Wednesday 21 February 2018

High-profile pictures - what your social media post says about you

Following the unveiling of the First Lady's official portrait, Phoebe Luckhurst decodes what the face you put on social media reveals about you

Perfectly coiffed: Melania Trump has updated her profile picture to that of her official portrait
Perfectly coiffed: Melania Trump has updated her profile picture to that of her official portrait
Rainbow pride: Mark Zuckerberg updated his Facebook profile picture to show his support

Social media is codified. Every picture you share, or link you post, helps construct an image of the person you want people to think you are. Especially your profile picture, which you select because it best distils this idealised version of yourself. The visual is political.

So it is disappointing, then, that the most politicised profile picture - the Twitter egg - is so straightforward. The egg needs no decoding: it is a simple symbol that is now associated, irrevocably, with vituperative, hyper-masculine trolls. Although that does not diminish its power: earlier this month, Twitter announced that it would be changing the default picture from an egg to a shadowy head and shoulders.

Cracking the egg, a playful reference to the company's bird logo which has been in use since 2010, is part of Twitter's plan to tackle harrassment problems, as a generic silhouette is believed to be more likely to encourage users to upload their own images.

"People have come to associate the circle head with masculinity, and because of this association we felt that it was important to explore alternate headshapes," read a lengthy blog post from the site. The egg is dead then, though the new image will likely be co-opted too.

The US First Lady Melania Trump's new picture is a more interesting exercise in critical analysis. She recently changed hers to her official portrait, which was released last week.

Melania is resplendent, standing in front of the same White House window as Nancy Reagan in her official portrait: it can be seen as a riposte to the allegation that she is an absent First Lady.

She wears black - like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton (though she also wears Dolce & Gabbana, which is inconsistent with the administration's 'America first' philosophy).

The symbolic switch is semaphore for solidarity with her husband, and suggests that she will take a political role.

In other words, if you think your profile picture is straightforward, you are wrong. This is what yours says about you.

Growing pains

Several years ago, after a run of tagged photos that confronted you with the realities of the ageing process, you devised a solution and changed your picture to an image of yourself as a child.

Suspended in youth, you are cherubic; the image is you but not you, and therefore is closed, conveniently, from scorn. No one can say rude things about a picture of a toddler smashing their face into their birthday cake. Yeah, you look a bit fat - but three-year-olds are supposed to look a bit fat.

Incidentally, reversion means protection from the slings and arrows of reality. If you are honest, your image crisis coincided with a cosmic crisis about your life and career. Looking into the eyes of that happy, unaware three-year-old, you feel hollow.

Mouth off

You're waggling that tongue so hard it looks like you might dislodge it from your mouth. You are smeared in glitter, eyes dancing. You are at a festival, maybe, or in a club. You are the life and soul!

You keep it secret that this was the only time you went out last year.

Meme artist

You are fickle: you regularly change your profile picture to whatever meme is currently rampant in the funniest corners of the web.

You want everyone to know you are an insider, that you are plugged into the zeitgeist, that you have almost 1,000 followers on Twitter and once did a tweet that got 46 likes.

For the first hour after you change it, you check Facebook every six minutes to see how many likes you get.

It peaks at 14 and, when you get home, you snap at your girlfriend, seemingly unprovoked. She hasn't liked it yet.

Work it

A couple of years into your corporate graduate job you decide that actually you want to work for a start-up. You're just really passionate about the start-up economy.

You apply for a role in marketing at the Uber of supermarkets/the Airbnb of car insurance/Tinder for French bulldogs and while you're waiting for the sweet equity deals to roll in, you get a few professional portraits taken for your LinkedIn profile, knowing that at some point this image will be used on a Forbes 30 Under 30 page. You also change your profile on Twitter and Facebook, and get rid of your wall. In four months you will be unemployed.

Cause célèbre

Yours is a picture of you rendered in a temporary, solidarity filter. In the wake of a terrorist attack, Facebook kindly offers you the one-click option to pay tribute in the most ostentatious way possible: by plastering a flag across your avatar.

At first, you proudly display your #solidarity, but as the months pass, you become scared to change it in case someone asks you why you've "stopped caring about Paris just because it's no longer 'fashionable'?"

Beach bum out

You are leaping into the sky in a bikini in a shot that is supposed to be carefree but would force any inquisitive art historian to ask how many minutes and assistants were required to frame the angles, sunset and your thigh gap.

Caffeine nation

You cradle a flat white and stare into the middle-distance, your head small inside a fluffy parka. The mysteries of your mind are buried deep beneath the microfoam. You definitely use the word "Insty".

Irish Independent

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