OU blog

Personal Blogs

Profile pictures

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 18 May 2016, 14:18

I am quite intrigued by the kinds of profile pictures people have on sites like the OU site, Facebook, LinkedIn.  I notice the following main patterns.

1 A simple face picture, facing the camera.

2 An action shot doing some kind of relevant activity,  My current picture does this by showing me teaching.

3 A picture of the person as part of a group.

4 A symbolic picture (eg of a flower).

5 A picture of the person next to something significant (eg a statue).

It seems that these are all representative of how the person wants to present themselves and we may have different pictures for different sites.  For example, my non professional twitter account has a picture of me running in a 10K.

What intrigues me particularly are pictures that seem to break some of the rules.  An ex-student (not at the OU) has a profile picture on a professional website  that is taken from the side with her looking at her mobile phone with most of her face covered by her long hair.  I wonder about the extent to which this is a conscious decision and if so, what she is trying to express by this choice.

Permalink Add your comment
Share post


Sharon Hartles - Zemiologist - because ALL HARM MATTERS

New comment

This is true Patrick,

The module I am currently studying refers to the 'person'. Being a person and being a human are different.

To be a person we use all sorts of tools to enable us to play/act out particular social roles in differing social settings. Without these props we are unable to play out roles. Props are everything, inclusive of language/ accent and the more obvious objects.

I change my profile photo often for this reason. I do not wish to be boxed into a category so change mine to  incorporate all of the things you mention. However, I understand the reason I am doing this and make a conscious choice to do this.

I like the dark bold colour I have on my current photo, and my stunning best friend (the blonde lady). I changed this from a photo which again was bold but red. I like to stand out. I also change it because I get bored of looking at the same photo.

It is a little weird you mention profile pics... I have last week been in a conversation with a peer and encouraged him to stick with his updated photo. However, I was intrigued by the prop in the background which was purposely used. I was very tempted to ask, but knowing it was used for a purpose was enough so I did not.



lol - I will be changing my photo again soon.

big grin  

Sharon Hartles - Zemiologist - because ALL HARM MATTERS

New comment

lol - Just starting this unit under the revisited online section now.

'The self and material props' - How relevant!



New comment

I have a picture of a tortoise because........I have no digital photos of myself that I like or that represent me as a person. The image is non specific and I have a tortoise.

New comment

Thanks for the comments, Sharon and Cathy.

It is interesting that you change frequently, Sharon and I understand the logic you express here.  I think I have changed mine once in about the last 8 years (I cannot quite remember when they began to appear here).  My previous one was just a picture of me in Oman.  I thought it was a good picture but it did not represent my role here.  It did at least represent an international outlook though.

Cathy, I like the picture of the tortoise.  Do you think it represents something about you (perhaps related to the fable?) or do you just like it as your pet or is there a bit of both?


New comment

That's really interesting Patrick. An additional tendency I've noticed, certainly on Facebook, is for parents of young children to have a picture of their child as their profile picture. They seem to stop doing this once their children get past a certain age. There's probably something interesting there around when the child is felt to become a separate person - but I won't play psychologist wink

New comment

Thanks for this comment, Emma

I notice that my current Facebook profile picture also has a picture of me teaching (although I have had pictures of me with my son).  I think part of the reason I have an "action picture" is that quite a large proportion of people who have "friended" me are ex-students - many of my other friends are not on Facebook and we communicate by phone and email.  I suppose we each use these media for different purposes.

Me in a rare cheerful mood

New comment

I use social media as little as possible but I needed a LinkedIn presence.  I resisted a photo for some years: it was an American thing to do unless one was a model or very self-centred.  But, it has become essential and all the advice (from LinkedIn's rules) was it had to be a genuine head or head & shoulders shot.  So I had to get one done and, having done so once it provided an image I could re-use.

If I felt it was possible to use an avatar or some emblem representing how I feel, I would, or better yet, nothing.

Having to bung my face on the 'Net is something I feel I have been compelled to do.

Linked in Profile

Thanks for your comment, Simon.

It reminded me of this sexism case about a linkedin profile http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/34206080/linkedin-sexism-row-charlotte-proudman-says-lawyer-used-site-like-tinder

I can see why some people would prefer to use a symbol or avatar.

Sharon Hartles - Zemiologist - because ALL HARM MATTERS

New comment

Just to confuse you Patrick.


It was time for a change.

Me in a rare cheerful mood

New comment


Your current picture does not do you justice.  Is that not your best side?

New comment

It is interesting how you change pictures, Sharon.

As people can play with language and identity, they can do the same with other symbols like pictures as you show here.

Sharon Hartles - Zemiologist - because ALL HARM MATTERS

New comment

Hiya Simon,

Yep - fancied a change.

I hope you do not mind me asking who is your profile pic of? It is very different to the last one (says me! - prolific profile changer.

I agree Andrew.

Will keep this picture for a while as I like it.

Me in a rare cheerful mood

New comment

"I hope you do not mind me asking who is your profile pic of? It is very different to the last one (says me! - prolific profile changer."

It's me.  Although my hair has now grown below my shoulder blades, I only started growing it a couple of years ago.  Ever since I left school my hair was kept short for work.  That was me seeing if I could grow a beard.  I liked that look, but my wife does not like beards so it did not stay for long.

Sharon Hartles - Zemiologist - because ALL HARM MATTERS

New comment

Wow Simon

I did not recognise it as being of photo of you!

I'm with your wife on the beard front. They are okay to look at, but not on your own man.

My man is clean shaven and minimal hair, to the scalp back and sides and a flat top.


New comment

I have a short beard but you would need to look quite closely on the picture to see it, I think.  I suppose the fact that I use an "action shot" means my face is not very clear on the size of the profile pictures here.  I suppose the message given is that my role is more important than my face.

Sharon Hartles - Zemiologist - because ALL HARM MATTERS

New comment

Maybe Patrick.