Photo: Courtesy of the subjects
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How I Picked My Pic

Eight app users explain, psychoanalyze, and defend ten years of profile images.

Photo: Courtesy of the subjects

Uddhav Mehra

27, New York | Executive headhunter

2012 In high school, I was in a band that toured other schools in India. I was 18 in this picture, and I was trying to attract just, like, anything and everything that moved.

2013 That summer, I had gone to my barber in Delhi and said, “Do you know what an emo haircut is?” Indian rock and roll was having a big wave, so I got a lot of rocker-type girls responding to this.

2014 — Here I’m getting out of my punk-rocker phase and getting into L.A. style. I have a shark-tooth necklace on. This picture was quite successful. I was a freshman at UCLA, and I matched with this really cool piano player.

2015 — I think 2015 was the year weed was legalized in California, and I was going for the 420-friendly look. I was smoking every day; my eyes are red, and this is after I put drops in them.

2016 — I like a candid photo; when I try to pose for the camera, I look frightened. I was in L.A., and this photo did me well. It attracted a crazy Persian girl on Tinder. I should have stopped at the first date, but we ended up dating for six months.

2017 — This is me graduating. I chose it because I was like, “I’m mature now.” I captioned it with a quote from The Jungle Book: “You say you want to go to the man village, I say you can be a man right now.”

2018–2019 — I was dating someone. We were making moves to seal the deal but then it didn’t work out because of logistics.

2020 — I think I look relaxed, adventurous. I don’t post pictures to attract a specific type. My approach is more like, “Let’s see who comes into the fishnet and then we can start talking to the fish.”

2021 — This was me announcing, “New York City, here I am.” I’m at my lifetime-best fitness; I have a really successful job. I got chic, if you will.

2022 — A friend introduced me to Feeld, a sexually explorative app. Here, I’m trying to be a little risqué. I look good: I had lost 25 pounds; my collarbones are on point. But I wouldn’t put this on Tinder or Hinge.

Milena Battaglia

27, Brooklyn | Artist’s assistant and potter

2012 — I was 17, and I felt not confident in my body for a lot of reasons — one of which was my sexuality being a big question mark. I had very few photos of myself that I liked. This was one of them.

2013 — This was another photo where I thought I looked good, and there was a quirkiness that felt right.

2014 — This is a screengrab from a music video that my neighbor made. I remember thinking it looked so joyful and candid, something that isn’t the case for my other pictures.

2015 — I wasn’t into makeup, but I let my friend do mine. That photo was definitely the beginning of my sexuality journey and playing with different types of femininity to see how they fit.

2016 — I was like, “I’m out to my friends and my parents. I might as well start dating.” I hadn’t dated anyone, let alone a woman. For my first date, I really hyped myself up: “What if we fall in love?” As soon as she showed up, I was like, “Oh, it’s not right.”

2017 — I was feeling more open to having my photo taken, and I just looked so happy. But what I didn’t know then was that I was pretty deep in an eating disorder — and about to have a come-to-Jesus with my relationship with food.

2018 — I had been throwing Pride parties for a couple years. Since then I’ve calmed down on the rainbow explosion, but at that point, it was important to me to feel comfortable with the loud expression of queerness.

Photo: Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

2019 — In older photos I was trying to hide my body, and this is the first photo where I’m like, “It’s the summer, I’m hot. Those are the only two metrics that matter.”

2020 — This was the first photo I ever put on my profile where I was like, “I’m sexy.” With all the others, it was, “I’m cute.” This one says, “No, I’m hot.”

Photo: Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.

2021 — I was focusing on my style in a way that I never had, buying clothes that were quality. This is a photo where I really felt like a woman.

2022 — I want to display that I’m an adult and I’m looking for someone who’s also an adult. I’m not going out to parties or clubs. I’m saying: “This is what your date to a wedding could look like.”

Liz Ilechko

32, Washington, D.C. | Events manager

2012 — I was trying to prove that I had a friend. It’s proof that you aren’t a loner or a serial killer or something.

2013 — I’m very into giraffes — I have a giraffe tattoo on my hand — and other people also love them and get excited when they see my tattoo. I thought, “This picture is a way to connect with the giraffe-loving community.”

2014 — I had just gotten my septum pierced, and this was my attempt at showing it off: “Look at me. I’m cool, I’m edgy, I’m an enigma.”

2015 — This was my outfit for my 25th birthday. I have body dysmorphia, and this was one of the few full-body shots I was willing to post. I thought, “I actually look good. My legs look good.”

2016 — I like a guy who is professional in professional settings but can also be a grungy homebody — that’s how I’d describe myself. So I wanted to say, “I’m a little nerdy, a little edgy. I have tattoos. I’m multifaceted.”

2017 — There was a long stretch where I hopped off apps. Trump had just gotten elected, all these horrible Republicans were moving to D.C., and I was like, “You can’t tell them apart. All D.C. bros look the same. Help!”

2018 — This was an Instagram filter. It’s partially bunny but also giving a mixture of Elaine Welteroth and BTK with the glasses. I was like, “I am part fashionista, part serial killer.”

2019 — When I saw this selfie, I thought, “My décolletage looks nice, and the way the light is glistening off my cheekbones. This is going to be a hit.”

2020 — I’d woken up with great bed hair. I think I sent this to a guy I had been talking to, just like, “Good morning.” I had made it to 30 and felt confident, so I went for it—tits out, whoops-a-daisy.

2021 — This is my main picture on my account now; it’s more or less what I look like on a day-to-day basis. What you can’t see, because I covered it on purpose, is that I’m wearing a necklace with a tiny little devil.

2022 — My dad’s girlfriend’s niece had just braided my hair, and I wanted to show some versatility—my selfies all kind of look the same. This pic led to a match with a bartender. His last message to me was “Let’s fuck.” I am … not planning to respond.

Chad Gevaldo

34, Brooklyn | Reality-TV producer

2012 — I always felt weird taking a moody photo like this — it’s not me. But I thought this one was also funny: My friend’s Furby is in it, and I thought, “Maybe someone will respond to that.” No one noticed it.

2013 — I was working at a restaurant. The person who took the picture was like, “You look hot.” I was very uncomfortable portraying myself as sexy, but I posted this because it’s still silly.

2014 — My friend posted this on Instagram, and so many people said, “You should put this on your dating app. It represents who you are.” I think it’s sweet and easygoing, a photo that you would send to your mom.

2015 — Twice I went on dates where the person was like, “Wow, I thought you’d be a lot shorter.” So I was trying to post photos that showed I wasn’t. Because I’m six feet tall.

2016 — I was dating someone, and he liked this photo. When we broke up, I thought, “If he thinks I look good, other guys will.” Since I was a teenager, I wore these big vintage glasses; I felt naked without them.

2017 — This photo shows something the other photos don’t. It’s a close-up, you can see my face, I’m not wearing glasses. It’s cute and quirky but sensual.

2018 — I had gained a little weight, so this was a full-body photo that was representative of what I looked like at the time but was also flattering.

2019 — I was dating someone throughout 2019 and part of 2020. We met offline.

2020 —Until that breakup, I was not the most confident. But during the pandemic, I started exercising and was out in the sun a lot. I was feeling myself, accepting compliments more.

2021 — I think this is my first shirtless photo. I’m not showing off my body that much — I’m curled over — but it showed I was comfortable with how my body looked.

2022 — My friends and I went on a road trip to California, and I went on a Tinder date. That’s how I met my current boyfriend.

Tom Fisher

28, Brooklyn | Customer-success manager

2012 — We were flying home from a spring-break trip to Cancún, and my friend thought I looked like an absolute mess. I didn’t really know what I was doing on the apps, and this showed I wasn’t taking it too seriously.

2013 — I met someone freshman year of college and ended up dating them.

2014 — I thought, “Oh, this is a great picture because I’m in London, and they say mind the gap, and I’m outside of a Gap store. This will make me seem like I’m funny and well traveled.” Obviously, nobody got it.

2015 — I read somewhere that you’ll never look as good as you do in a suit. But I also didn’t want to look too business-y. It’s boring when people talk about work on the apps.

2016 — This was taken after I was woken up by my friends icing me. It says, “He seems like someone who can have a good time when otherwise it’s not the best time, like getting iced at nine in the morning.”

2017 — We had a photo shoot on my friend’s boat: We had a light reflector, a DSLR, a drone. I was looking to attract an adventurous girl — someone who likes being outdoors, a “crunchy” girl.

2018 — My friends and I took this on Lake Como, and we were trying really hard to have Lake Como vibes. Lake Como always has a lot of rich and famous people, so we were shooting for that with the linen, the heavy sunglasses.

2019 — I just wanted a nice picture of my face, and at this point, I didn’t feel I had to be silly to do that.

2020 — I unironically love the Fast & Furious series. I’ve had people respond, “Do you like Fast & Furious?” And I’d be like, “Yeah.” Then I’d say something silly, like a quote from Vin Diesel.

2021 — During the pandemic, there weren’t a lot of photo opportunities. I also wasn’t willing to risk getting COVID for a first date.

2022 — I usually add a meme because it adds some humor. I started watching Gossip Girl with a friend, and on Hinge, the meme gets a lot of likes. People like Gossip Girl.


27, New York | Ph.D. student, server, and hair braider

2012 —I was 17 and had made that flower crown for prom. I was primarily using OkCupid, and this picture is me trying to be artsy and vulnerable. I didn’t have the greatest self-esteem and wore that on my sleeve.

2013 — In high school, I was an emo kid, but this is when I started experimenting with this feminine, sexy look.

2014 — I got my first job in the city, selling ice-cream sandwiches, and was starting to feel more confident, like, “I know what I’m doing. I’m paying rent now.”

2015 — I was in a relationship but never deleted OkCupid. I’d changed my major to international studies and was thinking about how to present a professional image. This photo says: young intern.

2016 — After I broke up with that partner, I got on Tinder. I was becoming more politically aware, and with this photo, I thought, “They’ll know I’m interested in socialism and capitalism.”

2017 — This head-wrap photo was a turning point. I was figuring out how to be punky but Black. This was also when I started to explore nonmonogamy and was getting curious about dating women.

2018 — Something I was navigating was always being the “palatable Black girl.” Braids are generally more digestible and desirable. That year, I’d committed to not wearing braids anymore and was rocking the ’fro.

2019 — By now, I was also on Hinge. I’d had a more serious relationship with a woman. I had my first job out of college and was trying to communicate “fun, cute, but grown.”

2020 — For Halloween, I dressed up as a snow bunny. The blonde wig was another way to figure out how I can be sexy but also be me.

2021 — I was going back and forth between braids and my Afro, and having this head-wrap photo was important. Different hairstyles attract different people, and I wanted people to know that my hair wasn’t one way all the time.

2022 — During the pandemic, I started doing my own hair, then I started doing my friends’ hair, and now I braid hair on the side. It’s a hobby that allows me to spend quality time with other Black people. It’s a sacred-space thing.

Gabe Vargas

27, Los Angeles | Digital campaign manager

2012 — I was 17 or 18, and I thought a picture of me in glasses would be a way to look mature on the apps.

2013 — I wanted to present as a confident college student who’s on their own. I’d been out for a couple of years and hadn’t seriously dated anybody, and I was trying to date without feeling like a child.

2014 — I had dated somebody for a couple of months, and I was going back into the dating pool. I have a new haircut; my pose is carefree: “I’m happy-go-lucky, and I’m open to new experiences.”

2015 — From 2014 to 2016, I was a full-time student and working two part-time jobs. I was on the apps, but it wasn’t a priority, so I wasn’t updating my pictures.

2016 — My phone case has a sticker of a sculpture that I think is a Degas. I was hanging out with artsy people, so I’m probably trying to attract that crowd. I wanted to look expressive and artistic but mysterious.

2017 — From 2016 to 2018, I was trying to figure out what I was doing after college, so I wasn’t paying attention to the apps.

2018 — I had just landed my first big-boy job. I was overthinking everything, but I wanted to come across as a cool, nonchalant person who has it together, like, “I know how to put together a cute outfit. I know my angles.”

2019 — I was actively pursuing musicians and artists and free spirits. I was trying to be like, “I belong in this world. Look at my Siouxsie and the Banshees shirt. I’m fucking cool and punk rock.”

2020 — I was exploring how I feel with gender and clothes. This kid is confident and doesn’t give a fuck about  your traditional sense of how you should present.

2021 — I’d just been through a breakup and was kind of sad. The mask was sort of like a shield — like, “I’m here but not fully here.” And we didn’t have the vaccine, so I was also trying to say, “Give a shit about your community.”

2022 — This is the first picture in a while where I’m actually smiling and showing personality. It says, “I’m fun, free-spirited. Let’s hop in the car and drive out to the desert.”

Allie Malinovskis

35, New York | UX program manager

2012 — I didn’t really use the apps much in 2012. I remember having conversations with friends who were dabbling with Tinder and being like, That sounds scary.

2013 — That’s my friend on the left, and I’d get messages like, “Hey, can I have her number?” I probably got that message twice and then cropped her out.

2014 — I was 25, 26, so I wanted to show “I’m a good time, I go out, I have friends.”

2015 — The older I got, the more I wanted there to be a picture that just gives a good, honest depiction of my face.

2016 — I’m an only child, and it would come up quickly that I’m close to my family. Also, this was maybe more subconscious, but I wanted to show that my mom looks good and how I might age.

2017 — I got my dog in 2016. She’s my BFF. So I use this photo to say, “I’m not a crazy dog mom, but this is important to me and I’m probably going to talk about her.”

2018 — I’m drinking wine on the Seine, and I feel like this is the image of who I want to be: someone who drinks wine in France.

2019 — I don’t post a lot of pictures in bikinis, but when I wasn’t getting a lot of traction on the apps, I’d add this back in. I’d get maybe more matches on Bumble, but it never really led to more meaningful conversations.

2020 — Everything shut down. I deleted the apps because I didn’t want to date on FaceTime.

2021 — I think girls have anxiety that guys are going to say, “You don’t look like your pictures.” My profile in early 2021 was all 2019 pictures, so I wanted something from the previous six months. This is from New Year’s in Mexico.

2022 — It was my birthday at this wedding, and the whole party sang to me. My friend took this photo, and I liked that I’m genuinely laughing, that it’s an actual expression of mine.

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