On Catfish and Body Image


I love Catfish. The TV show, that is. (I might also love the barbed water-dweller pictured above, but I’ve not tried it, so I can’t very well speak on the subject.) What started as the documentary movie a few years back became the hit MTV show last year, and is now in the midst of its second season. If you live under a rock, it’s basically about people who pretend to be someone else online and then engage in digital relationships. Host and creator Nev Schulman helps victims find out who the real people are behind these fake internet personas. The backstories get pretty crazy to say the least, but there’s one underlying theme that I’ve come to see in most of the episodes.

The “catfishes” — those who are pretending to be someone else — seem to be doing so almost entirely because of how they look. In many cases, it’s a bigger guy or gal who is afraid to show their techno-admirer what they really look like. And ya know what… it works. These folks who don’t like who they are pretend to be what society deems attractive, and they inevitably have more “dating” success, even if it’s just online. It’s clearly not a physical relationship (well, sometimes it is via texting and chatting on the phone and what not), which means that people are opening up emotionally to these fake super models more than they would to an unattractive person right next to them. This says a hell of a lot about the state of the society we live in.

We’ve become so obsessed — obsessed is the word I want to use, and it’s a powerful one; don’t diminish the meaning of that word here — with body image that we can barely function as relational humans with people who don’t fit our concept of attractive.

In the show, once the truth has come to light, the victim is often astounded that they could have had such a deep relationship with someone who isn’t necessarily up to their physical standards. They come away saying that they won’t judge people as quickly anymore based on outer appearances. It’s sad that it takes this kind of experience to learn that lesson. Alas, I’m sure it’s a lesson that we could — that we should — all learn.

This is not a problem that we’re unaware of. We know that the people who entertain us on the screen or are featured in glossy pages are not accurate depictions of what the majority of people look like. And yet we can’t get over those images. Our brain gets it, to some degree, but we can’t make the actual connection that allows us to accept our bodies. Sure, we need to be healthy and strive to be fit, but to what degree? Does a guy need six-pack abs to be attractive? Damn right, if I’m listening to what’s thrown my way on a daily basis.

For whatever reason, a stupid TV show has visually made me aware of this problem to a degree that I wasn’t before. In the end, people just want to be loved for who they are. And who’s in control of that? ME. I am in complete control of how I treat people, and I’m fairly certain it too often has something to do with how someone looks.

Here’s to trying something different. Will you join me?


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