One day, as a tenacious and talkative six year old little girl, I observed someone doing something I thought was wrong.
My mother, to this day, says I looked at her, scrunched my nose up and proclaimed out loud “How RUDE, mom! That’s SO rude.” Apparently I said that a lot. In fact, it seemed to be the catchphrase I deployed my entire childhood whenever I witnessed the actions of another person I deemed were unjust. A little over thirty years later, I’m still tenacious and still talkative. I also have a stubbornly piqued sense of morality and have a hard time staying quiet when I see people get kicked in the mud.
Cut to one night recently, when in my Los Angeles apartment, post a workout and nursing a snack of dried mangos (try them!) when I was scrolling through the internet dating site OK Cupid. (Yes, I online date, who doesn’t these days?) and came across the profile of a man I was deemed to be a 93% match for. 93% seems pretty high, right? So I started clicking away!
He seemed cute and well-spoken in his profile; I decided to dig deeper by reviewing the answers to his “match questions.” And that’s when I saw this…
This is an actual screenshot taken directly from OK Cupid. See? You can see my pic there.
Now, I’ve been on and off OK Cupid several times in the last few years. I obviously answered this question at some point in time; I don’t know why this question never caught my eye before. But that night, it did.
I stopped and stared at it for a few minutes. And then, exactly the same as I did when I was six, I scrunched my nose and proclaimed out loud, “HOW RUDE, OKCUPID!” Except, to be honest, I think I also threw in a few select four letter words.
Before I go any farther, let me state a few things clearly.
Yes, I’m a fat woman.
I am not offended or bothered when people are not attracted to women of my body stature. And,
I believe EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT to be interested and physically excited by whatever body types, looks, styles, colors, shapes, or sizes do it for them.
Back to story. At that moment? I felt outrage. Repulsed. And I felt… downright pissed off.
Did OK Cupid just discriminate against fat people? Did they just perpetuate attitudes of hate towards persons of size? Did I really just observe the tasteless, tacky word choice I just did? My first gut reaction was 100 percent “yes” to all of these things!
You see, the issue I have is that one simple word — DISGUSTED. Disgusted. Let’s review the meaning of this one small, highly powerful word.
According to Merriam Webster, here is the definition of DISGUSTED and DISGUST:
As I saw it, OK Cupid just prompted users to answer “yes” to the idea that very obese people are loathsome, repugnant, aversive, offensive and distasteful. Right. WHAT THE HECK OK CUPID? SERIOUSLY?
Before I jumped to conclusions, I stopped and paused. I like to think of myself as a woman of reason.
Maybe it wasn’t just fat people that OK Cupid seemed to have an issue with? Maybe it was tall folks? Or short folks? Or those with red hair? Maybe OK Cupid was asking equally offensive questions about different populations of people?
So I started to review all the questions that OK Cupid uses to determine peoples match percentage. (In full disclosure, there are hundreds of questions. At the time this was written, I had answered and reviewed a little over 300 myself. There are a lot more; I’m sure I haven’t seen them all.)
What I found was truly bothersome. Among all the questions I saw that promoting people to “approve” or “disapprove” of people defined by specific characteristics or attributes (again, I only reviewed about several hundred of an unknown quantity so there may be some I didn’t see), size was the only factor that seemed to present itself with loaded negative answers. Word choice being the issue here. Instead of asking “neutral” questions, each time a weight-related question was asked, there was editorial implications with words used in the question or offered as answer choices.
The problem: Using the word “still” as if to imply that someone who is overweight is, by default, not sexy.
What they could have said instead: “Do you find overweight people to be sexy?” Or, “do you find yourself attracted to people who are viewed as being ‘overweight’ by society standards?”
The problem: Why even ask this? Honestly. They don’t ask if someone who is short or tall is considered “annoying.” They don’t ask if blondes or those who are into health and fitness are “annoying.”
What the could have said instead: How about just NOT ask this question, forgoing the right to declare that ANY people are annoying and, instead, come out straight and ask people their personal preferences without passing judgment?
Ok, now you may be saying “hold up, Sarah, being tall isn’t a choice, it’s genetic. People have a choice to be overweight or not, and someone who is overweight is lazy and unmotivated and this question is just trying to let people chose not to be with people they think are lazy and unmotivated.”
To that I say… shush.
This is not a debate about being “healthy at every size” and this is not a debate about being a fat advocate. Some people who are overweight are healthy, some are not. Some people who are overweight are lazy and unmotivated, some people who are slender are lazy and unmotivated. Some people who are overweight are really physically active, some are not. Some people who are slender can’t walk a block without their lungs giving out, and some heavier people can run half-marathons.
The problem: The word “dealbreaker” was not used when talking about height, hair color, able-bodiedness or disability. The only defining physical characteristic being offered as a choice for being a “dealbreaker” is being overweight. So being fat is presented as a potential dealbreaker.
What they could have said instead: “Would you date someone who was overweight?” It’s a simple yes or no question. And if you are going to ask that about persons of size, than ask it about other descriptors as well too. Descriptors should simply be descriptors. Not judgment indicators! Would you date someone tall? Would you date someone short? Would you date someone very skinny? Would you date someone with a disability that kept them to a wheelchair?
Anyone here take the SAT test in highschool?
If you did, you remember the questions that compared like objects. They call them “analogies and comparisons.” For kicks and giggles, here are several questions that OK Cupid also used to gauge interest in personal attributes. This time, notice the neutral language used for each of these questions.
For people who are quiet….
If they attached the same judgment to persons that are racist as they do to persons who are obese, the question might have said… Could you date someone meek and insecure, who didn’t like to communicate, had no voice in public and was afraid to speak their mind, preferring to stick to their own.
See? Assumed judgment. Which is ridiculous. And OK Cupid doesn’t make assumptions about people who quiet… only those who are fat.
For people who are racist… (Right, because being fat is “worse” than being strongly racist?) Notice they don’t use any offensive language here. They ask “yes or no” would you “consider dating” a racist person? They don’t even say “do those who have strongly negative biases towards specific races of people disgust you?”
If they attached the same judgment to persons that are quiet as they do to persons who are obese, the question might have said… Could you date someone close-minded, biased, prejudiced, short-sighted, uneducated, hateful, mean, nasty, and all around shitty?
OK Cupid doesn’t make assumptions about people who racially biassed… only those who are fat.
So that’s two “personality assumption” questions that OK Cupid doesn’t take the bait on. And, yet there are more.
They don’t say this about former addicts either…
Or those who smoke…
And they even use neutral language when blatantly asking people outright “character flaws.”
Here’s how they handle the idea of “ditzy” people.
And yet they ask if someone has ever taken pills hoping to lose weight.
Ahhh yes, another beautiful assumption brought to you by the fat-phobic question writers at OK Cupid.
Here’s a great example of how OK Cupid handles the idea of “geeks.” Again, both of these questions use the word “geek” as a physical descriptor but they ask using neutrally-biased language.
Note that they don’t say “Are geeks STILL sexy?” And, in the second question, they ask a simple yes/no question.
How OK Cupid handles the ideas of video-game addicts.
Or those who lack ambition..
Or those who smoke.
To save us time, here are more questions I came across that are all indicators of personality attributes. But each of these questions makes no ASSUMPTIONS about the attributes. Because OK Cupid only does that with fat people.
Could you date someone who never, ever, threw anything away?
Would you consider dating someone who confers on relationship decisions with an invisible friend whom they’ve had since childhood?
Have you experienced mental illness?
Would you ever film a sexual encounter without your partner knowing?
And so I’ll leave it at this.
Dear OK Cupid,
Get your act together. What you’re doing is wrong. It’s plain wrong. First, you’re fostering negativity and discrimination towards people. Second, you’re plainly, obviously, only doing it against a single, specific cross section of population. Those who are large. That’s not ok. It will never be ok.
You may say, “we’re a dating website and we offer people what they want.” I don’t buy that. You’re a brand. You are in charge of your website, you know exactly what you’re doing.
You have 50 employees. Your site sends 7.3 million messages every day. And, according to your exact words, you have three principles that make your site the best on earth; you say that everyone’s welcome.
Well let me say this. I don’t feel welcome. I feel the exact same way today that I did at six when I noticed something was wrong. When I witnessed the actions of another person I deemed were unjust.
Nearly one third of the world’s population is overweight or obese. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. It’s just a fact. That’s a lot of people. And those people deserve the SAME LEVEL OF RESPECT that everyone else gets. Nothing special. Nothing privileged; they simply deserve to be seen without bias, the same as everyone else.
How rude, OK Cupid.
2/14/17 – UPDATE – OK Cupid Responds… Join the Conversation!