is it OK to look very different from your online photos?

A reader writes:

I’ve started a new job (thanks to lots of great advice on negotiating job offers from your site!) which involves a lot of networking with partners within and outside of my organization, and because I’m new I’m meeting people for the first time. In preparation for a scheduled meeting, I try to do some research on the company and the work my contact does, so that I can make the most of our meeting time. Because of Covid, all my meetings are now virtual, usually via video conference, but hopefully some day I’ll be meeting people in person.

A couple weeks ago, I had a situation that really threw me for a loop and I can’t stop stewing about it. I’d done a lot of research and reading about the individual I was meeting with, and there happened to be a few photos of the person on their organization’s website (I am talking about the company website, not social media or broader web-stalking).

When the meeting started (we were both working from home), the person looked nothing like their photos, to the point where I started to have a mini-panic and thought I’d prepared for the wrong meeting or somehow was meeting with the wrong person. I slowly realized that I was talking with the same person, but that their physical appearance and attire choice had changed quite a bit. It was distracting — thinking I’d made a mistake and trying to dig through my memory to make sure I was in the right meeting — and the situation made it hard to focus on the conversation at hand.

So that started me thinking about whether there’s any etiquette or general guidance for how often you should be updating your “official” online presence photos, if they exist. On one hand, I feel like if you’re going to put something out there, it should be reasonably true to what you look like and not overly edited or really out of date … but on the other hand, some things are ephemeral (like hair color/style, facial hair on men, even some weight gain/loss) and you don’t always want to be updating every time you get a haircut or grow a mustache. Also, in some circumstances, I could see a situation where a physical change is happening (like a gender transition) where someone isn’t ready to make it “website official.”

What’s that the right thing to do here from an individual level, but also from a managerial level if you oversee staff who who have official photos on company websites? I’m certainly not going to bring up to a fellow networking contact that I think they should update their online presence, but now I want to make sure I’m not putting someone else in a position where they don’t recognize me!

Well, there’s what people should do and then there’s how the people around them should respond to it, and those can be two different things.

As a general rule, you should indeed want your online photos to look reasonably enough like yourself that people won’t panic and think they’re meeting with the wrong person.

And that’s a guideline with a lot of room in it! It doesn’t mean people need to update their photo every year or when their hair changes or every time they go up or down 10 pounds. It really just means “be generally recognizable” (since otherwise, what’s the point of having the photo up at all?).

But as a manager, I’d tread pretty lightly around telling people when they need an updated photo. I could see saying something like, “I just realized our photo of you on the website is from when you first started 15 years ago — can we get a more recent one at some point?” But if it’s a photo from within, say, five or even ten years and the person looks different because they’ve gained/lost weight or gone bald or similar … I’d leave it alone. I just don’t think it matters enough to be worth putting such a focus on the person’s appearance, particularly when those changes can be sensitive areas. Unless there’s evidence that it’s regularly confusing people in ways that matter (something like students not recognizing an assigned teacher), I’d put more weight on giving people the comfort of managing their own online photos.

{ 391 comments… read them below }

  1. New Job So Much Better*

    I’ve always gone into situations without expectation of recognizing someone from a photo. Too much room for error.

    1. KateM*

      A photo is only 2D, but a person is at least 4D. At least that’s my excuse when I don’t recognize people whose photos I have seen.

      1. BlueberryFields*

        Exactly. Maybe I changed my hair color over the weekend and got five new piercings. You never know. Plus,
        Zoom (and other platforms) allow you to see the person’s name. If OP wants a hill to die on, I would pick “make sure people have their name listed on their online video call profile” not “you can’t use this picture of when you were skinny and ten years younger.”

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          I just had a nasty flashback to the time I kicked a member of our management team off a Zoom seminar by accident. We’d just had a nasty trolling incident and she logged in with her personal Zoom account, which had a weird profile picture and two random letters instead of her name. I thought that she could be a troll and it was better to be safe than sorry, so I kicked her out and she couldn’t get back in. Luckily, she was just amused by the situation and didn’t yell at me!
          The lesson here is to at least remember to change your display name so that webinar hosts can identify you.

          1. bamcheeks*

            On the flipside, I signed into a work meeting with the previous evening’s Zoom quiz name, and only realised halfway through that I was there as Rhubarb’s Custards.

            1. Anon and on and on*

              I have a coworker who accidentally joined a client call using their gaming name “ChaosLord” a few years ago.

            2. The Prettiest Curse*

              Ha, at least that sounds harmless if slightly mortifying. And if your username refers to the old animated TV show, that is awesome!

            3. WoodswomanWrites*

              Same. I forget what the goofy name was now, but I only became aware of it because someone on that work call brought it up. Fortunately, everyone found it amusing so it was no big deal.

            4. DrRat*

              It would 100% make my day at work to have Rhubarb’s Custards or ChaosLord in one of my meetings!

            5. The Ghost Of Henry VI*

              I’m part of a group of friends that does Zoom Shakespeare read-throughs. We usually set our screen names to the characters we’re playing, and I make a point of setting a topical background for each character.

              So far I’ve only forgotten to reset these before work meetings once, and thankfully it wasn’t the time I had Shirtless Bathtub Henry Cavill as my background. That could have raised some eyebrows.

              1. The Prettiest Curse*

                Fortunately, I don’t have to be on camera for the webinars I host, because if that ever happened on one of my webinars, I definitely could not keep a straight face!

              2. Spooky All Year*

                Oh man, I’m part of a similar group of Zoomed Shakespeare and I once logged into a remote class with a blood spattered background from the Scottish Play that weekend. Luckily I was the first one in, so no one saw it before I changed it, but that could have been… interesting.

          2. Le Sigh*

            You made the right call — and I’m glad you didn’t’ get any grief for it. There are just too many incidents like that, and you can’t afford to assume the best.

            1. Tobias, Unicorn Lord Supreme*

              My kid borrows my laptop for an online youth group and I often find myself in a zoom meeting with the name “Tobias, Unicorn Lord Supreme” or “Tobey da gamer boi” or similar…

              1. The Prettiest Curse*

                Ha, if your kid ever tries to comment here as you, they won’t even need to change the username!

            2. The Prettiest Curse*

              I was kind of horrified when I realized what I’d done, but fortunately I was pretty new in my job at the time, so could just put it down as not recognizing her account.

    2. Generic Name*

      I’m remembering being at a conference with a coworker, and we were supposed to meet up with a person from another company. He told us he’d be pretty recognizable because he is, in his words, “A funny looking tall lanky guy with red hair and glasses”. Reader, my coworker and I approached no fewer than five men who fit this description thinking it was our contact!! It was pretty awkward when they were like, “no, not me”. We were able to laugh about it later, fortunately.

    3. quill*

      My first college roommate was a doozy. Her profile picture on facebook was just straight up a different person: different hair color, eye color, face shape, body shape. I expected her to be recognizeable from the photo, so when I walked in on move in day I thought one of us was in the wrong room.

      (Her father was also building a shelving unit into the closet that ensured I would only be able to access 1/3 of the room because “her clothes need to be folded” but that’s beside the point of the letter: in that case, it went beyond “looks different than I thought” and into “What the fresh heck did I just move into.)

      When it comes to photos I generally expect some similarity, if I remembered the photo at all.

      1. Mannequin*

        I know a lot of people who don’t show their own face on social media for a lot of reasons- privacy, safety, camera shy, novelty, etc, and sometimes it’s a photo of different person. If I had to categorize, they generally fall into:

        A person of public or historical fame/significance/infamy that they admire- self explanatory.

        A person of personal significance to them that they want to highlight- a deceased person or ancestor; a friend, relative, partner, or other loved one; a business partner, etc.

        A person who who posed for a staged picture – artistic photos with or of people, modeling or fashion photography, stock photos, etc

        If it was just some rando or they were actually trying to impersonate someone, that *would* be incredibly weird!

    4. tamarack & fireweed*

      Yes, if “there happened to be a few photos of the person on their organization’s website”, then recognizing should not be expected, and the whole dramatic insecure reaction is really on the OP. It’s not as if the other person sent the OP a few photos before the meeting with a note saying that these were for easier recognition … and then arrives looking completely different (beard/no beard, hair color and style, substantial change in body composition… )

  2. Prefer my pets*

    This set my teeth on edge. Lots of us look different in every photo taken..very slight angle/lighting choices make a huge difference on a lot of faces.

    The best part about being remote has been the reduction in micro aggressions and biases people make when they can’t tell you’re POC, overweight, age, gender nonconforming, etc. I’d be pissed if I found out someone was digging for pictures of me as part of their “research” about my professional role. Look at the projects I’ve been involved in, past work history, etc not what I freaking look like!

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I look nothing like my photos. My brother says I look like Slimer from the ghostbusters in all my photos.

    2. Threeve*

      I usually find pictures more helpful for people I have met before. I’m horrible with names and faces, and it’s so awkward when someone recognizes me and I just stare at them blankly.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        For some reason I’m really great at watching a movie and being all “Hey, that dude was in that terrible cruise ship action movie 20 years ago? Remember, he had that funny line about elephant eyeballs! Do you remember him?” but when it comes to co-workers I’m faceblind. We used to have this big board that had everyone’s names and pictures on it in the company and when I dealt with someone I hadn’t worked with before I would go check it to put a face to a name – and it was so unhelpful.

        Once I started a new job, and a woman was sitting near me with big blond hair. Two days later a new woman was sitting there with very short brown hair and I had a whole freakout of “oh man, I was just getting to know her and now someone else is there and I have no idea who she is”. Turns out, it was the same woman who had finally decided to stop wearing her cancer wig because her hair was growing back. I didn’t realize they were different until I worked there for three months and she talked about the day she stopped wearing her wig.

        1. Relax Relate Release*

          I had the same thing happen. Started a new job and a few weeks in realized that I had gone to graduate school and even done a group project with one of my new direct reports. She hadn’t recognized me either. I’m just terrible remembering people while she had the excuse of having a severe visual impairment and trying to place me after I went from short, blonde, curly hair to straight, long, red hair. We’re great friends now after more than 25 years and laugh about our double non-recognition all those years ago.

        2. GB*

          I once failed to recognise a member of my own team because he was wearing a bike helmet and it wasn’t in the office. Despite him having a very distinctive accent. (I’m mildly face-blind but much more so if I don’t have the right context for somebody.)

          1. Princesss Sparklepony*

            GB – outside of the office is very understandable. They are like an anomaly when you meet co-workers or people from the past in your everyday life. (You aren’t supposed to be here!) Although when it happens to me I’ll be thinking I’ve seen before – were they in a movie/tv show I saw? Or look like someone from same… It takes me longer than most to realize I know them from work.

          2. Mannequin*

            OMG, there used to be a store across the street from me that I went into like 3-5 days a week, and one of the employees was a cute & friendly little old lady.

            Once I went into Target & saw her there and almost had a panic attack trying to figure out where I knew her from.

        3. The Magpie*

          I’m like this with actors in films, too, but especially with voices! My husband finds it borderline unsettling how I can be like, “No, no, I *know* I’ve heard this voice before” and then dig around in IMDB until I proudly announce, “I knew it! He guest starred in a children’s show I used to watch back in 1995!”

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I’m usually good with faces but not names. It’s totally random whether I remember it or not, even if I’m paying attention. Other times, someone will introduce themselves and I know it forever. I don’t know if it has anything to do with my stupid LD, but it’s annoying all the same.

        At Exjob, I would chat in the break room with two women who worked on my floor but in a different department. I know I was told their names, but I constantly forgot—and I saw them nearly every day. Also, in my sangha, there is a person with a short, easy-to-remember name like Jane. But for some reason, when I first met her, I got it into my head that her name was Celestina. It took ages before I heard someone call her Jane and was able to readjust.

        1. Princesss Sparklepony*

          Elizabeth West, You just clued in that Celestina is life of crime name. Very perceptive of you.

          FYI – your life of crime name is either one you pick out yourself or one that your name normally gets mangled into. A friend of mine has Carne Asada picked out. And I’m either going with Llewellyn Boleyn or my mangled name of Barbara Major.

          1. Mannequin*

            That is hysterical!

            Many years ago, I started dating a guy who had seen a cheesy old 60s British horror flick about a gang of juvenile delinquents on motorcycles who sold their souls to Satan to have eternal undead life.

            He and his friends thought it was hilarious, and since my BF rode a vintage motorcycle, they decided to start a fake British motorcycle gang called Arson Shite, and everyone had to have a Biker Name. My BF was the only person who actually had a bike, so naturally he was the ‘leader’ and went by Sternum. His best buddy was Clutch, and then there were Knuckles and Chains. Since I his GF, I got to be his ‘old lady’, and I was christened with the biker name Mr. [My Obviously Girly Name]. So I guess that’s my life of crime name right there! LOL!

        2. Mannequin*

          Forgetting names, mixing up names, mixing up faces and names- all of these have happened to me for as long as I can remember! I’m not face blind, though, when someone says to me “do you remember so & so” the first thing I ask is “what did they look like?” or “how did they act?” I usually remember people who have something distinctive about their appearance or mannerisms over those who blend in.

          I’m both dyspraxic and dyscalculic (sp?), and have seen the face/name listed as symptoms of both- though admittedly, not a main symptom of either, and it’s not always listed as one with dyscalculia, so it is likely lesser known.

        3. Mannequin*

          Oh, also? MANY years ago, I met a woman at Favorite Goth/Punk Club, who was super cool and amazing and beautiful and dressed rad and I loved talking to her & wanted to be her friend…and I could never remember her name. NEVER! I got SO embarrassed having to ask her over & over again, that I finally started asking someone else- what is her name again.

          The punch line?

          She had the same name as MY SISTER :laugh: :cry:


    3. Kippy*

      Professional hair/makeup and lighting make such a big difference too. Even if I had my professional website photos taken yesterday, I’d look very different at home onZoom this afternoon.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Or just different lighting/surroundings, generally. My website photo was taken in front of a background of one color. My zoom space is in front of a wall of a different color, which causes the lighting to be different, and makes my hair look like it’s darker than it is. I’ve had people (not unkindly) remark that I look different than my website photo. *shrug emoji*

        1. Mannequin*

          My eyes are a grayish blue, but they can also look remarkably different depending on my color of hair, clothing, and eyeshadow- they can look more grey, more blue, or even green, and if I wear the right shade of purple eyeshadow, they appear to be a startling shade of aqua.

          My natural hair color is such a neutral/blah dishwater blonde that if I bleach it light, my regrowth looks brunette, but if I dye my hair black, it looks light blonde.

    4. Ellen Ripley*

      When I am preparing for an interview and doing research on the business’s website, I do look at the “staff” page. I am not specifically looking for pictures, though they are usually there; I’m more looking for a description of who the people are, what they’ve done before, and what their current role is in the company. I admit that it is sometimes nice to see a picture of someone before the interview because it helps me start to associate their name with their face. It’s a lot easier for me to make the name-face association outside of the high-intensity situation of an interview. When I’m introduced to multiple people and multiple names and am under stress (like during an interview) I typically immediately forget who is who.

      I really don’t consider this “digging” for pictures; I am using the publicly posted resource from the company itself to learn more about the people there. This sounds like what the letter-writer did as well.

      1. Prefer my pets*

        The LW put so much emphasis and focus on someone’s appearance that she apparently was unable to focus and completely freaked out when they looked different. That’s a whole different level of intense scrutiny & emphasis on appearances.

        1. lunchtime caller*

          …because they thought they were two different people. Let’s not just skip over that part of the letter and make it sound like they were just so upset at meeting a blonde when they expected a brunette or whatever.

          Back to the main letter, one thing I would suggest in general that would also help avoid this is for people to introduce themselves as matter of course even on video calls–we often skip it because “of course they know who they’re talking to,” but as someone with a name that always needs to be pronounced for people, it would solve a lot of issues at once.

            1. Loulou*

              Yeah, I’m not understanding the ire towards OP here! If someone looks so different from their picture that a colleague meeting with them is worried they have the wrong person, it’s a problem (even if there’s not really a way to solve it)

              1. Wisteria*

                “If someone looks so different from their picture that a colleague meeting with them is worried they have the wrong person, it’s a problem (even if there’s not really a way to solve it)”

                But it is not necessarily a problem with the picture. Even if the picture was taken yesterday, today the colleague is at home, in different lighting, wearing clothing more suitable to working from home than to corporate headshots or events, etc. The problem was with expectations and the ability to roll with the unexpected.

                1. Loulou*

                  Yes, I definitely agree with you! I guess my point was more that people are acting like OP is some busybody (similar to Jane who reported the other day’s OP for wearing the dress every day) policing people’s pictures, when in fact they were just…confused to meet someone who looked very different from their picture, which surely has happened to all of us.

              2. Just @ me next time*

                If you have a meeting scheduled with Judy Smith to talk about llama shampoo, and you show up to that meeting and someone says “Hi, I’m Judy Smith, let’s dive in to our llama shampoo chat,” and you spend the meeting obsessing over whether you’re in the right meeting because Judy Smith doesn’t look how you thought she did, that’s a you problem. And if the person leading the meeting doesn’t introduce themselves or the topic at hand, you can just say something like, “I’ve had so many meetings, I just want to make sure I’ve got the details right. I have it on my agenda that you’re Judy Smith and we’re talking llama shampoo. Is that right?”

                I have anxiety, so I know how much one unexpected thing has the potential to be derailing. But it’s my job to manage that anxiety, not lean into the downward spiral and then blame someone else. People do not owe it to you to look exactly like a picture that was taken of them in the past.

                1. wordswords*

                  Sure, but if you have a meeting scheduled with Judy Smith to talk about llama shampoo, and you show up to that meeting and someone says “Hi, good to meet you! Let’s dive right in,” and doesn’t look like the headshot on Judy Smith’s profile page, you might well be confused and distracted! I sure would be. And we really don’t have enough information to say which scenario is more accurate to the LW’s experience here.

                2. cat servant*

                  or if you researched that Judy Smith is the world’s leading expert on Llama Shampoo and holds several patents, and you are all ready to talk to that Judy Smith, then you get in a meeting with someone else named Judy Smith that is actually new to the field … you researched all the wrong questions. So even if you check the name and topic, is it the right person? I could see how if, in your research you were prepared to talk to someone then ended up seeing someone so very different that you were confused. But that could easily be remedied.. “Oh i read that you hold 3 patents on Llama Shampoo, can I ask some questions about those?” for example…

              3. Meep*

                I think the major problem here is that this very blog has taught us that people fixate on the weirdest thing. She could be “a completely different person” because she lost 50 lbs and the bad haircut from the pandemic. Or she could be “a completely different person” in that she just didn’t wear makeup that day.

                We only have OP’s word and the Letter Writer(s) will always be an unreliable narrator to an extent.

                1. Mannequin*

                  “ Or she could be “a completely different person” in that she just didn’t wear makeup that day”

                  OMG THISSSSSSS…

                  I know people who can put on drag Queen quantities of cosmetics, and still look exactly like themselves, with lots of makeup on.

                  I know other people, for whom even the difference of just a small or moderate amount of makeup makes them look like an entirely different, completely unrelated human being.

                  And some that look different in a little makeup vs a lot of makeup!

                  And men that are unrecognizable with/without facial hair, including an ex who, shaved, looked like a model with a handsome, boyish face, but with even heavy stubble, looked like some kind of stereotypical degenerate or criminal!

        2. BigHairNoHeart*

          Eh, OP is in a new job, which is stressful just in general. I can understand being thrown for a loop by something small, immediately internalizing that THEY’VE done something wrong as a result (thinking they looked up the wrong person when they did research before the meeting, which may very well make the whole meeting a mess), and internally panicking. I get why people find it disconcerting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean is obsessed with appearances so much as…potentially prone to panicking and ruminating maybe?

      2. Big Apple Greeter*

        Ha! This is like going to the theater and headshots in Playbill are from 40 years ago. Or in academia where professors use photographs from 25 years ago – some are unrecognizable!

        1. Global Cat Herder*

          Decades ago, my mom dragged me to a touring production that Dick Van Dyke was in. There was Matlock somewhere on that distant stage, but the playbill had a picture of Rob Petrie!

        2. Jamie Starr*

          Ha, yes. One of my grad school professors is pretty famous in her field and for xmas one year, my parents gave me a book she’d written only a few years earlier. Her photo on the dust jacket had to have been at least 30 years old. It’s been ~15 years since I’ve been in school and she’s still using the same photo in her more recently published books!

          Not gonna lie, my drivers license photo is 13 years old and I’m not mad about it. I looked great when it was taken so I am fine if the DMV wants to keep using it.

          1. KateM*

            Have you noticed that when they publish books of authors who are dead, they don’t put current photos of them on dust jackets, either?

          2. londonedit*

            We have to change the photos on our photocard driving licences every 10 years! 15 years or so ago it got to the point with my passport where whenever I travelled the passport control people would advise me to get a new passport even though the current one was still valid – in the 7 or 8 years since the photo in that passport had been taken, I’d gone from having short blonde hair to long dark brown hair with a fringe, and they said it was close to making me not recognisable enough.

      3. Dennis Feinstein*

        This is a bit harsh.
        The LW specifically said: “I’d done a lot of research and reading about the individual I was meeting with, and there happened to be a few photos of the person on their organization’s website (I am talking about the company website, not social media or broader web-stalking).”
        So the LW wasn’t “digging for pictures”. They were also likely nervous and found it a bit disconcerting that they were expecting the interviewer to look one way and were naturally confused when the interviewer looked nothing like that, to the point where they thought they were in the wrong meeting.
        The obvious solution is for the company not to put its employees’ photos on its website. But the photos are there.
        Please don’t judge the LW for looking at them.

    5. Carmen Sandiego*

      LW here – to be clear, I wasn’t digging for that sort of information (photo) all over the web, it was prominently displayed on the company website and that’s the only place I looked for my prepation. And I completely agree that I don’t want to be judged by my appearance either. Nor am I judging that person for any changes in their appearance (because let’s be honest, COVID has not been kind to me!). In hindsight, the appearance difference was really notable because I’d only done my background work right before the call, and all the information I’d learned was fresh in my mind (all information! Not just what they looked like in their bio photo).

      1. JimmyJab*

        Your elaboration is exactly how I understood your letter – not sure why some folks are commenting that you are obsessed with looks.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        I think this is a great question, and you just provided enough information for people to create an issue out of stuff that *wasn’t your question*!

        1. carmen sandiego*

          Letter writer here again. These comments (above and below) are so fascinating. I am enjoying the discussions and different perspectives, and learning a lot in the process. Someone commented on me ‘stewing’ (yes, my word choice in the letter) – and yeah, I was stewing all over the holidays about it – why was I so thrown by it (to the person who mentioned new job, new job stress – you nailed it), what about it all made me think I HAD THE WRONG PERSON (I’ll touch on that in a moment), what did I do wrong (me, not the other person)? I spend waaaaaay too much time in my own head thinking about all the things. And in hindsight, we didn’t do introductions at first, the person I was meeting with sort of launched into a ‘hi this is the work our business does these are our partners this is how we operate’ for several minutes then a long enough pause opened up for me after (5? minutes) for me to say hi and give my name. It was…different from other similar conversations I’ve had as part of this new job and it really did knock me off balance. I think I fixated on the appearance throwing me, but after reading all the comments here, I think I was also thrown because I went into it with some expectations (bias!) of my own. I am a mid-level staff, and was meeting with a high level (think C-level), who’s company only had pictures of them (not other staff) online, and I was expecting a CEO, whatever that means…Obviously I need to rethink that stereotype. But I guess if I had to put it in words, despite work from home and new standards, I was expecting a more formal ‘get to know you’ meeting with introductions, a more professionally structured meeting like other’s I’d had (instead there was a lot of rambling and I sensed they were scattered/unprepared instead of focused on the meeting at hand) and I admit I expected attire that is more typical of in-office settings. For those who asked, the online pictures were business attire (think suit), professionally taken (and styled). Video meeting attire was ‘fresh off the ski slopes’ athleisure, a clean hoodie and fluffy outdoor hat that obscured a lot of the face and all hair (or lack thereof) and a they also had a moderate change in weight (gain, since people are asking), and bold eyeglasses that weren’t present in online pictures (awesome eyeglasses). For what it’s worth, I am overweight, and COVID/personal live challenges have added some wrinkles to my face and a lot of grey hair from stress…so I hope I’m the last to judge about appearance, but of course I can do better.

          All our communications (email) prior to this had been very formal, so I guess I was dragging that baggage with me into the video call too…and I really was just worried I’d done the wrong research for the wrong meeting and would be asked how I saw our partnership working and wouldn’t know what to say (as in, wouldn’t be able to do my job!). In the end, we had a great call, and I am excited to move the partnership forward, and hopefully I can learn from this experience to be more nimble with fewer pre-conceived expectations…though I’ll always work hard to be prepared to talk substance!

          1. Cascadia*

            I can totally see how that threw you! A hat that completely obscures hair, glasses, and hoodie is basically how someone trying to hide who they are would dress. Make the glasses sunglasses and you’ve got the perfect “I’m trying to hide who I really am” disguise. Add to that that you were concerned you were in the wrong meeting or had researched the wrong company and I can totally see how it would throw you. If this were an in-person meeting, you would presumably be at the agreed upon meeting place, and would then, but with all the zoom meetings and clicking on links, it can be easy to think – “oh shoot, did I just spend an hour preparing for this client call by researching the wrong company? Are they going to ask me how I can support them in llama grooming, when the company I just researched designs teapots?”

            That being said – I don’t think your confusion has to do with the person’s picture being out of date. I think it more has to do with the fact that were dressed in a way that largely obscured their recognizable features and you weren’t sure who you were talking to. That, and the fact that they didn’t introduce themselves and that it was an online meeting, could easily make things very confusing.

          2. Carmen sandiego*

            Me again – I wonder in my choice of ‘stewing’ is an issue here. Maybe ruminating is better? There was no anger behind my stewing : )

            1. Llama face!*

              Thanks for your clarifications! I think that word choice may have been a contributor to some people’s negative responses because it has more of an “angry about it” connotation. Though I’m happy to see that I was one of the people who actually got what you were meaning. :) I also would have been very thrown off in the meeting and probably ruminated about it for way too long afterwards.

            2. Midwest Teacher*

              Yes, “stewing” very much reads to me in the same way as “fuming” would, and that really took me aback from your letter. I think that’s probably contributing to some of the negative responses you’re getting, I read it as you were irrationally angry AT the interviewer because they looked different from their photos, and then fumed about it for a weirdly long time as if the interviewer was wildly improper for changing their appearance. Thank you for clarifying.

      3. Very Tired Tuesday*

        People are doing the work blog equivalent of picturing themselves as the action movie hero reacting perfectly under pressure. Yes, yes, if it were you you’d react instantly to the spy pulling a gun out, duck under his fire, spin kick him off the building, and leap onto the train roof. And then when you got to work you would encounter something unexpected and never, for even an instant, be thrown off your grove or worry that it was your mistake.

        Sometimes people just really want someone to feel superior to, and write weird fanfic in their heads to get here.

      4. Not Sure*

        This is a legitimate question and a real issue that comes up. Something similar has happened to me (and probably to a lot of people, really). I am baffled by all the hostility about this, it’s like people are intentionally ignoring half your letter. :-\

    6. Librarian of SHIELD*

      You know that thing were some people’s eye color will look different depending on what color they’re wearing or what lighting is like around them? That’s what color my hair is. I get asked pretty frequently if I’ve dyed my hair, but it’s just because I’m wearing purple today and it’s kind of cloudy. It’s really hard to get a picture that represents what I look like!

    7. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I look nothing like my company photo because they edited it so heavily. I hope I don’t look like a wax figure in real life, but my photo sure does.

    8. L.H. Puttgrass*

      The “gender nonconforming” part is an excellent point. That and the part about “attire choice” makes me wonder if there’s more going on here than the LW is letting on. But to avoid speculation, and trusting that if this were a gender transition thing the LW would have said so, I’ll just say that there are many reasons people change their appearance, some voluntary and not, but many of them are highly personal. I can understand being surprised that someone doesn’t look like photos you found of them online, but what an interviewer used to look like is completely irrelevant to anything important in an interview.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        And now I see that the LW brought up the transition issue in their letter. I fail my reading comprehension test today.

    9. Name blind*

      I’m whatever the opposite of faceblind is (especially for people of my own race) and I like to see photos of people because it’s helpful to feel more prepared for meeting them. Especially because I’m terrible at names and will often remember names incorrectly even though I do recognize the person. (Think like calling Mary by the name Marcie instead.) This way I have time to look at the person and focus on remembering their name correctly before I meet them.

      I hadn’t considered before that I’m setting myself up to unfairly judge people based on my own biases. I’ll have to think on that.

      1. Wisteria*

        You are a super recognizer! There was a radio show about folks like you quite some time ago. My faceblind self is in awe of your abilities!

        1. NeonFireworks*

          Same here. I am so bad with faces that I had an academic psychologist test me for faceblindness (though that was negative). Photos, even when accurate and updated and decent in quality, probably aren’t going to help me recognize people.

          1. NeonFireworks*

            Hit enter too soon – I read a cool article about super recognizers working for crime units!

          2. Wisteria*

            That is a thing that they test for?
            What is there to the testing? I’m very curious, bc I have a lot of trouble with recognizing faces, and I feel like that is enough to call myself mildly face blind.

      2. Anon for this one*

        This makes me deeply, deeply shudder. I’m in my early 40s and thus considered ancient for the tech field, female, and not conventionally attractive. All those things get me judged consciously or otherwise and I hate to think of people deliberately seeking out photos – however well-meaning their intentions – so I don’t even get a chance to make a first impression in person.

        I would rather someone forget my name a hundred times than study my appearance before they even meet me.

        1. pancakes*

          People who see your photo on your company’s website aren’t necessarily studying it, even if they make a point of looking up your profile in advance of a meeting. Do you study the appearance of everyone you see a photo of and form negative opinions about their personality or character based on what you see? I hope not, but either way, not everyone who happens to see a photo of you will be doing that.

          Another thing is that people who are going to be biased against you for not being “conventionally attractive” aren’t necessarily going to be gentler about it or somehow forget their biases meeting you in person vs. seeing your photo ahead of time. An element of surprise doesn’t seem like a huge advantage in that situation. The idea that terribly shallow people are instantly or only going to be able to see your good work and good character when they meet you in person doesn’t seem very realistic.

          There are a lot of people in the world who aren’t conventionally attractive, very young, or both. I hope you’re not as hard on others for this as you seem to be on yourself. It’s not out of the ordinary for people who don’t make their living on their looks to not look like models, or to keep working rather than retire in their 30s.

        2. Canadian Librarian #72*

          I seriously doubt anyone is “studying your appearance”. I often look people up before interviews or after having been hired but before starting work, but it’s not because I care so much about what they look like. I’m usually after information like their tenure at the workplace in question, what they did prior, what degrees they have (if relevant) – basically, information that can help me figure out how to approach them vis a vis seniority in our respective careers, and whether they might be good resources for specific questions I might have. Often, there’s a picture of them too, so I end up learning something about what they look like. But I’m much more interested in knowing how long they’ve been at [job] and what other work they’ve done, because that can help me, whereas knowing that they’re a 40s-ish brunette with glasses and bangs is not particularly useful. I doubt I’m at all unique in this regard; most people are simply not that interested in your appearance.

      3. Becky*

        I am actually really good about recognizing faces–but correlating that with the correct name? Yeah not so good–like I ran into someone who I knew years ago at church at the symphony a little while ago and I recognized her immediately–I remembered her introducing me to a song I had never heard that she thought I could handle after hearing me sing sitting a row behind her in church and so I said I would give it a try and she ended up accompanying me on the piano when I sang the song as a solo in church.

        But I could not for the life of me tell you her name.

        My pharmacist, I swear, has the best name/face correlation abilities of anybody I have ever met. She has hundreds or thousands of people coming in regularly, I only get my prescription refilled every three months and she can see me coming and go straight for my name before I get to the service window.

        1. CoveredinBees*

          I’m like you. I can spout every piece of info people have ever shared about themselves with me but can’t remember their names. Even worse, my brain sometimes substitutes a different name and then I’ll never remember the correct name. My partner is the opposite so, between the two of us we can function like an encyclopedia or are totally lost. A real conversation:
          Me: Remember that pediatric cardiologist we met two weeks ago? She’s the one who told me about the eczema cream.
          P: Who? What’s her name”
          Me: I don’t remember. Big, stylish hats. Curly, dark hair…Very funny…
          P: What was her last name? What letter did her first name start with?
          Me: (stares)

    10. Beth*

      Then too, there are a lot of us who absolutely hate having our picture taken, and if we have just one that looks all right — or at least “not absolutely hideous” — that one will be used until the end of time if at all possible.

      I . . . would not have a good reaction to anyone who chided me for not having a recent photo online. The universe does not require me to have ANY photo online at all.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I empathise with this comment. It isn’t well known that the process of having one’s photo taken can be extremely distressing for some people (OP touched on gender dysmorphia but there are other types).

      2. Anonariffic*

        Now I’m having flashbacks to the nightmare that was trying to get new official photos taken for everyone on staff at my job. Tons of people who blew it off because they were younger/skinnier in their old photo, forgot to dress up/shave/do their hair or makeup on their scheduled day, or just didn’t want to deal with it.

        The lower level folks could be ordered to get it over with by their supervisors but there are upper supervisors that still haven’t taken care of their own photos 3+ years later. And probably half the ones that have only bothered to get it done at the last second (with no advance warning for those of us who have other jobs but occasionally set up the photo studio) when they suddenly needed the pic for a newsletter or awards ceremony or something.

    11. Jaybee*

      Yes. My only photo in the company’s directory looks nothing like me, and that’s neither my choice nor something I can change.

      I’m AFAB, I don’t identify as a woman but I present that way at work – as a very butch woman; I wear patterned button-up shirts in both men’s and women’s cuts, as long as they’re not cut to accentuate my ‘curves’.

      This has never been an issue for my supervisors, but I was required to wear a women’s suit for the photo (tough luck finding a plus-size women’s suit that isn’t cut to make you look as curvy as possible!), and the photographer also photoshopped what I will call ‘digital makeup’ onto my face – not eyeshadow and the whole deal, but somehow my pores disappeared, my skin tone was evened out and lightened up a bit, and my cheeks are very rosey-looking. He also erased a very distinctive birthmark on my face.

      I think someone looking for me based on that photo would struggle to recognize me.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        My photo in the directory, which has been taken three times, looks very little like me to the point that multiple people commented on it. I simply don’t photograph well and never have. (Probably why I cannot understand the appeal of selfies at all.) I get a lot of dancing around the fact that my picture is not flattering and they thought the wrong picture had been associated with my profile.

        1. CoveredinBees*

          Yeah. I rarely think pictures of me look like what I see in the mirror. Sometimes, I even look like a different race. In person, it is pretty obvious that my ancestors were from western Europe but there is at least one photo where I look South Asian to other South Asian people.

    12. Artemesia*

      But if you put faces on the website then people meeting for them for the first time on line ought to be able to use the pictures to know more or less what they look like. This is a rare time when a general Email — probably every two years about ‘If your website picture is obsolete, you can arrange with Fred at X2354 to get a new photo.’ That puts the ball in the court of individuals who might want to do that. Or else just do a new photo of everyone ever 5 years.

    13. Public Sector Manager*

      But for the OP’s cyber sleuthing, would the person’s appearance on the Zoom have even been an issue? Nope! I get that the OP wants to find out more about who they are dealing with, but I would only care about what someone looked like if I’d never met them before and we were meeting at some third party location, e.g. outside Conference Room A at the Llama Grooming Convention. Otherwise, what they look like has no bearing on our work conversation.

      I even disagree with the advice to update the photo from 15 years ago if you generally look the same as you did. For me, sure I’ve gained some weight in my older age, but everyone could still identify me based on the photo on my office badge.

      1. SimplytheBest*

        Cyber sleuthing? LMFAO, she went to the company’s website. I’d hardly call that cyber sleuthing.

    14. CoveredinBees*

      Depending on the field, having someone’s photo included in pre-meeting research. There’s a lot more that goes into it, such as the substantive things you mentioned, which is often more a focus of prep work. It helps with remembering names (if I don’t see it written down, I can’t remember a name) and as a memory aid after to remember different meetings or who said what. This isn’t nefarious. it’s just googling your name and pulling a pic if one pops up that is clearly that person and not someone else with the same name.

    15. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      In LW’s defense they specifically note that they weren’t like social media stalking or anything. These were photos from the contact’s company website. For all we know they were attached to the contacts bio and/or accomplishments page.

      1. Canadian Librarian #72*

        Yes this. And it’s the responsible thing to do to do research about the organization prior to the interview – if someone doesn’t do this, they didn’t prepare properly. Incidentally seeing people’s photos on the website in the course of background research/general prep because the company put them there does not at all implicate the OP in “stalking” or “sleuthing”. People are being really weird about this one.

    16. girlonthego*

      I had the exact same response. I’ve unfortunately gained weight through the pandemic and am fatter than I was in my work website photo. Should I be obliged to take a new photo documenting a physical feature I don’t like and want to be rid of? I’m now imagining how the convo with your manager goes down when they decide you are sufficiently fat to warrant a new photo.

      Like you, I have enjoyed being treated like a human being in virtual meetings etc because my weight is less obvious.

    17. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      OP did say they weren’t stalking and just looked on the company website. Probably there was a kind of presentation page for each employee with their photo, name, job title and maybe a bit of blurb about “projects (they)’ve been involved in, past work history, etc.” Probably kinda hard to avoid the photo.
      Although yes, I agree with you that it’s great to “talk” over internet and not have to deal with male colleagues flirting or people reacting to me like I’m incompetent because female. There was a client at the agency I used to work at, who sent me a job several times a year. I’d been doing it for years when one day they had to call me. They were amazed to discover that I’m a woman, and somehow, they weren’t happy with my work after that phone call and after a couple of projects where they quibbled some of my work, they stopped sending it to me.

  3. Fuse*

    Of all the things. Don’t you introduce yourself at the beginning of a meeting when you haven’t met someone before? There, all taken care of. Mini panic seems like an overreaction to something very benign.

    1. Poppyseeds*

      Ok, I have to admit I wondered about this myself. The meeting space in the virtual format also lists names with the faces in the instances I have been in.

    2. Rosie*

      Agreed. You’re so distracted you think it’s not the same person but they didn’t introduce themselves? This feels more like a “I don’t think a person who looks like this should be in this meeting” reaction.

      1. Soup of the Day*

        I think this is a very uncharitable read of the situation and is not warranted by the original letter. My meetings allow you to choose the name that will appear for you, and some people choose just their first name or their initials. If the person had a common name it’s easy to see how the LW might have thought they’d researched the wrong person.

            1. pancakes*

              Nah. If you’re that distracted by wondering whether you’re meeting with the correct person, re-introducing yourself and verifying that they are in fact So-and-So is way more reasonable and productive than panicking.

              1. Soup of the Day*

                You never know how you’re going to react in an awkward situation until you’re in one. I 100% would have panicked like the OP. Obviously introductions would have solved the problem but she doesn’t have a time machine. Reasonable or not, her reaction was her reaction.

                1. pancakes*

                  I know myself well enough and have been in similar enough meeting situations to know that I wouldn’t be quite as panicked as described, but yes, you’re right that her reaction was her reaction and the reasonableness of it is beside the point. I don’t think insisting it was reasonable is helpful.

                2. tamarack & fireweed*

                  Sure! But it’s the kind of reaction that a) should stay under wraps (ie, the other person should not get into the blast radius of the panic) and b) is best used as a learning experience for it to be less likely to happen in the future.

                  This is much like meeting with someone announced as “[important senior person with great accomplishments]” and then turning out to be casually dressed, not particularly well-groomed, speaking with an accent, of an unexpected gender, much older or younger than expected, having a facial disfigurement or any other expectation developed from one’s prejudices and stereotypes.

      2. JimmyJab*

        If its a one on one meeting and we had previously introduced ourselves on the phone or via email I would probably say, Hi, Person’sname! Not, Hello, I’m JimmyJab from PROLLAMA corporation. People have reactions, I just don’t see anything wild about what the LW described.

      3. Kenobia*

        This is the impression I got from reading the letter and, honestly, LW1’s comments.

        It’s quite interesting to see other comments and I can’t help but wonder if the ones saying that others are uncharitable in their interpretation ever experienced being on the receiving end of people who didn’t recognize you based on a photo.

        They almost certainly introduced themselves or greeted each other by name and spoke to the topic. And then one panicked about the perceived inadequacies of another person’s photo to the point that they couldn’t concentrate on externalities that are irrelevant to the meeting.

        1. HereKittyKitty*

          I mean not really? I’ve been on the receiving end before and I still think people are being uncharitable. Not everyone is particularly savvy at online interviews and recently I attended one where my co-interviewer launched straight into questions before anyone had the chance to introduce themselves! She railroaded enough, I don’t think I ever got the chance to properly introduce myself and I could see the interviewee being confused to who I was and even my name based on that interview.

          I think it’s quite uncharitable to call “looking at a company website” as “cyber sleuthing,” “cyber-stalking” or “deep-dive research on how someone looks.” And I think it’s quite uncharitable to assume proper introductions were made when the LW has stated in the comments that introductions were NOT made at the start of the interview and the interviewer had just launched into the discussion without introducing themselves.

          1. pancakes*

            I agree entirely with your second paragraph, but if you had a chance to speak at all during the meeting you describe, it’s fine to say “I don’t think we introduced ourselves, I’m So-and-So,” whenever that is, even if it’s 5 or 10 minutes into it.

      4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        My name on our website is one thing; the name I use and give to people, while a possible nickname for my full name, is more often known as a name all by itself and not usually used as a nickname (think if my real name was Margaret, but I go by Mary). If the person OP met introduced themselves as Mary Jones, and OP expected Margaret Jones, I could see that throwing them for a loop even without age, race, gender identity, disability, etc potentially thrown into the mix.

    3. BigHairNoHeart*

      I think they took one look at the person, saw that they didn’t look like their picture, and immediately jumped to the worst conclusion (oh my god, I looked up the wrong “cathy smith” on the website and am talking to a completely different person, oh my god). And in their panic, they just went with a general introduction “hey there, so nice to meet you!” or the other person did introduce themselves and OP was freaking out enough not to process it. To be honest, it sounds like something I could potentially do myself.

      1. Anonym*

        Yep, I can totally see going to “oh no have I made a terrible error?” when already stressed and nervous. Sounds like OP handled it just fine, and introduced an interesting discussion.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree. I started at my company in early 2021, I’ve never met any of my colleagues or clients in person, all meetings online, and some people have photos as avatars that look very little like how they show up in Google Meet. It’s not something that registers beyond mild surprise. Sometimes I am talking to the wrong person but that’s because I should be directing my question elsewhere.

      I mean, yeah, sometimes I’ve been mildly surprised that Jordan is a woman (or man), or that the very deep voice I spoke to on the phone belongs to a tiny person, but that’s life and it’s barely a blip.

    5. Silver*

      I don’t understand the issue here at all! Like if this happened to me I’d just say, “Hi, Cathy?” And of the person confirmed they were Cathy of just go with it. Really no big deal.

    6. lunchtime caller*

      I commented this earlier, but I’ve found that a lot of people do not introduce themselves on virtual meetings when they’ve previously emailed already! I think because there’s less of the “handshakes and sit down” portion built into the format. But it would be a good habit for people to get back into, for this among other reasons.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        It’s funny, I find that having names up on the screen makes intros so easy. They’re such an important part of meetings and so often overlooked.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah. I guess I’m glad that I’m mostly just doing internal meetings, and then our Teams names are our Teams names, and can’t be changed by the attendees. We’ve had name changes when people change the names they want to use at work, in my case only marriages and divorces and one case where someone made their nickname their legal name, rather than gender transition, but because I work for the government, if you want to change your name at work, you have to do it legally as well, using nicknames for written workplace communications is not allowed.

            I’ve attended a few external webinars, and in most cases, they used the name you registered with as the default screen name.

            I’m terrible at recognizing people. I’m not face blind, exactly, but I’m terrible with names. We have annual professional conferences, and I can tell you that I’d never be able to recognize people without the name tags, which are thankfully in a large enough font that you don’t have to squint, or stare at peoples’ chests, to read them. And these are professionals in my field that I’m used to chatting with at conferences every year! The last two conferences have been webinars, with just the presentations and no networking.

            But I wouldn’t trust myself to recognize my beautician if I saw her anywhere except at the salon.

    7. generic_username*

      I don’t think the issue was not knowing who the person is going forward, but potentially being unprepared for that person (since they had researched someone else). My guess would be the prep was a way to help with their anxiety over meeting/talking to a new person. Obviously most of us could have a conversation with a complete stranger, but some people can’t and maybe OP is like that

    8. neeko*

      I’ve also never used a virtual meeting platform that didn’t have everyone’s name at the bottom of their video.

  4. Viki*

    We used to get new corporate photos taken every year but then Covid. So now SLT has asked the photo be at least within the past two calendar years and show your face.

    I know it’s a name to face and it can throw you if what you’re expecting isn’t what you see but honestly, if it wasn’t for the SLT admin emailing us a reminder to update the photo at the beginning of Q1, I would never update the photo because it’s on such low importance to me.

  5. Snow Angel*

    At my last job, it was a bit of a joke that all the photos of our top management were out of date by a few years: a visible difference in age and weight, many now have graying hair. They were certainly recognizable but the differences were obvious. However no one was going to tell them that, it was just a joke among us low on the totem pole.

    But also, why are you staring at online photos? I think studying an online photo for so long of someone you’re meeting for the first time that you think you have the wrong person when you introduce yourself is a bit overboard. Read up on their resume, sure; but don’t scour the Internet for multiple photos. And attire choice? Most of my online photos are me in various costumes while attending geek conventions; I wouldn’t give someone’s attire a second glance.

    1. Myrin*

      That second paragraph is really uncharitable! OP says she researched the person – a good thing to be prepared for their conversation! – and “there happened to be a few photos of the person on their organization’s website”. There’s no mention of “scour[ing] the Internet for multiple photos” or “staring” anywhere! If you have a reasonably good memory for faces, there really doesn’t need to be any “studying” of photos to have an image of someone in your head which you’re then surprised by if it doesn’t get confirmed in reality.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I agree with your take. I read the letter that OP knows she’s meeting with Jane Smith, so she looks at the company’s website, and sees Jane Smith has curly blonde hair. Then they meet and the person who she expects to have curly blonde hair has short straight dark brown hair. It sounds like it was enough of a difference that OP wondered if she was talking to the right person.

      2. Snow Angel*

        Forgive my harshness but I do think OP went a bit overboard if they nearly had a panic attack and now has stewed about it for weeks afterward. It’s one thing to be thrown off in the moment and then recover but their reaction seems extreme, especially that they considered even the attire to be wrong.

        I say that as someone who has to frequently laugh at myself for getting people wrong because of my own facial blindness. Just this week, I met someone in-person wearing masks who I’ve had unmasked Zoom calls with several times. When I asked him his name, he stared at me and told me who he was. I swore like a sailor in my mind but said out loud with a laugh ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t recognize you with the mask on’. Did it throw me off and embarrass me? Yes. Did I recover quickly, shrug it off, and barely think of it again? Also yes.

        1. Myrin*

          I actually completele agree with all of that but that wasn’t what you focused on in your original comment, which is what I reacted to. I’m absolutely with you that especially the part where she’s still stewing over this weeks later (if that wasn’t just hyperbole) might mean that she has to either adjust her expectations or manage her anxieties or similar (I’m more lenient regarding the actual situation; I can easily imagine someone going “Crapcrapcrap did I actually just research the completely wrong person?!” and having that overshadow rational thought. Although, of course, if something like that happens to her regularly, again, something she might want to look into).

        2. PebbleBoyle*

          Sounds to me like anxiety – I also would not panic at all over something like this, and I think it’s fairly easy to dismiss something you yourself wouldn’t panic about. But I’m very sure some of the things I do panic over would seem random and silly to other people!

          1. Phoenix Wright*

            I agree about anxiety, but LW’s question wasn’t about what they can do to manage it. It was “How can I stop employees from misleading me with their photos?”, which to me is not a nice thing to ask.

            1. HereKittyKitty*

              That was actually not the question- the question was wondering if there’s a professional norm when it comes to updating photos and they thought of that question based on a recent experience. I hadn’t considered there may be a professional norm to professional photo updates before, so I found it a banal and interesting question.

    2. Llama face!*

      I would do the same thing (studying photos) because I am somewhat faceblind and I’m paranoid about calling people by the wrong name. Heck I even created my own private rogue’s gallery of labelled screenshots for people in zoom meetings. As part of my work, I make meeting minutes from the recordings but they don’t always say their name on record. So, when “brown haired lady with glasses” makes a motion I need to figure out which name goes with that face.

      The situation described by the OP would have me in exactly the same kind of silent panic.

  6. Mona Lisa Vito*

    At one place I worked we had an employee who had been there her whole career (20+ years) – and still used her intern picture on our intranet! The first time I met her in person I didn’t even place that it was her. Not that there’s necessarily anything “wrong” with that, but it did raise some eyebrows that she refused to update her picture.

    1. NotDorianGray*

      I’ve been with my company for 20+ years. It took me years to scrub my company’s various systems of all my old pictures. There is still one that I can’t find the source for that pops up in random software apps from about 10 years ago. I’ve done everything to root out the source of that picture. I suspect it’s in one of the IT security systems that I don’t have access to.

      I actually need to think about changing mine again. Typically my company does head shots at one of our sponsored events, but the last one I got was terrible (no touch ups were going to save that one!) and everything has been cancelled for the past few years.

      I’m hoping next spring the big event is back on and they have photo sittings again. Otherwise I’m back to a mugshot in my living room.

    2. oranges*

      It’s a running joke in my group that my badge photo is from my first day of work in my early 20s. (A loooong time ago.) Everything else in the system is up to date, so the only people who see my wrinkle free face and tragically thin eyebrows is those that catch a glimpse on my hip or security when I badge in.

      I also work in corporate, adjacent to the digital team, and the amount of F’s internal people give about the external website is maddening low. No one even knows what it says about our work, much less whatever headshot we used. We can’t get them to update the stuff we ACTUALLY need to do business.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      There used to be a lady at my org who put her HIGH SCHOOL portrait as her picture on email. I am pretty sure that IRL she was at least over 60. Now THAT is odd.

      1. Mona Lisa Vito*

        That is WILD! I will add that during my tenure at the company, this colleague was given multiple opportunities to have new, professional photos done (at the company’s cost! All we needed was 5 min of her time) and every time a mysterious conflict came up, so this wasn’t a situation where she didn’t know how/didn’t have the opportunity to change her picture.

    4. Rock Prof*

      This type of thing is a running joke in academia. Professors almost never update their pictures. My university even provides head shot services anytime you want them, but they are rarely used.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        A hit, a very palpable hit! My photos are about nine years old.

        COVID permitting, I will finally update them this May. I’m mid-hairstyle-growout at the moment… though honestly even this in-between stage looks surprisingly good; my stylist is awfully skilled at her job.

    5. OftenOblivious*

      We upload our own photos, so there’s a wide variety of actual recent-ish photo, cropped wedding photo, intern photo, vacation photo, dog, super polished headshot.

      It is occasionally a topic of conversation about people’s current look versus their profile photo.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      It’s a problem, but probably not something the employee can do anything about.
      My company took a photo for my badge in 1999. When we got new badges (to display certifications), they refused to take new pictures.
      Even for customer-facing positions, there’s minimal photography budget. It will be interesting to see if this letter gets shared widely enough that my company or others change that policy.

  7. tessa*

    “…there happened to be a few photos of the person on their organization’s website…”

    ..and very often, the updating of photos on an orgnization’s website is handled by someone other than the person in the photograph. Where I am, updating such photos can be a monstrously slow process.

    I’d just assume a valid reason for the difference and move on.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      “…there happened to be a few photos of the person on their organization’s website…”

      Makes it sound like it wasn’t even headshots on an org chart where you might expect them to be somewhat regularly updated vs photos from our 5 years ago meeting where John Smith is handing out an award.

      1. Sue*

        Yeah, it sounds like it might be pictures of the offices and some of the employees happen to be in them. There would be no need to update that just because one employee changed their hair or weight or whatever.

      2. Myrin*

        Yeah, that’s the impression I got as well. If there’s an article with a picture captioned “John Smith handing out the annual ‘Most Impressive Anteater Wrangler Award’ to Jane Wiggleroom in 2001” there’s really no reason to do anything with that picture in 2022 because it’s a historical document, not a list of current workers or similar.

    2. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

      Same here. The only thing I have control over is the icon for my email and Teams. I think Zoom I can change too. Anything else has to go through 3 other departments (HR, Photo, IT). And that’s just for the photo. If you want to change your name (not even legally just use a shorter version) there are all these hoops you have to go through.

      The only thing I would pause at is if they can change their picture on their email and they have a weird picture or one that is 20 years old. but even then I don’t know if someone outside of the organization would know if they could change it or not. I would say unless its something you know the person can change (like linkedin) then don’t worry about it.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      Yeah, I have a few photos floating around my work’s website, and they started putting our photos into our outlook email as well, so for some but not all colleagues, I can see a headshot pop up when they email me. None of us had any idea this would happen and I don’t have any control over any of the places that do show my photo.

    4. PJS*

      Same here. I’m very surprised that OP and some of the commenters seem to think it’s the employee’s fault for not updating their photo on a company website. I’ve never worked anywhere where the employee had any control or say over what was on the website, their photo included. Believe me, if I could make the horrible picture that was taken on my first day disappear, I would have done it years ago.

      1. Soup of the Day*

        The OP says she was asking from an individual AND a managerial level. In many cases it would be management’s job to schedule new headshots, but I could see a situation where someone realized a photo was out of date and took it upon themselves to get it updated.

        1. Esmeralda*

          We get headshots of new employees for my office. (One of my many stray tasks is to make sure they get taken and put on the website)

          I have too damn much else to do to worry about how up to date the photos are for our current employees. And I will win no popularity contests if I pester my colleagues to make time to get new ones. If anyone wants a new one, I’ll be glad to arrange it. My own directory photo is a very nice one from about 6 years ago. I look older and fatter now (thanks pandemic). My nice picture makes me feel happy. Too bad for anyone who doesn’t think it’s accurate.

    5. Dark Macadamia*

      Seriously! Who knows what the company’s policy is for staff photos or how often they update their website. And if it’s just a random event photo on the “our office” gallery page that’s pretty different from an outdated headshot in the directory.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*


        Shoot, at PreviousJob, the company scheduled and paid for everyone to get headshots every other year. And to their credit, they were canceled immediately when they were scheduled for the morning that we were notified that a coworker had succumbed to cancer. Local office hadn’t quite mentioned it to Corporate Office (that the pictures had been canceled) so it was then out of cycle and four years. They looked dated to those of us who knew, but it was no big thing.

  8. 867-5309*

    Most people I know put up their photo and just do not think about it again. I always let it go, regardless of my relationship to the person.

    1. Rayray*

      Exactly. They might upload one during onboarding or even have a photo taken by the company and they probably don’t think about it ever again.

  9. Person from the Resume*

    This reminds me of a situation I had right when the 2008 housing bust was just becoming apparent. My realtor was a woman with long white hair which is fine, but the photo on her cards and paperwork and signs all were of her with long dark hair. It was a heck of a contrast. I’m at least somewhat face-blind and hair color and style is a something I use to help me identify people and is what I notice on people. I try to be sympathetic to her image being part of her brand and marketing and no doubt wanting to appear younger without white/gray hair, but it was disconcerting.

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      Is face-blind a thing? I’ve noticed I have an issue with recognizing faces/telling people apart sometimes, especially ones I don’t know well. I also use hair color/style and voices to recognize people.

      1. Llama face!*

        From another face blind person, it is definitely a thing. The proper name is prosopagnosia and it comes in a wide range of severity, from having trouble matching names/faces to literally being unable to tell any faces apart or recognize people visually- even close family members.

      2. Myrin*

        Yes! It’s called prosopagnosia and can range from mild issues with recognising faces to people being unable to identify their own spouse outside their home.

      3. RabbitRabbit*

        In fact, you may have heard of a somewhat famous physician/author who has it – Oliver Sacks, known for “Awakenings” (made into a Robin Williams-led film) and “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” among other writings.

        A friend’s father has it, and I hadn’t realized until we were sitting together (at a vacation spot, pre-COVID) and someone in a group nearby spoke up and he suddenly interjected with a greeting, and then an apology for not recognizing her earlier due to his face-blindness. He had recognized her by voice as someone he knew well. I relayed this to my husband, who made a point to speak whenever he entered a room where our friend’s father was, so that he would know who had come in.

      4. Cat*

        Definitely a thing! It’s super hard for me to match up photos with IRL people because I rely so much on other things like voice, mannerisms, and clothing style. It can make for some awkward encounters, so usually I’m just friendly to everyone in case I’ve met them before haha.

        The neurologist Oliver Sacks was very face blind and has a great essay about it in the New Yorker:

      5. lunchtime caller*

        it’s definitely something I deal with as well–especially in an industry dominated by white people (no offense white people lol), I have a very hard time telling apart the two giant pools of “young white women with straight brown hair” and “50-something year old white dude.” Every time I get a new job I’m super cautious in the surrounding neighborhood for the first few weeks because it will take a bit before I can reliably tell my boss apart from a stranger with a passing resemblance.

        1. Llama face!*

          I have that problem too.

          I am extra concerned about it when it happens with people of ethnicities I don’t run into as commonly (because of the demographics of my area). So I am always really nervous about being that obnoxious white* person who, for example, can’t tell asian people apart, because the impact of my face blindness can also inadvertently make people feel othered. I’m very upfront about my face blindness to everyone I meet to try and make it clear why I might have a problem recognizing someone or might mistake them for someone who has vaguely similar features.

          And oof yeah the “young white women with straight brown hair” are the worst to tell apart.

          *I’m not actually white but look like I am

          1. cat servant*

            I AM a (no longer young) white woman with straight brown hair. And I can’t tell us apart either :)

        2. Littorally*

          Yup. I was in the situation once where face-blindness really hit badly — my boss and grandboss were similar in build and hairstyle (and race/gender/approximate age) and I absolutely could not tell them apart. It was a hell of an awkward situation.

        3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          I’m white and my coworker is Black, which is important for this story. We were at a graduation ceremony for some of our students (we help a very small population within a larger campus). We were up in the bleachers and I leaned over to my coworker and whispered, “I can’t tell any of the blonde ones apart”. She started laughing and said “ME EITHER.”

  10. Scratch*

    This is generally more true about women, but could be very true for anybody, if my picture is taken by a professional (for which I primped for), or even on my first day of work, I’m naturally going to look extremely different. I just don’t think it’s a big deal.

    1. Doug Judy*

      Yes. I get told all the time how “different” I look than my photo. Yeah, I did my makeup more that day and there was professional lighting, of course I look different than day 670 of a pandemic sitting at my house. And I don’t look that different.

  11. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

    I agree with Alison’s advice. And some company’s changing the profile pic is such a hassle. You have to first go through HR and then contact the photo guy and find a time that works for both of you. Then he sends it to IT and its up to them to put it on the website.

    I wonder exactly what had changed? The LW says “their physical appearance and attire choice had changed quite a bit.” What do they mean by the attire? Of course the clothes are going to be different than the picture. Usually for official pictures at work you dress up a bit. When I (F) have ever had a picture taken for work I usually have my hair curled or otherwise styled (more than I normally do). I also usually wear a bit more makeup than I normally do and wear a bit more nicer clothes. Basically I want to look a bit more polished than I would normally.

    Was the person’s clothing so outrageous for some reason the LW didn’t think it was the same person? I can see loosing weigh or facial hair, something like that. But to expect the person to be wearing the same level of clothing as their picture (especially if they too are WFH) is odd.

    1. Sue*

      I thought of that OP who wanted to start look more polished instead of just wearing black t-shirts. It would be odd to insist on a new picture because an employee’s clothing style changed.

    2. Threeve*

      Look up an old picture of Guy Fieri if you want to see how a major change in hair and clothes can make someone virtually unrecognizable.

    3. Christmas Carol*

      Well, there was the time Michelle came back from lunch with the blue pixie haircut and the unbuttoned shirt.

    4. CTT*

      On the other end of the hassle, our website pictures are professionally done headshots that my company pays for, which I am guessing is not a cost that they want to pay for every time someone changes their appearance (and that I definitely don’t want to pay for OR do again (I can’t hold a natural-looking smile for that long!)).

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I just cackled. Waiting for someone to change their commenting name to Black Wool Dress.

        1. Black Wool Dress*

          I’m going to wear the same outfit in every business photograph here on in so I can be recognizable.

    5. cat servant*

      i have a professional photo where the hair is nicely styled, I’m wearing a light amount of makeup , I’m wearing a blazer and blouse . But i’ve been working from home for 2 years. Hair is either in a ponytail or all over the place as i run my hands thru it frequently, no makeup, and i’m usually in a t-shirt and sweats.
      But then i keep the camera off most the time (if i know i’m going to be on camera i’ll brush my hair..)

  12. Gingerbread Gnome*

    Due to health issues, my weight can go up or down about 40 pounds within a year. The change can be pretty dramatic. I do have a preference on which weight I look and feel better at, but I’m not going to be updating online photos that often. I prefer photos of my pets anyway.

    1. Antennapedia*

      Also, never mind the fact that just where you put your laptop/camera set up (on the table vs. on a stand) can make a huge difference. I have six chins in Zoom if my camera is low and look like a completely different person if it’s on a raised stand.

  13. SnackBreak*

    I’m very curious to know how big the change from picture to person was. I often have my hair braided in the summer, and the first day I went into work afterward my coworker walked right by me, not realizing who I was (the mask did not help, but still). Unless the person had full reconstructive surgery, I can’t imagine being that thrown by it.

    1. Esmae*

      I once came to work wearing contacts instead of my regular glasses, and had an entire conversation with someone before they realized who I was.

      “…wait, Esmae??”


    2. Filosofickle*

      A new person joined my team and I was thrown by how different he looks from his head shots! And it’s not even anything too radical, but going from a couple inches of hair and clean cut to a full beard and a buzz cut just makes him unrecognizable in a virtual world. It’s probably the beard, which is fabulously dense and obscures most of his face. And in an avatar / zoom photo world, I can’t see other details like eyes and nose well enough to recognize the face underneath there. It’s not a big deal and he doesn’t need to run out and get new pics, but if not he might be better off not using a zoom pic at all because it is surprising when he switches on video.

    3. JimmyJab*

      Why are people consistently surprised that one person may have a different reaction to something that another person? I’m incredibly insecure and nervous at times, especially in a work situation where I’m meeting a new person. Even if I have every detail right, time, platform, etc., I still tend to worry I’m “in the wrong place” or got invited by mistake or screwed up the invite, etc. I obviously recover and have my meeting but it takes very little for me to get a flustered.

      1. Anon for this one*

        For me it’s not the reaction but the request made as a result. Being flustered is entirely understandable. Going from there to “people can’t keep the official photo they like because now they’re older and fatter* and I got confused” rather than “people should introduce themselves in the first meeting with a new person” or “people should have their names in their zoom profiles” bothered a lot of us since even though it genuinely seems well-intentioned, based on later comments, it seemed a lot like judging based on appearances.

        *Yeah, some people have lost weight since their photo, but statistically especially given the past two years ‘fatter’ is more likely for most of us. Definitely including me. And ‘thinner’ is less likely to get “they’re misrepresenting themselves with their photo” reactions.

        1. Wisteria*

          I didn’t find the question to have a judgey air about it, but I am not sure what outcome OP is hoping for. A dictat from the universe to managers to ensure that their employee’s photographs are up-to-date? They would be better served asking advice on how to roll with a situation where they don’t recognize the person they are talking to from pictures.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I used to have very long hair that I wore braided down my back. The summer we got married comma there was a heat wave and I put my hair up in a bun to get some airflow on my neck. I went to a store with my fiance and he kept having trouble finding me. We were close enough to touch and I was talking to him and he didn’t recognize me. (That is one reason why I kept my long hair for so many years…went short when we were locked down and he had extra time to acclimate.)

  14. Roscoe*

    I mean this is the nicest possible way. But if you are having a mini panic attack because of a change in appearance, that is a you problem, not a them problem. Most people have a photo up when they start a company and don’t really bother updating it, which is their right. I’d also argue, most people aren’t doing this diligent level of “research” as you where they’d be thrown for a loop because the person on the other end of the zoom screen wasn’t what they expected. I feel like you are putting an unfair expectation on these people for your own comfort.

    I have zoom meetings with quite a few people, and I never plan on what their appearance will be like. Even if they have an official picture on their email, company, or linkedin, as long as they are introducing themselves as who they said, that is enough for me.

    1. Breamworthy*

      Thank you, this exactly. I like to learn a little about a person before meeting them for the first time, but it never occurred to me to focus on their appearance. Also, doesn’t their zoom image have their name?

      1. Public Sector Manager*

        You would think that in meeting someone for the first time on Zoom that they would use their name. But I’ve been on any many Zoom calls meeting people for the first time and they use only their title at their company (e.g. HR Director) and don’t use their name. I get that sometimes it’s more important to have a title on a Zoom, but when you’re in a Zoom and your name is more important than your title, people need to take 20 seconds and add their name.

    2. Polecat*

      I am with you. Having a mini panic attack over something like this is an extreme reaction, and the issue is with the OP. My advice would be to dig deeper and see what the issue is, really. Was the person older, fatter, thinner and why did that bother you? Or did the person use lots of filters to make themselves more attractive in the picture? I think if the OP is honest with themselves about what was different about the person, and why that bothered them, they’d be better off.

    3. lunchtime caller*

      I do think that the OP was coming from a place more like “well this threw me and also I had never thought of it before–should I be changing my photos often too in case someone else misidentifies me? Was everyone else already doing this??” instead of “how should I tell them they fucked up with their photo.” So I don’t think it’s fair to say they’re putting expectations on anyone at the moment.

      1. Snow Angel*

        I don’t know, asking about how to handle it at a managerial lev makes me think that, if OP is a manager, they’re thinking they to be heavily policing the photos of their staff. Hopefully Allison’s comments will talk them down.

        1. Soup of the Day*

          I didn’t read it this way at all. More like “how often should management schedule new headshots for the company website?”

    4. BuildMeUp*

      …the panic wasn’t solely because of a change in appearance, OP thought that they had mistakenly prepared to speak with the wrong person and were therefore not ready for the call. I see this as something akin to having several interviews over a few days and suddenly realizing you may not be at the company you’d just reviewed your notes for.

      1. Roscoe*

        So can’t you just, introduce yourself to figure it out? Like most zoom meetings have the person’s name, and you can introduce yourself when you start. there is an easy way to adapt and figure it out.

        1. Myrin*

          I mean, I assumed she’d researched a Jane Smith but thought it was the wrong Jane Smith. I’ve never had a Zoom meeting, though, so I don’t know if there’s an etiquette where you introduce yourself not just by name but by your role and/or company as well, which would of course solve the whole conundrum.

      2. Wisteria*

        OP thought that they had mistakenly prepared to speak with the wrong person and were therefore not ready for the call … solely because of a change in appearance that could have been anticipated, since people frequently don’t look like corporate photos.

        I’m with Roscoe. I know we are all more easily rattled than we normally are, but OP would benefit from better skills at rolling with the unexpected.

      3. anonymous73*

        Even in that case, it’s not panic attack inducing. I like to be prepared for calls as well, but I wouldn’t have a full on panic attack if I mistakenly looked up the wrong information or thought I was talking to someone else. Most people are pretty understanding – just explain your mistake and move on. We’re human. It happens. This situation was not something that should produce such an extreme reaction.

    5. Omnivalent*

      Yes. The OP is still mad about it, two weeks later. That very much seems like the OP had an outsized reaction, and is managing her feelings by asking for a pronouncement that the other person was objectively in the wrong.

      1. Wisteria*

        You really put into words in a way that I could not my reaction to the letter. OP might not be mad, exactly, but they had quite a strong emotional reaction, and their response to their feelings is that someone must be doing something wrong for them to be feeling so strongly. No. No one is doing anything wrong by having a photo taken in one setting that they do not resemble when in a different setting. Happens all the time.

        TBH, the answer is also strange in the way that it validates the asking of the question.

    6. Peacock*


      OP, just introduce yourself at the start of the conversation. For example: “Hi, Jane Smith?” (pause while they nod, if it is indeed the correct person) “I’m Joanna Citizen. It’s great to meet you. Thank you for chatting with me today!”

      And I mean no disrespect to the OP, but this question made me quite cross.

      For privacy reasons I don’t want to go into, I do not have a publicly available photo of myself anywhere. The only reason that my employer has a headshot of me is because they legitimately needed one for my security pass. The same photo is on the intranet for security checks etc, but very few people have that level of access. The photo is about five years old and I look pretty much identical now, other than my hair being a bit longer.

      If my boss or anyone else asked me for a more recent headshot, especially if it was going to be more publicly viewable than the current photo, I would politely, but firmly, decline. Same for if they wanted to make the current photo more publicly viewable.

  15. MechanicalPencil*

    I’m in a personal situation now where I absolutely do not want my photo publicly available, either for personal or work purposes. The intranet-only headshot my company has from 5ish years ago is my absolute limit of acceptable in terms of personal safety.

    1. Anon for this*

      This! Also, A lot of people face domestic violence and photos allow the abuser to find them. Maybe the dramatic difference is on purpose. You never know what people are going through. Why do we have to have photos online? Can’t we normalize no photos?

      1. Peacock*

        Why do we have to have photos online? Can’t we normalize no photos?

        This would be amazing. I am so sick of people being thoughtless about the very basic concerns that far too many people have to contend with regarding their safety and privacy. But people should also just have a right to privacy, if they prefer it.

    2. Littorally*

      Yep. Bad enough I have to have my current legal name together with former professional names publicly available on my regulatory org’s website. Public headshots would be way across the line for me.

    3. Peacock*


      I am sorry that you’ve experienced this situation, MechanicalPencil. It’s a truly frightening place to be when you have concerns for your personal safety, and if it is of any comfort, I can 100% relate. Huge, if you want them.

  16. BlueberryFields*

    I’ve seen top level managers with pictures from when they were an undergrad attached to their email address (because the email system automatically pulls an image) at a college I worked at. It’s not really a big deal. Plus, with Zoom at least, you can see the name of the person you are meeting with right on the screen.

    This may be totally off the mark, but you talked about physical appearance said “even some weight gain/loss.” The qualifier makes me think this person weighed more in real life than their image. Or looked “older.”

    Do you feel upset because you think the person is deceiving you in some way? Like they’re a liar? Would you feel the same way if the person was fat (I say this as a fat person) in their picture, but was skinnier in real life?

    I think you need to take some time to think about what is important for the work you do. Unless you’re running a company of runway models, I don’t think you need to worry yourself with what someone’s avatar looks like.

    1. Soup of the Day*

      I think this is weirdly harsh considering the question that was asked! The OP didn’t say anything about feeling “lied to,” not did she comment on the attractiveness level of the person in any way. She had a situation come up at work that made her think about the larger question of how often photos should be updated on a company website, that’s all. Considering the OP acknowledged weight gain AND loss, it’s unkind to imply some sort of fatphobia or ageism on her part just for asking a reasonable question. The person could just as easily have been much thinner than her online photo.

  17. Breamworthy*

    This is very easily handled with a brief round of introductions when you’re meeting with someone new. I feel like that should be a normal part of the encounter anyway. As someone whose weight goes up and down, this email is actually pretty disconcerting. I’ve always tried to convince myself people aren’t looking at me and judging my appearance compared with how I looked at some other time, but apparently they are!

    1. BlueberryFields*

      I also fluctuate weight wise and honestly, I believe that OP is an outlier. I’ve never heard anything like this! Honestly, I enjoy seeing pictures of people from like 15 years ago. It makes me laugh.

  18. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

    This reminds me of the time at work when a colleague showed me the picture a colleague sent in to use for our conference (and we was meeting clients and hosting a panel at it). It was very nice-a bit glamour shot as opposed to work/professional but nice. And then she showed me a picture of her at the conference and you couldn’t tell it was the same person. It wasn’t age/weight issues-it was glamour vs non-glamour and honestly if she hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known it was the same person. Apparently the clients were very confused when she introduced herself because the dichotomy between the picture she sent in to use on the conference website was so different from reality. But you do you, colleague. Can’t go around looking glamour shot all the time.

    1. Beth*

      A friend of mine once proudly showed me a glamour shot she’d had done. Not only was she unrecognizable, I thought the glamour shot was absolutely and utterly hideous. My friend is a lovely woman, and all her loveliness had been flattened out by the heavy make-up, weirdly distorted by the intense lighting, and upstaged by the weird “fashionable” hairstyle.

      She was so proud of the photo, and I had a real struggle to swallow my initial reaction of sheer horror.

  19. Alda*

    When my mom worked as a massage therapist, she had a client get upset that she looked too different from the photo on the website. The client was autistic and had looked at the photo as part of preparing for the experience, and it was really disconcerting that she looked different. My mom hadn’t thought about it that way, but thought it was entirely reasonable, and I took some new photos of her to put up.

  20. Frank Doyle*

    I’m really stumped on “attire choice.” I wish the OP would elaborate on that. Why would wearing different clothes make someone unrecognizable?

    1. Jacey*

      OP commented above as Carmen Sandiego, explaining that it a confluence of thick glasses, hat covering hair, and athleisure clothes vs glasses-less and in a suit on the website.

      1. KateM*

        Just imagine if they will replace the photo of the sweet potato with an actual photo of some jorts.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          YAY!!! I knew Lawyer Cat had to appear in this thread. I tried to figure out a way to do it but am not very clever today

    1. Future Cat Lady*

      I think the question should be “why not?” :) I know so many people lost it over the fact that Jorts was buttered, but when I was reading the story on the bus and got to the part “Jean has a picture of herself on the website, Jorts’s photo is of a sweet potato,” I lost it right then and there on my bus ride to work.

  21. Antennapedia*

    ::Laughs in Academia:: I know at least four faculty members whose photos on the department website are from at least 25 years ago. Science folk are notorious for finding that one fieldwork photo they like and using it LITERALLY FOREVER. It also usually becomes their author photo if they write a book.

    1. Hailrobonia*

      I used to work with professors who never updated their profile photos… they were using photos from the 70s and I suspect it’s because they wanted to look young. But you could tell by their hair, clothes, and eyeglasses that the photos were ancient.

    2. AsherCat*

      Oh yes, I work in IT at a university and have seen many, many pictures like this. And it’s not just faculty – there are staff who do this with their Microsoft Teams photos as well, and stuff like that. People just like to use what makes them feel good. Like one of my colleagues – he uses a picture of his motorcycle. He’s not on it, it’s just the bike.

      I myself use an animated character who looks exactly like me. I hate all photos of myself, but I feel like this one character really captures my “essence,” if you will, hair and all. :)

      1. KeinName*

        True. I had a colleague get really upset because I asked who she is after she had been chatting with my manager for quite some time. I joined the university in March 2020, and she uses a profile picture which makes her look 20 years younger, whereas she had no trouble identifying me because I was wearing the exact same hairstyle and clothes as I do in my picture, which is 4 months old. Totally unfair, but I could sadly not point this out to her.

    3. Beth*

      I’m in this picture and I don’t like it . . . naw, actually, I don’t really care all that much. Whatever.

    4. I need that magical fieldwork picture*

      I still haven’t found that magical fieldwork photo in which I look good, look professional, and am alone. They seem to be mutually exclusive. So, my photo is a professional shot of me in a blazer instead of a cool photo with someone cropped out of it.

      *cries in early professional*

    5. old biddy*

      My picture was maybe 4 years old, with makeup and no glasses. One of my colleagues made a snarky remark about it not looking very much like me during the acknowledgment section of his talk. Meanwhile, he hadn’t updated his picture in many years…..

  22. Bagpuss*

    I find this fascinating- I have a significant degree of face blindness so I always struggle to recognise people, but (maybe because a lot of what I use to try to recognise people are things like their voice how they walk, hairstyles etc) I often can’t recognise people in photos and often struggle to recognise people from photos, so I would assume it was me rather than their photo being out of date!

    1. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

      Yeah, I can recognize friends and family members in photos (that I know well, and that I knew at that age – a picture of my parents as kids, or of a more distant cousin even if I see them several times a year, is basically me guessing who in the photo I should know,) but beyond that, ‘vaguely familiar human’ is pretty much the name of the game with them. I’ve failed to recognize a family member I’d seen via Zoom the weekend prior because they showed up in person for something when I wasn’t expecting to see them. I can’t imagine getting freaked out because ‘not recognizing people I’ve seen in a different context’ is my default.

    2. Dr. Tea Blender, PhD*

      I feel this. Like, I can recognize people in pictures if I’ve met them before, but if I have a picture of someone and I have to find them IRL, I struggle.

      1. allathian*

        Me too. Maybe I am somewhat face blind. I do recognize people I know reasonably well by their faces (even if I can’t always identify them out of context, like my beautician if I run into her somewhere else than at the salon where I always see her). I’m pretty damn good, if I say so myself, of recognizing even fairly obscure actors, regardless of ethnicity, when I see them playing some other character. But trying to find a stranger IRL from their photo is bewildering at best.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          Yes, my mild-moderate face blindness definitely affects my ability to link person to photo. Couple that with the fact that everyone I know has aged several year in the past 22 months, and problems result.

  23. Spearmint*

    I generally agree it shouldn’t matter that much, though I think I might view it differently when a job is highly public facing, think a c-suite executive of a large company or a spokesperson. For them I could see an argument that having semi-regularly updated photos is important.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. Being the public face of the company comes with an executive position. People lower on the totem pole in public-facing roles are usually identified as company employees by their uniform, or some sort of name tag. I think it’s absurd to have photos of entry-level and mid-level employees on the website where they’re identified by their names. If nothing else, it can be a matter of personal safety.

      I’m not saying that executives can’t be the victims of stalking or domestic violence, but they’re also more likely to be able to afford to take protective measures, such as hiring a lawyer, or even security, than entry-level employees. Some companies also have measures in place to protect their executives from nasty members of the public, but for non-executives, anonymity is often the best protection.

  24. Coverage Associate*

    I am told my employer requires employee photos be updated periodically for security reasons, but I started right before Covid, so I don’t know how that actually works. The idea is that the photo on your badge looks a lot like you. I guess it’s like having to have a new passport or DL photo periodically, but more often.

    I am terrible at matching live people with photos, so OP’s problem would not be mine.

  25. Stitch*

    I had a friend in college (we had the same major so took a lot of classes together all 4 years)that when he’d taken his freshman ID photo had long hair with blue streaks and by sophomore year he was interviewing and had decided to go more traditional looking and was clean cut. But the attendance system used the original Freshman ID photo so every professor initially gave him a double take for three years. He had no control over it.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I had a brief stint of having to review ID pictures in my career and I had to reject someone’s self-submitted one for having a colored background. She then proceeded to tell me that she was getting her eyelids redone and a perm right now, was unable to be photographed in bandages at the moment, and otherwise basically couldn’t be photographed again for months and would look DRASTICALLY different from this photo when she arrived anyway. I just gave up and said fine, you can have it.

      On a more recent note, a bunch of us had to submit photos for something and someone’s is very…obviously Photoshopped all to hell to make her look 20 years younger and thinner in the face and the eyes look totally off. She said “that was from my pageant days and what I had on hand, I asked to get a non-touched-up one and the lady never responded.” I didn’t know what to say to that one.

  26. Cat Tree*

    My photo in my work email was taken in a public place at least 6 years ago. I wanted to get a better one, and my company even scheduled an optional session for a professional photographer to come on site. I was scheduled for this in late March 2020. A week before is when we started working from home so the session was canceled.

    I would like to update my photo but since I rarely leave my house now or see other people, it would have to be a selfie. I think that would be worse than an outdated photo.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Oh, my pandemic selfies and pandemic hair from 2020/half of 2021 are just terrible. Literally I just put on wigs after awhile.

    2. KeinName*

      My colleague has taken a selfie with his webcam somehow, which looks decent. Often you cannot really tell if it is live video or his picture :-)

  27. Colorado*

    I’d leave it alone for sure! My work photo that shows up in teams, email, and conference calls was a professional headshot – just a wee 2 years ago – right before Covid and the freaking 40+ pound weight gain. Ugh – I still squirm every time I see it but it’s a beautiful photo and reminds me that I’ll be okay again (eventually) ;-)

  28. GigglyPuff*

    Ugh I wish work photos would disappear (I know they’re probably helpful in some situations but not my profession). I just got asked to cover for my manager on a virtual talk, and they asked for a headshot. Freaking why? I really want to decline, cause now I have to schedule time to get mine re-taken by our staff member who does ID badge photos. Mine is over 5 years old.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I’d rather not get judged on my photo in a job…or have stalkers be able to find me, because my job gets stalkers.

    2. sometimeswhy*

      My work photo is not a person or a pet. Just a neutral nature thing.

      I get enough hesitant disbelief that the person with my face is the one who does my job. I’d rather already have people in front of me when they do that calculation–or better yet, have the entire exchange occur before they have any idea what I look like–instead of just deciding to go elsewhere for information or expertise that is squarely in my shop.

  29. I Fought the Law*

    This is reminiscent of Miranda Hobbes not recognizing a black professor because she had changed her hair to braids. I’m not saying race is necessarily involved here, but something about this letter really rubs me the wrong way.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      There’s a certain indignation in the letter, and it gives a vibe of “people looking different from how I want them to look is offensive to me,” and yeah I uh, also have some questions about what unconscious biases might be informing that entitlement around how other people present themselves.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      Oh my goodness, there is nothing in the letter to indicate racism. It’s incredibly unkind to the OP to assume something like that when there is nothing to support it.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        I don’t think I Fought the Law is calling the LW a racist, just saying that there might be some unconscious bias (which is something we ALL experience) that’s informing their perspective, and to be mindful of how a heavy-handed response to this might be read.

        1. Soup of the Day*

          The OP didn’t say anything about the change in appearance impacting her view of the professionalism of the person or lack thereof, just that it was confusing to see a person in the meeting that looked nothing like their online photo. Reading anything more into it than that is a stretch.

          1. BigHairNoHeart*

            I agree with you, I’m not really understanding the accusation of bias that’s shown up a few times in these comments. I know discussions about appearance are often fraught (and for good reason!), but this seems very relatively benign. It’s a really interesting division of opinion though.

  30. MrsCHX*

    I wouldn’t worry about it, and wouldn’t put too much stock in trying to recognize people from their online profiles.

    Especially considering most are professional headshots.

    I was looking for a former coworker on LI and came across the account for my direct report. Double. Triple. Quadruple take. Didn’t recognize her. And I see her several times a week and she’s only early 30s, so not old enough to have a decades-old photo.

  31. Deb*

    I worked in HR and feel that an important part of respecting someone was calling them by their (preferred) name and yet I’m not good at remembering names, so I would make a point of reviewing pictures and quizzing myself on names when I got a chance. I worked at a company with almost 600 people so it was an extra challenge. For some of my projects, I had to go out on the manufacturing floor to find people I had never met before and I found them based on their employee picture. I didn’t initially know that pictures hadn’t been updated in some cases for employees who had started 30 years before so I wasn’t remotely looking for the right person. I obviously wasn’t the only one with this challenge. To add to that, everyone was required to wear a picture badge and there was increasing pressure about the importance of security and only allowing authorized individuals into our locked facilities. We also had a couple instances where the police came looking for someone and we were able to determine (or not) that someone was/wasn’t who they were looking for based on the employee photo.

    All of these issues ultimately led to a project to update employee pictures. People were allowed to wear whatever clothing they wanted in the picture (including hats, glasses, etc.). We told them the goal was to have it look more accurate, NOT to be a passport picture or glamor shot. We didn’t want anyone uncomfortable with their picture though and anyone who wanted a retake received one. A number of people came in and happily got a new picture with a haircut they loved or after weight loss. It was generally well-received and it helped people learn each other’s names for at least the rest of the time I was there.

    1. Deb*

      I should add that this was a completely internal site not something that was accessible by the public.

  32. lyonite*

    At my old job all the org chart photos were from our security badges, which would make DMV pictures look like they were taken by Annie Leibovitz. Which was mostly just funny, except when I was trying to figure out who someone was, peering at a series of vaguely human blobs and thinking, “Maybe. . ?”

  33. Berlie Girl*

    I don’t look like my business photo on my website anymore, or look the same as all of the videos I put out on social media. Went from long hair to a pixie, got Invisalign (so I actually smile now), lost 40lbs, and it’s about 10 years old. I guess I need to update it. I wonder if the people that sign up for video consulting with me get confused!

  34. Unphotogenic*

    This is an issue that bugs me too, but I’m on the other side of it: I’m someone whose online work photos don’t look like me. My photos are almost 8 years old, and I’ve lost more than 30 pounds since then and stopped dyeing my hair.

    My company has a lot of rigid rules about the photos we use, because they want the same background in all of them. We’re not allowed to use other photos online or on anything associated with the company.
    I’ve suggested a couple times to the department in charge of the photos that it might be time to get some new ones, but the response has been that now isn’t the time since a lot of us are still working remotely and rounding us all up for a photo shoot isn’t the best thing Covid-wise or the company’s highest priority at the moment.

    1. Imaginary Friend*

      That department in charge of the photos needs to get someone in who knows how to use photo-editing software, because changing out the background is easy-peasy.

  35. Antigone*

    I work in academia and never expect anyone’s photos to have been taken within the last, oh, twenty years. I do like to do a quick photo search if I’m in a situation where I might be meeting with multiple people and need to know who’s who, or in the Before Times, meeting with people in person where I might want to pick them out of a crowd to wave to them. But I think of that as a “might be helpful info to have,” not something I count on as being essential.

    As a manager, I would leave it alone. People are presumably aware of the photo of them being used on their work website, and if they want to submit an updated version, they will. The reasons they might not want to are wide-ranging and can touch on some really sensitive areas, and it’s not something I think is worth pushing people to do.

    1. Peacock*

      As a manager, I would leave it alone…The reasons they might not want to [update their photo] are wide-ranging and can touch on some really sensitive areas, and it’s not something I think is worth pushing people to do.

      *loud applause*

      Absolutely spot-on. And, of all the priorities for a manager to be concerning themselves with, this is so very low on the list, I’m pretty sure it drops off entirely.


      1. Peacock*

        (Sorry for the double comment; I hit the “Submit” button too early by accident!)

        I’d let everyone on your staff know they can update their photos, if and when they want to, and then leave it. But this is only if it means that much to the OP. Do not force people to update their photos.

  36. CatCat*

    I’ve thought about updating my 5+ year old LinkedIn photo, but think there will be fewer biases against me in the job search with the older photo so I leave it. (No gray hair in the photo, wearing make up in the photo, and like 20 lbs lighter in the photo.)

  37. Former Retail Lifer*

    I’m thrown off by the fact that the OP is “stewing” about this. It was an online meeting. There was an invitation to accept, their name was on the screen, and you both had the opportunity to introduce yourself. The person might have looked completely different, but there were multiple opportunities to ensure you had the right person.

    My company doesn’t do professional headshots. We have to submit our own photo and we’re not ever asked to update it. For consistency’s sake, and also for the sake of it really not mattering to me, I use the same photo on my LinkedIn. It’s been the same photo for two years and counting. My hairstyle has changed since then, but I like that photo and I’m not interested in taking a bunch of selfies until I find another one I like. I’m sure it’s something similar with the person you had the meeting with. Before I read this post, I hadn’t thought about changing that photo even once.

    1. allathian*

      The OP mentioned in a comment that “stewing” was probably a bad choice of words. “Ruminating” would be more accurate, there was no anger.

  38. Lora*

    I mean, I assume you are very sure you got the right Jane Smith and not another Jane Smith? Googling one incorrect yet common spelling of my name definitely brings up a great many people who are not me but approximately same age and from the same region.

    Otherwise, assume people mostly won’t look like their internet photos. I don’t even look like the photos professional photographers take, I am weirdly anti-photogenic somehow and have given up on the entire endeavor of being in pictures that look like me.

  39. middle name danger*

    It isn’t even necessarily up to the individual when photos on company websites get updated. My last company, there was a photo of everyone on the intranet, and it was your original badge photo. Even if you got a new badge with an updated photo (they allowed retakes once or twice a year) it never seemed to be updated in the system.

    Changing last names when someone got married was similarly difficult, where it would be changed some places but not others. “Oh, caller ID says I called Chelsea Jones, the org chart says I needed Chelsea Smith” a year or more after the name change when that’s the same person.

      1. middle name danger*

        About a year into my 5-year tenure at OldJob, they switched the style of badges they used to something way more flimsy, and stopped putting employee IDs on them (still had photo, position, and title, just not the number we used maybe 4x a year for documents and always had to look up if it wasn’t on our badge) so it was a constant battle for a lot of people who had been there a long time of “do I replace my badge to update my photo to something current or keep the better quality badge?”

        I switched positions within my department, then transferred to yet another department, and kept my original badge with my original title.

  40. Yearbook Shenanagins*

    1) One has to remember that it’s often not the person’s (or even the manager’s) choice. My HR takes our pictures, and refuses to retake. So my wig on day one was one I thought made sense for day 1, but actually I’ve never worn again and isn’t my style precisely. Many of my other wigs are much more in the same theme. But no, I can’t get a retake. Even harder when I worked in NYC and the HR building where the staff photo was taken was literally something you ONLY went to during your orientation. Never again. Never in years.

    2) Staff photos take energy. They often want to take group photos at the same time, and people want warning, etc. etc. At my current place, group photos happen once every 5 plus years if we’re lucky.

    So it’s just nice to remember that plenty of people might WANT to help out in this regard but have no ability to do so.

    1. Yearbook Shenanagins*

      Oh, and the name I chose was because of the 3 years I edited a yearbook where I worked, and there was a student I knew very well and I couldn’t NOT figure out who the picture was of, and I WAS INVOLVED in taking the picture! It was just exactly the wrong angle to recognizer her. Look at the recent photos of Kate Middleton for her birthday. In 2 out of 3, I have no concept that it looks like her.

      1. Scmill*

        I agree! Kate is a beautiful woman whether she’s kicking a ball with kids or all dolled up in a tiara, but I wouldn’t have recognized her from the birthday photos.

      2. Lizzo*

        I just went looking for those birthday photos, and there’s no way there wasn’t a bunch of Photoshop work done on two of those. Especially the red dress one.

  41. KayleeKnits*

    We had to have a company wide campaign to get people to change their internal only photos to not be their pets because while we love your dog they don’t work here.

    This was years ago and nowadays maybe with WFH the pets could be as identifiable as the people!

  42. GreenDoor*

    At my workplace, they make an announcement twice a year that the Security team will be on site to make new ID’s ….or that the PR team will be setting up a photo room for anyone who wants a new headshot. That’s your cue to get an updated picture taken without anyone calling attention to why (name change, worn out ID, you want your new look to show, etc). That’s it. I wouldn’t recommend new pictures to a specific employee unless they had a significant professional or life change. Like if they were promoted, it makes sense to publish an updated headshot with the announcement.

  43. BethRA*

    I can think of at least one example of someone using a LinkedIn profile photo that was probably 20+ years out of date, where I’m pretty sure it was intentional, and likely an effort to combat ageism as they were job-searching.

    On a company website? That’s a slightly different scenario, but knowing what we do about unconscious biases, I’m surprised more people’s online images don’t quite match the live person.

  44. Camellia*

    Here’s a variation on this: what if a silver-haired female-presenting person wore a blond wig to all interviews (to help disguise her age), then showed up at work the first day sans wig. Would you, the hiring manager, be shocked and have a bad attitude toward that person?

  45. Caitlin*

    I manage the website for my department (I work in higher education). We do offer complimentary headshots every few years which allows folks to get a high quality updated photo if they so desire. When we don’t have headshots scheduled, once a year I reach out to the full department to say “if you want anything in your profile updated (bio, headshot, areas of research, etc.) email me and let me know!”. That way if someone wants to update their photo, they remember to send it my way. Otherwise though, we don’t bother to bug folks about updating their photo or how old it may be.

  46. Asenath*

    I don’t expect to be able to recognize someone from a photo – but that’s just me, and I’m bad at remembering faces I’ve seen live, so to speak, and am worse at faces I’ve only seen in a photo. So I wouldn’t worry much if at all about seeing a photo and then not recognizing the person in real life. This is especially true since I recently had to update my official ID photo, and on looking at the two photos side by side, I don’t think I’d have known they were of the same person if I hadn’t actually had them taken of myself!

  47. Gerry Keay*

    Ugh currently struggling with this on the other side. I’m a year into my medical transition and my picture is from before I even came out, but I still feel so dysphoric about my appearance that I really just do not want to have my picture taken ever at all, so I’m stuck hating the picture I’ve got up and also hating the prospect of having to take a new picture. It sucks!

    Just sharing as a way to say there’s a million reasons why a person might not have changed their picture, and to be mindful that appearance and photos can be really loaded for people who don’t fit the social norm.

    1. middle name danger*

      I’m in the exact same position. My LinkedIn photo has my camera in front of my face for a reason. My badge photo is from before I came out at all.

      I’m 1.5 years post top surgery and a year into HRT. I hate the butterfly metaphor for transition as a whole mid-transition I liken it to caterpillars turning into caterpillar soup in their cocoon before they’re butterflies. Don’t look at me! I’m still goo!

  48. Bruce for the win!*

    If someone has role where there’s very limited contact with business contacts or customers, then by all means, put any photo on the company (or any business-related) website that you’re comfortable with. However, it’s different if your are representing the company in an outward-facing, very visible role whereby you’re regularly meeting with people and it’s important that they’re able recognise you. If you’ve gone permanently from Kit Harrington to Bruce Willis and this look is there to stay, it’s time to update your business photos.

    1. Roscoe*

      I mean, to a point I guess.

      I’m in sales, so I’m a pretty “outward facing” role, and while my picture is clearly me, its also a professional headshot, which I’m more than likely not going to look like. Similarly, I don’t really expect people to be looking me up before meetings. yes, the can, but it seems a bit much.

      1. HereKittyKitty*

        Doesn’t seem like too much to me. I’ve dealt with gender discrimination before, so I tend to glance at the staff page to see the diversity makeup of a department I’ll be in, or a company. I interviewed at a ton of small companies where all 10 people are on the staff page and I don’t think it’s super outrageous to be like “Well, there’s Jean, who I’ll be interviewing with.”

  49. MicroManagered*

    OP this a “you” problem, and I mean that kindly. The solution is for you to adjust your expectation to know what someone looks like before you meet them.

  50. urguncle*

    No one told me to be prepared for the picture that is now up in several places (gracefully without my name attached publicly) on the company website would be how I’m portrayed from now until whenever they decide to take that diverse employees photo off the site. I’m just grateful now that I’m not customer facing, it doesn’t get shown on every customer meeting as well.

    I had an undercut! Literally half of my head is shaved.

  51. HelloHello*

    At a previous job I intentionally used a very old photo of myself on our company website because the work we did was often political in nature and I didn’t want the general public to be able to recognize me in real life. (Eventually we started getting actual threats sent to us by random members of said general public and all staff photos were removed from the website for safety purposes, and I felt very justified in my earlier decision.)

    Which is to say, I’d avoid relying on photos to recognize people you’re going to be meeting. Going by their name listed on video conferencing programs or asking politely to make sure you have the right person would be the more effective option.

  52. Ann O'Nemity*

    I’m wondering if the company website photos were headshots, or just candid photos that featured the person? For headshots and profile photos, I don’t see much point in using photos that are unrecognizable. But for candid photos, you can chalk up differences to bad lighting, weird angles, etc. And companies may not clean out old photos, like a blog post from 12 years ago at the annual holiday party.

    For fun, I just did an image search for myself. Thankfully most of the top results were fairly recent and looked like me, but farther down it’s a mixed bag. There were even a few from like 20 years ago, thankfully nothing inappropriate, but definitely not how I look now!

    1. KateM*

      Every time I make an image search of myself, the only photo that comes up (and is actually of me, as opposed to me having been mentioned on the page as one of the participants of that event) is 20 years old and half-profile from back of my head. I rather like it that way TBH.

  53. Wisteria*

    “On one hand, I feel like if you’re going to put something out there, it should be reasonably true to what you look like and not overly edited or really out of date”

    People working from home are not going to look like a company headshot. In fact, people working at their desk are not going to look like their company headshot, either. Depending on the company, badge photos and corporate headshots are frequently taken wearing formal clothing and with nice lighting–not the circumstance that most of us work under from day to day.

    The only thing you can change in these situations is yourself, and changing your expectation of how well people on video calls match their corporate photographs is a start.

  54. HolidayAmoeba*

    In the first episode of “And just like that” Miranda has a very embarrassing moment where she doesn’t recognize the professor because of a different hair do, but it becomes a bigger “thing” because the professor is black and now has braids.
    My point is, there are a ton of things that can drastically change someone’s appearance, even on a day to day basis, so I would use outright introduction and clarifying as a way to ensure you’re talking to who you intend to, rather than photos.

  55. TimeTravlR*

    I had a grandboss basically say to me, “Your photo must be really out of date because you don’t look that young anymore.” Not quite those words but that was the clear message. IDC because he was a jerk (clearly), and he’s gone and I”m still here, so there’s that.

  56. Editor Person*

    I had a photographer friend take some professional-ish pictures of me about 6 years ago and my hair is longer and all the weight I lost came back, still recognizably me on my best day though.

    However! I am looking off to the side in a jaunty way (because I looked super intense/uncomfortable when I’m making eye contact with the camera) and this was an issue when I was working with someone on a confidence and public speaking seminar. They thought it wasn’t the best example to set, which fine whatever but any other picture I like of myself is a selfie so what do we do here?

    Luckily they had enough of a sense of humor to let me use my first ever facebook profile pic: Chewbacca

  57. clearlyMillennial*

    hmmm. this is… odd. i never look at people’s photos online first, so maybe that’s why I think it’s odd? I look nothing like my online work photo. i’ve had a lot of hair colors & styles since then, but I don’t have any control over my work pic. IT won’t let us update our website and no one cares enough to do anything about it.

  58. Notasecurityguard*

    I look pretty different from my LinkedIn profile photo. On LinkedIn I have SHORT (like 1/4th of an inch) hair and I’m clean-shaven. Change of job and a global pandemic later I have a full beard and enough hair that I tie it back into a small ponytail at work.

    Very few people comment on it

  59. Beth II*

    I was thin and now I’m fat and since most people will only see my photo and not me, I don’t want to change it. Sorry, I liked how I looked and I want people to picture me like that…on LinkedIn and other places. Also eliminates bias.

  60. Attention Dior*

    I’d be annoyed if I was online dating and this happened. What people look like or how they have changed is really just not an appropriate thing to think about at work.

  61. Anon and on and on*

    I have a coworker who accidentally joined a client call using their gaming name “ChaosLord” a few years ago.

  62. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I will admit that when I see people I know very well, and they are out of the context that I know them in (ie. I normally know them from work, see them everyday, and they are usually in a business suit and tie, and now we’re running into each other at Target and they are in shorts and a T-shirt with family around them, etc.) my brain short circuits and I have a moment of “Do I know you?” But I think that’s because I KNOW them well in a certain context; but a new person that I don’t have a lot of (or any) history with, I wouldn’t bat an eye over a change in their appearance.

  63. Anne Shirley*

    My company is a service provider, which means about half of our employees are technicians that work on-site. This ranges from private homes to security-sensitive areas such as schools, nursing homes, etc. For that reason, current company photos that match the website, business cards, and ID badges are just a matter-of-fact part of the job– and it WOULD matter if someone was seriously unrecognizable as it could cause access issues on-site. About once every 18mos (on a rotating schedule by department), we simply update everyone’s photos as a matter of course, which avoids singling someone out and potentially making them feel awkward about a weight/hair/etc change. In cases like ours where it is a real business need, I definitely recommend a set schedule/practice to avoid hurt feelings or situations like OP’s above.

  64. Egmont Apostrophe*

    Went to an interview and there was a portrait of a tall, dignified middle aged man in the lobby.

    Then he came out to welcome me to the interview and he was this hunched, gnarled-looking old guy. It was like meeting the picture of Dorian Gray.

    Funny that he’s the only boss i’ve ever met who (falsely) advertised his looks in his own lobby.

    1. Emily*

      Ha! I can’t imagine greeting people in front of a portrait of myself, beautified or otherwise. I think this is a separate issue from false advertising!

  65. Uh Huh*

    Oh, goodness, even the idea of putting my picture on a company website gives me the vapors, especially from a safety perspective. I don’t put my picture out there in my private life nor would I want to do that in my work life. The other part is that I don’t like to have my picture taken and I’ve been clearly discriminated against for my weight before. I was out with a slim friend whom I’ve told this before and am incident happened right in front of her. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe me initially, but this was so blatant and clear that there is weight discrimination happening that she was shocked. Since my field is doing a lot of virtual interviews now, I definitely don’t want my photo out there and to be searchable. I would rather be judged by my knowledge, education, and skills, not by my weight or appearance, which has no affect on my work performance. I assist remote internal customers and even though I’ve assisted them for a long time, I didn’t meet many of them in person for years. There was no need to see pictures or videos of one another as it’s not relevant to the work duties, and we still had a warm and professional working relationship.

  66. Gnome*

    For what it’s worth, I’m at a place where there’s a decent population of folks that have been around for 20+ years… And haven’t updated photos in that time. It’s sorta fun to go through the company directory to get a number and see what your grandboss looked like in the 90s (or in some cases, 70s).

  67. aunttora*

    Heh. Decades ago I started at a large multinational company, where I was the second person in my role world-wide. I met the first hire (an authentic genius in the field) at an in-person meeting and he was, ah, exceptional in appearance and dress. Wild and long frizzed out hair in a color not observed in nature, many missing teeth, clothing style not seen since 1967 in the Haight. This is long before Facetime or Zoom or anything like that, of course, or websites with pictures. Years later a third was hired, and sometime later we all met up in person. I walked into a conference room to find a buttoned-up guy in a suit, short dark hair, glasses (and perfect teeth). Ass/u/med it was person #3 and went right up to him and said, nice to meet you. LOL. (He gently corrected me, nice to SEE you.) I still get that “hot” feeling when I think about it!

  68. PlainJane*

    I wonder if maybe the onus shouldn’t be on the employer instead of the employee. If the employer wants to have pictures on the company website, then maybe they should arrange to, say, once a year have a picture day, just like they used to have in school. Every year, the company updates the pictures on a regular, predictable schedule that they can work into IT’s routine in their slowest season, whatever it might be. That would remove the worry from the employee, and also prevent awkward conversations about, “Eh… your appearance has changed a bit too much, Mr. Harris. Oh, no, Miss Rosenberg is fine…” Because everyone whose picture is on the company’s site would simply expect to have an updated picture every September (or whatever schedule they choose).

  69. Soup of the Day*

    Ugh, I hate when companies insist on having employee photos on the website. In some jobs it makes sense – I was an admin assistant who was the point person for many things at a university, so students needed to be able to find me! If I looked wildly different from my picture it would probably have caused some confusion. But I’ve also worked at jobs where I did not interact with customers at all and the business owners just insisted on having everyone’s headshots on the site for some reason. I think if it matters for the person’s job specifically it should be kept reasonably up to date… but I can’t blame people for wanting to use older photos if they’re more flattering, or simply because they don’t want to bother taking new ones.

  70. Decidedly Me*

    In meeting up with some folks during a company gathering for the first time (remote only, pre-COVID), I had several instances where I had trouble recognizing folks despite having seen their pictures. There weren’t even major changes since the pictures were taken either! There is just something different about a person live vs their picture. I don’t think I look like myself in many of my pictures, so I typically have my partner take several until I’m happy with it, lol!

  71. Hillary*

    My personal rule is my picture has to be current enough for a colleague I’ve never met in person to recognize me in a hotel lobby or airport even if I’m not wearing our logo. But I change my hair color often and may just tell them what it is that day.

  72. Angstrom*

    I worked at a small company that had a physical photo board in one of the hallways with names and headshots of all the employees. I found it very helpful when I was new there — I’d often spend a couple of minutes there matching faces with names I’d just heard or seen.

  73. La Triviata*

    We have employee photos on our website. A few years ago (well before the lockdown) a professional photographer came in and took pictures of everyone. They were taken in the office, so the backgrounds, style, light, etc., were in the same range but there were differences. Now … I stopped coloring my hair, I’ve put on weight, so I’d probably confuse someone.

    At an earlier job, the photos were taken in the office by one of the staff who was an amateur photographer, so there’s enough similarity that they were recognizably part of a set. Except the one person … she went to a Glamorshots place and had her picture taken with a completely different background, airbrushed, etc. Her photo stood out.

  74. Need a Vacation*

    We were required to have our photograph taken for I.D. cards for one of my first jobs. The woman organizing (but not taking) photographs decided that some makeup would help me stand out. She wore lots of eye shadow and eye liner. I did not.

    So – she applied the eyeliner and eyeshadow and in the instant that the photographer clicked, I blinked. I looked like a character from Beetlejuice. No do-overs allowed. I conveniently lost the I.D. card and refused any offers of makeup the second time around.

  75. stillanon*

    My work photo is a bit outdated because I don’t want people from my ‘past life’ tracking me down, if possible.

  76. New Mom*

    I’ve been contemplating changing my LinkedIn photo because it just occurred to me that it is TEN YEARS OLD. Ugh. I’ll have to find another one that I like. For my work photo, I’ve had long hair most of my life but decided to get a chop and highlights about three or so years ago, it was fine but I missed my long hair (and with my hair texture, short hair is much higher maintenance) so it’s long again. I have wondered if people who met me but previously saw a much blonder and shorter haircut on the website to seeing much darker and much longer hair now thought it was strange. But my work doesn’t have a system for updating photos and I would seem high maintenance if I asked for a new photo because my hair is different.

    I’ve also had meetings with people that had very edited photos and then they just look bad (comparatively) in real life. One woman, who reminded me of a AAM story from years ago, had so heavily edited her photo that when I saw her on camera my brain literally went to “is this her mother?” before quickly realizing what was up. And she didn’t look bad, but she edited her photo to make herself look about 15 years younger and much slimmer than she was which is strange. But you can’t really say anything about it because the pointing-it-out rudeness would surpass the weirdness of the photo editing.

  77. Don't have to match*

    These really irks me! We are still in a pandemic people! Many folks have been remote for almost 2 years now! Typically, photos are the company page are taken in office by a photographer- so likely not a priority right now. And a lot of people have gone through a lot of changes in the pandemic- hair color/growth, weight changes, style changes have evolved with WFH, a lot of folks are not spending as much time doing hair/make-up. Give people a break.

    We use Microsoft Teams and have photos uploaded to our profiles. Of course, I selected a photo from where I am put together- loose curls, make up, etc. Now on any given day, my hair is naturally straight (or in a bun) and I am not wearing make-up. I know I look different than my picture, as do 90% of the people I am video chat with.

  78. KR*

    I wonder if the differences in camera/picture resolution might have exacerbated the issue. I look different in a webcam versus another webcam versus my iPhone versus a traditional camera etc etc. It’s possible this person hasn’t even really changed their look all that much but differences in camera type/picture resolution made it look more noticeable.

  79. Koala dreams*

    I don’t see the point of companies putting up photos of employees that are too different from the everyday looks so that you can’t recognise anyone, but a lot of companies do that. The photos are ten years old or older, people are dressed in company t-shirts or dressed up to the teeth instead of their daily work wear, the light is weird and the background is a scenery from another part of the world. Why?!

    Anyway, the result is that you can’t rely on the photos on the company website. When you meet someone for the first time, you need to ask them for their name and role and don’t make assumptions.

  80. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    The state department I work for takes a picture of you on your first day. Pic goes on your id badge. Pic is never changed. Even if you loose your badge they just print a new one with the old pic. Lots of people started with this department decades ago and their pictures don’t look anything like them any more.

  81. Dutch*

    I only realised yesterday that the photo for one of my online accounts is a gag ‘sinister’ one I took as a joke for a friend. With me having just got back from a run, gaunt, gimlet eyed, sweaty. Somewhere between Anton La Vey and Charles Manson.

    …The account I use to regularly communicate with councillors, politicians etc!


  82. The Mysterious M*

    I work at a law firm and we maintain photos for nearly all of the attorneys. (They can opt out, but they’re attorneys and usually like to plaster their faces all over everything.) There was one attorney, I had never met him but knew his photo from the website. There was an article in the local newspaper about a community service thing he was doing, and there was a photo, and I thought, “How nice, they have a photo of his dad.” Turned out it was the attorney himself–the photo I knew him from was 25 years old. (He did replace it, and has since retired.)

    We had another guy who was a patent attorney and kind of nerdy-engineer looking. Then he had his midlife crisis, grew a goatee, and had his photo replaced. Word got around and the girls all went to look at his photo and we were all swooning. He really did look like a different person–and much younger!

  83. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    The photo of me on Facebook et al is 15 years and several hair colours ago. It’s never been a problem.

  84. Purple Jello*

    Some of the company photos linked to employee company profiles just do not look like them… in fact, I’ve seen Calvin from Calvin and Hobbs fame, other famous people or scientists, symbols, etc. and when people phone in you may see a telephone number or abbreviated name. After 2 years here, I still stop and ask who is speaking at group meetings if I don’t recognize the voice, look at attendee lists to see who was invited, etc.

    Just ask if you’re not sure.

  85. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    I have a lot of hair (curly), so when it is pulled back, people pay more attention to my face. I’ve had people do a double-take if they were used to out or ponytail, and that day I did the other.

  86. ItIsWhatItIs*

    Between the lines this definitely reads as, “The person in question got fat and I’m mad I wasn’t warned about how fat they got”

    And before anyone comes for me fatphobia is absolutely a thing that causes hiring managers to not even consider an applicant.

    1. Not Sure*

      Wow. It in no way implies that, anywhere. I can’t even begin to imagine why you’re assuming that.

    2. Jacey*

      Um. No? The LW mentioned a number of ways in which people’s appearances can change; no clue how you decided it must be a fatphobic thing. As a fat woman myself who has seen people have the “oh god she’s fatter than expected” reaction, my first guess was that the person had had a dramatic haircut or something.

  87. DrRat*

    At my large corporation, they take a photo of you the day you start for your security badge, and that’s what many people leave up forever. People on my team have 20 year old profile photos with drastically different haircuts, face shapes, glasses, hair colors, etc. Part of this is because the process for submitting your new photo is a pain; you have to compress the file, get it approved, etc., so a lot of employees don’t bother. Frankly, I find a brand new clearly Facetuned photo more annoying than an out of date photo.

    However, it is not uncommon for people to start here right after high school/college/military and stay with the company until they retire. So now I am wondering…I feel like somewhere in the company, there is someone with a profile photo that either looks like Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery, or like they are about to burst into singing These Boots Were Made for Walking.

  88. Jean*

    Some people are being really uncharitable toward op and assuming the worst based on very little information! There’s such a difference between “ew that person is older/fatter than their picture, that’s not what I was expecting,” and “wait, that doesn’t look like the picture I saw – is this a different person? Oh no, I prepared based on the wrong bio and resume! Now I’m unprepared!” Not to mention op doesn’t mention what was different about this person, my guess would be maybe a few different thing. If the picture is a few years old, and the person has bleached their hair, and they’re wearing glasses when they didn’t in their picture, and they lost 10 pounds…. All of those might contribute to them looking unrecognizable!

  89. Pink Geek*

    “ there happened to be a few photos of the person on their organization’s website”

    Speaking as the person who maintains photos on a company website… if it’s not a headshot those photos get out of date for a variety of reasons. The person may have forgotten there even is a photo of them on the About Us page. Maybe the CEO looks great in that photo on the Values page. It’s possible the web team has asked every month for the last year to please have a more up to date photo on the Teamwork page because everyone is wearing swag with the old log on it but there hasn’t been an in person meetup with a photographer present in 3 years. If it is a headshot maybe they know about the old photo and hate it but don’t know who to ask to change it. Or all the headshots were taken with the office cactus and the web team refuses to put up a new one if there’s no cactus but everyone is WFH still.

  90. Not Sure*

    I’m guessing the people who think this is unimportant have never been in the situation of needing to recognize someone by their photo and being unable to! When I met my grand-boss for the first time, (long story) I was meeting her alone in a public place, not at the office or in a formal setting. All I had to go off of was her website photo – and as it turned out, it must have been decades old. I thanked my lucky stars she recognized me right away because I would never in a million years have guessed that could be her.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      As a grad student, my supervisor assigned to pick up a visiting professor at the airport. I’m somewhat prosopagnostic, so that was a challenge. Fortunately, they were expecting me to be there.

  91. Jenna Webster*

    I loved that my last organization had a photo directory of everyone. Since I managed collections, I met with a lot of people that I didn’t work with regularly, and it was super handy – except, of course, that people worked at that organization for 15-30 years and never changed their directory picture! That said, it seemed kind of nice to see them in their younger years, and since I just told them who I was there to meet when I got there, it never was an issue. I think that changing photos should be a self-manageable option, but I sure don’t think people should be required to change their pictures because of aging, weight gain, etc. Don’t rely on pictures – just introduce yourself and ask for the person you’re there to see.

  92. Anon-E-Mouse*

    I used to work in a law office and had to look at hundreds of people’s driver’s licenses & verify that the person handing me the DL was the person in the photo & description on the DL. Of the hundreds of people and DL photos I looked at there was only once when the person looked so different that I couldn’t tell that it was the same person in the DL photo. In that case the person standing in front of me had lost almost 200 lbs. since they’d had their DL photo taken and really looked nothing at all like the person described and photographed on the DL.

  93. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    Individuals might not have control over what photos their company uses. I recently updated my photo – and in a presentation with staff pics my old photo was used. All they needed to do was ask me for the file but they didn’t.

  94. HereKittyKitty*

    There’s a few parts of this letter I feel like people are glossing over:

    “So that started me thinking about whether there’s any etiquette or general guidance for how often you should be updating your “official” online presence photos, if they exist.”

    “What’s that the right thing to do here from an individual level, but also from a managerial level if you oversee staff who who have official photos on company websites? I’m certainly not going to bring up to a fellow networking contact that I think they should update their online presence, but now I want to make sure I’m not putting someone else in a position where they don’t recognize me!”

    The LW is not “demanding” people constantly update their image to their satisfaction- in fact they say the opposite. The LW is merely curious to know if there are professional norms they may want to follow for themselves in the future, or if they’re missing some professional norm information. It’s a rather banal, question to me.

    Though you yourself may not have anxiety that you may have mixed up online interviews and studied for the wrong one- it seems like a reasonable enough anxiety to have. I spent 10 months last year applying for 100s of jobs while draining my savings accounts; I don’t think having a momentary panic that I called someone by the wrong name or studied for the wrong interview would make me particularly dastardly when under that much stress. I have also done virtual interviews where people have their initials, not their names on zoom or teams. I have also had interviews where it displays the last name first. I’ve also had interviewers launch straight into questions and not bother with introductions at all and it would feel weird to evade their question and back-pedal to introductions, or worse, worry that they think I’m ill prepared if I confirm their name!

    I recently met someone in my company who looked like a normal, middle aged man in their photo, but when I connected via video, they looked like a young person and I wondered, briefly, what magic elixir they had discovered! No, I was not scouring the internet for photos of them, or attempting to draw their Teams image on my notepad. I just saw the image pop up before they turned on their camera and thought it was wild how different they looked and briefly wondered if someone else had joined the call I had not realized had been invited.

    And I understand why this letter may cause anxiety to those who may have been judged for their looks. Like I look wildly different in my photos due to a number of reasons: about 60lbs of fluctuating weight, different hair colors, glasses styles, tattoos, and various levels of queerness when it comes to my attire. I also look literally nothing like any of my coworkers, who are at least 15 years older than me and are old-school professionals. I have gotten my fair share of comments on my appearance.

    But I do think some of these comments are wildly uncharitable.

    1. ResuMAYDAY*

      This is a charitable explanation, but the OP has been ‘stewing’ over this, which implies he or she is upset, rather than simply wondering. It sounds like the OP is accusing the other person of trying to trick people.

    2. NancyDrew*

      Thanks for laying this out. This comments section sometimes jumps to the most outlandish, aggressive intentions for OPs.

      True story, I joined an org this year (so all virtual) and it took me months of talking near-daily to a colleague for me to realize why I had this underlay of confusion every time I talked to him: because his online photo (on our website) and his accompanying Zoom image were a headshot from a solid 25+ years ago. So I knew it was him, but I couldn’t place why I was confused until I actually realized the difference — gray hair versus not, for example.

  95. Cassie*

    I prefer not to see photos of people I’m going to meet w/ (in person or virtually), because I feel I may assume too many things based on the photo. “Oh, they seem like a nice, fun person!” or “he looks like he’s mean” or whatever. I’ll see them when I see them and it doesn’t matter what they look like, right?

    Also, a lot of women I work with have stopped dyeing their hair or getting it permed since the pandemic started. People can look really different depending on how their hair is done! Or some people stopped wearing contact lenses and are now wearing glasses. (When I went back to the office 18 months later, my coworkers said “you look exactly the same as you did before LOL”)

  96. LA-just-LA*

    Wait, what? If you were both working from home, you were presumably meeting on Zoom or similar. The person’s name is displayed right there on the screen. “You don’t look the way I expected and it’s throwing me off a little” is a reasonable reaction to have on the inside… but it’s a you problem, not a “the other person needs to fix their appearance / my expectations” problem.

  97. Sam*

    The same person can look very different when photographed with different cameras due to the focal length/depth-of-field. My profile picture is from just a few days ago, but it’s from a flattering angle. I look totally different on webcam even before accounting for make-up, glasses, or hair up/down.

    My gender presentation also varies day-to-day, but I assume everyone can look at the names of call participants if they’re unsure.

  98. Checkert*

    I kind of wish you could work with me, we’d resolve your issues with this through exposure therapy alone. I have alopecia and wear wigs at work as I a. have fun changing my hair day to day or to match an outfit and b. I don’t want my bald head to distract from my brilliance :D! As many others have pointed out, your research should focus far more on professional achievements and far less on physical appearances (with the exception of maybe an industry where physical appearance matters?).

  99. Essess*

    I used to work at a big company that needed to keep the offices secure. Everyone had to wear security badges with a photo (same photo that the company used for them online) and they had to be visible and worn above the belt at all times. However, it irritated me to no end about how many people didn’t bother to update their photos in the ENTIRE time they worked there. My director had worked there for at least 40 years, and the photo they were using was them at least 20 years earlier. Most of the other long-time employees also had photos from a decade or more ago. There was zero resemblance between the real face and the photo and there’s no way that the badge should have been considered a valid id.

  100. Amethystmoon*

    As an average woman over 40 who most assuredly does not look like a fashion model, I only have a photo of myself on Linked In because you need to these days, if for no other reason than to assure companies that you can deal with modern technology.

    On every other site, I use a photo of flowers I took instead. One of my main hobbies is nature photography. If it’s not required, I don’t use a photo of myself because of society’s biases are towards women who look the opposite of fashion models. I’d rather not have that bias creep into literally all personal online interactions.

  101. Environmental Compliance*

    OP – I do think your word choice of “stewing” along with the overall “general panic” vibe had more negative connotation that what was actually there, reading some of your comments. Reading just the submission made me think you were really worked up about it – the “distracted, unable to focus”, rather than your comment’s vibes of “I was worried I didn’t have the right person and that made me think of when one should update their pictures”. Worrying to the point of “stewing” and having a “mini panic” would be…. a lot. Being a little thrown off would be normal, especially if you’re not sure you’re meeting the right person (or who you thought you were meeting).

    FWIW – I just convinced IT to let me change my account picture from the very rushed selfie against a plain wall I had 8 hrs to submit, back when I still had a pixie cut. My hair is now down to my shoulders and dyed. I actually had people ask me who was in my profile picture. Still working on getting security to issue me a new badge. Many places I’ve been in do not update the pictures at all, unless you go out of your way to ask. I have known many a person to have 20+ year old pictures and you would assume they’re carting around a picture of their kid if you didn’t know it was supposed to be their security badge. I wish more places made it easy to update your picture, and maybe did update events every 5 years, at least for security badges or actual IDs. I try to keep mine within the last 5 years or if I do a big sudden change of some kind (like when I went from waist-length hair to a short pixie).

  102. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

    If we’re talking about official portraits/headshots on the company website, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to have an annual ‘picture day’ organized where new hires can be added and other employees can sign up for an updated photo. Again assuming official use, whoever is in charge of the site would be able to tell how old a photo is and encourage people to sign up if it’s been more than a couple years. Plus if you make the images available to the employees I know a lot of people would appreciate the new image for personal use (LinkedIn etc.) so they don’t have to organize it themselves.

    However, if we’re talking about candid images, I would not assume anyone looks too much like their photo as many people have pointed out that hair/clothing/makeup/lighting can make huge changes to appearances.

    1. neeko*

      That can be expensive depending on the size of the org. And I’ve been working at my job for 5 years and I look the same. Would be a waste of my time to do that every year.

  103. Emi*

    IMO if it’s important that people be recognizable from their photos, the company should just update them all on a regular schedule and not wade into whose appearance has changed how much.

  104. Hit my head Glass Ceiling*

    My old company had employee photos from the 70s still in use on the internal website. No way that you could recognize the person.

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