Upload, contemplate, remove: these are the three rationale-backed steps for crafting the perfect dating profile on the internet today. In an age synonymous with catfishing (where someone pretends to be a completely different person online than they are in real life), kittenfishing (the diet version of catfishing) and even mermaiding (where the person’s identity is real but they aim to ruin you in every other way possible), it’s no surprise that dating apps require one to be well-versed in Google’s reverse image search engine in 2022.
With every match featuring a pet selfie comes a rabbit hole of uncertainties as we overanalyse profile descriptions to decide if someone is being their ‘authentic’ selves online or rather cosplaying as someone completely different. But as the mantra of ‘bad profiles only lead to bad dates’ continues to grip singles, we’re now witnessing the rise of a counter practice supposedly rooted in ‘pleasant’ surprises: reverse catfishing.
Reverse catfishing is the practice where one intentionally uploads unflattering images of themselves to their online dating profiles. And no, I’m not talking about cringy sweat-dripping gym selfies or sports car photoshoots—those deserve a sinful category of their own. Instead, the images involved in reverse catfishing include thoughtless Snaps, random clicks and even crying selfies.
Have you ever accidentally taken a picture of yourself while checking your nose for boogers with your front camera? That’s peak reverse catfishing energy right there.
At its core, the trend aims to attract matches who are genuinely interested in someone’s personality rather than their appearance. While it’s a problematic yet general consensus that you’re ‘only as hot as your dating profile’, reverse catfishing proves how four to six photos could never realistically capture your living, laughing and breathing candid selves.
Apart from narrowing down the time and effort it takes to meet your potential partner, the technique also has another aspect to it all: the surprise on your date’s face when you both meet up for the first time offline. With comments like “your photos didn’t do you justice” and “you look so much better in person,” reverse catfishing is hence touted as the counter practice of the toxic realms of catfishing—one that ‘pleasantly’ surprises your match when you show up in person.
With more than 606,000 views and counting, reverse catfishing is all the rage on TikTok, where users can be seen uploading screen grabs of their dating profiles for inspiration. “Posting unflattering photos on Hinge to weed out the shallow men,” a user captioned their video. “This technique seems to be working, ladies,” wrote another as the video delves into conversations the user has had with their matches.
As it gains momentum, however, the practice raises questions about the ethics of dating apps. Can reverse catfishing actually help one find “meaningful” connections? I mean, aren’t you basing your entire relationship on a test of sorts with this technique? Where does one draw the line between unflattering and purely misleading selfies?
On 27 January 2022, The Sun published a column titled I’m a reverse catfish—I put ugly pics on Tinder so men are pleasantly surprised when we meet & it works every time. The article delved into a TikTok user’s experience having secured a date using the technique in question despite not having any matches at first.
In a series of videos, the TikToker revealed that her Tinder date was initially “scared” when he saw her profile picture. “You look a lot better in person,” the match later said. The TikToker further mentioned that her date confessed she looked “100 times better” than her Tinder profile and even went as far to admit she looked “like trash” online.
Reverse catfishing is also a trend which is often addressed on Reddit—where multiple users have previously admitted to both experiencing and doing so online themselves. One particular thread that grabbed my attention was the case of a Redditor who matched with a Hinge user and had no clue that his profile was reverse fishing. “When he showed up for dinner, he was wayyyy more attractive than his pictures! He has lost about 45 lbs since his pics on his profile and he is gorgeous! We laughed about how he reverse catfished me,” the user wrote.
While most netizens lauded the match for reverse catfishing the Redditor “for all the right reasons,” others cast doubt on how the opposite case would have been perceived as a “classic example of catfishing.”
Some also went on to admit how the practice doesn’t always take the ‘your vibe attracts your tribe’ route. “One of my wife’s friends has had this backfire on her. She got divorced five or six years ago. Post divorce she got lap band surgery and lost close to a hundred pounds,” a user wrote, adding how she then used to get thirsty messages from guys when she started online dating.
“She decided to use old pics from before she lost the weight to weed those cats out,” the user continued. “She ended up hitting it off with some guys online who ended up being disappointed when they met her in person because they’re into big women. One guy even bounced like ten minutes into their first date and sent her a super mean message about leading him on afterwards.”
Now, it’s time for the final expert polls. Is reverse catfishing actually an ethical practice? Or is it yet another toxic technique that needs to be eradicated from the dating sphere once and for all?
“It makes sense to me that someone who repeatedly matches with people who fawn over them and show little interest in getting to know them ‘on the inside,’ might downplay appearance and amplify other traits,” Dr. Maggie Vaughan, a psychotherapist based in New York City, told Well+Good. “Downplaying your looks is no better or worse than posting only your best photos, which is what most people do. As long as the photos are actually you, it’s not dishonest.”
Dr. Vaughan believes that, at the end of the day, dating profiles are just a small slice of a whole person. “All profiles are a manipulation designed to attract a potential mate,” the expert said. “If you’re merely presenting yourself in a particular light, that’s to be expected.”
While London-based dating expert Hayley Quinn thinks reverse catfishing “isn’t necessarily a red flag,” she doesn’t recommend singletons to try the same as it could be a huge turn-off to potential partners. “Authenticity often scores people the best and most compatible matches,” she told the publication.
While sharing a candid photo isn’t outright lying, doing so with the intention of manipulating someone’s opinions is problematic, to say the least.