Last night was the first time I sat down and watched the new MTV phenomenon that is “Catfish.” This docudrama explores the tangled webs woven online by people deceiving others with photos of good looking strangers to entice their fellow online daters into a relationship. The one doing the deceiving gets the poor, unsuspecting dater to fall in love online. Most of the people carry out these online romances without seeing one another in-person or even hearing their voice for more than two years. There’s even a couple that did the online thing for nine years!
One thing I love about watching TV these days is that I can watch it with Twitter. This takes the level of consumption to a 10 because while I am watching, I am receiving the open and honest opinions of the various people I follow–from ratchet to sophisticated and even the combination of the two (word to Terrell Starr’s Sophisti-Ratchet piece). These tweets lead to in-depth discussions offline and one of the perks of my job is that I get to write it all out.
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As last night’s “victim,” Jarrod agonized over his adorable love interest, “Abby,” Twitter predicted the woman behind the photos of “Abby” would be fat. Some even mentioned that the “Catfish” always ends up being “morbidly obese.” It was tweets like these that burned:
I was already uncomfortable watching this because I know what it’s like to pretend to be someone else online. After watching blonde-haired, blue-eyed “Abby” be exposed as brunette and overweight “Melissa,” I was faced with my own former insecurities.
I used to be a part of this online community called Paxed.com before Facebook and Twitter took over the internet. It was actually at a time when Myspace was at its peak. It was a place where folks gathered to meet new people, flirt, build long-lasting bonds and vent via forums.
When I started my profile, I was overwhelmed by the number of pretty girls on the site. Ethnically ambiguous women with long flowing tresses or wild and carefree curls graced my screen more often than not. I wasn’t intimidated by their gorgeous glares at all. 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 clicked the forum for the same reason many of you click the ratchet titles on Bossip or MediaTakeout; I just needed to know what was beyond the link. As I expected, it was the one ignorant opinion of a dude’s beauty standards who claimed to be an authority on the topic.
I scrolled down the list, the first two were legitimately challenged in the pretty department (like Flava Flav and Craig Mack in a wig) and the next couple of girls were fat; and then I saw something that changed the course of my online life, forever. I saw myself as the 6th ugliest girl on the site. While I knew I wasn’t ugly, the ranking tore me apart.
Heat rushed into my face and I felt the tears welling up. They used a photo that I was most proud of; I’d captured myself at the right angle and my face looked flawless as I smoldered into the camera. 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. I’ve always struggled with not feeling pretty enough because my thighs jiggled more than most and I had stretch marks in places a girl without children shouldn’t have. I could go on for days about society’s thin standards, but I can’t blame everyone else for my self-esteem. Whether positive or negative, it’s difficult not to be affected by people’s harsh words against a fuller figure.
Instead of seeking therapy, I sought pictures of a pretty young thing from Myspace that I could use for my own. I found the perfect specimen. She was fair-skinned with long, luxurious hair and a size six frame that I felt more comfortable with than my own. She updated her photos on a weekly basis, so there was always a gallery-full to choose from.
A chill goes down my spine right now, remembering the delight of putting the faux profile together. As soon as the profile went public, I was overwhelmed by the amount “hits” I received on my page. My inbox could have popped it was so full. I was in college at the time, so between classes and late into the midnight hours (when other students were studying) I was checking my messages, developing relationships with beautiful men and floating on cloud nine from all the positive attention. I practically ignored my real profile (which received minimal hits).
I was so happy with the attention the pretty girl was getting me, I didn’t even think about stealing photos from the woman who I pretended to be or the people I was lying to/dating. If a tiny piece of conscience would peek through, I quickly shut it up with memories of being the 6th ugliest girl on the site. I was now one of the prettiest and I was fine with that false sense of peace. And so were many of the men on the site.
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One in particular, Che fell in love with “me.” We’d chat way into the wee hours of the morning, whispering “I love you’s,” planning our lives together and the whole time, I never thought that I was wrong because what I felt was right. I was flying high in the fog of love and because I felt like I deserved it, I never wanted it to end.
I did everything I could to keep the lie going. When he wanted to talk on the phone, that was easy. I would make a voice a bit higher than normal because I thought he would be able to tell my weight in my voice. Web cams weren’t really that common back then, so it was never really a requirement to provide that type of proof.
The longer my relationship lasted with Che, the happier I was that I was developing something with someone who cared about me and the more I had to do to make sure he never wanted to meet. When he’d mention it, I’d lie about my job being so demanding that I couldn’t get away. He’d suggest coming to see me and I’d find ways to change the subject and lead him away from his original request. I kept thinking that it was only so much more time that I could have these foolish excuses before he started asking questions about who I really am.
One day I logged on, excited to chat with Che and I saw that my page was littered with people calling me out on my fake profile. My heart raced as I went to my inbox to see more than five messages from Che telling me that I am the scum of the earth and various other heartbreaking insults that made me put my tail between my legs. The jig was up and my self-esteem boost gravy train was derailed.
My self-esteem took a definite beating and I wasn’t sure how to move forward. When Che asked me why, I remember feeling so uncomfortable; and it was the same level of discomfort watching Melissa aka “Abby” explain her reasoning for lying to Jarrod through their entire online relationship.
While I watched and tweeted, @JasFly asked me about one of my tweets that detailed “Catfish” being a show about “fat shaming.” What she said…stuck.
Yes, the revealing of the common thread that “Catfish” is exposing is uncomfortable for me. Not all fat people have a tough time finding love and have to result to looking for it online. Most of us could actually boast multiple love interests, but there’s no denying what’s obvious on “Catfish.” Many overweight people create profiles online to receive the type of love they think they deserve, but could never get in real life.
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