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Is Your Profile Picture Too Attractive?


There are times when being beautiful can feel like a curse. Case in point: profile photos. If you’re an attractive woman being bombarded by hundreds of emails, how should you deal with it? Here’s help.

By Bob Strauss

n the world of online dating — as in life in general — there’s a case to be made against having too much success, too soon. Much like certain members of Generation X were spoiled rotten by the late-90s technology boom and its promise of becoming a millionaire overnight (remember your 24-year-old neighbor who was pulling in $100,000 a year to
“I started getting really petty about the reasons I wouldn’t respond…”
design virtual pet food?), a cute, bubbly, twentysomething female with a killer picture may be pleasantly flattered when she initially posts her online profile and receives a hundred emails the first day. The trouble is, $100K a year only counts as “success” when it isn’t succeeded by a solid decade of sub-$30K drudgery punctuated by endless layoffs, and a hundred emails a day only counts as “success” when the guys sending them have actually read the attractive girl’s profile and share some common interests — rather than responding, on a strictly hormonal level, to that risqué swimsuit photo she’s set as her default image.

Granted, few women who venture into online dating intentionally flaunt their resemblance to Megan Fox — and reputable dating sites discourage users from posting suggestive or inappropriate photos. Unfortunately, attractive women who are exceptionally photogenic will be caught unprepared by the torrent of interest in their profiles — and, flailing in a virtual whirlpool filled with crude instant messages, inappropriate subject lines and “winks,” will probably hide her profile… and possibly contemplate becoming a nun.

How should you proceed if this happens to you — or, even better, how do you keep this from happening in the first place? Here are some tips:

Don’t feel obliged to read every email.
When Katherine E. posted her profile, the flood of messages was “WAY too much to deal with, about 40 or so emails every day” — thanks mostly to “a picture of me in a bikini on a wakeboarding boat, which wasn’t even the main picture, just one of many I had on there.” From the start, she says, “it felt like a chore to just go through them, and I started getting really petty about the reasons I wouldn’t respond to guys.” What’s important to remember here is that you are looking for dates, not a job, and you aren’t contractually (or even ethically) obligated to read — much less respond to — every email. If you’re feeling stressed out by inbox overload, log off and take a break for a bit. If you’re still feeling stressed out later, consider hiding your profile and trying again when you’re feeling more up to the task.

Post an online warning.
If your spate of would-be suitors hasn’t abated after the first week or so, you might want to consider using a tried-and-true technique: amend your profile to
“In a way, I want to advertise that I’m good-looking…”
include a line about what you will, and won’t, consider appropriate in an introductory email. Boilerplate declarations like “I will not respond to winks,” “please say something about yourself in your subject line,” or “if you’re just writing to me because you like my photo, I’m not interested in meeting you” won’t deter every random guy out there, but it will at least make you feel better about not reading every email sent your way. And who knows, some guy out there may actually follow your instructions and write something worth your attention.

Be as merciless as you need to be.
In a natural disaster, doctors resort to “triage,” a process in which the incoming wounded are sorted into three groups: those who require immediate attention, those whose can afford to wait for a few hours, and those who are beyond saving. This same technique, sad to say, can be a lifesaver in your online dating adventures. Explains Katherine: “I became just as shallow as I imagined the writers of those emails were. I clicked to look at the picture and the age, and if those weren’t perfect, I wasn’t reading any further.” In a true triage situation, of course, you don’t even have to read the email itself; most guys will display their wit and integrity (or lack thereof) in the subject line. That said, the next point is an especially salient one.

Reward originality.
Back when I was online dating, I was well aware of the odds: attractive women received tons of mail, and if I didn’t make a good first impression — hopefully by making her laugh — I was taking the next exit to Trashcan City. “The more random a guy’s sense of humor was, the more likely I was to read his email,” Katherine admits. But the experience still left a bitter aftertaste: “Looking back on it, that might explain why I ended up meeting men with such huge egos. The normal ones blended in and got ignored, but the (expletives deleted) with egos that allowed them to have a bold sense of humor tended to be the ones I ended up meeting. Shame on me, I guess.”

Accept your fate.
If you sense that one picture (say, of you wearing a bikini) is causing all the ruckus, you might want to delete it — but if you’re just a naturally attractive woman, you may have to resign yourself to a less-than-fulfilling online dating experience, since posting no pictures at all can be a cure whose results are worse than the disease itself. “Using pictures on dating sites is a really hard thing,” Katherine says. “In a way, I want to advertise that I’m good-looking, and yet I really don’t want a match totally based on that.” Dr. Paige Padgett, who has conducted scientific studies of online dating, pretty much throws up her hands on this issue: “Everyone wants to look good and promote themselves in a positive light with their online profiles — I’ve never heard of a woman using a less attractive photo in order to meet a quality man!”


Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on About.com, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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