When Michelle Thomas, 30, took to her blog to reveal the cruel note a first date had sent her, telling her she ‘wasn’t slim enough’, she received hundreds of messages from other women who’d had their appearance dissected by men. Here, she shares their stories and considers the minefield of online dating, relationships and body image.
I met Simon on Tinder, and on our date last week, he’d been flirty, affectionate and charming. He walked me to the station, we kissed, and I went home. Lovely, but standard – just the right side of dull.
The next day, he sent me a 400-word message. The tone he used was kind and condescending - almost tender - but his sentiment was brutal. He outlined, in forensic detail, how he couldn't possibly perform sexually as he found my body so unattractive. I'm not slim enough for him to be turned on.
It was a shocking response but when I wrote a blog about it, I was overwhelmed with messages from hundreds of women saying ‘me too’.
Women have told me that dates have said they "should be grateful" to be courted as they're a size 16.
“I was told by this guy I was seeing for three months that he would find me more attractive if I was a size 8… I was a size 12. So I dumped him,” one said.
“I was once told on a Tinder date that I would be hot if I was less curvy,” another added.
“When I was internet dating I would immediately discount any man who specified that he wanted to meet someone slim,” read yet another comment. “Firstly, I'm not slim. Secondly, I didn't want to date anyone who thinks slimness is on an equal footing with personality, character and non-visible qualities in their search for a partner.”
But this isn’t just about one-off dates.
Male friends contacted me to tell me that their wives or girlfriends have had similar experiences which have led to serious trust and intimacy issues in their relationships and, in one case, even an eating disorder.
One woman sent me her wedding pictures, where she looked beautiful, blissfully happy, and about a size 10. She then told me her ex-husband used these very pictures as a reference point when he was telling her she needed to lose weight, with the passive-aggressive finisher: “Just trying to help, sweetheart.”
Clearly there's an insidious line of body-related sexism, which while not unique to our time, is shocking in its backwardness.
Our bodies are such an emotional minefield that talking about my own, frankly and honestly (telling readers that I'm 20 pounds overweight) with warmth and - Heaven forbid - a little humour, has been viewed as an act of rebellion.
I even had men, meaning to be nice, who responded to my perceived cry for validation by propositioning me. “I'd have a go! If I were in bed with you I'd be harder than rocket science! Bring your fanny to me! I'd tap that!”
Thanks guys, but you’re totally missing the point.
Women and girls are programmed to believe that their bodies are a commodity from a young age. As we get older we have to work against the preconception that we're only worth the value placed on our physical mass.
That’s why message like the one I received from Simon taps into every woman’s worst fear – a fear that’s apparently reinforced on a widespread basis. And no amount of well-intentioned comments will change that.
It's also worth noting that the instant gratification provided by dating apps may lead to a lack of empathy between men AND women. I did receive one particularly moving response from a chap who told me, “What do you call a guy who's under 5ft 10? A friend.” While not all women are after a 6ft lumberjack, this is absolutely a form of body shaming that chips away at a man's confidence as much as weight would for a woman.
I was in a six-year relationship which ended four months ago, and in the short time that I've been using Tinder since, I have had some fantastic experiences.
Would I use it again? Sure. Would I recommend it? You bet.
Just be safe. And know that your worth isn't defined by one picture and a short bio – or the toxic opinion of strangers you may pick up as a result.