OkCupid founder defends filter that screens dates by body type

Dating site OKCupid has recently started allowing top users to pay a little extra in order to filter potential dates by body type.Today
By Eun Kyung Kim

Finding an ideal love match is always tough, but dating site OkCupid is trying to make that task easier for some users by allowing them to screen their potential dates by body type.

Visitors on the popular site can filter potential matches with certain physical body types, all for a fee ranging from $5 to $10 depending on their location, how often they use the site, and other demographic factors. The filter offers about 10 self-reported body type options, ranging from thin to overweight to “used up.”

OkCupid has offered the screening tool for several months but only recently began to make it more prominent on its site, said the company’s founder, Sam Yagan.

“The truth about humanity that maybe people don’t want to admit is that an important part of physical and sexual attraction is superficial,” he told TODAY.com. “If you ask someone, ‘Why did you get married?’ You’ll hear, ‘Oh, he makes me laugh’ and all that stuff. And that’s all true. I’m sure he does make you laugh. You also think he’s hot.”

The body-type filter is an extension of what happens in the real world when people narrow down potential dates based on what they see, said Yagan, who is also the CEO of Match.com, which owns OkCupid. 

Some men say they prefer brunettes to blondes, while many women insist they will never date someone shorter than they are, he said.

“Is it PC to say out loud that people are attracted to superficial things? I guess it’s not, but it is the truth,” he said.

Screening out potential mates by physical features is nothing new, even online. The website DarwinDating describes itself as created “exclusively for beautiful, desirable people. Our strict rules and natural selection process ensures all our members have winning looks."

Those rules ban, among other things, "saggy boobs," sweat patches, nerdy glasses and cackly laughs.

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Another popular dating site, eHarmony, said it has no plans to offer a similar screening tool.

“Our service is all about the end game, which is getting people into happy marriages or really happy long-term relationships and not just thinking about the superficial ‘I need to get a date for tonight,’” said Arvind Mishra, the site’s vice president of product management.

The site famously requires its users to fill out extensive questionnaires before it pairs them up with potential dates. That technique allows the company to match individuals up in a more “deep and meaningful way,” Mishra said.

Physical attraction does play a role in dating, but so does a couple’s compatibility based on factors such as education level, religion, and their “outlook on happiness,” he said.

“We match from the inside out,” Mishra said.

But in Yagan's opinion, that’s not entirely truthful. Any online dating site that uses photos, for example, is using a screening technique based on appearances.

“Yes, you can say we’re too good for these physical, superficial filters, but at the same time, if you allow a photo or if you ever allow your users to meet in person, then you are basically admitting that, yes, our users will take that into account,” he said.

OkCupid also allows users to filter dates based on other characteristics, such as whether people smoke, have pets, want children, or by their religion. Most of those filters are available for free. The company placed the body-type filter behind a paywall because it didn’t want people to place an unrealistic emphasis on physical characteristics, Yagan said.

“These admissions are so subjective. What’s the difference between curvy and average? And athletic and toned and jacked? These are all euphemisms for a broad range of body types,” he said. “We think that by constraining it to a smaller set of people who are the power users and who are more invested in OkCupid, we end up making the whole community ecosystem stronger that way.”

Yagan said he doesn't know whether Match.com will follow suit and offer a similar filter. 

"All the businesses run very autonomously," he said.

While the majority of OkCupid users don't use the filter, it has proven popular and "people love it," Yagan claims.

"People have strong preferences on body type," he said. "We might as well just let them admit that and save everyone some time."