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So-Called ‘Maskfishing’ Is Controversial. Is It Really a Big Deal?

Should you have mask photos in your dating profile? Some people think it's misleading — but I have a hard time believing it

Society is collectively hotter with everyone wearing a mask. If you’re already good looking, your attractiveness still shines through the upper portion of your face. If you’re not good looking, a mask at least cuts your facial unattractiveness by 50 percent. 

This logic works fine in our day-to-day life as we sneak peeks at fellow shoppers in the grocery store, but in more intimate scenarios, it’s allegedly causing a few problems. 

Recently, hookup website AdultFriendFinder issued a mandate prohibiting users from exclusively wearing masks in their profiles, calling it an act of “maskfishing.” According to a press release from the company, the decision was sparked not simply from people utilizing masks in a direct attempt to conceal their looks from potential suitors, but also largely because many users had been concerned that having photos without a mask might suggest that they aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. 

To be clear, posting a photo of you in a crowded bar with a timestamp highlighting that the photo was taken last weekend does indeed look bad for you, particularly if you’re trying to signal that you’re capable of being a discrete and safe partner for casual sex. That said, I’m unsure if we’ve reached a point in this crisis that we’ve all collectively forgotten about the existence of life prior to it, or the fact that we’re allowed to be maskless in our own homes. 

As Taylor Andrews explained for Cosmopolitan last month, concerns about maskfishing might even be missing the point entirely: For many women, at least, seeing a man wearing a mask in a dating profile might actually make them more interested. And as Ty Mitchell wrote for MEL early in the pandemic, eyeing men in masks has become an act of yearning that’s erotic in itself. 

In some ways, I imagine that wearing a mask when meeting someone from a site like AdultFriendFinder, which seems to directly market itself as a place for sex, might even up the hotness of the encounter — keeping the masks on while you fuck to not only mitigate some of the COVID-19 risks involved in a casual hookup, but also to embrace the taboo mystery of it all. Kissing ought to be off the table, anyway. 

Perhaps the debate surrounding masked profile photos is a bit more relevant on apps like Tinder, Bumble or Hinge, where one could ostensibly be seeking a longer-term partner. In these scenarios, hiding that you’ve got jacked up teeth or some other perceived flaw with a mask will only get you so far, just as constantly wearing a hat (hatfishing!) can’t perpetually hide your baldness. It’s probably best, then, to offer a mix: Some photos from life before COVID, a photo with a mask and maybe a recent selfie, if you’re any good at it. 

Intentional maskfishing or not, most of us have the critical thinking skills to understand that the absence of a mask in a dating profile may not be a sign of one’s politics. More than that, most of us also understand that we can’t predict precisely what someone looks like beneath a mask. Mask in a profile or not, online dating will continue to be a gamble — just as it’s always been.