OkCupid Lets Users Choose a Thin or Overweight Mate. Is That a Bad Thing?

ThinkStockDon’t want to date an overweight person? If you use the dating service OkCupid, you don’t have to. The website became the focus of controversy this week after unveiling a "filtering" system that allows premium users to specify (or ignore) people with particular body types.

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Here’s how it works: The dating site, which offers its basic service free of charge, gives users the option to pay a monthly “filtering fee” of $4.95 to $10 to help them find dates who best match their desired body type. It also allows users to “hide” members with body types they’re not interested in. Descriptors (entered by members themselves into their profiles) include thin, overweight, skinny, average, fit, athletic, jacked, a little extra, curvy, full-figured, and the tongue-and-cheek “used up” (that one's open to interpretation).

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The feature has stirred debate on social media with reactions ranging from anger to enthusiasm. “Why are we so cool with telling fat people they’re unwanted?” @stokely tweeted. “Because who doesn't love being ignored solely based on their body type?” wrote artist_access, and Foursevsix chimed in with, "I want to know who sat at the @okcupid meeting and said: Cause users to feel even worse about themselves? YES! Let's do it." Conversely, @Brutally_Brad wrote, "What's wrong with people being attracted to certain body types?" And @King Yuda: "You aren't on OKCupid to make friends. If filtering increases those chances then do it!"
 
Even the competition weighed in. "At eHarmony, we do not match you based on photos but on how deeply compatible you are with another person," Jeannie Assimos, a spokesperson for eHarmony, tells Yahoo Shine. "That is what we have found leads to a happy, fulfilling relationship. For us, it’s about connecting people with similar values, character, and interests. Not things like physical characteristics."
 
However, OkCupid stands by its service. “People often say that online dating is a lot of ‘work,’ so narrowing down your preferences, whether they’re curvy, skinny, or overweight, makes things more seamless,” Justine Sacco, senior director of corporate communications at IAC, the company that owns OkCupid, told Yahoo Shine.

Given the fact that individuals are attracted to people of various body types, doesn't the idea make sense? Despite the assumption that men wish to solely date stick-thin supermodels, research suggests otherwise: One study published in the scientific journal PLoS One found that men gravitate toward women with an hourglass figure (in fact, simply watching a shapely woman triggers the pleasure center of the brain associated with food, drugs, and alcohol). Likewise, women aren't above prioritizing physical attributes. Research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that women opt for muscular men when seeking a fling and men with “average bodies” when looking to settle down (from an evolutionary point of view, men with less brawn signify long-term security). Likewise, cultural differences play a part in attraction: One study published at the University of Granada found that Spanish men prefer the bodies of healthy models with normal weight.

And while no one can argue that weight and body image are sensitive subjects, is specifying size really that different from preferring a certain gender, race, height, or personality trait?

“Filtering potential partners for physical attributes such as height, weight, and body type is what people often do when navigating the dating scene,” says Christy Hartman, PhD, a Denver-based behavioral scientist and psychologist. “OkCupid is simply making that process more streamlined, although it sounds like a bit of a marketing gimmick, since people are paying a fee for something they already do.”
 
The issue could be problematic, however, if a person describes himself as “muscular,” but to his date, he’s just “average." But if body size is such an important criterion, users may be better off taking a closer look at someone's photos — or better yet, going on the date and seeing for themselves.

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