Everything That’s Wrong With The “Fat Suit” Tinder Experiment

We all know that the dating app Tinder is about as superficial as online dating gets: you swipe through pics of potential dates and decide whether or not you’d be interested in dating the person in question solely on the basis of a photograph.

Knowing this, the guys behind the dating website Simple Pickup decided to conduct a social experiment to see what happens when someone’s Tinder photos don’t match up with their real-life appearance. Specifically, the team was interested in testing the unsettling theory that, in the world of online dating, women are most afraid that their date will turn out to be a serial killer whereas men are most afraid that their date will be overweight. I can’t believe I just had to type out that sentence, I need to go wash my hands forever now.

So here’s how the experiment went down. The team found a thin woman and a thin man to play along. Using photographs of the two, the team attracted a host of potential male dates for the woman and potential female dates for the man. Then the team applied prosthetics and padding to make the man and woman look heavier in real life than they did in their photographs. Then the dates happened. And the results were CRAZY.

Literally ALL the male dates were rude if not outright hateful re: their female date’s appearance. “I really don’t appreciate being lied to,” one male date said testily, while another slammed her with an “It’s very upsetting,” another said. “I’m a little upset. I wasted gas and my time to come over here, and I can’t do this.” Only one out of the five male subjects was willing to stay on the date with the woman.

When the tables were turned, the results were SHOCKINGLY different. Yes, all the female dates verbally acknowledged that their male date did not look the way they had expected him to look, but the women were WAY COOLER about this unexpected turn of events. None of the women shamed the heavier-than-expected date, three of the women saw their date through to the end/said they’d be interested in going on another date with this dude, and one of the women gave the male subject a kiss.

What’s important (and also completely horrifying) to note here is NOT that women and men were completely fine about their date appearing much heavier than their dating profile picture suggested, but rather how completely comfortable these male dates were disrespecting and dehumanizing their date because she was bigger. This is not disrespect and hate these men have been carrying around since birth. This behavior is learned. We are brainwashing our little boys from the cradle on to believe that the worst possible thing that can happen on a date is for the girl in question to be bigger than expected.

Yes, the behavior of the unwitting subjects in this experiment was super-problematic, but I’m wondering if it was also problematic to conduct this experiment in the first place. What did this experiment really reveal that we didn’t all basically know about the ways of the world and the messed-up nature of modern socialization? The prosthetics and padding worn by both the male and female subject looked pretty obviously fake (I was actually surprised that 0 out of the 10 subjects caught on to what was going on) and overall was just a sloppy way of portraying what a bigger woman or man looks like. The fat suit gimmick feels insensitive and dated (like we REALLY could not have retired this convention with “The Nutty Professor” and the 1990’s or the “The Tyra Banks Show” or “Shallow Hal”) and the suit/makeup/shenanigans don’t ever seem to accurately reflect what it’s like to live in a larger body. Particularly how gorgeous and awesome curves and bigger bodies can be. Fat suits, by nature, are cartoonish and distorting devices. And this experiment was designed for the sole purpose of showing how messed up the world is to the plus-sized community (in particular, plus-sized women) and we already KNOW the world is messed up in this particular way. This experiment seems to sympathize with larger bodies, but I worry that what it really does is disempower this community. I want this community to be empowered on the regular. So maybe we can start by retiring the dumb-like-whoa fat suit. It never seems to solve any problems, it just seems like it creates them.

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