Fatphobia and Catfish: The TV Show

  Awareness, Body Positivity, Feminism, Lifestyle, Pop Culture

Skinned Knees Catfish MTV TVShow Nev Schulman Max Joseph fatphobia fat

Catfish: The TV Show, original photo courtesy of MTV.com

So MTV’s internet dating show, Catfish, hosted by Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, just wrapped up its second season this week. The show has covered many interesting relationships (LGBTQ, parents, young veterans, etc) through its basic premise: someone writes to the show about someone he/she has been dating online but can’t seem to meet. Nev & Max then do some super sleuthing on Google to try to find out if the person is legit or not (and thus, a catfish). One thing that is recurring on the show is that not only is the person not legit, but they also tend to be fat.

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Catfish: The TV Show S2E2, catfish is on the right, photo courtesy of MTV.com

So what we’re typically dealing with in an episode with a chubster catfish is a double whammy of fatphobia – internalized by the catfish who has created an online persona of a person that is always thin and traditionally attractive and then reactive when the other person sees the catfish and realizes they are not the “hot” person they fell “in love” with.

Skinned Knees Catfish the TV Show Nev Schulman Max Joseph fatphobia MTV fat Loyda Ramon

Catfish: The TV Show S2E3, catfish on the right, photo courtesy of MTV.com

It’s hard to measure the extent of the externalized fatphobia present with the people meeting their catfish. Clearly, there must have been an initial attraction with the fake persona that fueled the intense emotional investment so who is to say how much of the disappointment and betrayal is due to being lied to for months (or in some cases, years) and how much is due to the disappointment in the catfish’s actual appearance.

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Catfish: The TV Show S2E10, catfish on the left, photo courtesy of MTV.ca

In some episodes, like S2E10, both people are fat. Briefly, before making my point, I’d like to point out that Mike (left) has passed away since filming the episode – condolences to his family. Back to the episode – so Mike, the catfish, and Ashley (who also coincidentally, was kind of catfishing too by altering her photos), were both fat. Fascinatingly, Mike was perfectly fine with Ashley, but Ashley, thinking she was dating some dude that looked straight out of some random university catalog was heavily disappointed in Mike’s appearance. She claimed to not be attracted to him, which is like, fine, because everyone’s attraction operates differently. I will say, however, that the TWO photos that Ashley had seen of “Mike” barely showed his face or body all that well. I am not an expert on other people’s attractions but uh, I think the face has a lot to do with it typically. BUT WHAT DO I KNOW.

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Catfish: The TV Show S2E12, catfish on the right, photo courtesy of MTV.com

This episode, S2E12, was particularly interesting because while Nev or Max have pointed out beauty in some of the fat people (catfish or the lover), this was one of the first times that I have seen where one of them has urged the non-catfish to look past appearances of the catfish. I believe it was Nev that suggested to Nick, above left, that he should honor his love and emotional investment to see what could happen with Melissa, above right, despite how she had used FGAs (please see #3 for the least offensive “definition” of this phenomenon) for her online persona.

Skinned Knees Catfish The TV Show MTV Nev Schulman Max Joseph fat fatphobia Mike Heather

Catfish: The TV Show S2E15, catfish third from left, photo courtesy of MTV.com

The post-season reunion show also had an interesting moment with Mike and Heather from S2E15. Heather assumed that Mike had rejected her because she was fat while Mike admitted that he was skeeved out by her catfishing, and NOT because she was a “bigger person.” That said, Mike had been catfished TWICE by Heather, both times using a thin blonde woman as her persona. So…think what you will.

On a social level, the fact that so many of the catfish (a total of 8 out of the 15 episodes in season 2) turned out to be fat is a huge commentary not only on the internalized fatphobia of some fat people but also the intense difficulty when finding love and dealing with loneliness that fat people can face. Not only do some fat people feel compelled to retreat online to find a social connection that they are denied because of their weight, but they are then compelled to further that retreat by creating these thin personae, people who are superficially accepted based, initially at least, solely on their physical appearance.

In an age when online dating is here to stay (to say the least), there is an underlying fear that who you meet online will turn out to be fat when you meet them in person, as if that is a deal-breaker. This is an example of hyper fatphobia that arguably creates some kind of fucked up loop where fat people feel the need to minimize their appearance or flat-out hide what they truly look like lest they are victim to online bullying or stigmatization because of weight or appearance.

While undoubtedly physical attraction can work in complex and mysterious ways, societal standards of beauty can also heavily influence who and what you are attracted to, sometimes in ways that further oppressions against people who do not fit into “traditional” beauty roles. This is clearly a significant failing of society that produces these kind of catfish phenomenon where fat people feel the need to misrepresent themselves in search of love or companionship.

So next time you find yourself looking for love online (or offline), do the world a favor and do some soul-searching to evaluate what you are really looking for in a person, tell traditional beauty standards to fuck the hell off, and check your fatphobia at the door.

Yours, in fat solidarity. ♥

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  1. wendy b

    October 17, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Amen. Awesome post.

  2. Chris

    October 17, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    What a fantastic and logical (to me) post! While I hope the show exposes liars on TV, I find the two hosts harder to watch than the ‘guest stars.’ I can’t tell if they are genuine in their actions and sometimes seems slimy.

    1. Jen

      October 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      Chris – That’s really fascinating to me. I think they are pretty sweet people but I don’t think they are necessarily immune to their own fatphobia (and some sexism too). THEN AGAIN, I might be biased because they are both total foxes. 😉

  3. Sarah

    October 18, 2013 at 8:09 am

    I’m so glad you wrote thins. This show is kind of my secret indulgence, but the fat hate in it makes it hard to watch. It often just kind of breaks my heart and gives me this fucked up burst of a bubble that reminds me glaringly how prevalent fat hate is in the MTV culture. Thanks for talking about it! <3

    1. Jen

      October 23, 2013 at 5:36 pm

      It’s totally my not-so-secret indulgent too. I LOVE the idea behind it because of what it says about our dating culture but I feel like it also says a LOT about our culture’s fatphobia that goes unchecked in the show. Thank you for reading and commenting. I <3 you! <3

  4. Jenny

    October 18, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Great stuff. Perfect. I’ve thought of these ideas every time I’ve watched Catfish (which, admittedly, has only been 3 or 4 times).

    1. Jen

      October 23, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      Yeah, I watch it all the time and had been thinking of writing this post for a long time. Thank you for reading. <3

  5. Felicia

    January 14, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Hello Jen!

    I’ve stumbled upon your post through a google search by general curiosity of why most of the Catfishers tend the be on the heavy side.
    I like your writing style and it’s refreshing to read an honest opinion.
    Myself, I’m quite to opposite of fat, I’m underweight. This is not something because of disease/psychological issues but I was born this way and my eating habits are FAR from health magazine.

    I know that knowing that, you (and your readers) might think I’m here to bash fat people and/or show my ”skinny privilege”. I’m absolutely not! With that out of the way. Me not being a big girl, makes it obviously harder to relate to the fat hate and fatphobia feelings. I’m aware that it’s there all the time, anywhere you look. However, as described in your blogpost regarding Catfish, I’m not sure whether the subjects were doing so/feeling that. Personally, I have no issues dating someone bigger than me but I could relate with the people on the show. Having fallen in love with someone and truly believing that’s what they look like and who they are, it’s just very hard to come to terms with who they turn out to be, regardless of size/weight. You’re right that a lot of people on the show turn out to be heavier than their photo’s implied but is this truly because of society?
    As a skinny person I’ve also endured plenty of ridicule, getting told to ”eat a burger” gets old really fast haha! I think the people on the show should come to terms with their beauty regardless of their size!

    On a slightly less related note; I hope EACH size can learn to love and appreciate each other! Because unfortunately, with people finally learning to embrace the bigger size, I’ve seen a lot of people take that opportunity to be the person whom they hated. The bully.
    You’re a beautiful female and I’m sorry if anywhere in this post I came off as insulting or ignorant, this was never my intent!

    Greetings from The Netherlands!

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