What Is a Reverse Catfish? 13 Things Experts Want You To Know About the New Dating Trend

Photo: Getty/ Carlos Barquero
While new dating app features like video calling may have lessened the risk of being catfished, there’s a new reverse catfishing movement that app users may now have to beware of.  A reverse catfish is basically catfishing’s opposite: Essentially, it’s the practice of using less-than-flattering photos of yourself in order to put more emphasis on your personality on dating apps. (Regular catfishing, in case you needed a reminder, is when you use more-flattering, usually fake, photos on a dating app in order to trick potential mates.)

Is reverse catfishing real? Is it ethical? While it might seem like the stuff of a modern day Princess and the Frog morality tale, it’s gaining popularity, according to totally anecdotal stories from scholarly dating anthropologists AKA sex and dating writers like myself and Well+Good contributor, Jillian Pretzel.

"Reverse catfishing consists of someone who uses less-flattering photos of themselves.” —Angelika Koch, dating expert

Recently, Pretzel’s friend Stephanie realized her date had pulled a reverse catfish on her. Stephanie’s date had “average-looking” photos on his Coffee Meets Bagel, but to Stephanie’s surprise, her date showed up ripped, handsome, and looking… not quite as average as his photos suggested. While Stephanie originally was interested in her date because of his sense of humor and kind messages, the fact that he showed up looking like a “beefy Robert Pattinson with striking turquoise eyes,” was a pleasant surprise.

Experts In This Article

We spoke to the experts to find out exactly why someone might reverse catfish, if it’s okay to do so, and alternatives to reverse catfishing that will still help find matches on dating apps. Read on for more.

What is reverse catfishing?

Reverse catfishing “consists of someone who uses less-flattering photos of themselves,” says relationship and break-up expert Angelika Koch, dating expert for Taimi. The intention of reverse catfishing is to emphasize one’s personality more than their looks, Koch explains.

What are the signs of someone catfishing you?

1. Their photos seem…off

If none of the photos are candid and look like they are professionally done, this might be a sign of catfishing, says Koch.

2. They create a story where they are in financial trouble

Koch says this might be a ploy that they’ll use to either hint at needing help in hopes that you’ll offer it, or they might be brazen enough to actually ask for money upfront. Either way: be warned.

3. They avoid FaceTime calls or make up a story about their phone not working

These could also be a sign that someone is catfishing you, Koch explains. Neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, agrees, adding that “catfishers often avoid video calls, claiming reasons like poor internet connection or a broken camera.” Technology gets the best of all of us sometimes, but if there’s a pattern of consistent excuses, it might be a red flag, Dr. Hafeez notes.

4. They profess their love to you really early in the relationship

“Catfishers might try to manipulate you emotionally by professing love or deep affection very early in the relationship, before they have earned your trust,” Dr. Hafeez explains.

What are signs someone is reverse-catfishing you?

1. They downplay their accomplishments

People who are reverse-catfishing might exhibit a pattern of sidestepping opportunities for success or deliberately downplay their achievements, Dr. Hafeez notes.

2. They brush off positive feedback

Instead of saying thank you or feeling good about getting praise, a reverse-catfisher might instead make negative comments about themselves or brush things off, Dr. Hafeez explains.

3. They mask their true abilities or talents

“Another sign of reverse catfishing is the deliberate concealment of one’s genuine talents, skills, or intelligence,” Dr. Hafeez notes.

Why would someone reverse catfish?

1. To downplay appearance and amplify other traits

“It makes sense to me that someone who repeatedly matches with people who fawn over them and show little interest in getting to know them ‘on the inside,’ might downplay appearance and amplify other traits,” says psychotherapist Maggie Vaughan, MFT, PhD.“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.”

"As long as the photos are actually you, it’s not dishonest.” —Maggie Vaughan, PhD, psychotherapist

Besides, Dr. Vaughan contends that all dating profiles are just a small slice of a whole person. Showcasing any part of that whole—whether it's the part with bedhead and a stained shirt or otherwise—is just fine. Is reverse catfishing a manipulative dating practice? “All profiles are a manipulation designed to attract a potential mate,” Dr. Vaughan says. “If you’re merely presenting yourself in a particular light, that’s to be expected.”

2. To be funny

Similarly to amplifying other traits, someone might reverse catfish in order to show off their sense of humor, as neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez notes. Using unflattering photos “can be a way to break the ice and demonstrate that they don’t take themselves too seriously,” she adds.

3. To avoid pressure

In some cases, people might reverse catfish in order to avoid the pressure of needing to always look put together, Dr. Hafeez says. “Presenting themselves in a less flattering light can alleviate the pressure to constantly maintain a perfect image, allowing them to be more relaxed and authentic,” she notes.

Is it ethical to reverse catfish?

While reverse catfishing certainly isn’t as duplicitous as regs catfishing (you are, after all, using actual photos of yourself in the first example), the jury is out on whether it’s ethical. For Koch, reverse catfishing doesn’t seem particularly unethical: “While [it] sounds bad, I personally don’t see anything unethical about reverse catfishing because you’re not altering your photos,” she explains, adding that while you might be showing less flattering images, “these are not fake photos…and don't misrepresent how they look.”

In fact, Koch argues that she sees reverse catfishing as a version of being authentic. She argues that reverse catfishing can be seen as being raw and unfiltered, and “in a world where most dating profiles look alike, showing your true self is genuinely refreshing.”

However, while it might not be ethically harmful, you should be aware that reverse catfishing does have a possibility of coming off as inauthentic to potential mates and matches. Which brings us to our next point, below.

Is reverse catfishing a good idea?

While you might assume that a bad dating profile and reverse catfishing gets you matches that are more interested in your personality than your looks, the experts warn that reverse catfishing could be a potential turn-off and could be seen as not being truthful.

“Authenticity often scores people the best and most compatible matches,” says dating expert Hayley Quinn, who warns that while reverse catfishing isn’t necessarily a red flag, doing so could be a turn off to potential matches. While sharing a not-great photo of yourself isn't lying, doing so with the intention to manipulate the way someone may receive you isn't reflective of being totally straightforward and could be viewed as akin to kicking off a relationship with a test.

How do I get matches interested in my personality and not my looks—without reverse catfishing?

Okay, so you’ve decided that maybe reverse catfishing isn’t the right move for you. How should you craft your dating profile to get the best matches?

1. Focus on what you say in your profile, rather than using pictures to tell a message

A photo might be worth a thousand words, but in this era of swipe fatigue, an authentically-crafted bio or profile might actually show your personality better. Online dating expert Lydia Kociuba, who helps people write their dating profiles, says it’s better to prioritize what you say in order to attract a mate rather than using a good or bad photo.

Talk about things you value, Kociuba suggests. Instead of saying that you like to go hiking, explain why you like hiking. Do you like the peace and solitude of being in nature? Do you find hiking especially calming since you work in a busy tech job all week and find the outdoors to be a respite from all the screens? Do you like hiking for the health benefits? “People forget to put the meaning and passion behind what they like to do,” Kociuba says.

2. Communicate your goal for being on the apps

Create a dating profile that is upfront about what it is you’re generally looking for. “When I write profiles, I basically say something like, ‘I’m looking for the right person for me,’” Kociuba says. Doing so “leaves you open to explore possibilities, but it also exemplifies the fact that you’re serious about this and you want to find the right person. You want something genuine and long-lasting out of this experience,” Kociuba adds.

3. Keep an open mind

Finding someone interested in your personality doesn’t guarantee a match, but Kociuba says that’s no reason to get discouraged. Instead, “just do the best you can,” she suggests. “Create the best profile that you can with information that is true and good. From there, it’s about human nature. Have conversations and see what happens.” she adds.

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Loading More Posts...