I’ve been using dating apps consistently for the last five years, and in that time I’ve noticed a lot of dubious trends, from the ubiquitous tiger selfies on Tinder to offers to “watch the new L Word and chill” on Lex. One of the most persistent ones, though, can’t be contained to a single app. The use of the word fit to describe oneself or one’s ideal partner is everywhere, particularly on more sex-focused apps like Pure and Feeld, and it’s always left me with a vague sense of discomfort.
Of course, if running or yoga or mountain biking is a big part of your life, it makes sense that you’d lead with it when trying to suss out if some random internet stranger might be the one. The use of the word fit, though, has always felt to me less like a description of activity level than a kind of dog whistle meant to ward off, well...fat people. Or, in other words, people like me.
Is it possible that I’m being overly sensitive? Sure, but let’s look at the facts: Dating while fat can be an incredibly fraught endeavor. It’s easy to find someone to fetishize you, as Aubrey Gordon wrote in the 2021 Vox essay “Such a Pretty Face,” but finding someone who’s actually going to love and respect you—regardless of your size—can be far trickier. If 18% of physicians admit to feeling disgusted when treating a patient with a high BMI, what does that say about the general population?
A regular person using the word fit on a dating app isn’t the same as a doctor refusing to treat a fat patient, but it can be rooted in a similar fear of the fat other. When I open Tinder after a glass or two of wine and see women (and often couples) peppering their profiles with the word fit and endless gym selfies, I start to feel as though the casual sex and companionship that many people turn to dating apps for is off-limits to me until I lose half my body weight. Those women and couples have every right to be proud of their bodies and their fitness levels, but does it have to come at the expense of my own sense of desirability?
I’m not the only one who’s noticed, and been put off by, the fit trend on dating apps. Monica Baum, 25, says the word fit in a profile is often a signifier for her to steer clear. “As a plus-size woman, this is kind of a nonstarter for me when I see it in someone’s profile regarding what they are seeking,” she says. “I love to bike, hike, et cetera, but I know that an active lifestyle—which can be kind of a problematic phrase in its own regard—isn’t necessarily what they mean. Fit is coded language meaning thin—they just don’t want to say that they wouldn’t date a fat person.”
Rachel Krause, 27, has also learned to see fit as a kind of warning sign when she encounters it in the wild. “My greatest pleasures in life are eating and drinking and generally being indulgent and bacchanalian, and I try to engage in fitness activities on a fairly regular basis just because I know it’s good for my mental health,” she says. “For some reason, identifying as fit is hilarious to me. It’s just so shallow. Like, I know humans are superficial creatures, but we get it, you want someone with a six-pack. Thanks, though, because it’s a dead giveaway that we are not compatible.”
Of course, the word fit doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone. Ray Blum Levy, 34, occasionally uses the word to describe herself, though she has mixed feelings about it. “I’m really conscious of how and when I use fit to describe myself, and I go back and forth between using it because of the fatphobic connotations,” she says. “Being a fat athlete is something that feels important to me and the way I view myself, [but] I wish there were less loaded ways to describe my relationship to health and fitness that didn’t have connotations about weight. I’m also always looking for ways to flag other people who prioritize physical activity and health without alluding to a specific—thin—body type or shaming people whose lifestyle or disability doesn’t enable fitness to be a priority,” Levy adds.
I’m not remotely advocating for banning the use of the word fit. It’s a free country, and while some might take issue with my use of the word fat to describe myself, I’d be furious if anyone tried to get me to stop deploying it on dating apps or anywhere else. What I do hope for, though, is a world in which fat people like myself can freely date, flirt, fall in love, or have random sex without feeling as though our bodies are a barrier to the kind of connection we’re looking for. Maybe that starts with a greater awareness, on all of our parts, of how we choose to describe ourselves and our ideal partners.
Originally Appeared on Vogue