Last week an e-mail pinged its way into my inbox and rattled my cage. Although (probably) well meaning , I still felt that its contents was a problem that that needs to be discussed, the e-mail read as follows:
The press release that followed spoke heavily of the need for this style of dating app and consistently referred to "big girls and their admirers" throughout. The male CEO of WooPlus went on to detail the catalyst that this idea derived from - his "sister experiencing this herself" and inspired by a recent video "posted on YouTube by Social Experiment that showed the rude, mean-spirited reactions by men when they met a blind date whom they thought was thin, but who turned out to be heavy" are the two reasons given for this creation, thus the Tinder style WooPlus was born. The press release describes further how the app has a specific policy against fat shamers with permanent bans on "anyone who makes disparaging comments on another member's appearance". So far so good, you might think - so why did this rattle my cage? A dating app to help combat the negative stigma surrounding plus-size women and lurve - surely that's something I (as a plus-sized woman) should be happy about? But therein lies the problem.
I'm sure that the creators of this app mean no ill harm and are only aiming to combat body image issues by pioneering this app. But there are a number of things wrong with it that could contribute further to the negative sense of self that so many plus-sized women have become accustomed to. Tinder as most of us know, relies on a match being made between two individuals depending on whether they 'swipe' left or right on their screens - but what is this match based on? Let's say it together now - physical appearance. With WooPlus comparing themselves to Tinder "but without the fat shaming fools" they are unintentionally citing appearance as being the main source for a love interest. Whilst many relationships are borne out of physical attraction, for women who have spent their whole lives being told that they aren't attractive, good enough or desirable, it would be unfeasible to expect them to be comfortable with this aesthetic based means of finding a 'date'.
Not only this, but the descriptions of the app focus heavily on 'plus-sized women and their admirers'. This statement alone conjures up many problems that need to be brought to light:
1) Why aren't plus-sized men and their love lives being taken into account? Women aren't the only people who desire love in their lives, men are often on the look out for a prospective relationship too. Eliminating men, plus-sized men particularly, from the equation snatches a space from them that they could be accepted into...
2) How do you define 'admirers'? Using the word 'admirers' evokes something not akin to a romantic interest. Plus-size women are not a speciality, a fantasy or a fetish - the way that this app describes us plus-size women and our admirers shows strains of fetishism and BBW appreciation. While I understand that there is a market for this and many women are happy to be praised for their BBW statuses, I believe that this app, whilst acting as a glorified dating app, will attract the attention of those who worship 'big women' rather than focusing on the integrity of the building of relationships that has been purported so far.
3) Where is the line of 'plus-size' drawn? What about those who aren't 'straight sized' but aren't classed as 'plus-size'? There are so many body types in the world that is it incredibly difficult to distinguish between what is categorised as plus-size and what is not. So what then, will happen to the women who are shunned by the real world for being too big, but upon discovering WooPlus are pushed away for being too small?
4) In spite of what many may think, plus-size women actually get their fair share of action. The misconceptions surrounding bigger women stretches to their romantic endeavors, and I for one can say that many of us have not had an issue finding a partner or sustaining a relationship. All of this begs the question: is an app like this really needed, or indeed, wanted?
WooPlus marketers further supported their app by stating that it is "actively addressing a sensitive social stigma for many people involved in online dating, which is the marginalisation of people with atypical bodies". Once again, I believe that this idea was born from good intentions, but it is still somewhat misguided. For although a space for plus-size relationships to blossom might be on the cards - what these people are doing is further encouraging the marginalisation of people with atypical bodies. Segregating plus-size women will only make us retreat from the mainstream once again, but we aren't going to do that. Categorising us as a specialist brand whilst under the guise of advocating body positivity is not the way to go about supporting the imminent collapse of body shaming, rather integrating us into existing institutions or rather, treating us like everyone else, would be the more favourable option - trust me.
This article was originally posted on Fran Hayden's blog, here.