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South Korea’s ‘Tinder’ limits photos with masks to avoid real-life disappointment


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While the use of masks continues to be encouraged in South Korea as a form of protection against the coronavirus, some of the main dating apps in the Asian country are limiting the publication of photos with the face covered on the flirting profiles.

The objective is to avoid masking any facial features that are considered outside beauty standards.

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If, under normal circumstances, it was already common for photos in apps to often be very different from what the reality shows, the use of masks enhanced this contrast and increased the chances that face-to-face encounters would be disappointing for at least one of those involved.

For South Koreans, the practice even got a name: “magikkun”. The neologism combines “mask” (mask, in English) and “sagikkun” (fraud, in Korean). In Western countries, the act of wearing a mask to hide imperfections or appear more attractive was already called “maskfishing” — a reference to “catfish”, which is the term used to refer to people who create fake profiles to start a virtual relationship.

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While the number of profiles and revenue from popular apps in South Korea, such as Blind Date, have nearly tripled as the restrictions imposed against the coronavirus have grown, “magikkun” has generated annoyance among users.

“Many profiles have masked photos, so we make sure that only one masked photo is allowed per profile,” Blind Date executive director Kang Ba-da told The Korea Herald.

According to him, however, a user who posts a photo wearing a mask, but shows more than his face, may have a better chance of success in the app. “If it’s a full-body shot, I think people still find it useful to be able to analyze the style and proportion of the body, even with a mask on,” he said.

Other similar websites and apps have also developed ways to try to inhibit “magikkun”. The executive director of Hsociety Corp, a company responsible for several dating apps in South Korea, told the newspaper that strict quality controls were developed to ensure a balanced set of photos.

“In many selfies taken outdoors or in full-length photos, people are wearing a face mask,” explained Choi Ho-seung. “That’s why we’re being flexible in accepting users [com esse perfil] when they have other photos where their facial features are clearly exposed.”

In a society where appearances are so important, the “ugly” or insecure can find comfort in the possibility of wearing masks on dating apps, professor Kwak Geum-Joo of Seoul National University told the Korea Herald. “If it’s for a site that isn’t verified or isn’t very trustworthy and you’re apprehensive about exposing yourself, a face mask can be very helpful,” he said.

And the practice even finds scientific support. Researchers at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom published a study last week in which they concluded that, before the pandemic, protective masks reduced people’s attractiveness, but this scenario changed with the emergence of the health crisis.

If before, masks made people less attractive due to the association with diseases, today, when the equipment has become almost ubiquitous, its symbolism has been re-signified.

“At a time when we feel vulnerable, we may find the use of medical masks comforting and thus feel more positive about the wearer,” explained Michael Lewis, one of the study’s authors.

According to Lewis, this shift is related to evolutionary psychology and mate selection criteria. Before Covid-19, the mask could indicate a sick person; now, it indicates a person who protects himself and is not a denialist, for example.

Another possible explanation, according to the study, is that the use of masks causes attention to be directed towards the eyes of users. And the human brain, according to the authors, tends to fill in the gaps of what is not seen in an optimistic way — of course, in most cases, reality contradicts expectations.

The practice of wearing masks was already common in several Asian countries, which even helped them to better control the advance of Covid-19 at the beginning of the pandemic.

In Japan, for example, face protection became recurrent especially after the outbreaks of the so-called Spanish flu, in 1918. Today, despite the coronavirus, the mask represents a way to remain immune to the judgment of others in a society that leads to construction of reputations quite seriously.

In China, masks were also used due to the concentration of pollution in the air of large cities. In South Korea, the protective item, before the pandemic, was considered a fashion accessory, especially for teenagers.


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