PSA: Kittenfishing Is the New Dating App Tactic to Watch Out For

It's similar to its big sis, catfishing.
black and white kitten sleeping
Photo: Maryna Terletska / Getty
Hayley Folk
Hayley Folk
Hayley Folk
Hayley Folk
The Knot Contributor
  • Hayley writes articles on a freelance basis for The Knot Worldwide, with a specialty in sex and relationships.
  • Her work has appeared in The Knot, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29 and more.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Hayley was a full-time editor at a business publication.
Updated Nov 30, 2023

Wanting to look your best on dating apps is a totally relatable feeling. And while most simply comb through their photos to find the most appealing few and spend time writing a witty bio that showcases their personality, other folks take it too far. That's where kittenfishing comes in.

Not to be mistaken for the dreaded catfishing (which we've all probably heard of at this point), kittenfishing is a new, trending dating term that should be avoided. To better understand what is and how to spot the tactic on dating apps, we've recruited the help of a few relationship experts. Below, see what they have to say about what is kittenfishing and what it can look like.

In this article:

What Is Kittenfishing?

If you're scratching your head thinking, "What is kittenfishing?" you're not the only one. The term references something that you're likely already familiar with—and has existed for as long as the internet has: the practice of someone making themselves seem more attractive online.

"Picture this. Someone highlights their attractive traits much more than their genuine self, glossing over personal areas they might view as less flattering while online dating," relationship expert Sydney Sims tells The Knot. "That, my friend, is called kittenfishing."

"It's a subtle form of deception, aiming to make a more appealing impression," Sims explains. "This can be in regards to your personality or your physical characteristics."

According to Lauren Cook-McKay, a licensed marriage and family therapist, kittenfishing involves someone tweaking small details about their life, looks or identity to create a persona that doesn't quite match reality. For example, adding an inch or two to one's height, or exaggerating your job title could be considered in the realm of kittenfishing.

Kittenfishing vs. Catfishing

Remember: Kittenfishing shouldn't be confused with catfishing. Even though the two terms are related, they are different.

"Kittenfishing is seen as a less extreme version of catfishing in online communities," McKay explains. "While both involve deception, the key difference lies in the nature of the deception."

While kittenfishing involves minor stretches of truth or sugar-coating the reality of things, catfishing is outright lying about your identity and pretending to be someone you're not—down to possibly even using photos of someone else on a dating profile.

"Catfishing involves creating an entirely false identity," adds Dr. Ree Langham, a licensed relationship therapist and psychologist. "It's a deeper and more deceptive practice where someone might use others' photos or fabricate life stories."

However, Dr. Langham is also certain to note that, "Kittenfishing, though less severe than catfishing, is [still] a form of self-presentation on dating apps or social media where individuals present themselves in an overly flattering manner."

It's worth being said that both practices are deceitful and neither is positive or acceptable.

Signs You're Being Kittenfished

Do you think you might have come across the kittenfish dating tactic? If you're swiping through Tinder, Bumble or Hinge and things seem too good to be true, consider these four signs of being kittenfished.

1. Inconsistent stories or facts

If you start chatting with someone and start noticing inconsistencies in stories or things they've told you about themselves over time, pay attention to your gut: It could be a kittenfish.

2. Too many filters on photos

There's nothing wrong with a filter or two. But these days, you've got to be careful. "With the abundance of photo editing apps and AI-driven enhancements, it's becoming trickier to figure out if the pictures we see truly reflect a person's real-life looks," McKay says.

"To spot potential kittenfishing, take a closer look at the details in the photos. If you notice warped backgrounds or distorted elements, like a tilted floor or uneven walls, it could be a sign of manipulation," explains McKay.

3. Unwillingness to meet up or video call

Another huge sign of kittenfishing? An unwillingness to meet up or video call. If you've been chatting for a while and want to meet in person or chat over Facetime, they might be a kittenfish if they're unwilling to show you who they really are.

4. Excessive boasting

If someone is constantly bragging about their accomplishments, their looks, their finances or their social life, consider the possibility that they might be a little bit of a kittenfish until you're able to confirm the deets.

Signs You Might Be a Kittenfish

It's me, hi. I'm the problem it's me. While we all naturally want to look our best on dating apps, beware of these signs that you might be the one kittenfishing others.

1. Do your pictures match what you really look like?

"Take a quick look at the photos you have shared and compare them to how you see yourself in the mirror," suggests McKay. "Ask yourself, 'Do these pictures show the real me, or did I go a bit overboard with filters or edits?'"

"It's fine to make small tweaks, like fixing a temporary blemish," McKay adds. "But if your online pics don't match the real you in the mirror, maybe it's time to keep it real."

2. Are you embellishing?

Do you find yourself embellishing your achievements or interests? If so, you might be a kittenfish. "Often, there's a desire to impress or a fear that being our authentic selves might not be enough," Dr. Langham explains. "Remember that genuine connections are built on honesty and authenticity."

3. Are you selectively sharing information about yourself on dating platforms?

If you find yourself being selective about what you do and don't share on dating apps—with the intention of making yourself appear more desirable—this could be a huge sign that you're a kittenfisher.

"You might be kittenfishing without even knowing it," Sims says. "It's important in dating to always be as honest as you can about who you are as a person, so you can attract the right match and someone who will love you for who you are."

How to Avoid Kittenfishing on Dating Apps

Let's face it: the temptation of kittenfishing on dating apps might be strong from time to time. But if you're looking for long-lasting, quality relationships, then it's incredibly important to avoid it at all costs.

"While it might be tempting to present an idealized version of yourself for short-term gain, the risks of disappointment and heartbreak down the line are significant," warns McKay. "The short-lived benefits of embellishing aspects of your life or appearance don't outweigh the negative impact on building a real connection. Authenticity is key for any meaningful relationship, and straying from that sets the stage for problems."

Imagine the aftermath when your date realizes the difference between your online persona and who you really are: It not only reflects poorly on you, but also damages the trust necessary for a healthy relationship.

To find a quality partner and date ethically, prioritize transparency and honesty. For example, share recent photos that accurately reflect you and keep your descriptions honest—accept and try to cherish your quirks, even.

"Remember that, in the end, long-lasting relationships can't be built on dishonesty or enhancements," Sims says. "They form when two authentic people find connections and mutual respect for each other."

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