Reverse Catfishing Is the Latest Deceptive Dating Trend — Here’s How to Spot It
Dating apps are a breeding ground for deception: There’s a good chance that at some point, you’ve been disappointed to find that a match wasn’t 100% honest about how they look, who they are, or what lifestyle they lead.
For the most part, and for obvious reasons, people usually try to appear more attractive to get more right swipes — for instance, by only including photos of themselves from 10 years ago or when they were 15 pounds thinner (often referred to as “kittenfishing.”)
But now, many users are doing just the opposite: uploading the most unflattering photos of themselves — a tactic known as “reverse catfishing.” The goal? To attract people who are drawn to your personality, not your physical appearance.
This approach has become increasingly popular as daters grow tired of surface-level connections with superficial people. But does it work? And more importantly, is it ethical? Below, dating experts share the ins and outs of reverse catfishing.
What Is Reverse Catfishing?
The term ‘catfishing’ refers to an online dating scam when a person pretends to be someone they aren’t in order to seduce unwitting victims — typically, by pretending to be someone more attractive or desirable than they actually are — often for money, but in some cases simply for the thrill of the attention.
While you’re not pretending to be a completely different person, reverse catfishing operates in the opposite direction — you’re trying to come off as less attractive than you really are.
Maybe you upload a few photos from an unflattering angle to create the illusion of a double chin or a beer belly. When you finally meet up with your match for that first date, you’ll have already forged the start of a connection with someone who clearly likes you for who you are on the inside. What’s more, your date will feel like they hit the jackpot when they discover you’re actually in excellent shape.
At the beginning of 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."
This appears to be the origin of the term, but not necessarily the strategy. In fact, there’s evidence of this trend on Reddit from as far back as 10 years ago.
Why Do People Reverse Catfish?
According to experts, the main reason why people reverse catfish is simply that they’re tired of being judged based on their looks. Often, they’re looking for a deeper connection with someone who appreciates their intelligence, sense of humor, or other traits — not just their six-pack abs, chiseled jawline, or movie star smile.
Alternatively, Kevin Darné — author of Online Dating Avoid The Catfish!: How To Date Online Successfully — says some reverse catfishers are simply trying to avoid being used or taken advantage of for their looks, financial success, or other attractive attributes.
“Many cultural trends are shifting universally, starting a few years ago with the body positivity movement,” says Lori Ann Kret, a licensed clinical social worker and cofounder of Aspen Relationship Institute.
“Our society is increasingly feeling the loneliness and emptiness born from an overemphasis on superficiality in appearance and connection,” Kret says. “The isolation of COVID has only increased our desire to have more meaningful, authentic relationships, not just ‘likes’ for the photoshopped masked versions we’ve been putting into the world.”
Dating and relationship coach Meg L. Rector adds that it can be hard to manage expectations when it comes to online dating. By presenting a less-than-desirable image of yourself, you maintain a sense of power over your image and how you’re perceived — at least until you have an opportunity to meet up IRL.
Is Reverse Catfishing a Good Idea?
While reverse catfishing may come from a good place — the desire to form a genuine connection that’s beyond skin deep — experts agree that it’s best to avoid this strategy. Deception is deception, even if there’s no malicious intent behind it.
“Purposely tricking someone, even if it seems harmless, isn’t the best way to start any relationship,” explains Kret. “You don’t know how that will impact the development of trust with this person down the road.”
As Darné points out, when the person you reverse catfished discovers what you really look like, they may feel more resentful than overjoyed. To some, this tactic may feel like game playing or a test, which can be a major turn-off right from the get-go. After all, if you deceived them from the start, how do they know you won’t do it again?
All that said, Rector notes that uploading pictures where you look less than perfect isn’t the same thing as reverse catfishing. It all comes down to your motive. For example, adding photos to your profile where you’re in gym clothes with bed-head isn’t necessarily reverse catfishing — while that may not be how you show up to a date where you’re seeking to impress someone, it may really be how you look on a day off.
“There’s a clear difference between singles who are truly reverse catfishing with this manipulative undertone, and those who are just showing a much more authentic version of themselves by posting more real,” adds Kret.
How to Date Without Reverse Catfishing
So, we’ve established that reverse catfishing isn’t exactly a great way to start a relationship. But luckily, according to experts, there are lots of other ways to meet people who aren’t just interested in you based on your appearance.
For example, Kret advises highlighting some of your quirks and unique qualities in your profile — say, your nerdy passion for retro video games, your secret bird-watching hobby, or your unusually expansive knowledge of jazz music. These kinds of idiosyncrasies will attract people who appreciate what makes you unique, not just what makes you nice to look at.
“By being willing to share these less-than-perfect facets, we create a safe invitation for others to be vulnerable and imperfect with us,” says Kret. “The space for shared authentic vulnerability is at the core of healthy, meaningful relationships, as it is the place where emotional intimacy is fostered and strengthened. It is where we have the experience of being truly seen and loved and accepted as we are.”
Darné also recommends investing more time into the pre-screening process before deciding to meet someone in person. Taking things slow will allow you to suss out whether or not someone is actually compatible with you and looking for a deeper connection.
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask a match: “What made you swipe right on me?” If they say your profile made them laugh, or they were psyched to find you have a shared hobby, then you may just have a keeper on your hands — and the best part is, you didn’t even have to resort to deceptive tactics to find them.
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