On paper, Natalie Craig seems like the type of woman you'd expect would have a few dating apps on her phone. But even though her last stint in the digital dating world ended with a fairly happy relationship, Craig isn't jumping to reenter the scene — partly because of her past experiences.
Do men only want to have sex with bigger women, but not date them? It's on regular sites like OkCupid and Tinder. The easy and typical explanation for this is that swipe-based dating apps have made us more shallow.
But at 34, she found herself newly divorced and facing a dating scene that she felt focused more on her looks than the one she'd remembered. Everyone is just judging based on appearance. Dating apps don't exist in a vacuum — they're essentially just digital platforms where society's existing views on bodies play out.
The major culprit here, according to Cristina Escobar, the Director of Communications at The Representation Project, is actually the media. We have this really narrow definition about who is valuable, and that rarely includes women at all, let alone women of color and women who are plus. Instead they're the funny friend, or the helper, and they rarely find themselves in the center of romantic plot points. Of course, these ideas play out in the workplace , on school campuses , and, in some cases, even in the medical industry.
What are they doing to change this? Fortunately, sites seem to be trying to combat this problem. OkCupid recently released a Membership Pledge , which takes aim at harassing behavior and messages. Before members are allowed to interact with the OkCupid community, they have to agree not to send any harassing, unwanted, or sexually explicit messages. This may sound like pure optics, but apparently it's working: So we spend a huge amount of time deliberating how we can make OkCupid better at highlighting your passions, your beliefs, and your interests.
Fat-shamers are not allowed here. Bumble publicly shamed a man who was sending lewd messages to women on the company's blog last summer. Their CEO, who started the app after suing Tinder over sexual harassment she experienced as a cofounder there, has always been an outspoken advocate against sexual harassment and abuse.
Tinder itself recently launched reactions in conjunction with updated messaging standards, reporting options, and new community guidelines.
The reactions themselves are meant to be tongue-in-cheek ways to let a person know they're behaving like a jerk. Advertisement The League, an "elite" dating app with a screening process that includes a review of your LinkedIn profile, recently rolled out Monochrome View , which makes the first photo on profiles black-and-white by default.
Is it even possible for apps to solve this problem? These changes point to an understanding on the part of app developers about how harassment affects some of its users, particularly those who are plus-size. Unfortunately, small tweaks to interfaces can only do so much if all users don't play by apps' often easy-to-break rules. Not to mention, apps enter thorny territory simply by doing their job: For instance, the way OkCupid calculates compatibility between users is by having them answer Match Questions and then rate those questions by how important they are to them.
OkCupid's algorithm then uses that information to calculate a match percentage between a particular user and a potential partner. But some of those questions can be decidedly fat-phobic. OkCupid has come under fire for some of these fat-phobic questions, and has responded by saying that they're always working to clean up or delete inflammatory inquiries.
Advertisement The question is: If dating apps exist within a society that's biased against larger bodies, what can these companies really do to change things? As Davis put is: People are attracted to who they are attracted to, which leads back to representation, which turns this whole situation into the proverbial snake eating its own tail. That's not to say the apps shouldn't be constantly thinking about how to make their platforms safer, more enjoyable spaces for everyone, particularly marginalized communities.
But it just means that, to be truly effective, any tweaks dating apps make will need to happen in tandem with positive change in the world at large.
That said, we haven't even come close to removing the underlying shame and stigma at the heart of society's fat-phobia. Escobar is convinced that the key to solving this problem is to have more diverse bodies in media.
So, at the very least, if apps want to make a dent in this problem, they're going to have to ensure that each user is served up a diverse array of bodies and people on a regular basis. Advertisement Until we get to that point, plus-sized women will have to continue navigating the minefield that is online dating.
I'm part of the larger community, and I deserve to be there. I'm the same as a straight-sized person. So just treat me the same.