Framed! Painting a perfect Profile Pic

Profile Pic

Images of friends, family and colleagues as paintings flood my social media feeds. Well, I think it’s them, only they’ve been remastered, and even creepy Nigel from procurement looks like he was Raphael’s  muse.

This latest craze surrounds the ‘Profile Pic’ app, a piece of mobile software that uses artificial intelligence to create profile pictures that look as if they had been painted by one of the great masters.

Interesting. I have long blamed the camera – not my chocolate addiction – for adding pounds to my frame. My curves are best suited to the Rubens era, although I can’t even strip off in the gym changing room without clinging to the complimentary towel for dear life, let alone frolic around, butt naked in the back garden. Besides, it’s just not practical with the inclement British weather and a rose bush border.

Everywhere I look, friends, loved ones and randoms (who you don’t actually remember meeting in the real world, but you’re too polite to delete their friend request) are now sporting Bob Ross style profile pics.

There’s something a little disconcerting about seeing yourself, or anybody, as a portrait painting in 2022. I have black and white pictures of my great-grandparents taken 100 years ago, and even they had moved on from oil and canvas.

Are we so bored with all the modern toys at our disposal that we’re stealing ideas from the past? Why use tech to create something useful or life changing when you can play ‘Face Swap’? What’s next? An app that reimagines us as cave drawings or Egyptian Hieroglyphics? (as I write, I haven’t dared to check the existence of these as I’m scared of what the interweb might spew out). Great! I can’t wait to see my face 60ft high on a Sphinx.  

When we moved into our house in 2017, we found an eerie painting in the loft. No, not the type that reverse ages (although I could do with one of those apps), but a seaside caricature of the previous owners, Tracy and Paul. We put it aside for them. Now, I don’t know if it was the grossly distorted chins, the Space Raider shaped heads, or the grins as wide as Pennywise the Clown, staring back at us that freaked me out, but I was relieved when the picture was collected by two human beings with average sized skulls. 

I blame this teenage obsession with adding ears, noses and doe eyes, to photos, led to seemingly rational middle aged women repeatedly uploading images of themselves as part human, part animal, at every opportunity.

Lighten up, Anna, it’s a bit of fun,” my friend laughed when I expressed my disapproval.  “Here, I made one for you,” she said, showing me an image of us as bunny girls – rabbit ears, a heart shaped nose, whiskers and bush baby eyes, all in soft focus and  airbrushed. She made me CGI!  I don’t want to be cute. At least make me look like Cruella or Jessica Rabbit.

Some years ago, I worked with a formidable senior manager who enjoyed playing virtual fantasy games. Her computer generated avatar was an Amazonian Lara Croft explorer who adventured across cyber space in hot pants, bikini and holsters strapped to her thighs. In real life, she was more Miss Trunchbull in appearance and dedicated to Excel spreadsheets. Her avatar symbolised escapism, fantasy, and that was understandable. However, when she rocked up to the staff training day and asked us to call her ‘Professor Time Stone’ we drew the line.

When I first started charting my wavy and silver hair journey a year ago, taking a selfie seemed rather self indulgent. But as I recorded my progress and became au fait with the art of the selfie, my phone became a shrine to ME, with hundreds of mug shots of my face.

As a result, I’ve had to buy additional storage and delete non-essential images. Who really needs that precious photo of your grandfather holding you as a baby saved to your ‘phone, when you can have 1800 images of your own pouting face instead?

At first, I was delighted with all the photo editing features on my device. I needed every bit of help I could get! I retouched my pictures religiously: eyes, check; skin, check; contrast; check. Let’s get rid of that double chin and crop out my arm to appear slimmer than Flat Stanley. Eventually, I had an approved and improved version of myself to share.

Collage of silver hair transition

I showed my husband the adapted pictures: “Where are you?” he asked, puzzled at this odd image staring back. I had to agree. It just wasn’t me. This was a Mannequin. Only I didn’t look like Kim Cattrall.

Example of filters used on a picture
How far is far enough?

I know the idea of going silver, often goes hand in hand with wanting to be authentic, but I’m no warrior for natural. I get a nosebleed if I go to the countryside and misplacing my lipstick is akin to losing my keys.

While I may not opt for digital filters, I use my own filters of makeup, good lighting, a well rehearsed Mona Lisa smile, a tilt of the head.

Filters are a controversial subject, especiallly on silver hair sites. I’ve seen posters cancelled, flounce off and even, delete their accounts, based on this thorny subject. Some people are purists, not happy unless you are photographed so candidly that even your nostril hairs are begging for privacy.

Some posters prefer to go full filter and upload an image so enhanced that even the Kardashians are telling them less is more. Others fall somewhere in between.  Whatever makes you feel more comfortable, I don’t care what you do. Or if it bothers you, just scroll past.

Back in the office, during my own dabble with filters, my colleague Helen, walks right past me in reception. It seems I’m unrecognisable in the harsh light of day. On social media I’m a size 10, my hair is pale as Moonstone in the sympathetic bathroom light, and my jaw line is taut. In reality, I’m a little over 5ft, overweight and having a hot flush.

Is this what it’s like to be an influencer, caught without their digital trickery, or are they annoyingly gorgeous?

Is this why Kate Winslet demanded her airbrushed magazine picture was reinstated to its original form, because it just wasn’t true? I wish I had Kate’s authenticity, but the truth is, I feel better when I have my trusty hot pink lipstick to hand.

I embarked on this silver hair journey to look and feel better, among other reasons. But take my other beauty props away, and I will hunt you down like a short, plump, Lara Croft, whose leather shorts are chaffing her thighs and who most definitely wears a well scaffolded support bra under that skimpy vest top.

Curiosity gets the better of me and I install the ‘Profile Pic’ app to reveal alternate images of myself as a painting. I haven’t been this excited since my painting of my childhood pet gerbil, Geraldine, was featured on the British children’s TV show ‘Take Hart’ in 1982.  The images do not disappoint, as I experiment with various photos from my extensive portfolio. Even the dodgy serial killer portrait of me in lockdown has me looking sane. This app is my friend.

Profile Pic App
Profile Pic – the forgery.
Image of woman with silver hair
The original canvas.

This isn’t my first rodeo with AI. I’ve explored face changing apps that make me old/fat/bearded/famous. You can read about the time an app seemed to impose my photo on Victoria Beckham’s head and body, here:

Image of woman with grey hair
Posh Anna.

In the early days of my silver/wavy hair transition, a cartoon craze swept social media. In that app, photos were transformed into Disney type cartoon characters, all doe eyed and bushy tailed. But I never dreamt of being a princess, and the Bambi eyes and dimples were too much for an Indie chick like me. I want something bleak, something out of Ivor the Engine. An animation with imperfections and not so bubbly. 

Collage of cartoon pictures of woman
Did you make me cute?

Months on, with my nearly fully transitioned silver hair, I still need confirmation that the world views me as silver. The ‘Portrait Pic’ app reveals a fine art portrait, with a thick head of hair. Yup, these are the waves I dream of.

Hang on though, my hair has taken on a creamy, Kinder bar effect. Where is my silver? Even this app has an issue with grey. My roots are darker, like a reverse of all those years with silver roots and dark ends.

My skin is glowing – there’s ethereal light and shade, highlighting and contouring in all the right places. My thin lips are full and Cupid-esque (somebody get Rubens) and my slightly wonky eye is no longer lazy. It’s now  proactive and up in time for breakfast.

The whites of my eyes are bright, my eyebrows are immaculate. My spots are zapped, and the scar where Sacha the poodle chowed down on my bottom lip when I was 12, erased. I am a work of art! This is the perfect, paint my numbers version of me.

Profile Pic before and after
Before and after. Oh no, the beige is back!

I upload it to Instagram and, as if they ever needed any encouragement, those males (you know the ones ladies) who hang around our timelines hoping to trade crypto currency or flatter us into giving granny’s antique ring away, are replying to say that I’m beautiful inside and out (you don’t even know me mate, and really? You think my lower intestine is beautiful?) and can they ‘slide into my DMs’?

Next time, I’m trying out the Edvard Munch ‘app, with my face imposed on ‘The Scream’. Even that would not deter these tomb raiders.

I like the photo, but I miss me. I want my silver hair back. I want my spots back. I want to see my friends’ profile photographs again, warts and all.

The craze continues. And just when you think it couldn’t get any more bizarre, rumours are rife that spies are harvesting our data from this app across the dark web.

It wouldn’t take foreign intelligence to find out my movements though. Just a glance at my Facebook feed would reveal enough. I’m not sure why spies might be interested that a 48-year-old mother-of-two from the West Midlands has joined Weight Watchers and is loving the spicy chickpea recipe.

For now, I will stick to photographs. They may be staged, but I’m not sporting a pom pom tail or Morten Harket cheekbones. 

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