Choosing an avatar can be one of the most important actions that a person takes when embarking on any sort of an online life. Your avatar becomes your visual representation on the interwebs; it is the only visual representation many of your online friends will ever have of you. Well, that and the “cute” (i.e. offensive and annoying) animated .gifs that you paste into your signature.
Although every person on this earth wants to come off as unique, most still manage to end up with an avatar image that fits into one of the following categories. We know that you've always wondered what it means if someone chooses one avatar type over another - and now, with a relative degree of certainty, you apply your prejudices with a reasonable degree of certainty!
Your picture: Attempting to Look Attractive
There are many variations of this theme. But consider the following: most people fall into the section of the population ranging in attractiveness from normal-looking to GAH! The thing is, we don’t all look fabulously beautiful. If we all looked like supermodels, then somehow our human brains would adapt and find more attractive supermodels in the general supermodel population, and the whole cycle would start over again. Besides, most of us don't have many hours a day to spend on our looks - looks are not our job.
And yet, deep inside, we all still want to be beautiful. We'll go to great lengths to search through the thousands of digital photos on our hard drives for the best one, or else even commissioning a professional photograph for the sole purpose of using it as an avatar.
So if you see an avatar image in which a person is obviously trying to make the most of his or her looks, don't automatically conclude that the person is shallow (or really ugly in person). It's just human nature, man! And plus, there's a good chance he or she wants to hook up with you, or at least make you have "special" dreams.
Your Picture: Attempting to Look Crazy/Strange/Funny/Weird
Some people have accepted that they will never look beautiful, but still want to have a personal representation of themselves as their gateway to online conversations and/or cyberlovin’. In this case, the person will often use as an avatar a personal photograph that shows them messing around with guns, looking terrified while holding a baby alligator, or getting run over by a dirt bike.
But don't be fooled into thinking that these types of people are more relaxed or laidback or less neurotic than people who choose an "attractive" avatar. They have put just as much effort into choosing a picture as the above category. They just want you to think that they believe looks aren't everything - and they're hoping that their quirkiness will get them into your cybernetic pants.
Your Picture: Accidentally Looking Crazy/Strange/Funny/Weird
This is the stuff that awkward family photos are made of. You'll recognize these types of avatars because the person in the picture will look completely serious while also looking completely ridiculous. This type of avatar will also be located on sites that cater to people with less of a sense of irony than the general online population, such as sites related to knitting or discussing the merits of funny looking cats.
Often there is not much thought put into this type of avatar. The person just picks the first photo they come across. After all, it's hard to find a good looking photo of yourself. And the thought of someone actually putting a serious amount of effort into some of these avatars is frankly just disturbing.
Pop Culture Reference
Sometimes it's just too hard to find the perfect picture, and besides, you consider yourself to not be one of those vain people who have to have their picture plastered all over the internet. But you still want your avatar to be an expression of your personality. And so, you find an image (probably one that infringes copyright!) from your favorite TV show, comic book, or avant-garde indie graphic novel that totally no one else knows about because you're just that awesome.
Yes, that's right. Individuals who choose to identify with this kind of avatar are trying to establish how unique they are by selecting images that are eminently recognizable. Hey, maybe we could work on figuring out what irony means next!