The Art of the Profile Picture

Consider the profile picture. Its ubiquitous. I bet all of your friends have a profile picture, whether it’s a picture of them smiling, an awkward selfie, or a Pokemon character. In Facebook’s words, “Your profile picture is the picture that friends see next to your name everywhere on Facebook. This is how people recognize you.”

But as you all know, the profile picture is hardly a standard head shot used for recognition alone. It comes in many variations. Let’s go over a few novelty ones:

The Selfie: This is a photo in which it is evident that the subject of the photo is standing next to a mirror and holding a camera up to take a picture of themselves. They are typically alone, as the name suggests, and thus there is a certain implication that comes along with this type of profile picture. As Urban Dictionary puts it, “You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them.” Although this description is extreme, there is a definite implication that when a person spends their time in front of a mirror taking pictures alone, perhaps their social life is less than fulfilling.

The Couple Shot: It is a standard move for a couple to formalize their relationship via cyberspace with a photo of the two of them looking adorable and/or couply. Typical variations include holding hands, arms around each other, and the classic prom shot. Although there are exceptions, when someone has a picture with them alone touching a member of the opposite sex, its generally a declaration that the two are dating. Standard protocol is for many friends to like the picture and make various comments about how cute the photo is. When i investigated this phenomenon on Urban Dictionary, I discovered a term I had never encountered: “Cupload – An uploaded picture of a couple on Facebook.”

The Pokemon Character: There is reportedly an event along the lines of “Change Your Profile Picture to Your Favorite Pokemon!” that resurfaces from time to time and explains the fact that some of your friends may have spent some time with Pikachu as their primary photo. Still. There is often an unfavorable perception associated with this move. When one of my friend’s received her future college roommate’s name this summer, we immediately logged on Facebook to investigate. When we saw that her profile picture consisted of a cartoon character, a consensus was swiftly reached: “Okay, so she’s weird,” one of my friend’s succinctly declared.

As the variations of profile pictures demonstrate, Facebook, like any other institution, has a set of certain standards and norms governing its use. The way members use Facebook affects the way that they are received by the community at large.



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