1. Are you in your PPP?
Generally speaking, when you select a single picture with which to represent your entire personality, value system, likeability, life expectancy, morality, career prospects, intelligence, and sexual prowess (as any good profile picture will do), it makes a lot of sense for that picture to be OF you. If your picture is of a movie character, a politician, or an artistic black and white photo of a forlorn watering can, how is anyone supposed to judge your worth as a Facebook friend? Get to KNOW you or something?
2. Are you within one year of your present age in this picture?
I know. The best I ever looked was this string of days when I was 19, too. Best not to get everyone’s hopes up, or dwell on the fact that we are all, from the inside outward, decaying.
3. Has a kiss just taken place/is a kiss taking place/is a kiss about to take place in your potential profile picture?
If at least one other person is in your PPP with you, perform a quick test for acute intimacy of the face with the following exercise (patent pending): hold your fists in front of your face, palms facing you, with your left fifth metacarpal pressed against your right. This represents an acceptable level of face touching; a friendly cheek-to-cheek of the finger bones. Now slowly rotate your palms in towards each other — the point at which any two knuckles (or the equivalent facial regions) meet represents the danger zone. Any picture failing the Knuckle Test must be exiled to Instagram.
4. Are your abs in this picture?
A six-pack, in the abdominal sense, should be like virginity. It’s cool if you have it. You’ve probably had to work pretty hard at being disciplined enough to maintain it for this long (…or else you’ve been trying for years to get rid of it and simply cannot), and that’s respectable. But if you are TOO proud of it, if you bring it up constantly or feature it too prominently, people are going to feel uncomfortable around you. Put cloth over it. (That part probably only applies to the abs.)
5. Does alcohol play a leading role in this picture?
In the practical sense, it is wise to keep the number of people who consider you a drunken fool to a minimum. In the human relations sense, is there anything more exhausting than someone whose conversational MO consists of relaying how much he or she consumes, be it alcohol or drugs or food or water or dryer sheets? Don’t use the graphic equivalent for your profile picture. Inconspicuous tipsiness or casually holding a cocktail in your picture — that’s nothing. Think, “When I am 50, would this picture embarrass my kids?” If you aren’t sure, ask your mom or dad to pretend to be you at 50, and then ask them. It’s the same.
6. Have you accidentally spilled tanning spray and cartoon glitter and cursive lyrics onto your PPP?
Ah, oops. It’s fine! Not a big deal, accidents happen all the time. Blow on your picture. Shake off the glitter and wipe your picture down with a cloth until it is clean and everyone’s skin has about the same level of color saturation it has in real life. Make sure there aren’t any stray neon letters stuck in anyone’s hair.
7. If the PPP depicts you with at least one friend, does it pass the Three Degrees of Attractiveness Test?
The Three Degrees of Attractiveness Test posits that each person in the PPP must be within three attractiveness degrees of his or her normal, everyday attractiveness, in the same direction. In other words, you can look three degrees better in your picture than you normally do, but friends in the picture must then look at least one degree better too. You can also look three degrees worse than average, but only if your friends look one to three degrees worse as well. Your profile picture cannot depict you looking one degree better than average while your friends look two degrees worse; these are photos you’ll obviously keep tagged, but held in your reserves so that everybody thinks you don’t realize how disproportionately sexy you look in them.
8. Did you take this picture yourself?
In an ideal world, a stranger will have taken your PPP when you weren’t looking. He noticed you on the patio at dusk, your features lit up by candles below you in this way where your nose looks smaller but your eyes and lips look bigger. Your face was shaped into a mischievous grin as if, at that moment, you had a secret from all the world. All the world, that is, except for this man and his camera. He would have left the photograph, a scroll wrapped around a ship in a bottle, on your front stoop. You would have broken the bottle and brought the picture to Kinko’s and had them scan it to your email.
This practically never happens. Whatever. Take a thousand pictures of yourself on Photo Booth. You do look good.
9. Have you made a definitive decision on your potential profile picture? Do you solemnly vow to stick with your decision for a minimum of twenty-four hours?
Once your picture has passed the rigorous testing and hostile interrogation imposed above, look at it for ten more minutes. Sit quietly with it and consider it from all angles — literally and figuratively. Do you feel comfortable promising that, once you post it, you won’t change it again for at least a day? Don’t change it sooner, especially not a bunch of times in a row. It makes people sad.
Besides, if you put up a picture that isn’t perfect in every way, who cares? This is a dumb Facebook picture we’re talking about, for god’s sake. I mean, honestly.
Katie Heaney is a writer and volunteer text message analyst living in Minneapolis. She thinks you should have good manners, even on the internet.