Fatphobia and Catfish: The TV Show
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ♥