Social Media, Obesity, and Catfish

06.09.13 Piqui Niqui

Although catfishing has existed as long as the Internet, the actual name by which the cultural phenomenon will forever be known was not decided until 2010. This happened thanks to an indie documentary film made by Henry Joost, Ariel (Rel) Schulman, and Nev Schulman. Catfish is wonderfully complicated, but its essence is simple — through Facebook and email and telephone communications, somebody got fooled.

As one of the characters explains, in the old days shipments of gastronomically desirable codfish were transported in water. Supposedly, the cod arrived at their point of sale all flabby and lethargic. But if catfish were added to the mix, they would chase each other around and the codfish would be well-exercised and acceptably textured. And once in a while you meet up with a person who is like the catfish, whose purpose is to keep you in motion, mentally alert, fresh, and “on your toes.”

Next came the MTV series “Catfish,” captained by Nev Schulman, and about (what else?) people getting romantically bamboozled through social media. Some call this brand of foolery “factitious disorder;” others call it “interactive storytelling.” This is in fact the very phrase used by filmmaker Rel Schulman, who goes on to say:

One of messages of the movie is you can’t trust social networking at first glance. You’ve got to do your research and you’ve got to be defensive. But don’t be too defensive, because it might be a real opportunity on the other end.

When people pretend, in order to attract online friends and encourage emotional attachments, it is perhaps not surprising that the deception often involves body size. In one episode of the series, a 10-year electronic relationship could go no further because the man was morbidly obese. An article titled, “MTV’s ‘Catfish’ Reveals The Big Fat Problem With Internet Dating,” discusses an episode in which another man’s supposedly trim blonde sweetheart turned out to be a chubby brunette.

One online commentator noted that the catfish in question was more like a whale, and another complained that fat people seem to be the show’s common factor, while a third chimed in that a lot of overweight people have self-esteem issues. Another was moved to ask whether the show is “fat shaming” or merely reflective of the plain fact that when people lie about their true selves online, obesity is usually the reason.

The writer of this piece, Danielle Young, reveals her own questionable past with a website called Paxed.com:

I didn’t think twice about plastering myself up on the site, until I stumbled into a forum labeled, ‘The Top 10 Ugliest Girls On Paxed’ […] I saw something that changed the course of my online life, forever. I saw myself as the 6th ugliest girl on the site…

The caption said something like, ‘She thinks because she doesn’t post a full body photo that we don’t know she’s fat as hell. Maybe if she lost some of those chins, she could actually be cute.’ From that moment forward, I was no longer comfortable with being myself online. I was already struggling with my self-esteem because of my weight, but this list solidified my discomfort with myself.

And then Young goes on to tell how she misappropriated someone else’s photos and made up a false thin-girl profile for herself, and confesses the mortifying consequences. She writes:

I know what it’s like to pretend to be someone else online… I was faced with my own former insecurities… Yes, the revealing of the common thread that ‘Catfish’ is exposing is uncomfortable for me… Many overweight people create profiles online to receive the type of love they think they deserve, but could never get in real life.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “’Catfish’ Film Exposes Lies, Mental Illness,” Discovery News, 10/15/10
Source: “Trust me, I’m a film-maker,The Guardian, 11/19/10
Source: “MTV’s ‘Catfish’ Reveals The Big Fat Problem With Internet Dating,” HelloBeautiful.com, 10/11/12
Image by Vacacion (Miguel Vaca).

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