What Does Your Facebook Profile Pic Say About You?

10 Mar

What’s your Facebook profile pic right now? Why did you pick it? Today, I muse about what those choices say about us… if anything at all.

I just recently read a Slate.com article titled “Get Your Kid Off Your Facebook Page: Why do women hide behind their children?” The article was written well over a year ago (so I’m a little behind the curve) but I thought it bore some exploration.

My first reaction (to the title of the article even) was one of those, OMG! I know!, sort of moments but after thinking about it a little further. I found myself finding more and more reasons to fault the argument she’s making.

Author, Katie Roiphe, has loaded this argument from the beginning of the article:

If Betty Friedan were to review the Facebook habits of the over-30 set, she would turn over in her grave. By this I mean specifically the trend of women using photographs of their children instead of themselves as the main picture on their Facebook profiles. You click on a friend’s name and what comes into focus is not a photograph of her face, but a sleeping blond four-year-old, or a sun-hatted baby running on the beach. Here, harmlessly embedded in one of our favorite methods of procrastination, is a potent symbol for the new century. Where have all of these women gone? What, some future historian may very well ask, do all of these babies on our Facebook pages say about the construction of women’s identity at this particular moment in time?

What struck me about this was how narrow this reading feels. Sure, women are on Facebook. Sure, gender roles are bound to play out differently on Facebook than they have in other communities. But that doesn’t limit who is using Facebook to construct their identities and I think the comparison is far more interesting. Would Friedan be rolling in her grave? Or would she be pulling up her own profile to see what she could do with it?

Let’s look at a few sample pictures!

The first person I thought of out of my friends on Facebook who has a baby pic on their profile is my friend’s Randi and Josh.

Here’s Randi’s picture (at the time I asked to use it*):

Yes, Randi is a self-constructed identity as mother kind of girl. Well, what about the father? That was my next step, and here is his pic:

What? A baby? The same baby? Except this time she’s all adorable face-palming?

The point I’m making here is that both people are choosing to identify themselves on their profile in this way for a reason. They’re first time parents. They had an exceptionally stressful first few months, as documented on Randi’s blog, and I’m having a hard time understanding why there’s anything wrong with them celebrating their lives as parents by posting some pic on their profile.

No, I don’t think women (or men for that matter) should only identify themselves through their children. However, both men AND women absolutely have the right to identify that as an aspect of who they are and I don’t think it’s fair to judge anyone on just ONE Facebook profile picture because: guess what, you can always change your picture.

*p.s. here is our self-identified mom’s new profile pic:

So, I really started paying attention to what we can read into these pictures and how. And here are some rules I came up with to think of before you start rolling your eyes at another Facebook Profile that seems to harm someone’s self-made on-line persona rather than help.

Some rules to keeping it positive in your profile pics 🙂

  1. Don’t overthink your profile pic! My example of this is my friend Vanni, here’s her picture:Is she an amateur hockey enthusiast who just saw a Kalamazoo game? Does she worry about being Asian and proliferating the stereotypical use of peace-signage? Is she hipster…. is this all somehow ironic? We may never know! And it doesn’t matter!
  2. Be aware of your adspace! My example is… MY profile picture:Aw… isn’t self-promotion cute? The more we hear about Facebook and social networking sites, the more we realize that they are places to actively promote what you’re interested in. I’m my-own-blog-obsessed, but profile pics have been used to promote political campaigns (remember when everyone seemed to be Facebooking for Obama but Shephard Fairey-izing themselves?) and more.
  3. Make sure your picture is (about) YOU! My examples are pictures from two more friends, Katie and Laura: The first is a pretty classic Facebook picture. But I have to say, it’s still one of the most reasonable. If you’re a social person (which my friend Katie is) it makes sense to “identify” yourself with friends.

    The second, is the epitome of making sure a picture is all about you. This lady loves colors, and tie dye, and math. Now, some people might regret this picture in 50 years but I guarantee you that this lady will not. And isn’t that was Facebook is about? Not regretting what you do?

That’s it for now! This may be a bit jokey but I think it’s serious too. Be aware of how you’re choosing to identify yourself, or live with the consequences 🙂

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7 Responses to “What Does Your Facebook Profile Pic Say About You?”

  1. Alicia March 10, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Interesting topic!

    I can recognize that some women with low self-esteem (and this category may or may not include me, depending on the moment) who don’t like to showcase pictures of themselves would much prefer to showcase their beautiful bundle of joy rather than use a photo of themselves, especially when they think they never take a good picture, etc. It IS an easy way to avoid putting yourself on display, and in turn, puts your oh-so-gorgeous toddler on display. PLUS, as mothers (generalizing here), we take many more pictures of our kids than we do of ourselves, so we are more likely to have a recent pic of our kid than of ourselves.

    I agree it doesn’t mean the demise of society. I also think it has something more to do with (again, generalizing) the low self-esteem of women, which is much more important in the grand scheme of things than a Facebook photo trend.

    On a similar note, as women become mothers, perhaps our self-esteem becomes somewhat rooted in our children. Perhaps this is, unfortunately, why Little Tiny Miss Pumpkin Princess pageants exist, why T-ball games aren’t scored and why little sailor boy outfits exist. We want our children to be adorable and happy and “WINNING!” so that we (and the general public) don’t focus on the fact that we’ve never lost the baby weight, that we haven’t had a haircut in a year or that the newest item of clothing in our closet is from that wedding we went to three years ago. Or maybe I’m projecting now. HAHA!

    • redshana March 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

      I think that the author of the article is responding to this is some ways. The idea that we find out security in our children and that this is a gendered expectation, for us to find fulfillment from our children.

      My problem is that while I agree this should not be the ONLY way we allow women to identify themselves, we shouldn’t take it away from them either. For that matter, we shouldn’t take it away from men. Because while I do disagree with parenthood taking over identities, you can’t argue that it is a part of our identities if we choose to become a parent.

      • Alicia March 10, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

        Precisely. And how is this different from the half-dozen friends I have whose profile pics are of their dogs, or the theater buff I know whose profile pic is the poster of his upcoming show? Bottom line, the profile pic is simply what you want people to see. It doesn’t mean the theater-guy IS the play, any more than my other friends ARE their dogs or I AM my son. It’s snapshot into our lives, not necessarily always a snapshot of us.

        • redshana March 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

          Exactly! I feel like she discusses this topic in a much more one-dimensional way than I am comfortable with.

  2. Laura Poff March 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    Yes, I agree with all of the above! I only read the part of the article you posted, but I have read similar things before. I love Alicia’s wording in that it is a snapshot of our lives.

    I’d also like to hear you discuss sometime the idea/criticism of people who seem to have hundreds of pictures of only themselves (self-portrait or otherwise; and often have cut other people out of their profile pictures) and whether that means they are only self-interested, selfish, etc. Also a discussion on duck lips should be included.

    And is there a reason I should regret that photo in 50 years?? It’s fantastic!

    • redshana March 10, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

      Poff, I think you will have enough whimsy in your heart in 50 years where others may lose it… that’s the only thing I meant.

      And I’ll have to think about responding to what else you said. There’s definitely a lot to be said there… I’m just not sure what yet 🙂

  3. Randi March 10, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

    You know, people want to make a beast out of allowing your child to become your identity, but THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG with giving up a part of yourself for your children. In fact, I’d wager many of us witty women thrived off of our parents’ self-sacrifice. People might accuse me of having low self-confidence (which is ridiculous, because I’m a narcissist, and on an unrelated note, I’m awesome), but I’m proud to say that my identity has fused with such a wonderful little girl.

    I did laugh at the suggestion that kid profile pics hide the fact that a mom hasn’t lost the baby weight, because that’s kind of true. There won’t be any more duck-faced half-naked profile pics of me until I lose these last 25 pounds of a very, very awesome pregnancy binge (which won’t be any time soon).

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