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"Love Is Blind" Highlights Reality TV's Fatphobia Problem

Teen Vogue logo Teen Vogue 3/5/2020 Mathew Rodriguez
a person in a wedding dress © Netflix

In this op-ed writer, Mathew Rodriguez unpacks how Netflix’s dating reality show ‘Love Is Blind’ purports to test whether sparks can fly between people who have never seen each other before — yet doesn’t include fat people.

Within the first few minutes of Love Is Blind on Netflix, host Vanessa Lachey, standing next to her husband, 98 Degree frontman Nick Lachey, delivers the show’s premise. She says to the participating women, “Everyone wants to be loved for who they are. Not for their looks, their race, their background or their income.” To counteract the world of Tinder, Grindr, and other dating apps, which give users the chance to reject or accept a person based solely on a photo, Blind challenges people to fall in love without ever having seen their potential partners. Couples will date and forge connections in furnished pods from opposite sides of a wall.

The show does make good on at least three of those promises: It does have couples that are from different economic backgrounds, different upbringings, and across races. But, for all the differences the show derives drama from, it leaves one notable exception to its experiment: weight. Love Is Blind features all average-bodied people. And while it does want to test how people find love regardless of race and class, it never even nods to people’s size.

As the show tells us several times, its premise separates itself from the premise of something like a dating app, where a small square profile picture can be do or die for a potential love match. And fat people face plenty of discrimination on these apps. Plus-size dating app WooPlus released a survey in 2016 that showed that 71 percent of its users faced fat-shaming from men on “normal” dating apps. And it’s not just women or heterosexual people. Infamously, on gay dating apps, the ubiquitous phrase “no fats, no fems” shows that big men are often persona non grata when it comes to dating or hooking up.

The prevailing narrative for the fat body is that it is a joke. It is completely dehumanized and desexualized. This is evident across different media and was even a running joke in Avengers: Endgame, one of 2019’s biggest films. In the movie, Thor — the bulkiest and hunkiest of the superhero squad — is played for laughs because he has become “lazy” and fat. Characters in the film laugh at him, point out his sloppy presentation, and tell him to eat a salad. All of this underlines an idea that is persistent when it comes to fatness: fat people cannot be heroes.

Cut back to Love Is Blind and the show says something similar by not casting fat participants. The show asks us to forge our own deeply human connections with each of its characters. We’re supposed to feel something for Lauren as she navigates her first non-white boyfriend. We’re supposed to feel something, positive or negative, for Amber as she tries to reform indecisive Barrett, all the while looking over her shoulder as Jessica eyes him from across the room. And we feel for Mark as he’s oblivious to Jessica’s ambivalence toward their engagement.

While the omission stings personally, as a fat person who has navigated finding love and being rejected solely for my body type, it also stings of structural anti-fat bias. Research has shown that children learn anti-fat bias by age three. Implicit weight bias is as present in children ages nine to 11 as implicit racial bias in adults. A recent Yes! Magazine article declared anti-fatness to be the last widely-acceptable phobia.

If the show’s ultimate thesis is that Love Is Blind and that anyone can fall in love with anyone, then not having any plus-size people as part of the experiment undercuts any thesis the show purports to test. In fact, the show not only isn’t inclusive of fat bodies, but the show also focuses solely on normative bodies, which includes erasing fat people and people living with disabilities.

On Wednesday, people flooded social media with fat positive images for World Obesity Day. It was a stark reminder of just how uncomfortable fat bodies often make non-fat people. And, by extension, how few positive attributes and scenarios we ascribe to fat people. Fat people can be jokesters or book worms or best friends. But there aren’t a ton of models when it comes to fat people finding love in mainstream media. Some romance films have plus-size leads, like Real Women Have Curves, Just Wright, Hairspray, and Isn’t It Romantic? But the people leading the charge are people who are fat and fat positive.

There is another small part of me that is happy that a fat person was not sent up for laughs or sympathy on Love Is Blind. On Netflix’s The Circle, one contestant, Sean, catfished her housemates with a picture of a skinny friend, rather than enter the game with her real body. She eventually outed herself as fat to everyone and shared photos of herself. The show garnered a lot of praise for addressing fatphobia, though Love Is Blind, despite a kiss here or there, was not a dating show. Sure, it helped to humanize a fat person and show the day-to-day mental wear and tear it takes just to be fat and present yourself to the world. Fat people deserve to not only be thought of as sexual beings and romantic prospects, but normative-bodied people also need to challenge their own conceptions of fatphobia, just as white people must be challenged on implicit bias, and wealthy people must confront their implicit classism.

As is now the trend with Netflix shows, Love Is Blind is a “social experiment.” And while it is a super entertaining one, it lacks some bite because it failed to address anti fatness, one of the biases that are heavily visual and is right at home with the show’s thesis. Because the show is already a runaway hit, let’s hope the next season doesn’t turn a blind eye to fat people who have faced rejection on dating apps because our bodies challenge other people’s ideas of beauty. You say, Netflix, that love is blind – but until fat people, and people with any type of non-normative body, are cast on the show, we’ll never know for sure.

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