Four Reasons Your Penchant for Irrelevant Self-Portraits is Ruining Your Blog

by Kristen on October 19, 2011 · 33 comments

A few years ago, when making the transition from Xanga to MySpace, I discovered the sexy-bathroom-mirror-self-portrait trend. Like any painfully unique and angsty almost-20 year old, I immediately donned a low-cut wife-beater, flashed a sultry peace sign, and snapped a picture of my reflection on my Motorola Razr camera phone.

Around the time that people realized that MySpace was just a tragic bastardization of Friendster (and Friendster was never cool, let’s be honest), the sexy-bathroom-mirror-self-portrait fell out of fashion. People using the social media sites that actually took off (see also: Facebook) were poking fun at profiles that displayed a topless, tanned dude with a blowout and horn necklace posing awkwardly in what was, obviously, the bathroom mirror in his parents’ house.

When I injected myself into the healthy living blogosphere, I noticed a similar self-portraiture trend, of the totally-irrelevant-and-entirely superfluous variety. A post about oatmeal was bound to feature a spread of totally unrelated “blogger wearing sunglasses”/”blogger cuddling a dog that probably isn’t hers”/”blogger pointing at a stain that is not from said oatmeal” self-portraits. Posts about running were littered with pictures of the author making funny faces in her driveway. Sure, these self-aggrandizing spreads seem innocuous enough but they bring to light a bigger issue: filler is killer (and not in a good way).

As a reader, I find it really patronizing when I click on a post only to find that it’s about four sentences long and riddled with totally immaterial self-portraits. I’m not dumb, I can tell that you obviously had nothing to write about, so you thought you’d just throw in a few self-snapshots from your CoolPix and call it a day. Posts like this just scream filler! But why is filler a bad thing? you might be asking. Well, here are four very important reasons:

  1. It cheapens your brand. There have been several posts and comment threads on Hollaback about the idea that if you monetize your blog, you’ve made yourself a brand, a product, and a customer service entity. I’m a firm supporter of this point of view. And, well, splashing photos of yourself deep-throating a banana all over your post about a long bike ride cheapens that brand. Professionalism and safety issues aside (yes, there’s most likely a perv somewhere whacking off to said banana pic), filler photos don’t drive people to your blog for the reasons that you want them to be there. Low-quality content drives low-quality traffic, and vice versa. Maybe it’s easier to understand this concept if you first answer the question, “Why do I want people to visit my blog?” If it’s to look at completely irrelevant pictures of you, then great! Keep on keepin’ on, sister, but if you want people to go to your blog to gain insight, information, or inspiration, then you probably want to reconsider your strategy.
  2. It shows a lack of creativity. I’ve never understood the rampant need to post several times a day without any real semblance of content. From an advertising standpoint, I can see why driving traffic to your site is important, but as a reader, if you’re going to bombard my Twitter feed with five short-links a day, you better have blogged something fantastic, each and every time. If all you can come-up with is a pointless photo montage, I would urge you to just not post at all. It demonstrates a lack of creativity, not to mention that it’s a huge insult to your readers. Trust me, they can tell that you just threw something together to rake in a few more dimes from FoodBuzz.
  3. Your readers lose interest. Sorry to break it to you, but looking at page-after-page of off-topic photos of you is not interesting. In Rachel’s GOMI post, she brought up the fact that many GOMI commenters say things like, “I used to read so-and-so’s blog.” I am willing to bet that low-quality content, and an abundance of filler photos drives many of these GOMI-ers from being current to past readers
  4. It invites Perez-style mocking and/or spank bank material. Seriously, ladies, some of these “funny faces” are just asking for trouble. Maybe you don’t think twice about the way you’re masticating that frozen yogurt cone, but there are a lot of creepers lurking around the web who might be enjoying that pose a little too much. At best, I’m thinking “She made out with a hot dog.” At worst, I’m thinking…well actually, we aren’t really comfortable publishing that here.

If Taco Bell has taught us anything (aside from the fact that cheesy gordita crunches are only delicious after consuming a fifth of vodka), it’s that filler is never a good thing. So as tempting as it may be to sub self-portraits for actual content, don’t do it! Instead, get creative, use your words, and stop pretending that your readers don’t know what you’re trying to do when you post nine photos of yourself making fish-faces in the mirror.

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{ 32 comments }

Summer October 19, 2011 at 1:17 am

Bravo! I feel the same way about bloggers who post the same photos multiple times. I really don’t need to see the same picture of you running that I saw twice last week and once the week before. I get it, you ran a 5k/marathon/trail/lap around the park; tell us about it ONCE and move on.

To me, it also seems as though many of the bloggers who insist on posting daily tend to recycle their content. I’m not talking about daily themes – I have no issues with “Three Things Thursday” or “Feisty Friday” or “Tipsy Tuesday” or whatever the hell people like to do, but it becomes painfully obvious that the blogger is scraping for content when they’re constantly talking about the same things they just talked about two days ago and the day before that and a day or two last week.

Filler is killer.
Summer´s last post ..Open letter to a thief

Christina @ Just Running October 19, 2011 at 1:37 am

Kristen, I love you.

I totally agree on all counts. The only blog I like that has a lot of self-portraits is Skinny Runner.

Did you take note when a certain big blogger posted a youtube video and nothing else? How is that possibly worthy of a blog post? That post got like 60 comments, and I was amazed. Apparently we don’t all hate filler.
Christina @ Just Running´s last post ..Recap: Indianapolis Marathon

Jess-The SemiAbnormal Gal October 19, 2011 at 2:30 am

If Taco Bell has taught us anything (aside from the fact that cheesy gordita crunches are only delicious after consuming a fifth of vodka), it’s that filler is never a good thing.

Amen. And if you want to photowhore it up (yes, it’s a verb…at least in the dictionary of Jess) get a photographer. Duh.
Jess-The SemiAbnormal Gal´s last post ..Chinese Takeout Pizza OR How we Make Up For No Delivery Service in the Boonies

Deva @ Deva by Definition October 19, 2011 at 3:11 am

I totally agree with this. I have been working on not posting when I don’t have anything to say, and I’ve never been one to plaster my picture all over my blog because, well, how many pictures of me do people really need to see, anyway?
Deva @ Deva by Definition´s last post ..For When You dont Want a Pumpkin Latte

Debbie October 19, 2011 at 4:23 am

Nice post. I totally agree. I don’t know what’s more annoying, though, lots of self portraits or lots of “what I ate” pics. Seems like blogger who are guilty of the former also tend to post a lot of the latter. All a bunch of blah.
Debbie´s last post ..Vegan MoFo: Breakfast at the Triathlon

Wendy (Healthy GIrl's Kitchen) April 12, 2012 at 1:48 am

yes yes and yes!

Jessica October 19, 2011 at 4:30 am

Amen! I used to struggle with the idea that so many of the bigger bloggers could post several times a day. I felt like I had nothing meaningful to say and no way to dress up the same stuff I do every day over and over again without being redundant or patronizing to my readers (unintentionally of course). Filler is killer!
Jessica´s last post ..Bugsy the Boston

Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers October 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm

okay, so i feel like i am wishy washy on my stance on self portraits. i genuinely LIKE seeing blogger’s faces on their blogs. i feel like it puts a face behind the words and makes a post seem more personal, but i do like them to actually fit in with the topic and be surrounded by content.

i totally agree with you about “filler” posts and really dislike when bloggers post one photo of a beer or something, saying “having a great night!” or something of that sort. though i am a stickler for consistency and like when bloggers have some kind of predictability to their posting schedules, i really try not to make myself post if i don’t genuinely have content to go along with photos. reading content is what i enjoy most about blogging!
Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers´s last post ..No Mood to Cook

Dani October 19, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Julie, I like your blog, so this is intended to be constructive criticism…but I immediately thought of your blog when I read this post, and I think your comment is quite hypocritical. You say you do like pictures to “fit in with the topic and be surrounded by content”. But, do you consider taking pictures of yourself drinking a smoothie “surrounded by content” or “fitting in with the topic”? I mean, yeah, you wrote about a smoothie…but do you NEED to post a picture of yourself drinking it? I totally agree that pictures of the blogger make the blog more personal, and you do a good job of that in some ways, but it’s the outstretched arm self-portraits that are the problem, not pictures of you in context (like a picture of you at a bachelorette party or the pumpkin patch or wherever!). I also think that your Sadie pics come off a little filler-ish sometimes because they rarely fit into the context of your post. Anyway, hopefully you will appreciate some constructive words!

Nancy October 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I LOVE Julie’s blog posts and she’s one of the few blogs I read every single post, and every single word/photo of. I say don’t change a thing Julie! I love seeing your face. (uhh…)

Dani October 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Oh well I guess my opinion is invalid then.

This is why bloggers never improve, and instead fall into a “niche” that actually is a rut. Too many people are afraid of saying something that isn’t “I LOVE YOUR BLOG DONT CHANGE A THING!” If you read my comment, you would see that I said I like Julie’s blog. And if you read it, you would also see that I said I think pictures of her are fine…just not ones where she has her arm outstretched and is feeding herself a spoonful of smoothie. Does that really interest you as a blog reader? Do you need that visual to comprehend someone drinking a smoothie? If Julie focused less on silly portraits and dog captions, she could improve her blog content tenfold. And while you may think it’s fabulous and awesome to see ten pictures of a blogger eating, most of us do not. We read blogs for entertainment, information and something to think about. An outstretched arm or sweaty post-run picture does not make me think. It doesn’t start a debate, or inspire me to comment. Julie blogs as her job, and says she herself likes content on blogs, so I think she would be happy to have some constructive advice that suggests how many she can improve her content. If you blog for a living, you need to make people think about something deeper than your smoothie. So many bloggers get boring and unrelatable because no one stops and says “Hey…maybe you should lay off the youtube video posts and actually write”, so they think they’re doing a great job. Do you really enjoy blogs that have pictures of a bloggers face, half of their arm, and a smoothie in the shot?

Stephanie @ Off the Eaten Path STL October 19, 2011 at 8:50 pm

I agree with Dani, 100%. I also read Julie’s blog, and I find the constant outstretched arm pictures (drinking a smoothie) boring and redundant. If a self-portrait fits in with the blog content (like Dani said, at the pumpkin patch or whereever), that’s one thing. But no, I don’t need to see your sweaty face after a workout. Or your face as you drink the same smoothie you drink every morning. Or your dog’s face. Again and again and AGAIN.

This isn’t meant to be mean, Julie, but your blog needs some work if you want to keep readers around for the long haul. You seem like a sweet girl and a lot of fun to be around, but you are one of the bloggers that came to mind when I read this post.
Stephanie @ Off the Eaten Path STL´s last post ..Bacon + Bread Pudding = ?

Liz October 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Excellent points, Dani. I wholeheartedly agree (and I read all these blogs, let the record show).

Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers October 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm

i do appreciate the feedback and am always looking to improve myself as a blogger. as a blog reader, i don’t really mind self portraits (as i said above) so i include them in my blog b/c of this – i like seeing the face behind the words. i didn’t think they were an irritating thing to see for some people since i, myself, don’t mind seeing them on other blogs, but it’s good to have feedback and know that these pictures do bother some readers. thanks again for sharing your opinion.
Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers´s last post ..Most Annoying Noises

Ellie October 19, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I think there are some self-portraits that do fit in with the topic because they almost serve like stock photos would in a magazine. For example a photo of the blogger doing a trail run would be fine, for a post about trail running. But here’s a caveat: this, to me, works best when the post is already a mostly-text post. I definitely don’t mind a post that is all-text and no pictures, especially if this is the exception for the blog. Some blogs are perfectly successful even with a minimum of pictures (for example MelissaNibbles frequently had all text posts and I never missed the pictures). SnackFace throws in some great all text posts too. But if the post is going to be an all-text post, and the blogger throws in a pic of herself engaged in an activity that is relevant to the subject of the post, it won’t bother me. I like PBFingers a lot too but I also wouldn’t mind fewer Sadie pics (As wonderful as Sadie clearly is!). In short, a plethora of blogger photos doesn’t irritate me, but I’m totally happy with all text or text heavy posts too.

Rachel Wilkerson October 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm

@Ellie This is a really good point…I don’t mind text-heavy posts either, so one stock-ish photo (a stock-ish photo that makes sense — NOT a kissy face!) is fine to me as a reader. I think the problem is that a lot of people do like a lot of pictures for breaking up the text so it’s hard to say what the best route to go is.
Rachel Wilkerson´s last post ..So I Used to Want to Be an Actor (Part I)

cindylu October 21, 2011 at 6:53 pm

You know what works just as well for breaking up text?

Paragraphs!
cindylu´s last post ..Diez cosas

Liz October 19, 2011 at 1:01 pm

But what if it’s a photo montage of oatmeal?

Erica Dagley October 25, 2011 at 2:58 am

you win.

Lizzy October 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I could have wrote this post myself. I constantly talk about how annoyed I am when people post WAY-too-CLOSE pictures of themselves while running. I don’t get it. Isn’t training for a marathon about… well… running? Did I miss something? I think there is no room for self-portraits. If you feel the need to show pictures while talking about your twenty mile run, then post pictures of the scenery. I don’t need to see your sweaty face. The other thing that annoys me is when people don’t admit their real splits. If you took more than a few pictures while running, my guess is you probably stopped to take the photos. Tell us readers your splits, + how much stoppage time you are taking. Without that, your splits aren’t real and come race day, the clock stops for no one. Sorry for the tangent.
Just my two cents : )
Lizzy´s last post ..Running is Boring.

Dani October 19, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I don’t like self-portraits, because it comes off a little desperate. And it also shows a hugely inflated ego…like, do you think your readers need/want to see your “sweaty post-run!” pic? No. I think pictures of a blogger are totally fine, but self-portraits are a no go. And I also think it hints at bloggers being kind of…alone? Like spending all day with their smoothies and workouts. People who are out living life don’t need to take self-portraits. It’s the equivalent of the bored teenagers alone in their room taking pics of themselves because they don’t know what else to do.

Meredith October 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!
Meredith´s last post ..something smells fishy

Meg October 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! Count me in on the list of blog readers who have dropped a number of blogs from the regular reading roster due to minimal content/posting for the sake of posting offenders. Sure, it’s one thing if you want to do the occasional “vacation highlights in photos” montage. It’s another thing entirely if every other post is full of filler–two sentences about “ran some errands, blahblahblah, here’s a dozen photos of me and my breakfast!” isn’t just uninteresting. It makes the blogger seem uninterested in their readers, like they’re just phoning it in. Brainstorm some original content, bloggers, and save the gratuitous self-portraits. It’ll go a long way to retaining your readers!

cindylu October 19, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Writing captions on your photos and calling it a blog post is not writing. Way before I even started reading any kind of healthy living or style blog, I was always conscious of how often I was posting a photo of myself. I thought it was way too self-involved and narcissistic — and let’s face it, I was already being those things by having a blog — to post a photo of myself every other post. If I use one, I try to make it go along with the post, and not just do it as filler.

It also bugs me when the post is essentially a photo essay (of a really boring topic, often) and I have to scroll through several times to get to the end. I’ve seen good photo essays of events, but if the event is breakfast, then that’s just filler.
cindylu´s last post ..Halloween on a budget: Maggie the Mechanic

Bridget October 19, 2011 at 6:51 pm

My biggest pet peeve is the Post-run sweaty pic with your tongue sticking out from the side of your mouth (please tell me someone knows what I’m talking about). No one in real life does that.

Dori October 20, 2011 at 2:19 am

Yes! WHY do people do this? Do they think it makes their face look more attractive through the sweat? Also, the scrunched up mouth to the side face. What the hell is this and why are so many doing it??
Dori´s last post ..Staten Island Half Marathon Race Recap

Rachel Wilkerson October 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm

I think that we can all agree that one or two photos per post — whether of the oatmeal or the blogger — is good. But TEN photos of the blogger and the oatmeal and maybe the dog just doesn’t really make sense. It also makes a post extremely hard to read because bloggers typically post just a sentence between these shots, so I find myself scrolling through HUGE 800 pixel photos just to get to the actual content. Whether or not there is any is debatable. I find this most annoying in recipe blogs, like Pioneer Woman…I wish there was a “jump to the recipe” link or something to bypass all that. The text is mildly entertaining but I have to go through way too much work scrolling just to read each sentence.

A non-HLB friend of mine unintentionally gave a solution to this problem a few weeks ago looking some HLBs and saying, “These girls need to learn how to WRAP TEXT.” When she said that, it was like a light bulb went off. It’s something I used to do but quit, so I’ve been playing with it more. The benefit of aligning a picture to the right or left of the post with text around it is that one picture goes a long way! Suddenly, one picture of your oatmeal is all you need.

If you don’t know what wrapped text looks like, here’s an example of a recent post where I did it: http://wp.me/pVuYy-33E. I like wrapping text because then you have a visual aid to break up the text but the reader doesn’t have to scroll forever to get to the content…pictures and content can coexist! I wish more bloggers would do it.

The thing is though, if you try wrapping the text, you’ll realize that you need a LOT of content for a single picture…so then you have to decide between more content or less photos. The problem is that for a lot of bloggers, more content is a tough assignment…but none seem to want to post less photos, which is unfortunate, since so many are pretty much duplicates, filler, or just irrelevant.

One more thing — if your post is basically all silly photos of yourself and a few lines of content, you might be better suited for a platform like Tumblr, where pictures + a sentence or two rule…or just get a Flickr account.
Rachel Wilkerson´s last post ..So I Used to Want to Be an Actor (Part I)

Tiffany October 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I am cracking up over here because “the blogger and the oatmeal” sounds like either a childrens book or a weird reality show! Also thanks for pointing out what the point of Tumblr actually is, I keep hearing about it but wasn’t sure how it differs from other platforms out there.

Great post, Kristen, personally I will post picks like that every now and then (like my most recent post where I’m in Colorado with me doing the self portrait or have pics) I know of some blogs out there that post the self portraits every single post without it being relevant and I’ve stopped reading those.
Tiffany´s last post ..Mountain Mama

Hannah October 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Yes, yes, yes! I’m so glad someone finally wrote about this, and Kristen, you articulated it very well. My blog is pretty text heavy, and I do sometimes post pictures of myself, but very rarely, and usually they are at a special place or event. What’s worse are the other teen bloggers who do the whole flash camera thing in the bathroom and put a bunch of those photos on their blogs. I’ll admit, I’ve done that before (in private), pretending to be all Tyra Banks, but I would never post that on my blog-that just screams for attention. I also don’t get the pics of running during a race thing. That just seems to defeat the purpose of running. Are you doing it for the sheer pleasure of it or because you want to post an “Ohmygodlookatmerunsofast!” picture.
Hannah´s last post ..I Don’t Have a Title for This Post

marie October 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm

As someone who regularly photoshops phalluses onto the faces of open-mouthed bloggers, I can personally attest to #4.

And I wholeheartedly agree that the self-portraits of bloggers eating the food to which they are referring does not count as “relevant to the content.” Nor do portraits of the blogger giving thumbs-up/thumbs-down (usually with lower lip melodramatically curled). Nor do portraits of the blogger’s hand, holding a cookie or granola bar or apple or Adora disk.

What I mean to say is, thank you.
marie´s last post ..butternut squash soup for retards

Erica Dagley October 25, 2011 at 3:01 am

Where do gratuitous photos of my cat stand in all of this?
Erica Dagley´s last post ..WHAT I WORE: Piecing my healthy life back together…

nicole October 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I think pictures of a blogger are totally fine, but self-portraits are a no go. And I also think it hints at bloggers being kind of…alone? I try to make it go along with the post, and not just do it as filler.
nicole´s last post ..door awnings

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