Hello, old friends. I am back from dark months of data mining, here now to present my ores. To write this piece, we cataloged over 7,000 photographs on OkCupid.com, analyzing three primary things:
- Facial Attitude. Is the person smiling? Staring straight ahead? Doing that flirty lip-pursing thing?
- Photo Context. Is there alcohol? Is there a pet? Is the photo outdoors? Is it in a bedroom?
- Skin. How much skin is the person showing? How much face? How much breasts? How much ripped abs?
In looking closely at the astonishingly wide variety of ways our users have chosen to represent themselves, we discovered much of the collective wisdom about profile pictures was wrong. For interested readers, I explain our measurement process, and how we collected our data, at the end of the post. All my bar charts are zeroed on the average picture. Now to the data.
It’s better to smile
One of the first things we noticed when diving into our pool of photos is that men and women have very different approaches to the camera.
Women smile about 50% more than men do and make that flirty-face four times as often.
Now, you’re always told to look happy and make eye contact in social situations, but at least for your online dating photo, that’s just not optimal advice. For women, a smile isn’t strictly better: she actually gets the most messages by flirting directly into the camera, like the center and right-hand subjects above.
Notice that, however, that flirting away from the camera is the single worst attitude a woman can take. Certain social etiquettes apply even online: if you’re going to be making eyes at someone, it should be with the person looking at your picture.
Men’s photos are most effective when they look away from the camera and don’t smile:
Maybe women want a little mystery. What is he looking at? Slashdot? Or Engadget?
It’s interesting that while making flirty eye contact is relatively okay for men, flirting away from the camera is the worst thing they, too, can do.
The MySpace Angle Is Busted
The universally-maligned MySpace angle is achieved by holding your camera above your head and being just so darn coy.
We were sure these pictures were lame; in fact, the prospect of producing hard data on just how lame got us all excited. But we were so wrong.
In terms of getting new messages, the MySpace shot is the single most effective photo type for women. We at first thought this was just because, typically, you can kind of see down the girl’s shirt with the camera at that angle—indeed, that seems to be the point of shot in the first place—so we excluded all cleavage-showing shots from the pool and ran the numbers again. No change: it’s still the best shot; better, in fact, than straight-up boob pics (more on those later).
Guys should keep their shirts on
The male “Ab Shot” has the same reputation as the MySpace Shot—it’s an Internet cliché that supposedly everyone thinks is only for bozos. To wit: a journalist was visiting our office recently, and when we told her we were researching user photos, the first thing she said was “please tell me people hate it when guys show off their abs.” We hadn’t finished running the numbers yet, so we confidently reassured her that people did. The data contradicted us.
Of course, there is some self-selection here: the guys showing off their abs are the ones with abs worth showing, and naturally the best bodies get lots of messages. So we can’t recommend this photo tactic to every man. But, contrary to everything you read about profile pictures, if you’re a guy with a nice body, it’s actually better to take off your shirt than to leave it on. We would never suggest to a Fitzgerald or a Dave Eggers to limit his profile to 100 words, and so why should guys with great bodies keep their best asset under wraps?
Dating, both online and off is about playing to your strengths, and it should be no different for men with muscles, even if the classic pose is kinda hard to take:
After weeks of sorting through pictures, I started calling these guys headless horsemen.
An interesting caveat here is that a six-pack does seem to have a short shelf life: the effectiveness of the “abs pic” decreases sharply with age.
A 19 year-old showing his abs meets just under 1.4 women for every women he reaches out to, meaning that not only are females responding to his messages, but many are actually contacting him first. For a 31 year-old ab shower, that ratio has regressed to much closer to the average.
Because of our restricted data set for this post, we can only make confident claims for 19 to 31 year-olds right now, but it’s our strong suspicion that this downward trend continues with age. In the future perhaps we can investigate what’s behind the decline: is it because older guys and their older abs are inherently less attractive, or because women as they age find body shots less interesting?
One final point, vis à vis men, their torsos, and the clothing thereupon: if you’re not the type of guy who can show off your muscles, don’t veer off in the opposite direction and get all dressed up. Outfits more sophisticated than a simple collared shirt fare poorly: