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Affirmd

A fat-positive dating app

How might fat-femme-identifying people access safe and acknowledged dating spaces?

Methods:

Secondary research, User Research, Interviews,User journeys, UI/UX, Information Architecture, Usability testing, Rapid Prototyping, Ideation, Art direction

Tools:

Figma, Maze, Miro, Notion

Designed a dating app that encourages fat-positive behaviors to create a space where fat-femme-identifying people feel welcome, safe, and acknowledged

What I Did

Response

Fat-identifying and plus-size identifying daters responded positively to both the acknowledgement and community development features, as support was a big focus in app adoption.

Straight-size users generally felt appreciative of the features and discussed how they could be applied to other groups as well, and made them feel safer when potentially adopting the app on their end.

Some straight-size responders had hostile reactions to the application and focus on fat-positive dating, showing that biases are difficult to change, but others felt safer with these implementations than without them.

The goal of Affirmd was to create a social space that supports fat women rather than discourages them from participating in finding connection.

To develop Affirmd further, additional research and testing would need to be done that opens up the pool to more daters and evaluate if the features on the platform translates to greater participation and hopefully a welcome place for social connection.

Background

Anti-fat bias discourages fat women from participating in certain activities and social spaces. Dating, in particular, is a highly discouraged space and is less accessible the bigger you are. The belief that fat is ugly creates a dichotomy of fat women either being discouraged from dating or being fetishized. Both sides are harassed because people believe fat women should be grateful for any attention, which makes dating interactions uncomfortable. There are a plethora of stories of fat women being discouraged from dating spaces: Such a Pretty Face, Vox, My Honest Thoughts About Dating As A Plus-Size Woman, and What It's Really Like to Date As A Fat Woman.

Where I came in

As a small-to-mid fat person myself, I have had many negative experiences regarding dating spaces and knew from others about their experiences as well. To begin this work, I conducted secondary research and user research to better understand what spaces in particular fat women felt discouraged from and without fail dating would always come up. One of my users said "there's not like a lot of people that saying they would date me [because of my body]." and when conducting social media audits, I saw many women who felt either discouraged from dating spaces or overly sexualized to the point of discomfort. One anonymous Instagram user commented: "I am made to feel interchangeable by men who only seek to scratch a fetish itch" in response to feeling unacknowledged and unsafe in dating spaces. However, as the dating world becomes more digitized, more spaces are popping up that could be opportunities to make spaces more comfortable. My initial hypothesis was that biases keep fat women from creating connection and while we cannot necessarily change those biases immediately, we can help fat women feel heard and implement features to make them feel more comfortable as they navigate these spaces.

How I began

What I did

For this project, I started out by noticing that my users consistently would discuss social spaces as a place of fear and discouragement and dating would always come up. As dating spaces are now hybrid between digital and in-person experiences, I felt that the best way to create safer spaces was to evaluate current dating applications and develop a product that modifies their systems and processes to make fat-identifying femmes feel safer. This process involved a large amount of secondary and user research, app audits, continuous refinement of what a safe dating experience means in light of bias, and mobile app creation, testing, and feedback implementation.

Process

🔎 Reporting 

Observation

Fat harassment reporting does not lead to consequences, as harassers are either not banned or allowed to return to the platform.

😮 Insight

Fat women end up abandoning these spaces due to the social exhaustion of their harassment being ignored.

🔎 Ghosting Observation

Many claim they were "tricked" when swiping positively on fat women, which leads to painful in-person interactions of ghosting and insults when meeting for the first time.

😮 Insight

Swiping quickly without intention exposes fat women to "matches" who could potentially insult them because people don't pay attention when they are swiping.

🔎 Discrimination

Observation

Fat discrimination is a known phenomena in dating, but is not addressed or presented in multiple dating platforms.

😮 Insight

Immediately addressing fat bias on dating apps creates a sense of being seen by the platform from fat daters, which indicates the app's support.

🔎 Harassment Observation

Fat women's harassment on dating sites often comes from people who believe they should be grateful for any attention.

😮 Insight

Fat women are made to feel like they cannot have preferences in fear of hostility and retaliation.

Report Process Changes

Fat women are consistently harassed on dating sites and when reported, their concerns aren't taken seriously, which can be changed to create a safer space.

Longer Dating Profile Visitation

The gamification of apps by swiping encourages not spending time learning about the person swiped on, which leads to negative interactions later.

Fat Acceptance Language Usage

For most dating apps, with the exception of Lex, there was a history of no fat acknowledgment which communicates that fat women are not welcome.

Initial Points of Change

The implementation of insight-driven features could potentially change the digital experience for fat women.

Preference Options

The third framework after seeing the high engagement of educational pieces and the desire of the Content team to utilize lead magnet data acquisition.

Preference Option

My users consistently discussed how they felt unable to reject any potential partners who paid them attention and were made to feel guilty for having preferences, which led to fear of retaliation.

Preference Option

Initially, I had placed self-descriptors like "small-fat" or "BBW" and looking for "X identifier" in the profiles, but people felt it put fat daters on the spot and presented too great of a chance of being stigmatized, so I removed it.

Blocked users

While users appreciated the pledge of Affirmd to take reporting concerns seriously, some brought up that people might not know they were doing anything wrong at all. So I saw this as an opportunity for education through content, while at the same time not backing away from app removal.

Visibility Matters

What I thought was just a small feature, actually had a much larger impact as both fat-identifying daters and staight-sized daters both felt an immediate intention of inclusivity entering the application with early acknowledgement.

Updated Points of Change

I used Maze to conduct tests with those who have used dating apps in the past.  Post-testing, I saw thatsome features made fat women feel more stigmatized, so I decided to make some shifts.

Preference Options

The third framework after seeing the high engagement of educational pieces and the desire of the Content team to utilize lead magnet data acquisition.

Lack of community outside the app as well

Support of individual experiences only goes so far. Many talked about how receiving in-person support was difficult because dating as a fat person is difficult to understand if you have not experienced it. Not many had that community, so there was an opportunity to develop it within the space. 

Goals and Methods

I did two tests: the first was after wireframe completion to test for concept evaluation and for usability without the distractions of UI preferences, and the second was after completing an initial hi-fi draft of screens to see what the responses were for the features when interacting with Affirmd in a more refined presentation.

The goals for the testing were to evaluate whether each of the four found opportunities listed above were actually useful to fat daters and if straight-size daters would notice those features and make cognizant changes and approaches to fat people. Additional smaller goals included seeing whether the flows and interactions on-screen would be clear and easy to use for users.

Testing

From my audit, I saw that at the time many dating apps barely even mentioned anything related to fat discrimination and fat-acceptance. By ignoring this very real form of social discouragement and discrimination in dating spaces, many fat-identifying femmes felt that dating spaces are not for them. But, implementing language and making sure that all users are aware of this form of social bias makes people feel more comfortable entering a space.

1) Creating an engaging Rules of Conduct entry point that not only requires users to say that they adhere to no anti-fat bias (amongst other behaviors) and providing examples of what that looks like, places the onus on the user to acknowledge that bias in a way that cannot be ignored if they agree to participate in the app made a lot of people feel like this bias was taken seriously.

2) Rules of conduct also serve as an impartial jumping off point for the reporting feature (below).

Fat-Acceptance Acknowledgement 

Many users I spoke with and from what I noticed during secondary research and feedback discussed how fat dating struggles not only came in the form of discouragement from the spaces, but also from feeling unheard and supported in their everyday lives. For many daters, their peer groups expressed difficulty understanding the reality of those experiences, which made daters feel like they had no one to turn to when facing dating difficulties. Realizing that the apps, where daters were already congregating but in a siloed way, could be adapted to also include community building could connect users with other fat-identifying daters who would better understand those experiences.

1) Users would self-select forums that best fit identities and communities they want to be a part of. Users would be vetted by the Affirmd team to screen for potential harassers so that the spaces would be for people of that community.

2) Users would be able to access channels for support, such as audio topic channels similar to Clubhouse where people could join in on topic-oriented discussion, or on chat pages to discuss common topics.

 

3) Users were also grouped into connect groups based on commonalities found in their public profiles. These groups served as cohorts of support that could be relied upon as needed.

Developing Fat-Positive Community

The gamification of swiping as an interactive dating feature has revolutionized the dating industry, but unfortunately there are real consequences to that interaction including people viewing dating as a game that could end up hurting other people. Many users recounted stories of going on first dates and being told in person that when they were swiped on the other person didn't realize how fat they were and how they would have never swiped otherwise. Further conversation would reveal that oftentimes they did not pay attention to the profile at all and would just swipe quickly. By elongating the matching process by removing the swipe feature, Affirmd hopes to encourage people to really read the profiles and hopefully filter out those who would claim they were "tricked" during their fast gamified swiping.

1) Rather than swiping, the Affirmd matching process requires users to "like" at least two aspects of a person's profile in order to move forward, slowing down the matching with the goal of getting users to get to know the person before being able to match as a way to filter out those who aren't truly interested.

 

2) Additionally, the profile also includes the implementation of additional assets needed on the profile, such as a short TikTok length video (to verify users and provide a bit of personality).

Redesigning Digital Matching Interactions (No More Swiping)

Fat-identifying female daters face harassment on dating apps, as is on trend for many women. However, when harassment concerns are reported, users found that their reports were not taken seriously, that harassers would be allowed to stay on the platform and continue their behavior, and that users were asked to recount their harassment story repeatedly, which lead to increase of stress and a long process to remove that behavior. Affirmd makes it clear that harassment, especially that rooted in anti-fat bias is not acceptable and uses the rules of conduct as the basis for reporting.

1) Reporting is done by confirming the profile of concern and also by checking which rule of conduct was broken to serve as a guidelines for users. 

2) The Rules of Conduct are the jumping off point to report, which serves two purposes. The first is that all users had to undergo the conduct acceptance process and previously acknowledged that they would abide by those rules. The second is that by making reporting based on a set of rules, it limits the level of recounting needed by the harassed user so that they do not have to feel like they are needing to relive that stress.

3) The blocked user is immediately blocked from the platform and cannot create a new profile. This is screened against by the requirement of creating a video in the profile, which is cross-referenced by the Affirmd team to confirm that this user is not just creating a new profile.

4) The blocked user is redirected to a link of educational resources on the blocked page, to provide answers as to why they were removed from Affirmd and what they can do to learn about not repeating those behaviors and hopefully reducing bias.

Taking Reporting Concerns Seriously

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