Online dating platforms and apps are all around us with photos being the main focus. People base opinions on what they see first and this also shapes their reaction to others. In a world that is integrating more online sites everyday it is now more evident that a picture does say a thousand words. With this being both positive and negative for its users. Some users are spending lots of time and effort into perfecting their ideal self online so they can impress and attract others.
In a society that now places more value on a person’s physical appearance rather than their character, it is clear that users are finding it more important to put their best face forward when presenting themselves online. Dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble and Grinder all start with users adding photos of themselves for potential partners to base their decision on if they should “swipe” yes or not. Web 2.0 has been revolutionary in this shift to more image based communication and plays a large role with the everyday user being able to share information constantly and easily. Users of online dating sites believe that in order to get matches they have to look perfect and show no flaws. This means more pressure and unrealistic standards being subconsciously placed on users. People have forgotten that their flaws make them different from others, so why are more online users wanting to change and present themselves to look more like others? Online dating platforms have contributed to user’s perception of themselves and society, encouraging users to depict and enhance their physical appearance online.
First impressions play a big role in the online dating sphere, if someone doesn’t like the photos you have posted they are not going to proceed with getting to know the individual. This is why the first photo that is displayed is one of the most important aspects of a profile. This will often determine whether someone will even consider looking further into the profile. This tends to be the same across most online dating platforms. “Online dating offers access to a multitude of potential partners, the possibility to communicate and to exchange technologically enhanced messages, and a helping tool, the matching algorithm, producers seeking to promote an image of individuals” (Stoicescu, 2009, p.g 22). The notion of having to have the perfect first photo which inevitably correlates to other user’s first impressions. With these sites often the first impression reflects if the user will succeed with any matches or attracting people. Which is why “self-presentation choices in online dating profiles are strategic” (Toma and Handcock, 2010, p. 347). It is hard for users to not get caught up in this idea of having to create a perfect profile in order to have as many matches as possible, which may increase their chances of finding ‘love’ or a partner. This concept of basing a decision on what someone sees first increases the likelihood of users caring about what they look like, which leads to this need for impression management. This is when users present themselves in a way that is not always true, it is presenting a persona to the outside world. Although sometimes this can be a way of self-expression, usually people take it to the next level and spend too much time caring about what others think of their appearance. “Self-presentation is the packaging and editing of the self during social interactions to create a desired impression in the audience” (Toma and Handcock, 2010, p. 336). Dating profiles are heavily curated to edit and change the user’s appearance to seem more inviting to others. While a culture of self-conscious and cautious people is now being nurtured.
We as online users are driven by looks and looking good to impress others, even if it means altering our appearances. This idea of wanting to look good all the time stems from real life experiences, when going to an interview people are going to dress up and present themselves in a way they may not usually. So why is it such a big thing when it is done online? “Dating applications might have influenced the dating culture in an unfavourable way, facilitating short, numerous and simultaneous relationships due to the access to hundreds of possible partners given by the dating applications and websites” (Stoicescu, 2009, p.g 22). This urge and need for people to change their appearance online adds increased pressure for more users to follow and change what they look like online. Having this control of how others see oneself now has increased importance as a few photos is all someone bases their first impression on. “Image construction involves figuring out one’s desired impression, or how one wishes to come across, and then implementing it” (Toma and Handcock, 2010, p. 345). Social media sites and online dating platforms are contributing to user’s perception of themselves and the society around them. Ultimately creating groups and categorising people. With online dating the most common categories people are placed into are either the yes I want to get to know this person or no. Which is why many users believe it is imperative to get their physical appearance perfect and only show their best side, even if it is slightly altered from the truth.
Visual affordances of online dating apps and the ease of photo editing on smartphones or tablets now allows users to build their desired identity. When it comes to photo editing the impossible has recently and very fast become the norm, with many celebrities now taking part of this fake representation. “These affordances alter the nature of deception primarily by enabling less attractive daters to be deceptive about their physical appearance in ways that would not have been possible in face-to-face meetings” (Toma and Handcock, 2010, p. 346). This is creating a culture of people who have different personas online compared to their real life. Online profiles are often how people want to be seen as it is possible to change aspects of themselves that one may not like. Although this deceptive behaviour is wrong and people are falsely attracting others. It now increases and creates “many options for constructing more attractive personae, including selecting flattering photographs, retouching their photographs, and simply stating verbally that they are more attractive than they really are” (Toma and Handcock, 2010, p. 346). Social networks in the form of online dating platforms contribute to the user’s perception of themselves and others.
Image based communication aids this need for people to only show the best parts of them online. Dating apps push people into creating and presenting this perfect image and identity of themselves. This helps in attracting the right type of person or someone who is looking for specific traits. “Together, these affordances of the online medium allow online daters to engage in selective self-presentation, a highly deliberate and strategic type of self-presentation” (Toma and Handcock, 2010, p. 346). Our online self has to show the best version possible and affordances have made this readily available to everyone. The presence of multiple online dating platforms which is evidently growing has generated more connection between people. As more people are participating and using these platforms, more people are now feeling that they have to change what they look like and how they come across to the outside world. “Online dating allows individuals to take their time at presenting themselves” (Whitty and Buchanan, 2009, p. 67). The concept of dressing and presenting images online that reflect our ideal selves has rooted from real life. Which in a world of billions of people is it wrong to want to stand out, to look and feel ones best? But starting this trend for young people in a society where they just want to be accepted can have negative impacts also.
Communities work because people share information to help create trust and markers they can be identified by. Although if people do not have the same looks as others they can be made to feel like they are not good enough. Leading to feelings of selflessness and not fitting in. When users believe they do not fit the same criteria as other people it can be detrimental to shaping their own identity. This can effect current and their future selves, possibly finding it hard to create relationships. “The more a person becomes dependent on the media to fulfill these needs, the more important the media is for that particular individual” (Joo and Teng, 2017, p. 41). This urge that people feel that they have to represent themselves differently increases the likelihood of people catfishing others. Catfishing is luring someone into a false relationship from a false persona. This is done online by using other people’s photos, with the user pretending that is themselves. This sinister act is deceitful and wrong in stealing someone else’s identity. This need to be accepted makes it more common for catfishing to occur as users think they the only way to succeed is being someone else. “Online dating sites these days do not provide complete anonymity – as daters typically do and expect others to present to provide a photograph” (Whitty and Buchanan, 2009, p. 67). Therefore, it is easier for users to get away with catfishing and pretending to be someone else behind a screen. On the opposite side, users may find it harder to determine if someone else is catfishing and they are being lied to. With communication and contact being online the users do not always see each other face-to-face. But how does one know that they aren’t being a victim of catfishing? They do not, until they meet in person which can be unsafe at time. We have to trust the face behind the screen is who they say, which for a lot of people is easy as they have built a relationship with this particular person.
Being part of a community is important to most people, whether it online or in person they both have positive effects. It is human nature for people to need to feel included and that they have a connection with others. It is rooted in our subconscious. Although being in a community who base their first opinions on looks over substance is it creating a society as a whole who only care about what others see? It is hard for users of online dating platforms to not get caught in this contest. After all, most people who participate in online dating are wanting similar outcomes, so essentially they are fighting to be perceived as the ‘fittest’. “Communities do not have to be solidary groups of densely-nit neighbors but could also exist as social networks of kin, friends, and workmates who do not necessarily live in the same neighborhoods” (Wellman and Guilia, 1997. p. 2). Online dating platforms are creating communities and friendships that may not have been possible without the introduction of Web 2.0. The internet has aided and allowed communities to emerge without physical location being an issue. The elimination of this physical barrier now allows more people to connect, although adds this importance on showing the best image of oneself. People have this urge to fit in and long for friendships of all kinds. By creating a persona users are showing the world how they want to be seen, which often reflects this need find and fit in with a group. “Enthusiasts hail the Net’s potential for making connections without regard to race, creed, gender or geography” (Wellman and Guilia, 1997, p. 1). Communities can reach and be from places that are on distant grids, which can work as a blessing to make it possible for this connection.
The idea of people wanting to show the best version of themselves online and in real life is not a negative thing. It is the cultural norms and expectations that come with it that can be destructive to a person’s livelihood. In the era where technology is a large way that people communicate it is important for people to feel they can express themselves how they want to be seen. People are driven to look good and only present a perfect and flawless version of themselves online. No one wants unappealing photos of themselves spread all over the internet. As the internet and online dating platforms now includes majority of images it has fostered more need for applications and ways to enhance one’s photos. Which is why we are seeing an increasing number of photo editing apps created and added into existing social media platforms. Although communities are established through the use of social networking and online dating platforms, are they all bad? Are the individuals who just want to fit in with others the bad people here? How is adding a filter and only showing the best parts of your life online a negative thing? Is it not the same as straightening your hair or applying makeup? It is time that we realise that society is forcing individuals to conform and abide by these unwritten rules if they want to make it in a technological world.
Joo, T., & Teng, C. (2017). Impacts of Social Media (Facebook) on Human Communication and Relationships: A View on Behavioral Change and Social Unity. Research Of Knowledge Content Development & Technology, 7(4), 27-50. doi: http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.5865/IJKCT.2017.7.4.027
Stoicescu, M. (2020). The globalized online dating culture: Reframing the dating process through online dating. Journal Of Comparative Research In Anthropology And Sociology, 10(1), 21-32. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/docview/2293791716?accountid=10382
Toma, C., & Hancock, J. (2010). Looks and Lies: The Role of Physical Attractiveness in Online Dating Self-Presentation and Deception. Communication Research, 37(3), 335-351. doi: 10.1177/0093650209356437
Wellman, B., & Gulia, M. (1997). Net Surfers Don’t Ride Alone: Virtual Communities as Communities. Department Of Sociology And Centre For Urban And Community Studies, 1-18. Retrieved from http://williamwolff.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Net-Surfers-Dont-Ride-Alone-Virtual-Community-as-Community.pdf
Whitty, M., & Buchanan, T. (2009). Looking for Love in so many Places: Characteristics of Online Daters and Speed Daters. Interpersona, 3, 63-86. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/docview/1682032754?accountid=10382