Photo Credit: The Big and The Beautiful
Whitney Thompson was the first plus-size model to win America's Next Top Model in 2008, and this week, she announced her next move: Launching an online dating site called The Big and The Beautiful, where larger ladies like her can find love.
The site describes itself as "the fastest growing relationship service on the Internet for people of all beautiful shapes and sizes," but in her "Message from the President," Whitney explains: "I created this site for real women with real curves ... looking for real pleasure."
Cut to me banging my head against a wall -- you don't have to have curves to be real! Besides the computer-generated model bots at H&M, skinny women are real women. We aren't making them up. They really exist. And they are not some kind of freakish superhuman race capable of instantly metabolizing refined carbohydrates. They are just people who maybe happen to be smaller than some of us.
I know that Whitney's intentions here are good (slash profit-oriented -- the site does cost $40 per month!). She's trying to help all the millions of not-so-skinny women who get frustrated on other online dating sites because they "feel pressured to fit a certain mold, posting older “flattering” pictures or even lying on their profiles." And that's noble. If you've tried to get dates on a regular site and been rejected based on your body type, it pretty much sucks. We need more online dating sites that promote honesty and celebrate beauty at every size.
But when Whitney says, "everyone here has the freedom to be their true selves," she is clearly not talking about say, any of her former ANTM competitors. And I just don't get how setting up a new restrictive standard of beauty helps anyone. A plus size-only dating site is as problematic as a plus size-only yoga class because it's solving the wrong problem: Rather than creating a separate space where bigger people feel comfortable, we should be working on changing existing sites to make them more accepting, so society as a whole can improve.
And here's where it gets weirder: Whitney's standard for "The Big" isn't actually all that... big. She told the New York Post that she created the site because of her own struggles with online dating: "[When] I would [call myself] a "plus-sized model"... guys would expect me to be a really big girl. 'But if I said: "I'm a model", [they were] disappointed that I'm bigger. Either way, I wasn't what the guy was looking for."
Got that? So this site is for the girls that are "Big," but not "really big?"
Of course, I'm hoping that Whitney's own story just means she's giving users more options to describe themselves clearly -- not that she's actually narrowing her customer base only to women who are 5'10", a size 12 and a gorgeous model. But it highlights the potential for trouble with online dating that only gets worse when you set up sites designed to cater specifically to people interested in certain physical characteristics of their prospective dates: Objectification. Whitney puts it best herself. She wants to be "what the guy was looking for" — not whom.
And this is a challenge that truly unites all women of all sizes -- but maybe especially women with a particularly unusual physical characteristic, whether its big boobs, a big butt, or overall bigness. You sure don't want to date a guy who is with you in spite of how you look -- but you also don't want to date a guy who is only with you because of how you look. Can you say fetish? At The Big and The Beautiful, I'm not convinced they'll be ready to focus on much else.