There's One Big Reason You Shouldn't Try to Look Like a Supermodel on Online Dating


Your mom always tells you: "Just be yourself." It turns out that was a priceless lesson for the online dating generation.

A new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa, has found that online daters are less likely to trust heavily curated or overly polished profiles compared to those that portray their potential date as real, humble and, yes, successful. 

The study: Hoping to discover what people are actually looking for while sifting through profiles, researchers created eight OkCupid dating profiles, four men and four women, which fell into one of two kinds of self-representation. One type was what the study called "Selective Self-Presentation," or people who only report what's great about themselves. Another was "Warranting," which is people who can easily be linked to a real, albeit flawed, person. 

These profiles were then shopped around to 317 online daters. While you might assume the impressive Harvard graduate/spy/supermodel/gourmet chef types would get the most dates, the Warranting profiles that represented real, imperfect daters were the most popular by far.

Despite the booming industry of online dating profile coaches and "skinny" apps, not to mention the spread of selfie-taking tips, the study suggests that the most attractive profile trait seems to be authenticity. "We found people want to contact a person who appears to be accurate in what they are saying about themselves online," Andy High, an assistant professor in the school's Department of Communication Studies and co-author of the study, told IowaNow

And despite the fact that we're all still looking for someone "hot" (we're only human): "We want someone who seems like an amazing person, but we also hopefully will have a relationship with this individual, so we want them to exist," said High. 


We want real, not perfect: When we say we want the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, we don't actually mean a flawless, Stepford-esque partner. So everything from bona fide catfishing to light profile manicuring may be less effective than getting into the specifics of your life. As the study points out, people want to read about actual jobs and hobbies — you don't want to hear that someone is a "filmmaker" as much as hear about their projects or production company. 

"Most importantly," the study notes, "participants preferred people whose online persona could be clearly traced to a real person." That was especially true for participants who prefer online social interactions — the GChatters and Facebookers. 

It's bad news for people who exaggerate or embellish on OkCupid and in the hopes of upping their responses. And that's a lot of us. A 2007 study compared online daters' physical measurements to the ones stated on their profiles and found the most common profile fibs included height, weight or age. In fact, 81% of online daters usually slightly misrepresent these aspects of themselves.

More dating apps are getting real: The ubiquity of misrepresentation has led to new products that aim to improve the experience, including Willow, which ask users to answer three conversation-starter questions before you even see their profile pictures, or the now defunct Twine, in which users slowly revealed their pictures only after chatting. Most new dating apps include at least lip service to an increase in honesty and authenticity.  

Because being you matters. After all the messages and winks, we're really actually going to sit across a table from these users and have a (hopefully) nuanced and engaging conversation with them. Maybe, if we're putting the horse before the cart, we might have a real relationship with them. And it's pretty hard to fall in love with a person who's not real.