Everyone Freak Out: OKCupid Lets People Discriminate Based on Body Type

Oct 07, 2013 • Culture, teh inetrwebz, web

OKCupid discriminates based on body size

The internet is up in arms! James Cook at the Kernel recently reported on a not-widely-known feature of OKCupid — its premium tier, which enables users to filter search results in more categories than it does for users with free accounts.

“Once you’ve paid a monthly subscription fee, you can start hiding all the overweight people from your matches page,” Cook writes. “That’s not all. Once you’re a paid-up member, you can hide ‘ugly’ people too, using other members’ crowdsourced ratings to filter out those who have been deemed unattractive by the site’s user base.”

ABC News picked up the story almost immediately, bringing in a relationship coach to back up the sense of outrage: “I think to discriminate really against somebody based on physical aspect that can be changed is completely unfair,” Donna Barnes told ABC.

Jessica Roy at Time‘s Newsfeed blog dismissed this feature as shallow, writing, “Of course, people on the prowl for dates in real life mentally do this sort of calculation all the time, blinding themselves to those they’re not attracted to — but paying for the privilege online is that one extra step towards supreme shallowness.”

Sam Yagan, the co-founder of the popular dating site, says that OKCupid is just working to enable users the same options they have in meatspace. He told ABC, “If you were at a bar deciding who you wanted to talk to, of course physical appearance is something you take into account.”

I have no physical type when it comes to relationships, but I do have a type in other regards and I’d be annoyed if people told me that only dating men in science and not the humanities was shallow, prejudiced and wrong. Of course dating isn’t inclusive. Why is it more acceptable to say you want to date people who have a college education than it is to say you want someone fit?

Fitness can very much determine lifestyle — I know that my largely sedentary existence would clash with someone who lives for the rush of a workout, so I might weed out what OKCupid calls “athletic.” I have that right. And you have the right to look for someone who loves the gym, if that’s what you want.

That’s the thing people are forgetting in this conversation — the option isn’t to weed out self-described overweight people. It’s to weed out any type of person you believe won’t fit what you have determined is important to you. Weeding out people of different body types is only mean in the sense that not accepting a date from someone you’re not interested in is mean. Which is to say: it’s not.

I don’t know when it became so insensitive to state what you want in a partner. A couple of years ago, I went on Craigslist in an act of desperation — dating sites like to list people’s education levels and that’s fine, except I’m looking for someone who can play with my mind and even a post-graduate degree doesn’t tell me that.

My solution was to post an ad on Craigslist’s personals with my picture and a bit of simple calculus to solve. I wanted to see what people would do with that. I figured people who didn’t know what the hell I was talking about would move on, leaving only the ones who thought such a thing was amusing and a perfect springboard for some mind-bending flirtations.

I could not have been more wrong.

I got hate mail. Hate mail! How could I bring math into this? What kind of a bitch teases with a photo and then makes guys do math? Dudes were writing me to tell me they hoped I died from fucking my calculator so vigorously. My ad was flagged and taken down within the hour.

I’m not sorry that I want a partner to know at least basic math. I’m not sorry I want a partner to believe in evolution. I’m not sorry that I want a partner to have more than a passing notion of what’s happening outside U.S. borders. I’m not sorry I want a partner who loves opera. Who has manners. Who speaks more than one language. Who reads voraciously. Who has an imagination. Who is sexually adventurous. Who …

My point is that desire isn’t a job interview. People will discriminate on the basis of all kinds of things. We don’t get to lecture people on being inclusive and shooting for equal opportunity in their romances — people like what they like. If they are attracted to emaciated people above all other things, then I hope that among the emaciated people they encounter on their journey to romance, they find one who makes them feel safe and cherished.

UPDATE: Motherboard has a great piece by premium OKCupid user Daniel Stuckey that touches on the class angle of Cook’s coverage.

Header image by John and Melanie Kots.