The only social media site I’ve dared to venture onto is Facebook. I almost gave it up after last fall’s national election, but I’m still hanging in there. I don’t post often, but I occasionally make drive-by comments on posts of friends and casual acquaintances.

Recently, I’ve begun to take interest in the “Profile Pictures” people choose for themselves. At first, I thought these were meant simply to be honest representations of what each person looks like, but over time I noticed the selection of “Profile Pictures” is more complex than that. They’re an expression of how various persons feel about themselves, or possibly, the image they wish they could project to others.

Even though the word “pictures” seems to imply these will be actual portraits of each individual, this is true less than fifty percent of the time. I say this after doing “extensive scientific research”: I checked the first thirty connections made on my Facebook timeline this morning and found that only fourteen were individual “selfies,” with the rest being family pictures (eleven), celebrity photos (the Obama family, Elvis), animals and scenery.

I stumbled on an on-line post entitled, “Why Facebook Users Should Let Strangers Choose Their Profile Pictures.” In an article published in Cognitive Research, the Australian authors describe an experiment in which subjects were asked to choose the best “Profile Picture” of themselves from among twelve photos. Then a group of strangers were shown the same photos and asked to make their selection. Here are their findings:

“Strikingly, we show for the first time that participants select more flattering profile images when selecting pictures for other people compared with when selecting for themselves. We found that people selected images of themselves that cast less favorable first impressions than images selected by strangers.”

We are unsure of who we really are, let alone how we come across to others. This is why most of us tend to understate ourselves, our appearance, our accomplishments, our value, so that we don’t appear pompous, hypocritical or ridiculous to others. I’ve noticed how often some people change their choice and post an “Updated Profile Picture.” Does this indicate that they see themselves in a new way? That they’re aspiring to be a different type of person? Or that they’re just trying to keep people interested in looking at their posts and comments? I don’t know.

There are a lot of sites that offer help to people who are looking for new ways to represent themselves. I came across “Awesome Profile Pictures,” Funny Profile Pictures,” “Cool and Stylish Profile Pictures” and “How to Install a Video Profile Picture.” Choosing the best “you” to project to social media friends (and enemies) can be a never-ending creative journey.

In the New Testament book of James, we are encouraged:

Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing. (James 1:22-25)

James offers as an alternate mirror which can really tell us the truth about who we are “the perfect law, the law of liberty.” I think that phrase is worth another article, so I’ll write about it in next week’s Messenger. Maybe if we understand what James means by this, we’ll be able to come up with a more accurate and inspirational “Profile Picture.”

— Pastor George Van Alstine