When Darryl Roberts interviewed me for the documentary America the Beautiful 2 he asked me a lot of really good questions to which I had ready answers, but he asked me one that I stumbled with – he asked me if dating would be easier if I were thin.
The answer I gave him was that it was a good screening process. Those who want to date me have overcome the cultural brainwashing that says that “fat is bad” and I think that’s a big deal because I don’t want to date someone who will just follow the status quo. It means that I won’t date someone who treats women like a prize, these idiots who say that they “deserve” a hot girl (where “hot” means fitting the cultural stereotype of beauty). It means that when I find my future partner I’ll have a really good chance of avoiding that thing that happens when someone’s “perfect wedding body” changes as the marriage moves forward. Those are all true and they are all upsides but there are also some difficulties and I think it’s important to get them out in the open and talk about them.
Let’s preface this with the fact that I know plenty of thin people who struggle with dating. I don’t think that being thin is the magic bean that grows the marriage beanstalk. But there are some issues that happen with fat dating that I want to talk about.
As a fat woman I know that my potential partners live in a culture that tells them that no amount of achievement, education, personality, flexibility etc. can overcome the supposed sin of having a large body, a culture that suggests that you can tell by looking at me that I am lazy and weak-willed and unhealthy. I also know that this standard is arbitrary since when my mom was in Mali, West Africa with the Peace Corps she received marriage proposals for me almost every day, and men promised her everything in the world to try to convince her that I should marry them. Were I born in another time or place, I would be the standard of beauty.
So I think it’s important to realize that there is a nothing wrong with our bodies that a little culture shift can’t fix. Still here we are, with a dating pool inundated with the message that fat=bad.
Recently a dating company exclusively for married people looking to have an affair posted an ad with a picture of a fat woman that said “Does your wife scare you at night?” with their slogan “Life is short, have an affair.” The model, who was “under the impression at the time that people purchasing these photos from the photographer would be doing so for their own personal use”, said “I am mortified that my image and likeness would be used as advertisement for two things I am so vehemently against: namely cheating and, to an even greater extent, body shaming.” But there’s this dating site, trying to profit by telling men married to fat women that they “deserve” an affair. Keep it classy.
I imagine that all of this makes it Christmas every day for the diet industry since it likely drives people back to them time and again, people who might otherwise look at their 5% success rate and say “Thanks but no thanks”. I wonder how far this idea that you must be thin to get a mate sets the Health at Every Size movement back? I know people who have admitted to doing unhealthy things to their bodies to be thin in the hopes of finding a partner. (And I worry that if they succeed they are setting themselves up for heartbreak in five years when they’ve gained the weight back).
But the culture doesn’t just affect potential dating partners, it affects us as well.
A recent scene from Glee illustrated one of the issues (note, if you haven’t seen the episode The First Time you might want to skip this paragraph for spoilers.) Shannon Bieste is the large, not stereotypically beautiful football caoch played by the amazing Dot-Marie Jones. She is a 40 year old virgin. A traditionally attractive male recruiter is interested in her and keeps trying to ask her out but she doesn’t realize it. When he finally very specifically asks her on a date, she is immediately suspicious that someone has “put him up to it” and can’t imagine why he wants her when he could have “any pretty woman he points at” and ends up crying.
When people who look like you are used as the to show what is unattractive and a reason to cheat, it can mess you up around dating, and make you suspicious of someone who wants to date outside the cultural norm. I know fat people who’ve been asked on dates as jokes. The classic “wing-man” story is the guy who “takes one for the team” and spends the night with the fat friend. The dating site that must not be named would like you to believe that having a fat wife is a good reason to break your marriage vows. It’s not paranoia if they’re actually after you, and so those who want to date a fat person in this culture may have to be ready to work through some of that, and those who are fat in this culture might do well to examine how it is affecting them.
Then there are our own standards when we decide who we date. I’ll speak for myself on this one. I will not date anyone who is interested in me in spite of my body. I was part of a dating experiment that a grad student was doing and we self-selected into one of three groups. A group who made being fat the first thing that they talked about on their profile, a group who made it part of the profile but not the first thing, and a third group who avoided telling people that they were fat until it became unavoidable. In discussions that we had, the women in group three believed that their only chance was to get someone to fall in love with their personality enough to overlook their bodies.
If it works for them that’s completely cool, but before I will date someone who feels that my body needs to be overlooked I will get a bunch of rescue Great Danes and grow old as the crazy dog lady, you know what I saying? On the other hand I’m not willing to date someone who only loves me for my body. With some regularity I get e-mails from guys (I’ve so far only received them from men) saying something to the effect of “I didn’t read the blog but I saw your picture and you are just so damn hot, let’s get it on”. Um, no.
So my truth is that being fat may indeed make dating harder. But that doesn’t mean that I’m trying to get thin. My options are to try something that fails 95% of the time and is most likely to leave me less healthy than I am now in the hopes of getting a mate who wouldn’t consider dating me as I am and then rolling the dice that they won’t leave me if I am one of the 95% who gains their weight back. Or, I can hold out for someone who is interested in all of me. I choose option two.
By way of inspiration, if you’re in an awesome relationship then today might be a great day to leave a comment and tell us about it! Also, check out the Museum of Fat Love (thanks to reader Petra for finding the link!)
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