Last week, I wrote about issues sex workers face using dating apps in our personal dating lives. In the process, I realized that it has been a year or two since I’ve actually been on a dating app myself, so I re-activated my Feeld, OkCupid, and Tinder accounts. Spending a week swiping on selfies led me to reflect on the unique art of selfie taking. Indeed, it reminded me that most people are remarkably bad at taking selfies, so I’ve decided to offer some unsolicited advice.
This advice is directly primarily cis-het men, who seem to need it the most. This isn’t as judgmental as it sounds; men simply aren’t taught to see themselves as objects for other people in the way that women are. While women learn very young that our bodies and our appearance is being constantly judged, and therefore learn to shape ourselves to expectations of beauty, men simply are not. What this means when it comes to selfie taking is that men, generally speaking, are just less attuned to what aesthetic representations of their own body would look like.
I have become relatively good at taking seflies; I’m married to a photographer, and part of my job as an online content creator and sex worker is to take appealing pictures on the regular. But, this is a skill that I had to learn; I didn’t just wake up knowing how. Attention to a few small details makes a huge difference and creates much more appealing pictures. It’s worth the effort, more appealing pics are important in our media saturated online dating landscape. Here goes.
Make the picture about you
Most people swipe through pictures on dating apps very quickly. You don’t have long to make an impression, and therefore you have to make sure that the picture says something about who you are.
For this reason, your dating profile should not include your buddies. Avoid pictures with groups of friends, it’s confusing. I know you’re trying to show that you have friends, but we will all just assume you have a life.
I would say the same about pets and kids. While pets and kids often play a large role in our life, if they overwhelm the picture it will be counterproductive. Instead, take pictures of yourself in environments that say something about you.
Don’t take your pictures at an up angle
Unless you are a professional dominant who is trying to assert dominance with your images, or posing very creatively, don’t shoot at an up angle. An up angle will give you a double chin, regardless of whether you usually have one or not, and it will distort the proportions of your face. This means you should never be looking down at your camera when you’re taking your picture, and it also means that you should not be able to see your ceiling or your ceiling fan/light in the final product. Look at your pic after you’ve taken it. If you can see the fan and/or you have a double chin, throw it away.
Though windows are pretty, if the outside light is brighter than the light inside (which is almost always during the day), you should not be taking a selfie with the window behind you. It makes your face really dark and undefined. What viewers notice in a picture that is backlit is the light coming in from the window, not you. What will help you take good selfies, however, is standing in front of a window and facing it, with the camera between you and the window. Natural lighting, especially through a window, will lead to better selfies.
Use good lighting
Using good lighting doesn’t mean that you need to buy expensive, professional-grade equipment. There are small tricks to brighten up your pictures and ensure that they don’t come out grainy. Well-lit pictures will set you apart from the sea of poorly lit ones. If you take a lot of selfies, it isn’t a bad idea to drop $35 on a tripod ring light with a phone holder. You can pop your camera in the holder, turn the ring light on, and then you have even lighting. If you have your phone in a stand like that, you can also set the timer on your phone to take the pictures seconds after hitting the bottom. This way you can pose and be hands free. A cheaper and more portable option is to get a smaller chip-on selfie ring light that you can just attach to the top of your phone. This is particularly useful for selfies when you are out and about in dark places (concerts, restaurants, bars, etc.). This is wishful thinking, someday we will all be able to go out again!
Clean up the clutter
I can’t emphasize this enough: clean up the junk in the background. It’s distracting and makes you look like you don’t care. As someone who is relatively messy herself, I’m not suggesting that you clean the house form top to bottom to snap one pic; that’s unrealistic. But the beauty of a picture you take yourself is that you can tightly crop the pic and control the space. Clean one corner of your room and take the pic there.
When I’m working, doing cam shows or creating content, I make sure that the space that is in the frame looks great. The rest of the house just outside the frame could be falling apart around me but that doesn’t matter, I’m creating a fantasy. You are doing much the same when you snap a selfie. While you want it to reflect you, you want to make sure it’s you at your best. You wouldn’t roll out of bed and take a selfie with bedhead (or at least you shouldn’t). Similarly, you could tidy up the space that is visible in the picture.
Mirror selfies aren’t bad in principle. I just have a few pieces of advice if you go this route. First, clean the mirror because a dirty mirror in a selfie can be really distracting. Second, don’t look at your own face in the mirror when you’re taking the pic; look up at the camera lens in the mirror. This isn’t intuitive, we are used to looking at our faces in mirrors, so it is something you are going to have to consciously do. Selfies are better when the viewer feels like they are making eye contact with the subject. There are obviously expectations to the rule, there are well-framed and artistic selfies where the subject is looking off at a distance. But for the most part, it is better if you’re looking at the lens. This holds true when you’re using your front facing camera too. Try to look at the lens at not directly at your face.
While mirror selfies can work, gym mirror selfies are overdone. If you have a body that makes it look like you spend a lot of time at the gym, that will be obvious. You don’t need to show it by flexing at the gym. In fact, they are so overdone that what they tell someone swiping is that you don’t want to stand out from every other guy on the app. I would argue the same about the car selfie.
You can download selfie apps on your phone through which to take selfies. These apps do a really good job of applying algorithms to fix many of the problems I have already mentioned. They will brighten dark pics, do preliminary color corrections, smooth blemishes, an apply filters. I suggest Snow for taking pictures. For touching up pictures that have already been taken, I suggest FaceTune.
Good luck and happy snapping!
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).