Dating app Grindr can create weight stigma, negative self-images among gay men

WATERLOO, Ont. — Dating apps like Tinder and Bumble have changed modern dating as we know it, for better or for worse. There are also dating apps designed specifically for LGBT communities, and the most popular platform among bisexual, two-spirit, queer, and gay men is Grindr. It turns out, however, that using Grindr can be harmful to some gay men, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada found that the app may lead users to develop a negative self-image, particularly when it comes to excess weight.

For reference, Grindr is incredibly popular among homosexual men, with a reported three in four having at least tried the app.

“Dating apps have skyrocketed in popularity over the past decade or so and have radically transformed the ways individuals connect with one another,” says lead author Eric Filice in a media release. “We were surprised to find that weight stigma is perpetuated by individual users and embedded within the app’s information architecture.”

Grindr does not mandate users to provide their name or link to any additional social media accounts, so users largely remain anonymous. Furthermore, the app features pre-set body descriptions for users to choose from, but there is no such listing that acknowledges being overweight. Users can only choose between six descriptions: toned, average, large, muscular, slim, or stocky.

All of this led to participants in the study perceiving being overweight as a negative trait or stigma.

“Participants recalled their body weight or shape being scrutinized for allegedly being incompatible with their gender expression or preferred position during intercourse,” Filice says. “We think this points to the importance of locating weight stigma within and alongside other intersecting power relations.”

Besides just the weight stigma, researchers also noted that sexual objectification and appearance comparisons are incredibly common on Grindr, contributing to users’ overall body dissatisfaction.

“It doesn’t help that because Grindr exists to connect users for dating or sex, physical appearance bears greater cultural salience,” Filice explains. “People often compare their candid, in-person appearance to the meticulously curated or digitally altered appearances of others they encounter online.

However, researchers also noted that the 13 gay men they interviewed for the study were quick to point out various protective factors and coping strategies they use to combat Grindr’s potentially harmful impact on their self-esteem. Such strategies included prioritizing a positive self-image, cultivating a strong social support group outside of the Grindr community, and avoiding situations that increase insecurities.

Despite the majority of their findings indicating that Grindr is not a positive influence on its users, the study’s authors don’t believe that simply shutting these apps down or launching advertising campaigns aimed at discouraging use are the answer.

“Health promotion strategists should focus on patterns in app use that are most harmful and orient their interventions accordingly. Many of our participants see Grindr as a necessary evil, as internet-mediated communication has served a unique historical role for gay men in circumventing social, cultural and legal barriers to making connections in public spaces,” Filice concludes. “Much remains to be done. We still have little insight into how dating apps influence the bodily perceptions of trans and gender-nonconforming folks.”

The study is published in the journal Body Image.