Cheesey Photo of Claire Worthington

Cheesey Makeovers, Professional Networks and My Fear of Photography.

In the mid 1990s makeover photo shoots became a thing. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, let me elaborate.

  • You turn up at a photography studio in your jeans and whatever else you usually wear on a Saturday
  • You sit in a room with no mirrors, whilst a professional make up artist does your hair and make up
  • At some point you end up with a makeshift boob-tube made of shiny fabric instead of the shirt you arrived in
  • A photographer spends ages taking pictures, whilst you quick change between a baffling assortment of jackets and feather boas.

The last stage is often seeing hundreds of photographs of yourself and somehow handing over the details of your visa card. It’s similar to the packs of baby portraits deal, that new parents often fall for, but instead of spending hundreds of pounds on pictures of your children that you’ll put up on the wall, share with family and eventually scan and add to their Facebook walls, you end up with lots of pictures of yourself with big hair and full make up. I don’t know whether it was a global phenomena, a British thing or even just a thing in and around Greater Manchester, but just about every woman I know, who is the same age as me, ended up having a makeover and left with at least one photograph. For some reason I left with a whole album. Considering I only went because my friend Hayley wanted to go, I think that says a lot for their sales team or just how suggestible I was back in the 90s. Don’t judge me, it was “a thing” in those days.

You may be wondering what made me think of a 20 year old photoshoot and surprisingly enough it was LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a professional networking site where you share details of your career history to colleagues and potential employers. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn is designed to be a professional platform where you show the world your work self. The stereotype is that LinkedIn is lots of people in suits, looking for other people in suits, that they can do business with. As LinkedIn has grown and attracted a wider audience there is an increasing number of people who think it’s like Facebook and nothing makes that more clear than some of their profile pictures including a number of 1990s style makeover pictures.

I’m looking to change direction with my career so I’ve been updating my CV and checking my personal profile. As part of this process I’ve been giving some serious thought to updating the photograph on my LinkedIn profile. My current profile picture is of me in a Code Club hoodie. I’m a Code Club volunteer and over the last few years I have run a number of after school coding clubs and turning up in a big green hoodie helps make it very obvious to staff who you are. Now that I’m doing a lot more work in Digital Marketing rather than just Web Development, I’ve decided that perhaps it would be better if my LinkedIn profile picture reflected ‘Claire The Professional’, rather than ‘Claire Nipping to Asda’.

My love of the hoodie is a well documented thing (They’re comfortable, you never get cold and they often have a little pouch at the front for your stuff. What’s not to love?) but it’s time to replace it with a recent photograph of me looking professional. The only problem with this is that I don’t have one and am not looking forward to having one done.

I’m not a massive fan of having my photograph taken. This is probably because I tend to pull a weird face whenever somebody tries to take my picture. I have an assortment of weird photo faces, which I suspect stems from nerves about having yet another ugly picture of me roaming around on the internet. There is a special place in Hell reserved for people who take unannounced photographs of people dancing or eating a meal on nights out and upload them to Facebook, without checking that the person in the picture doesn’t look like a monster first. (You people know who you are)

Photographs of me usually fall into one of three categories.

  1. I look amazing and much better than I do in real life.
  2. I look awful / deranged / like a chipmunk and generally much worse than I do in real life.
  3. I look fine. It’s me, it looks like me and I’m not: cross eyed, mid sentence, squinting, eating or in an odd position because I’m in mid dance move.

There is usually a fairly high percentage of pictures in category three where I look fine, but I don’t like them because I didn’t like my hair that day, my face looked a bit fat or some other minor detail. For example I don’t like my official graduation photograph because I look ridiculously shiny and by shiny I mean it looks like I’d just ran a marathon. Technically the picture is fine, I’m holding the fake scroll, I’m wearing the official cap and gown and I even managed to stop the sash from strangling me, but I don’t like it because I look incredibly shiny.

It is entirely possible that the 90s style profile pictures I’ve seen on LinkedIn are by women in the same predicament as me. Maybe they’re waiting for a decent photograph of themselves to come along so that they can update their profile pictures too. At least as a web developer I had the perfectly acceptable option of classing jeans and a hoodie as business attire, particularly when I usually work from home. When I remove jeans, hoodies and conference t-shirts from my daily workwear options, there will be a period of time where frankly I have no idea what I’ll be wearing Monday to Friday. It is clearly going to involve some shopping, but the amount of visa card waving will depend on the culture of the company I join. When I was a senior manager I wore a suit every day, carried a smart bag instead of a rucksack and wore heels. At the moment I only have to look smart for client meetings, looking smart on a daily basis is going to be a slight adjustment and may require some Gok Wan style inspiration. None of which is getting me any closer to updating my profile picture.

Maybe the ladies with the makeover style profile pictures really love their pictures and use them as often as possible or perhaps they spent so much on them, that they are determined to get their money’s worth by wheeling them out at every opportunity. I suspect that some of them only gave LinkedIn a whirl for an hour and didn’t bother updating it. If you don’t use it as part of your acquisition strategy, most people only pay attention to LinkedIn when they’re looking for new opportunities. Maybe the ladies I’ve seen are so busy in their amazing high paid careers that they have no need to bother looking at it. Realistically there is a strong chance that some of them didn’t fully understand the LinkedIn environment or maybe they all work in industries where flashing a bit of shoulder isn’t seen as unprofessional. If I was a supermodel, instead of a shortish person that works in digital, lots of pictures where I’m wearing unusual jackets and glancing moodily over my shoulder wouldn’t seem that odd.

Rather than make special arrangements to have professional head shots taken, I’d prefer to wait until a decent photograph of me appears and just use that. The problem with this method is that there is no time scale on that and there is no guarantee that I’ll be wearing professional attire when it happens. I had my photograph taken recently at an SEO conference I attended in Brighton. It’s a decent picture of me, with no weird expressions or excessive shine, but I’m next to a guy in a giant panda head, which isn’t really the look I’m going for. Without the context of the panda being the mascot for a software company, I just look like some maniac with a weird thing for mascots, which is really more appropriate for Facebook.

At some point I’ll take the plunge and just get on with it, but one thing is for certain, I definitely will not be wearing a feather boa.