This Is What Your Dating App Photos Really Convey

A picture isn't really worth a thousand words — and neither is an emoji — but it can say a lot about you. This is especially true on a dating app, where users have anywhere from a fraction of a second to a minute to swipe right for a potential match or left, based on a picture (and sometimes bio) alone.

"Virtual self-representation is in many ways so much more complicated and layered than when we're looking at someone face-to-face," says Anna Akbari, Ph.D., the founder of Sociology of Style and author of the recent book Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way To Happiness. "It's all about how things are framed. What's in the photo and what isn't? Is someone using a filter? How is the photo lit? Are they looking at or away from the camera? Are they alone?"

The list of factors is endless. And while you're probably hoping to show something specific about yourself in a profile photo or convey a certain mood, your interpretation — or that of your friends — isn't always accurate.

We asked nine women to submit a photo from their profile and tell us what they think it says about them. Then, we sent the photos (without the commentary or any information about the individuals) to Akbari, who weighed in with her take. Ahead, compare and contrast the different perceptions. Of course, at the end of the swiping, what really matters is whether or not you like the photo. But you're far more likely to prefer one that sends the message you want to be sending.
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She thinks it shows: "Zero interest in going to Burning Man."

Akbari says: "Looking away from the camera, as well as the overall body language, communicates a coy demeanor. [She's] flirtatious and playfully sexy."
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She thinks it shows: "I just wanted to keep it fun and light. This is from a music festival I went to a few yrs ago so I guess I just want to show that I'm open to fun experiences."

Akbari: "I love this one. Joy is the word that comes to mind. It's a
real-time moment where her lust for life is genuinely captured. It's contagious."
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She thinks it shows: "I'm fun?"

Akbari says: "There is also a joyful quality here. Seeing someone submerged in confetti induces a celebratory feel in the viewer — and we instantly want to participate."
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She thinks it shows: "I like hot sauce and good lighting."

Akbari says: "It's all about the eyes in this one. We can't even see her mouth, but the eyes pull us in. There's a curiosity and openness. The composition of the photograph also communicates an artistic sensibility."
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She thinks it shows: "A, I have tattoos (which often means I get stereotyped immediately) and B, I have a sense of humor."

Akbari says: "This photo is all edge and quirk. It's signaling to the viewer that they should expect the unexpected. You probably won't be bored."
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She thinks it shows: "I use this photo because I think it represents my personality well: no fuss. I'm not wearing makeup and it's quite candid."

Akbari says: "[She's] active, natural, not perfectly coiffed or posed all the time — which translates into spontaneity, a sense of adventure, and possibly an untamable spirit."
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She thinks it shows: "Like a rose, I don't have just one layer of petals..."

Akbari says: "[She's] posed, subdued, and possibly shy. There's clear attention to detail — from hair to jewelry to makeup, which can communicate reliability. There is a kindness in her expression."
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She thinks it shows: ""I really enjoy laughing — this is what that looks like, head, back and all — and value fitness."

Akbari says: "It's hard to tell if this is posed or candid. [As humans] we respond differently to each. We're more drawn in by the spontaneous, hence our aversion for mirror selfies. Regardless, the expression and the outfit register as off-beat and fun-loving — another one where you're very unlikely to get bored."
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She thinks it shows: "I love to travel and spend time outdoors."

Akbari says: "This is an interesting take on a bathing suit photo because it creates more of an artistic mood than an opportunity to show off the body. The hat and the pose communicate a level of confidence and an aesthetic vision."
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Looking for more insights about dating apps? Check out this video for our best profile hacks.
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