You may have heard Netflix’s Love Is Blind is “fatphobic,” because rather than cast people with different body types in its “social experiment” to make people fall in love without seeing each other, it’s instead filled with conventionally attractive people. “Not having any plus-size people as part of the experiment undercuts any thesis the show purports to test,” Mathew Rodriguez wrote in Teen Vogue, putting his finger on a sentiment that has dogged the show on social media since it became a breakout hit.
As a fat guy, I can only say thank God Love Is Blind just cast garden-variety hotties. It’s the only thing that kept it from being a genuine nightmare.
Love Is Blind takes singles and drops them into isolated pods for rounds of speed-dating until they start proposing to each other. It frequently reminded us of the “social experiment” angle. But I’m so relieved that these reality TV scientists fudged their parameters a bit. As Rodriguez suggests, a real study would require individuals of all shapes and sizes get thrown in the mix, and while those of us who are overweight or other-bodied might long for such diversity, it’s a true kindness that the show didn’t try it.
There is certainly a version of this show where the producers would choose that angle, but it wouldn’t belong on Netflix. That level of cruelty is reserved for TLC. And cruelty is what it would be, because every person’s otherness would consume their whole storyline. Let’s remember this is reality TV, with all the crudeness about human experience that implies. Just as we saw Carlton struggle with his bisexuality on Love Is Blind, we would see each overweight character constantly fret about their appearance, calculating when the right time would be to come out of the fat closet to mitigate disappointment and hurt.
That would make a lot more sense on TLC—the network that has a show about skinny guys who date fat women called Hot & Heavy. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it. I struggle to watch its shows at all, really, only ever dipping in on iterations of the 90 Day Fiancé franchise when a friend pesters me, and every time I’m reminded why I can’t stomach it. From the outside, the 90 Day shows are also stories of unconventional love, but sitting through an episode, the experience is much more voyeuristic. There’s no real kindness from the show’s perspective; it uses oddballs and idiots who fall into long-distance traps with strangers (and the corresponding con artists) as objects of derision. We’re never supposed to like any of the people involved—we’re only meant to gawk at what we’ve thankfully been savvy enough to avoid. When I finish an episode, I feel like I’ve just wrapped a session of aversion therapy.
Love Is Blind hits differently. The show definitely has its doses of malice and idiot voyeurism—just look at Jessica giving her dog wine, or the way Giannina savages Damian about their sex life—but it’s more premised on hope. It primes us to want the contestants to find love more than it makes us want to watch all the ways they can subject one another to cruelty without redemption. Like its reality counterpart The Bachelor, the show wants to create a version of heterosexual normalcy where singles and couples alike can see versions of themselves reflected back and speculate how they would fit into such scenarios. Using mostly forgettable attractive people achieves that goal, because when everybody is a similar level of blandly hot, all their looks become secondhand. They’re not remembered as the fat one, or the one in a wheelchair; they get categorized by personality quirks and defects.
This avoids any attempt at empty virtue-signaling, too, like what happened to poor Jason on the much-maligned gay version of The Bachelor, Finding Prince Charming. While Jason wasn’t completely out of shape or anything, he was in a house with a bunch of gym bunnies, and the only reason the suitor kept him around was to ensure us that he wasn’t fatphobic, not because he was ever seriously considering Jason a match. And that’s its own version of cruel, because viewers who don’t fit that mold can usually tell when we’re being condescended to, kept around only because a producer is buzzing in somebody’s ear.
People who aren’t this kind of reality TV attractive are treated as objects, not people. Their sole function is typically the way their bodies don’t fit into this televised version of the world, and any storyline that develops is in conversation with their physical self. It’s something they can’t escape. There’s no room for a personality when your body takes up all the story space.
Being a fat guy, I’ve struggled with such body-image management. I remember trying to pose at just the right angle to hide a gut or soft chin when sharing photos on dating apps, and wondering when I’ll be found out and cast off because of my size. I’ve worked hard on getting over that, but those feelings still emerge at times, and it’s a lot of work to keep them in check. Putting somebody who’s struggled with that in a Love Is Blind scenario would only cause those issues to reemerge, and it would reveal nothing I don’t already know.
Watching Love Is Blind, I thought back to another Netflix hit, The Circle. Sean, a late addition to The Circle cast, is an overweight woman who entered the circle pretending to be a skinny friend whose photos she was using. In a show all about the truth and fiction of online personas, she thought she’d have a better chance at winning over other contestants by presenting an Insta-hottie. When she finally got the confidence to reveal her real appearance, everybody was loving and accepting. It really undercut her expectations, and she was genuinely moved.
You could hope for the same thing to happen when a romantic component is added to the equation, but reality TV dating just isn’t made for that. Even on The Circle, Sean was still solely defined by her appearance—and the fear of rejection that came with it. Love Is Blind is not the place to be sorting through those biases. That would have made an otherwise perversely enjoyable show excruciating for a lot of viewers to watch—and it would have been all for the voyeuristic consumption of others who have never struggled with this issue.