In a tech-dependent dating culture, where it takes but a swipe to reject someone, single fat women can see the venture of finding love online as incredibly difficult.
When couples therapist and fellow plus-size woman Krista Niles discovered a key piece of research on male online daters, she spent a year gaming the algorithm of a popular dating app to ensure fat babes were only matched with fat-preferring or indifferent partners.
This is the cornerstone of The Curvy Cupid Course, Niles’ online group course that takes plus-size women step by step through dating via OKCupid.
A 2015 Chapman University study of 28,000 heterosexual participants examined their weight preferences for potential partners. While 80% of men stated it was essential their partner have a slender body, this left 20% who either prefered women of size or were indifferent to size altogether. For Niles, this information was a game changer.
“If you would have asked me before I saw this research, I would have guessed 2%, 5%,” Niles said. “And I think a lot of women I encounter think that.”
For plus-size women in particular, putting ourselves out there has always involved some preparation around rejection, fetishization, or straight-up harassment. Niles recognizes the fear and apprehension that can keep women of size from taking the plunge into online dating.
“I think it's a very vulnerable thing for fat women,” said Niles. “There's just so much fat hate and negativity, especially in terms of fat women looking for love. When being sexy or sexual, they are subjected to the highest levels of fatphobia.”
Niles herself used various dating sites off and on for nine years before finding her partner. Like many before her, she ran into the classic pitfalls of online dating while fat, such as choosing non-representative profile photos that hid her size.
“I had this idea that if I got the guy on a date, he would fall in love with my personality. And that absolutely never happened,” Niles said. “It led to some very awkward first dates.”
For those who have yet to use OKCupid, the platform matches you with other users based on a barrage of personality-based questions and a rating of how important your potential mate’s answer to each question is. The most common strategy to ensure a thorough match is to answer as many questions as possible. However, Niles disagrees with this plan of attack for plus-size women. She suggests prioritizing the questions about body size and shape above all others.
“They're very offensively worded, so you have to take a deep breath and answer them anyway,” Niles said. “Rate them all very highly [in importance]. When you do that, you are only going to match with people who are cool with dating a fat girl. You're not going to match with people who have marked that as an absolute no or even a partial no.” While this approach may look limiting at first glance, Niles reminds us we are not narrowing the pool with this strategy. We are simply revealing it. Matching with people who are not open-minded about bodies that exist outside rigid beauty standards is simply a waste of time.
Prioritizing questions about appearance also may seem like it comes at the expense of not addressing other important factors like religion and politics. Niles cautions clients to answer the questions that resonate most with them while keeping in mind their demographics.
“Answer the questions that are very important to you but that everyone in the area is not going to answer the same way,” Niles said. “If you live in [a liberal area like] San Francisco and you get a question that says, ‘Which is worse — book burning or flag burning?’, skip that question. Every single guy in the area is going to answer the same way.”
Of course, there is more to online dating than just personality matching. The fine art of presenting oneself online takes practice and guidance, which is another facet to The Curvy Cupid Course. Through video lessons and interactions with Niles and other clients in a private Facebook group, Curvy Cupid students learn strategies on profile building, photo selection, organization, and other challenges like dealing with burnout and rejection — the unsavory yet often inevitable parts of online dating.
While Niles does dedicate a small portion of her course to building confidence, she felt that area was best left to another plus-size guru, author and fat activist Virgie Tovar. Niles and Tovar have teamed up to offer clients a tandem package — Tovar’s online course, Babecamp, followed immediately by The Curvy Cupid Course. Babecamp is centered on breaking up with diet culture and “how to essentially live the babely life that all of us deserve,” Tovar said.
Niles sees an overhaul on how plus-size women view themselves as essential to the dating process.
“Going straight from this radical new way of looking at yourself and then directly into dating — that’s the way to do it,” Niles said. “People are going to be really ready for it after seeing their worth and their value.”