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Dear Roe,

Twenty-nine-year-old straight man here. The problem I have isn’t new, but I’ve never known how to handle it so I’m hoping you can help.

I’ve had depression since I was a teenager, and thanks to anti-depressants and therapy, I’ve been doing really well for a really long time now. But when I was a teenager, I used to self-harm, and now I have a lot of scars that are very obvious. They’re usually hidden under my clothes, but obviously when I have sex with someone they see them.

I never know if I should tell the women I’m sleeping with about my scars before we have sex so they’re not shocked. Sometimes, you know, on nights out or whatever, there isn’t a weeks-long build up to sex so I can’t tell them well in advance, but then stopping as we’re taking off our clothes to have a deep discussion about depression seems like a buzzkill.

In the past couple of years, I’ve had some women react kind of badly to my scars, which has made me a bit more self-conscious. I don’t want something that’s very much in my past to stop me having fun now, but how do I manage this?

Dear Letter Writer,

First of all, I’m genuinely so damn happy that you’re happy, and that you took the steps you needed to help you feel as good as you always should have.

As someone who has also run the gauntlet, I know how hard it can be to ask for help in the first place, and what a life milestone it is to realise that you have been happy for a really long time.

Your scars are marks of survival, and I’m so damn glad you survived.

Secondly, I’m sorry for the women who reacted badly to your scars. I’m hoping their shitty response was out of naïve ignorance rather cruelty, or out of the persistent stigma surrounding mental-health struggles.

As for your question, you don’t have to tell your dates anything you don’t want to; if you’re not at a stage with them where you want to talk about your experiences of depression – or, as you’ve said, if you don’t want to interrupt proceedings – that’s fine.

However, just for your own peace of mind, and so you’re not forced to deal with other people’s reactions, I’d practice a quick and simple explanation that draws the line wherever you want.

This isn’t because having scars is something shameful that needs to be disclosed. Doing this just means that you have a method of addressing your scars so you’re not worried about having a potentially awkward conversation, and it also gives your partner a heads-up so that they have a second to quell any thoughtless, knee-jerk responses and put their manners on.

If you’re happy to share the reason behind your scars, by all means do. I think it can be important to acknowledge your experiences, and for other people to learn that the wonderful, fun and sexy people they’re having sex with have had or are having some struggles – it helps normalise something that affects so many of us. However, you’re also not a walking public-service announcement, so if you’d prefer to keep the reasons for your scars to yourself, grand.

As you are getting towards the hot-and-heavy portion of your evening and preparing to oh-so-suavely disrobe, maybe just throw in a casual little, “So I have a few scars [from an old self-harm issue]. They’re from years ago, I’m totally fine, just so you’re not worried. Anyway, how’s this Marvin Gaye working for you?”


Dear Roe,

I’m hoping you can settle something between me and a friend. I’m a 27-year-old man, and recently got talking to a girl on OkCupid. She was funny and we had the bants so I wanted to meet up. She didn’t have any full body photos, mainly just of her face, and she’s obviously a bit overweight but not, like, massively, and she’s pretty. She also listed herself as “curvy” in the body-type section of her profile.

When we were arranging to meet up, I mentioned going to the gym and she said she wasn’t very fit and made some joke about not being skinny, but didn’t make a big deal of it. Roe, when I turned up to meet her, she was fucking huge. Like, a lot bigger than I thought. I knew it wasn’t going to work, so I immediately told her that she was much more overweight than her photos and I didn’t find it attractive, and I left.

I told a girl mate about it later and she said I was mean, but I think it’s just realistic that if you lie online that the person should be able to tell you. Isn’t it ridiculous if you’re overweight to hide it instead of being open about it?

Dear Letter Writer,

Here’s the thing. I agree with your conclusion. I completely and utterly disagree with your rationale.

I think that if you’re dating online, people who are overweight – like everyone else – should put up photos that show themselves off in a way that’s accurate, while, you know, still flattering as hell. We all do it.

You follow the formula: a few carefully chosen face shots that get your good angles, a shot of you doing something fun, a full-body shot (clothed, thanks), and if you’re a guy, the apparently obligatory photos of you posing beside a tiger and holding a fish. (Seriously, what is up with those photos? Stop it, immediately.)

But people who are overweight shouldn’t put up full-body shots so you can avoid them. It’s so that they can avoid you. It is frankly repulsive to me that going on a date with someone overweight is treated like a cultural joke, or worse – an excuse for the angry, belittling response you gave your date.

You’re going to argue with me and say it’s not about the weight, but the misrepresentation. Bullshit. Have you ever complained if someone was more attractive than their photos? Slimmer? Made more money than you thought?

This isn’t about misrepresentation. It’s about the weight. Because we don’t respond like this to anything else.

I’ve been on a lot of dates – a LOT – and I have, on many many occasions, realised that the person I was out with had misrepresented themselves to some degree, or that I had incorrectly assumed something.

A random sample: he was shorter than I thought; he had hats on in all his pictures so I didn’t realise he was bald; his angled photos all indicated a gorgeous strong jaw that he actually did not have; he said he was a comedian, and was the unfunniest person I have ever met; he said he was interested in great conversation, but just monologued at me endlessly; he told me he taught tantric sex workshops and was all about prolonging pleasure, and … well, let’s just say that I found out that wasn’t true quickly. Very, very, very quickly.

At no point during any of these dates have I ever felt the need to stand up and proclaim, “You, sir, are a LIAR. You are not witty at all when you said you would be, and you didn’t tell me that your voice is a smidge higher than the register that my hormones positively respond to. You thus DECEIVED me and I deem thee UNATTRACTIVE.”

I managed to act like a decent human being and not yell at any of those people. (Even with tantric sex dude, and trust me, I left feeling very cheated and frustrated by that whole exchange.)

Because when it comes to dating, especially online dating, we accept that people can slightly misrepresent themselves or that the way they have represented themselves is too subjective to be deemed irrefutable.

And when we discover – either upon spotting the person in the bar, or halfway through the date – that they’re not 100 percent what we want, we somehow manage to keep our manners intact and be polite and friendly, even if in our heads we feel a bit disappointed, or even know we won’t be seeing them again.

Yet for some reason – sorry, not “some” reason, plain old fatphobia – some people think it’s okay to abandon all common decency and shame their dates about their weight, when they’d never act similarly about anything else.

You somehow think it’s acceptable to explicitly complain and shame a woman for her weight, but if it had turned out that your date wasn’t as good at “having the bants” in person as online, you wouldn’t have made a big declaration of “You’re not funny, and that’s unattractive, so I’m leaving.” You would have had a drink and politely called it a night early.

What kills me is that it doesn’t sound like this woman hid the fact she was overweight from you. You could tell she was overweight in her photos: she didn’t skip the body-type section or put herself as “skinny”, and she made a joke about it that sounds like she was testing the waters with you and checking would you be okay going with a girl who wasn’t into the gym.

So we’re not actually talking about her deceiving you about being overweight; it’s a question of degrees. You had a limit to how much weight you felt she could carry on her body and you weren’t clear about that, and you didn’t ask for clearer photos.

Maybe the problem is actually that you deceived her. You acted like you were fine with the fact that she is overweight and would be a decent guy about it, and you weren’t.

So yes, I think your response was dickheaded.

And yes, I also think that in the future your date – your funny, pretty date – should put up some photos showing her body. Because I want her to go on dates with great men who find her gorgeous as well as witty and lovely, and I never, ever want her to be in a position where she has chatted with a lad, made him laugh, got dressed up and went out excitedly to meet him, hoping for something wonderful but thinking that even if ye didn’t romantically click you could have a nice drink and some fun conversation – only for him to act like a body-shaming asshole and try make her feel bad about who she is.

Photographs on online dating profiles supposedly let us locate people we find attractive, so I think your date should put up photos of herself – so she never again has a date where she has to deal with such ugliness.

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

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1 Comment

  1. Hold on, what? These can’t be real? That last one with the overweight girl – surely there could be no-one who is as much of a dickhead as that guy? Clueless, socially inept moron.

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