Dating and the body image blues
There’s no doubt about it: Dating is hard. What’s more, the rigors of finding that “special someone” can sometimes take a toll on one’s self image. In particularly blue moments, some gals and guys begin to question their self worth: “Am I not good enough?” “What’s wrong with me?” “What should I change to make him/her like me?”
Sucky, huh? That’s why it’s not tough to imagine why people are up in arms about the new feature the popular dating site OKCupid.com that allows users to filter their potential dates by selecting specific body type criteria. People can opt-in to the premium service, selecting from options like, curvy, athletic, thin and overweight, according to an interview by “Good Morning America.”
But here’s the truth – and trust me, I know I’m going out on a limb – I don’t see the problem with this new feature. (Although I do hate one particular descriptor – “Used up.” Eww.)
Now, before you write me off as an insensitive, first class you-know-what, hear me out. Like it or not, this is how the dating world works. We are all attracted to people based on a number of different factors – sense of humor, religion, age, etc. – and body type is one of them. It’s not like the site’s ranking is based on hot versus ugly – that would be mean-spirited. In my opinion, the filter options are saying, “Hey, there are a lot of different body types – which one typically attracts you?”
One user in the “GMA” interview said the feature can make online dating even more stressful: “How you self-identify on the site, and how you’re going to be perceived on your date by your date, is going to be a point of potential insecurity,” Alana Massey said.
I do understand her point. There are certainly stories of people who fall unexpectedly in love with someone; a person who falls outside of a specific set of dating criteria that once seemed absolute. But very often the driving factor behind initial attraction is based on physicality. And since the goal of a dating site would be to some day sit down for an in-person date, then those two people would eventually have an opportunity to decide whether or not they are physically attracted to one another. That means that whether or not a site includes filters like OKCupid’s, the assessment of physical attraction is inevitable – it’s just a matter of when it happens.
The real problem with the site’s new feature is that we have become a society that attaches negative connotation to body descriptors. Magazines are constantly urging women and men to “get hot” with new diets and fitness trends. What’s more, the Internet has opened doors for name calling that involves these terms – things that we would never say to someone’s face are now being shouted throughout web-based public forums and comment sections. That is why this terminology initially appears hurtful – it is often backed by ill-intended behavior.
And that is why the problem lies within the tone of the conversation. Whereas words like “thin” and “curvy” could easily be perceived as exactly that – words – they have become the root of self-criticism for young and old people alike. That’s why now, more than ever, efforts like Dove’s “Love Your Body” campaigns and youth organizations, such as Girls on the Run and Body Rocks, are so important. What these projects aim to do is teach participants how to accept their bodies for what they are – perceived “flaws” included.
“When we look in the mirror, we see those flaws and we imagine that’s the way other people are seeing us,” Dr. Robyn Silverman, author of “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” said in a 2010 interview with Meredith Vieria of the “Today Show.” “Everybody has that body bully within, that self-critical voice that says ‘you’re not good enough, you’re not thin enough, you’re not perfect enough to achieve your goals, to be worthwhile.’”
That is where the real work begins. We as a society must continue to work to nix negative body conversation, working instead to encourage the positive. That’s certainly my desire for these romantic hopefuls – to please not worry about what a person might think about his or her body. Instead, my wish is that they focus on finding the person who will love every piece of them – body, brain, smile, laugh, quirks and all – for exactly who they are.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the upcoming author of a gluten-free healthy lifestyle book, set to be released in January 2014. She is the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com and is currently training to become a certified health coach. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.