Why Do So Many Men Stand on Mountains in Their Dating Profile Pics?

This isn't a dating profile picture—but by God, it could be. (Cristina Gottardi/Unsplash)

Over dinner recently, a friend of mine, fresh out of a long-term relationship, asked if I could show her how dating apps worked. Halfway through my mini-tutorial of the two on my phone, Tinder and Hinge, she paused and asked an entirely serious question: "Why are all of these men standing on or next to mountains?" We swiped for another few minutes, only to find her initial assessment was true for the vast majority of profiles. After our laughing finally stopped, she asked: "Can I even be on this app if I'm never up a mountain?"

I've heard plenty of jokes about gym, bathroom mirror and car selfies over the years (and when I lived in Texas, there were plenty of gun-toting pics to make fun of too), but the innocuous mountain selfie was one that I hadn't previously noticed—probably because of its generally inoffensive nature. Now I can't un-see it. Sometimes, it's obvious where they are—Machu Picchu, the White Cliffs of Dover, the edge of the Grand Canyon, somewhere in Japan where Mount Fuji is visible in the distance—but it seems that, these days, dramatic and rugged environs are the go-to backdrop for single men everywhere. Why?

In 2017, Medium published an article titled "5 Things Men Get Wrong On Dating Apps." It advised daters that "the second photo [on a profile] should be a picture of you in action or doing something you love. This could be hiking, fishing, running a marathon, bowling, etc., or just doing one of your hobbies. Having a picture of you doing an activity shows you off in your natural element. It tells women that you like to get out and live life. It sends the message that you do things, have hobbies. It also reflects that you have a passion and that you’re not the boring type who likes to just stay home."

Pride.com also recently encouraged the trend, calling the "I Hiked to the Top of This Mountain!" profile photo "an excellent opportunity to be shirtless and not look so douchey." Further backup comes via research done by eHarmony Australia, which found that, of the top ten "most attractive interests for men to list in their profile," travel and exercise came in at number two and three respectively. Politics was number one, so pretty much the only way to improve on that mountain selfie would be by adding a woke slogan T-shirt.

Vox suggests the spike in hiking pics is not as contrived as all that, saying: "When people are doing things like 'trekking around Iceland,' that’s when they feel the most sexy, interesting, and fun... Ultimately, everyone wants that euphoric couples vacation."

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It's possible, of course, that these photos may simply be a modern manifestation of the oldest evolutionary theories about heterosexual attraction. A 2017 paper published by The Royal Society confirmed that men's "physical strength was assessed as more attractive [to women in their teens and early 20s] in virtually all our subjects." The research also found that: "Ratings of strength are a robust and much larger predictor of attractiveness than either height or weight." In other words, the heterosexual women polled were more likely to be attracted to how strong a man appeared to be, rather than specific physical characteristics. Proving you can get to the top of a mountain is about the most efficient shorthand to convey that.

Of course, all genders and sexualities are prone to falling into cliché territory when it comes to profile pics. For women, the closest equivalent to the mountain photo seems to be posing in or next to bodies of water, or swimming pools. (Amazingly, a few years ago, there were also several reports that wearing fake mustaches had become one of the most hackneyed photos for straight women, with The Guardian pondering: "Has everyone taken a seminar in What Would Zooey Deschanel Do?")

Dating in the modern age—with its heavy reliance on apps and their inherently abbreviated depictions of our personalities—is undoubtedly tough on singles everywhere. And while banal photos are easy to make fun of, research suggests that they're common for a reason—they work. So while the likes of AskMen.com have mocked mountain men everywhere, saying "Standing in nature, arms outstretched, eyes gazing to the heavens is perfect if you’re the lead singer of Creed," all anyone can do is our best. And if that means climbing a mountain or going for a swim once in a while? So be it.

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