Picture Yourself in Love

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself,” fashion icon Coco Chanel famously observed. But you’ve probably heard similar advice from your career counselor, your personal shopper, and even your therapist. Embracing your uniqueness is the key to success and satisfaction in many realms.

Perhaps nowhere is this counsel more apt than in the world of online dating, where finding happiness is so dependent on acknowledging and communicating your true self. That’s why the best online dating applications ask you a multitude of questions when you sign up: to match you with someone who is simpatico with the real you. Somebody who shares, or at least can tolerate, your views on everything from pizza to politics.

But the algorithms dating apps use to suggest potential dates can only go so far in finding you a mate. The rest is up to you. Ultimately, it’s your dating profile that’s going to inspire someone to reach out to you or respond to your outreach. Your profile is where you can express your unique qualities, passions, and perspective and, yes, separate yourself from the crowd. Online dating is something of a competitive sport. To win, you need to play with heart.

Words are one way to make your dating profile compelling. If you’re quick with a phrase, you may have an advantage in the online dating world. But as a species, our attention spans are growing shorter. Some research now suggests that the average goldfish has a longer attention span the average human! That’s why a great image, which takes less time to mentally process than a carefully-worded sentence, can be more effective at grabbing the attention you want on dating apps and other social media.

Which brings us to the question, what makes a great image? A classically trained artist would point to composition (the arrangement of shapes, lines, textures and other elements within an image) as one important factor. Are the elements unified rather than scattered? Is the image symmetrical (which creates a sense of calm in the viewer) or unbalanced (which creates tension and lends energy to a composition)? And of course, the power of color to attract the eye, symbolize meaning, or create a mood is something we’ve all experienced. It comes down to this. A great image is one that communicates what you’re trying to say. With your dating profile pictures, you’re trying to say, “This is me!” So choose yours carefully to be sure you’re putting the right message out there and your best foot forward.

Online dating experts have all kinds of recommendations to guide you when it comes to choosing your profile pics. The simplest, common-sensical advice? Just smile! Look directly at the camera and don’t wear sunglasses. People want to see your eyes—that’s one way we build trust with others. Use photos that say something about your life interests, whether that’s your passion for running or your golden retriever. And keep the focus on yourself by avoiding group photos on your profile.

While sorting through profile after profile to find the perfect date can take hours and sometimes even be a drag, remember that dating is supposed to be fun. Images that surprise, whether through content or style, can be especially eye-catching and smile-raising. Making someone smile is a great first step towards getting to know each other. If you find humor energizing and inspiring in a partner, go ahead a post a funny photo of yourself and see who responds! But above all, find a way to put the honest and true you out there. That’s who deserves all the love.