The XX Factor

OkCupid’s “Fat” and “Ugly” Filter Won’t Help You Meet Your Match

Search “average to everyone else but perfect for me.” She’s out there, man.

The online dating site OkCupid has instituted a feature that allows users to pay a monthly fee to filter out potential dates by body type (users select their own category, from choices like “skinny,” “curvy,” and “used up”) and their attractiveness level (as determined by the OkCupid hivemind). So far, the feature has not gone over well. As Gawker put it: “OkCupid Users Can Now Pay to Weed Out Uggos and Fatties.”

The filtration system itself doesn’t strike me as particularly offensive. (Then again, it’s hard to make online dating more offensive than it already is.) If a lady is only interested in “thin” men, she’ll scan the club for them when she’s dating offline, too. And if a dude is more interested in women with “a little extra,” he can use OkCupid’s filter to try to make that connection. Besides, OkCupid users have always been able to organize their matches by height, income, and ethnicity for free. Asian fetishists have long used the service to shoot off messages like “Konichiwa! You are beautiful, like a lotus flower” to their targets. OkCupid is now simply capitalizing on a certain type of creeper.

What does offend me is that OkCupid is monetizing a service that is unlikely to bring its users closer to better dates, relationships, or sex. Consider the body types that users can select for themselves and their prospective partners. One dater may consider her body “average,” but another might call her “skinny” or “overweight.” The terms are not defined. What constitutes a “full-figured” dater? How about one with  “a little extra”? What does “curvy” even mean? Is that a euphemism for “overweight,” or does it signal that you have enormous boobs? (What if you have the butt but not the boobs? Asking for a friend.)

Attractiveness, too, is impossible to crowdsource. A person considered particularly alluring by the OkCupid algorithm may be repulsive to you, and vice versa. OkCupid allows its users to rate others’ hotness based on a one-to-five star scale; with the premium product, you’re empowered to exclusively scan the profiles of people who average three, four, or five stars. But as the service’s own research suggests, the women who get the most attention on the site are actually the ones who produce divergent opinions among the user base. “The more men disagree about a woman’s looks,” OkCupid found, “the more they like her.” A dude who you consider a one might look like a five to me, giving him a three-star average rating. So if I opt only to look for men with five-star averages as determined by OkCupid’s algorithm, all of my personal fives will be hidden from view.

OkCupid has yet to invent a filter to help you find a person who you’ll like when you actually meet up. That would be worth paying for.