If you’ve ever been on an online date, you know that something about your first date is going to surprise you. They’re bound to be taller than you imagined them, or balder, or have a lisp, or be much … bigger … than their pictures suggested. This last in particular is a common complaint, and the refrain in online dating horror stories is more often than not, “She/he must’ve been a hundred pounds heavier than I expected!”

When you first consider it, it just seems weird that people would misrepresent themselves online to people who they’re planning to meet in person. (Do they think you’re not going to notice that you’re very different from your pictures?) But there are actually several factors at play. First, the internet can be a nasty place, and people already feel very vulnerable on dating sites. No one wants to be ignored and rejected, so it can be tempting to put your best foot forward and leave the rest of your body out of it. Second, some people have extremely skewed body images. A girl who’s recently gained a lot of weight might still see herself as a skinny college chick, or a guy who’s packed on football season pounds might not bother to mention it because he knows he always loses it after the playoffs. Finally, online dating sites ask users to identify with vague descriptive words that have different meanings to different people. One guy’s “curvy” may be another guy’s “few extra pounds,” and  “Athletic” is a fair characterization of both a stick-skinny long-distance runner and a hulking competitive bodybuilder. Those descriptions ask people to describe themselves as they think other people see them … and this isn’t always an easy task.

There are definitely people online who misrepresent themselves intentionally, but there are also lots of people who give you the wrong impression without even realizing they’re doing it. One single man Alan mentioned that he looked different in his pictures since he lost 110 pounds by using body detoxification to lose weight naturally. But it wasn’t just the obvious weight loss that made a difference in how he looked. A term even exists to identify the phenomenon: Secret Internet Fatties (or SIFs) are one of the most oft-mentioned dangers of using popular dating sites. The title’s not nice, but it indicates the widespread nature of the internet honesty problem.

For all of the reasons listed above, online dating can require a lot of detective work. The most direct approach would be to ask your date straight up questions about their weight or request that they send you a full body shot, but this seems too forward or rude to many online daters. Instead, use these subtle tactics to get a clearer picture of what your online paramour looks like before you meet.

Identify Red Flags

Sometimes, you can clue in to whether or not someone is intentionally deceiving you by gathering clues from their profile. Look out for the following:

  • Trick Photography: Profiles that are full of Facebook angles (extreme angles taken from above, looking down) should raise the alarms. So should Fish Face (kissyfaced shots designed to create the illusion of hollower cheekbones.) Heavily, annoyingly Photoshopped pictures that disguise the person’s natural appearance also fall under this category.
  • Lack of full body shot: If your date has a profile with ten pictures and none of them are body shots (or their body shots appear to be from their high school prom), they may be misleading you. Body shots that crop out half of the body – making it impossible to see how wide said body is – are also bad news, as are close-ups. Girls who are carrying a few extra pounds sometimes show off the “assets” the extra weight gives them, but fail to post pics of their entire body, allowing you to imagine that those huge boobs come with a teeny tiny waist … just like in porn!
  • Tendency to exaggerate or gloss over important facts: If you notice that your date embellishes certain facts or you’ve caught them in outright lies before, you should expect that they’re misrepresenting their appearance to you, too.

Ask the Right Questions

You can gain lots of information about your date’s appearance by asking simple, fact-based questions. You can’t suss out someone’s actual size or body type from asking one question, so be careful not to jump to conclusions. But asking a series of the right questions can help you gain insight into what sort of body they have, and (perhaps even more importantly) how they view their body and treat it.

  • Ask them when their pics were taken.You can do this with subtlety and tact. Ask them at what event a certain photo was taken, and get the details surrounding it. Then ask them to remind you when that event took place. (“This is at your sister’s birthday party… last year, you said?”) If one of their pictures looks particularly dated, ask them if that picture is older than the rest. Some people post one or two really old pics because they’re flattering or because they have great memories associated with them. Asking is a quick way to figure out whether all of their snaps are from their glory days, or if there’s just one oldie-but-goodie mixed in with recent shots.
  • Ask them about the physical activities they like to do.This one comes with a big flashing warning that some fat people do exercise. Don’t assume that a girl who mentions the gym is a hardbody (or that a guy who confesses to a homoerotic relationship with Ben & Jerry is a tubbo, for that matter). You can ask specific questions about how often their soccer league trains or whether or not they think a hiking date would be fun to gauge their approach to fitness and health. You can also mention the sorts of activities you do yourself and see if they seem flabbergasted that anyone could run five miles or commit to hitting the gym twice a week.
  • Ask them what kind of clothing they like and where they shop.If a girl says she shops at The Avenue, Torrid, or Lane Bryant, she’s telling you that she’s size 14+. If she’s vague about her clothing preferences, it might be because she just doesn’t really care about fashion, or it might be that she doesn’t want to fess up to shopping at Dress Barn. (Actual store. Ugh.). But the way someone talks about the clothing they wear can tell you a lot about their personal style and body image, and this can be hugely important.  (I know several guys who date primarily skinny girls, but they’re happy to expand their boundaries for a sexy, confident bigger girl who dresses to kill and takes great care of herself.)
  • Ask them about their favorite and least favorite physical features.This isn’t really a first convo question, but if you’ve already talked to someone a few times and are planning to meet, it’s not out of line to flirtatiously boast about a feature you love about yourself and ask them what their favorite feature is. This gives them a chance to flirt and preen a little bit. If you follow up by asking about their least favorite feature, they may be more inclined to be honest because you’ve given them a chance to boast before revealing a flaw. Some people will dodge this question, but others will be very frank. You can expect a lame, uninformative answer from a pretty high percentage of people, but there are also lots that will come right out and say, “I inherited my mom’s big ass” or “I’ve gained weight and I’d really like to lose it.”

Encourage Honesty

If you still don’t have a clear picture of your date’s appearance, and you suspect that they may have something to hide, you can help them come clean to you by giving them good reasons to be honest. Here’s how:

  • Make it clear the deceit is a HUGE turnoff.Many internet fibbers find themselves trapped in lies that they initially only told to protect themselves from public rejection and ridicule. (You would not believehow cruel people can be to overweight or unattractive people on dating sites.) Once your date has misled you — either intentionally or accidentally — they may feel like it would be awkward to fess up after you’ve already started talking, so they just wait until you meet in person. This is clearly the worst possible approach, but internet lies have a snowbally character, and it can be hard to find a good time to let someone know that their perception of you is incorrect. Nip fibs in the bud by turning the conversation to what you each value most in a relationship, and making it clear that your number one priority is honesty. Tell your date that you’ve run into lots of internet dishonesty in the past, and that you get why people lie online, but make it very clear that you think any fibs must be resolved before you meet someone in person. By reminding them that you don’t expect perfection, but that being lied to is intolerable, you give them a very good reason to be honest with you about anything they might be fibbing about, and you also give them a very good opening to bring it up. You can even jokingly follow up with “So, if you have three eyeballs or anything, now’s the time to tell me!”
  • State your own preferences. If you know that no matter what, you won’t be comfortable dating someone overweight, make that clear to your date before you meet. Give them the chance to be honest with you by being totally up front about what you are attracted to and what’s a dealbreaker. Remember that your statements should be framed as yourpersonal preference, not a moral judgment about a group of people you’re not attracted to. (You can’t expect someone to come clean to you about a few extra pounds when you’ve ranted to them about how disgusting and lazy fat people are. Also, even if they’re thin, their best friend may be overweight, and they’re still going to think you’re a Judgy McJudgerson.) When you’re talking about sports or hobbies, say, “Fitness is hugely important to me. I have some friends who are overweight, and I have no problem with it, but I know I’d have real trouble dating someone with a few extra pounds on unless they were committed to losing it. Do you know what I mean?” By broaching the subject directly (but hypothetically) you’re giving your date a great opening to be honest, and giving them a chance to avoid a potentially awkward situation.
  • Ask for more pictures.I’ve been told by online daters that they’re afraid to ask for more pics because they think it might be rude. It’s not rude if you’re actually planning to meet someone in person, since you’ll know what they look like soon enough! Pictures are a preview, and nothing more. Be flattering and direct. Say, “I love the pics you have on your profile. Do you have any more you could link or email me?” Be polite, ask casually, and don’t press the issue if they seem uncomfortable. If they decline to send more photos, say, “No problem.” You’re in no worse position than you were before you asked. If they do send you pics, you’ve gotten even more info about how they look! Asking if they have any more pics shouldn’t be awkward. It’s win-win. You can also friend them on Facebook or ask for their MySpace address, as it’s likely that they’ll be tagged in pictures they didn’t include in their online dating profile.

When all else fails, Google them

  • This may seem like a no-brainer to younger, techier types, but chances are that there’s a plethora of information about your date available online. Google them  using first/last name and location, and see what comes up under the “Images” tab of your search.  They may have photos posted publicly that aren’t on their profile, and even if they don’t, chances are you’ll learn something about them that they haven’t mentioned to you. (Whether or not you disclose the googling to your date is up to you. I find it flattering when a prospective date googles me, but other people are less comfortable with our show-and-tell world, so consider yourself warned!).

These tips should help you gain a more comprehensive picture of the person you’re planning to meet. Remember to stay polite, honest and thoughtful, since that’s what you’re trying to help your date do! If you ask the right questions, pay attentions to the signals they’re sending, and let them know that openness and honesty are important to you, you should have more than enough info about your date to feel comfortable going into the first meeting.



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