The trouble with reverse catfishing

The trouble with reverse catfishing | Soho House

A new dating trend claims to encourage matches based on personality over looks, but not everyone’s convinced

Thursday 6 October 2022    By Tilly Pearman

Everyone’s heard of catfishing. That some people will create a fictional persona to bait and lure others online is, like ghosting, part of the modern lexicon, especially when it comes to dating. Now, however, some members of the online dating community are (sort of) flipping that practice on its head. But whereas catfishing is all about deception, fans of so-called ‘reverse catfishing’ have embraced the trend for its refreshing focus – at least in theory – on authenticity. 
The name can be applied to people who intentionally upload ‘unflattering’ images of themselves to their online dating profiles (think ‘ugly’ photos over the highly edited and Facetuned variety). The idea being that in doing so they will attract dates and potential partners based primarily on their personality, rather than their looks. We are not, however, talking sweaty gym selfies here.
Reverse catfishing captures – and uploads – the random. Those thoughtless, ‘caught off-guard’ moments that show your truest and most candid self. If you’ve ever snapped a crying selfie, been caught shopping in your PJs or ‘accidentally’ captured yourself singing in the shower, then you’re already hitting the brief: it’s about showing as many different sides of yourself as possible through the minutiae of everyday life. 
Reverse catfishing is part of a growing online trend for ditching perfection across the board, in line with ‘photodumps’, the 0.5 Selfie and real-time photo-sharing app BeReal, all of which lean hard into their own brand of non-curated reality. 
But with a staggering 74% of Gen Z and millennials taking a deep dive into the limitless pool of dating app users, could there be something other than ‘authenticity’ to the trend? As much as the name suggests those who engage in a spot of reverse catfishing are there to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about themselves, there is, users note, another point to this trend, too.
TikToker shanelowhateva’s announcement to her followers that she had deliberately made an ‘ugly Tinder’ so that when she went on dates the men would be ‘pleasantly surprised’ when they met is a case in point – and there are plenty of other fans of the practice sharing similar experiences and sentiments online. 
The question then, is whether this is really an authentic bid to reveal ourselves as we are in the hope that we’ll attract the same. Or whether the glow that comes from being told ‘you look so much better in person’ is in fact just another (admittedly considerably harmless) bid to mislead? 
‘All profiles are a manipulation designed to attract a potential mate,’ New York-based psychotherapist Dr Maggie Vaughan told wellness site Well Good in a recent piece about the #reversecatfishing (2.3 million views and counting) trend. ‘Downplaying your looks is no better or worse than posting only your best photos, which is what most people do.’ 
According to Dr Vaughan, as long as the photos are of you, whether you play them up or down, you’re not actually being dishonest. But while no one’s about to accuse – unlike its namesake – reverse catfishing to be an act of outright lying, any intentional ‘twisting’ of the truth about who you really are can backfire. As dating expert Hayley Quinn noted in the same piece: ‘Authenticity often scores people the best and most compatible matches.’ Any intention to manipulate, therefore, may be a turn-off. 
Of course, there are as many reasons why people create online dating profiles as there are apps to host them. With that in mind, reverse catfishing may well be for you. Just be clear on why you’re doing it. And – as ever – choose your pictures wisely.
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