Reverse Catfishing: A Good Idea Or A Moral Mistake?

When it comes to using dating apps, you sort of have to throw caution to the wind. Because all you have is a handful of photos and a profile to go by, you have to hope that whoever is on the other end, after you've matched, is legit. For example, has this person posted a slew of average, maybe even slightly boring photos, with an interesting and witty description of themselves, then will end up looking like Brad Pitt when finally you meet them in person? It may seem unlikely, but it happens. It's called reverse catfishing.


"While most people work on the logic that they're only as hot as their worst dating app photo, other people want to ensure that their potential dates are genuinely interested in who they are," London-based dating expert Hayley Quinn tells Well + Good. "This could mean they upload unflattering photos because they don't want to oversell their looks. They want someone to be attracted to their personality."

In a society where looks often trump personality, at least in regard to getting one's attention on a dating app, reverse catfishing may seem like it's just as upsetting as regular catfishing. But reverse catfishing isn't about trying to scam someone out of money or relying only on deceit. It's about finding the real deal. It may be looks that attract us first, but it's personality that makes us stick around.


So, is it a good idea or a moral mistake to reverse catfish?

It's not the best way to start a relationship

Although the person doing the reverse catfishing, by posting less than flattering photos of themselves, may not see it as scammy because they're looking for someone who doesn't give a darn about their looks, it still starts the relationship off on the wrong foot. 


"Purposely tricking someone, even if it seems harmless, isn't the best way to start any relationship," licensed clinical social worker Lori Ann Kret tells AskMen. "You don't know how that will impact the development of trust with this person down the road."

Because trust is so paramount in a relationship and is the very foundation of it, if it begins with being tricked, even if there's good intention there, it can make the person who's on the receiving end of reverse catfishing question what else they may be tricked by, or even lied to about, in the future. No one wants to feel like they can't be trusted, just as much as no one wants to feel like they can't trust their partner. 

It's an invitation to embrace imperfections

While the early days of dating apps really focused on looks, a lot of that is changing — especially after Covid-19. When you've experienced a worldwide pandemic in your lifetime, it's not uncommon to pause to look at your life and examine what's really important. That examination has spilled over onto dating apps, too.


According to a 2022 survey by Bumble, 51% of their members reported that photos that caught their attention were ones in which the person was humanized, meaning they were doing an activity they loved. It didn't matter if the activity was cooking, skiing, hiking, or reading, it was the fact that these photos were real, not posed, and not gym selfies.

"This showed us that people are beginning to overlook the idea of perfection on dating profiles, instead wanting to form bonds based on less superficial factors," Bumble's sex and relationship expert Dr. Caroline West tells Stylist. "Authentic connections are born from similar morals, ideals, and interests, and showcasing these on your profile will help you find someone who aligns with your lifestyle."


Let's be honest, after lockdown and all of these excessive "unprecedented times," perfection has become even less important than it was before. Someone sharing their own imperfections on a dating app is an invitation for you to embrace your imperfections too. It also opens the door to vulnerability, something that every healthy relationship needs.

Intentions could be misleading

If someone decides to post not-so-great photos in the hopes of meeting someone who's more interested in them as a human being rather than how they look, it could also be a sign that they've been burned before and they're still grappling with that. 


"Some users could be persistently posting photos of themselves that are not likely to attract a suitor because they're trying to protect themselves, or because their sense of self may be damaged from previous dating experiences," couples' therapist Dr. Katherine Hertlein tells MetroUK.

In these cases, it's not so much a reverse catfish, as much as a way of protecting one's heart from further damage. These types of people may not realize that their intentions are misleading, because they've yet to process their last relationship and the pain that came with it. Not to kick someone when they're down, but these people ultimately shouldn't be on dating apps just yet. Unfortunately, not everyone can admit to themselves that they're not ready to date and the ones who end up getting burned this time around are the people they match with and meet up with in real life. 


It's actually no different than posting great photos

When we use dating apps, we're choosing to expose a part of who we are. No one can share their entire self in a profile with a few photos, so it's about handpicking components of what we like, what we stand for, and who we are as a person IRL. While for some people this may mean posting only the very best photos and highlighting only their finest qualities in their profile description, for others it might mean posting wonky photos with a profile that's more self-deprecating and revealing of flaws.


"Downplaying your looks is no better or worse than posting only your best photos, which is what most people do. As long as the photos are actually you, it's not dishonest," psychotherapist Maggie Vaughan, Ph.D. tells Well + Good. "All profiles are a manipulation designed to attract a potential mate. If you're merely presenting yourself in a particular light, that's to be expected."

So, is reverse catfishing a good idea or a moral mistake? It depends on what the person on the receiving end of the reverse catfish scenario thinks. There's really no right or wrong answer to the question. It comes down to what honesty looks like to each person and what they define as misleading or not.