from above, so you look like Bela Lugosi in Dracula? Don’t stand in front of a window or we won’t see you. Use natural light if possible, because it’s flattering and pleasing.
  4. Why so serious? You’re not smiling, and that’s okay, but you also look kind of angry. Or maybe scared. Or tense. Relax. Loosen up. Make friends with the camera.
  5. Where are your eyes? Why are you looking down or away from the camera? Please, look at us. And while you’re at it — take off the sunglasses. The eyes are the windows to the soul. Let’s see them peepers.
  6. You look tired or hungover and didn’t bother to comb your hair or shave. And you’re wearing a ratty T-shirt or a football jersey or a golf shirt. Women like to see you dressed up nice, just like you want to see them dressed up nice. We don’t need to see you in a tux. And we also don’t need to see you partially undressed. A casual pair of jeans and a button-downed shirt will do.
  7. TOO CLOSE!! Good lord, pull back the camera. Mount it on a selfie stick or ask someone else to take it, preferably someone who takes good photos. Ask a teenager, or better yet a fourth-grader. And while we’re talking about selfies — why are you taking a selfie with both hands? Sure it makes your shoulders look huge, but it makes your head look tiny. Did you know you can set a timer on your phone so you can take the photo better with one hand or no hands?
  8. The hide my flaws photo. If you only post one pic and it’s a close-up, we will wonder about your body. That doesn’t mean we want to see your flexed abs. It just means we wonder what you’re hiding. Same with wearing hats in every photo. If you’re bald or balding, lean into it. Better to show your true self than surprise us on the first date.
  9. What’s your body language communicating? Are you slouching? Are you pumped up and showing off your muscles? Are you half in and half out of the photo frame? Do you appear energized? Or bored? Are you having fun? It’s best to act natural. Be yourself. Don’t try too hard. But try a little.
  10. Lastly — and most importantly — let’s talk about the actual content of your photo. You might not know this, but women are perplexed why so many of you post photos holding fish. You also post a lot of photos with your boats, your skis, your football stadium seats, your mountain bikes, your trucks, your golf carts, your Harleys, your love of craft beers, and barhopping with your bros.

That’s all good. Truly. We know you like doing dude stuff, and we love dudes who do dude stuff.

Remember, this is a dating app. We’re looking to do couples’ stuff with you. A dating profile is an advertisement for you as one part of a couple. Why are you advertising stuff you mostly do with other dudes?

But speaking as a heterosexual, cisgender woman, I think that stuff impresses guys more than it does dames. ONE sports or action photo suffices on your profile. We want to know a guy is healthy and active, but also multi-faceted and not just into showing off his toys.

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Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Remember, this is a dating app. We’re looking to do couples’ stuff with you. A dating profile is an advertisement for you as one part of a couple. Why are you advertising stuff you mostly do with other dudes?

When you boast about spending all your time and energy on your masculine hobbies, you’re telling us there’s no room in your life for our interests. Kudos for trying to show us up front who you are and how you spend the bulk of your free time. But then, don’t turn around and tell us you want an emotional, intellectual, and intimate connection with a strong, smart, loyal, carefree, independent woman who likes to snuggle on the couch, go for long walks, and have in-depth conversations.

Sometimes it seems like instead of a heterosexual life partner, you are looking for a playdate or a woman who will be more malleable than your last woman — i.e., a woman who will fully support your 300 hobbies without any of her own.

I call this woman a unicorn because I’m not sure she exists.

And I’m not putting this all on men. I know plenty of women seeking their unicorns. When they describe their perfect man, I tell them they’ve just described a woman. If we accept that Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, we can start to appreciate our feminine and masculine energies and see how they complement each other nicely. Opposite energies attract. Our differences should excite us.

If being precisely the same fueled sexual chemistry, and if all you needed was a full-time playmate, you would be happy to spend your life with your best dude friend who wants to golf 24/7, and I’d be setting up Magnolia House with my BFF. I’m on a heterosexual dating site because I like guys, and you like ladies. Let’s accept that and stop pursuing the elusive unicorn.

Ultimately, we’re all trying our best to get out there and meet great people. But putting your best self out there sometimes requires a little thought and effort. I know dating is hard. We’re all tired of playing games. But I’m asking you to do the opposite of playing games. Show up as your true self. Don’t follow some archaic man-code. Look inward, and see what we see when we look past the activities and accolades you believe define you as a man.

And don’t tell me you don’t have time to schedule a casual photoshoot or take the effort to create better photos for your profile. If you can fish or golf all day, every weekend, you can find three hours in your busy schedule to shower, shave, comb your hair, put on a cute outfit, and practice your photography and modeling skills.

Underneath the male posturing and the blurry photos, you possess terrific characteristics and qualities. Those are the things we want you to emphasize. We want to get to know the real you.

But first, we have to see you — in focus and without the fish.

I write, create, instruct. My curiosity is expansive — health, happiness, relationships, spirituality, TV/film, psychedelics, feminism, neuroscience, life.

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