Updated: Apr 17, 2021
A quarter of the British population have been body shamed on dating apps. This pernicious statistic categorises everything from unsolicited comments to outright abuse. Thankfully, issues of body image have entered common parlance after an anti-fatphobia dialogue was catalysed by activist groups such as the acclaimed “I Weigh”.
These conversations have paved the way for the popular dating app, Bumble, to combat the insidious fatphobia on its platform. In 2017, a man was hounded for adding “pleeeeease don’t be fat” to his profile bio. But this incident isn’t an isolated event. Hence, the site has developed progressive sensitivities to body shaming via its new policy.
The new policy bans any “derogatory comments about appearance, body shape, size or health, either in users' profiles or in the chat function”. Bumble claimed body shaming will primarily be detected by automated safeguards before the relevant comments are reviewed by a subjective human moderator. Offenders will then receive a warning and be handed resources explaining why their behaviour is inappropriate and how they can change. The app will ban repeat culprits from the platform.
Commenting on the urgency of the updated guidelines, Bumble’s head of UK and Ireland, Naomi Walkland, said in a press release: “We have always been clear on our mission to create a kinder, more respectful and more equal place on the internet. Key to this has always been our zero-tolerance policy”.
Alas, the reality of body shaming is far more complex than dating app policies. Society functions on the thin ideal by rewarding anyone who maintains a size six while simultaneously ostracising those who fall outside of the fittingly slim boundaries. This belief characterises the most shallow aspects in the politics of desire. It’s commonly accepted that dating culture has always had a fraught relationship with fatphobia, meaning that while Bumble’s strategy is ostensibly hopeful, it will fail unless the wider scope of dating culture is addressed.
Almost half of adults in Britain have been body shamed. It’s a societal issue and one which Bumble is ill-equipped to tackle independently.
For instance, giving offenders resources on how to change their behaviour assumes all individuals have agency to change. Walkland and her colleagues have presumed everybody shares a collective desire to learn and better themselves; however the fact Bumble even anticipates repeat offenders after distributing these resources implies they’re aware not everybody wants to learn why body shaming is abhorrent.
Cries of a zero-tolerance policy should be addressed at an individual’s first offence. Those who use derogatory language should be banned from the platform at the first instance, offering a second chance only trivialises the problem.
Bumble’s strategy is further incompatible with dating preferences which are rooted in structural oppression. Studies prove most people favour slim partners. This choice is the result of fat phobia, and controversial settings on Bumble only humour this. Profile options which allow users to filter out potential matches who don’t “regularly work out” is a tool rooted in fat-shaming. Although feminist circles know that slimness doesn’t equate to health, and that fat people do in fact exercise, society doesn’t accept this discourse. Hauntingly, when sieving out those who don’t work out, ignorant Bumble patrons believe they’re blocking out fat people. These elements of Bumble completely contradict the aims of their new policy which questions its legitimacy and authenticity.
Even if Bumble was a consistent platform, it cannot downplay its competitors. Tinder, a platform with raw user numbers that dwarf Bumble’s, attempted to reduce fat phobia on its platform. It’s not outlandish to suggest banned Bumble users would simply move their business to Tinder. In effect, there’s a multi-platform issue. When the debate concerns the entirety of dating culture, platforms catering to those who are single must exchange notes to create a sweeping collaborative zero-tolerance policy.
Going forth, it’s essential for dating apps to accept that a collective issue requires an equally collaborative solution. Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook each have similar policies detailing offensive language barriers. Somebody who is insulting on Twitter cannot shift their ignorance to YouTube for they’d be banned there too. Dating services must be similarly streamlined to have any impact on the issue.