How changing profile picture changed my social media life

As some of you may know I recently change my profile picture on Facebook. I went from this:

To this:

The first one was a picture my photographer friend took to make me feel better about myself (it was a dark, lonely time of my life) while the second is a simple mirror selfie I took recently (to show off my cool earrings, mainly). They are both cute pictures, I don’t think I look radically better in one or another, the first one is only a bit more revealing (not vulgar or anything) and it may suggest that I’m sexually available to some, apparently. According to the hints I received it is partly due to that tiny bit of bra showing through the dress and the fact that — gasp! — cleavage is shown.

I kept the first picture for more than two years and during this time I observed I was often the object of sexual harassment by many men who added me just for that purpose. I think the most common remark that I got during these two years was:

Oh, nice tits!

You can understand how this can be boring after a while, for someone who has a functioning brain at least, therefore I surrendered to the internet and changed my profile pic.

In the 20 days that passed after this revolutionary change I had the opportunity to notice drastic changes immediately in the way men treated me. Please keep in mind that this is just my empirical observation and it’s purely anecdotal, so I don’t want to convince anyone this is the one and only truth. This is my truth, you can disregard it completely if you want, I don’t care.

First of all, while I was receiving several new friend requests per day, they suddenly stopped. Now I receive more request by women than by men. I also don’t get harassed as much, although the old picture is still there and everyone could see it. Before, I was harassed daily even though it was in plain sight that I am in a happy long term relationship and I also repeated that frequently, people simply didn’t care. I felt as they saw me as an object.

The second important change is the quantity of engagement of my posts. It just dropped. Not radically but it has, and I noticed. Fewer people comment, fewer people like, fewer people care.

The last change it was the most subtle of them, and it took me a couple of weeks to notice and experiment about this to confirm it but it was the most shocking: people agreed less with me. While before I could post very controversial stuff and people either liked it and agreed or didn’t react at all, now people actually, fiercely disagree with me. My views haven’t become more controversial, my language is not more provocative. At first, my self-esteem faltered: why people started hating me so much all of a sudden? In the end, I realised that while before they self-censored their opinions, now they feel more compelled to speak up when they don’t agree with me. I still don’t understand this completely and I will have to do some serious research about it, but it’s the part that fascinates me and hurts me the most.

In short, I thought I was more popular than I actually am. It’s not a bad thing per se, but it got me thinking about how I see myself and how I’m perceived by others, men and women.

So, what is my conclusion? A part of me is happy that now my relationships with people are more genuine, I’m definitely less objectified and that is great for me. I get fewer comments on my looks and more remarks about what I’m actually saying. But I also think that it’s a bit alarming how the perception of my looks influenced my social life and my relationships to a point that I felt the need to change profile picture and the fact that I look less available to men made me less popular, less loved. As if I became less of a person. The results of this little experiment aren’t that surprising if you think about it, but it baffles me that so many friends behave like that without even noticing. We have many examples of different kinds of “lookism” — I mean, we even have a word for that so it must be a real thing — and I think that until sexual objectification has a concrete impact on our lives, there cannot be true gender equality. It is a battle worth fighting and it is a battle that we must fight with our children — or future children since I don’t have any, yet. And although for our generation it might be too late, I hope that this short piece helps someone to reflect on their own behaviour and try to make this world a little bit better.

I wanted to draw a more general conclusion but it’s a bit hard to do that because this is only my experience and it may not affect others. I’d like to know your experience and if you write it in a comment I’ll really appreciate it.