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No pictures, please.

Posted by BJ Roche  October 20, 2011 03:45 PM

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"That picture of you looks terrible," said my mother, a split second after a painfully long, over-the-phone process in which I finally managed to get her over to this blog.

"Yup, I know, ma," I replied. I took the picture myself, using my laptop in a Thai restaurant waiting for my friend Jackie to arrive for lunch. I shot six, picked one and sent it off. They wanted it then and I didn't have time for anything more than that. In the year that followed I had a lot of other things to do than pose for a picture, and when I had the time I looked terrible. What are you gonna do?

In the old days, if you were a writer, it didn't matter much what you looked like. In the social media age, everything matters what you look like.

With LinkedIn, business cards, and Facebook, real estate agents and teachers now need as many headshots as a Broadway wannabe. Everybody wants a picture. And they want it now. Not when that act of vandalism a hairdresser committed on your head grows out. Not when you've been to the gym consistently and your upper arms resemble those of the young, sadistic trainer on "The Biggest Loser." Not when you've recovered from a paralyzing depression or divorce, your kid is back on track, and your husband is re-employed.

For women over 50, the picture isn't something you should do on the fly. It requires time, technique, strategy and research. Do I want to look more authoritative, or younger, hotter? Lots of makeup? Definitely. Uh, maybe not.

Touch up those gray flecks? Well, let's ask Charla Krupp, author of How Not to Look Old, who's quoted in this 2008 Time magazine interview:

Do all women really need to color? I think that most women will look younger with colored hair. Now, there's this big gray-hair movement. I understand and appreciate women who have silver hair, and I think that they can look amazing, but it's such a luxury to be able to go gray. Because it is an aging look, and it means that you don't care about people knowing your age. If you have to support yourself, if you're going back into the job market — say your job was just eliminated, and you need to get back into the swing of things — you're not going to do well with gray hair.

Or we could consult with Marge Simpson:

If you're wondering whether your picture really says "you," try it out. Late last summer my Facebook friend, Chicago author Teri Lee Ryan, posted one of the nearly 500 headshots taken by a professional and asked for her friends' opinions. The question: should the bare upper arms be showing? Only if they're buff. Hers were. She went with it.

Another friend who shall remain nameless solves the whole picture problem by using Penelope Cruz's headshot in her online profiles.

And of course, you could just get your kid to Photoshop you up, but don't go too far.
It turns out that even Julia Roberts doesn't look like Julia Roberts. That should be a bit of consolation for the rest of us.

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About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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