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April 06, 2006

Comments

Glitch

I'm not so sure about the notion that being concerned about a partner gaining weight is really just desiring to have some sort of beautiful trophy to show off. Granted, I've never had a long term relationship, so I suppose everything I say should be taken with a hefty grain of salt.

Firstly, if you are the type who does not find overweight people to be attractive, then having a partner who gains a significant amount of weight is going to be an issue. Yes, I imagine that any relationship should be based on mutual trust and understanding. Yes, looks do fade with time, and there should be much more depth to any relationship that mere physical attraction. Yet physical attraction seems to me to be a significant aspect of a relationship and when your partner slowly turns into someone that you would not typically find attractive, it would probably put quite a strain on a relationship. I would think that if you know that your partner is not the kind of person who finds overweight people to be attractive, you would do your best to stay in decent shape, simply as a matter of respect.

I can see this going both ways. Were I to become involved with a woman who is not attacted to overweight men, you had better believe that I would be motivated to keep in shape. Not out of any concern that she would leave me if I gained a lot of weight. Rather, I would keep to my exercise regimen just out of respect for her preferences. If she is saintly enough to look past my flaws (and they are legion), then the very least I can do for her to to try to be that man she wants me to be.

Secondly, were I to have a partner who gained a significant amount of wieght and who showed no concern I would, in all honestly, think that she didn't respect herself. I do not consider myself to be an amazing athlete or gym rat by any means. I lift freeweights twice weekly and try to get three or four 30-mintue cardio sessions in per week. I don't see this as a great drain on time or energy. I am in pretty good shape overall but I'm certainly not in the running to be on the cover of Men's Health. Hell, I could probably stand to lose about 10 pounds I put on over winter.

I don't exercise to attract women or relieve stress. I do it out of a sense of self-repect. I respect myself enough to try my best to keep healthy and in shape. I know I will never again have washboard abs, be able to bench press 400 pounds or run five miles at a 6 and a half minute a mile pace. I could eight years ago, when I was an undergrad and could afford to spend several hours a day exercising. I don't expect any potential partner to be capable of comparable feats, either. I am just looking for someone who has enough self-repect to keep themselves healthy. People who fail to respect themselves generally are not attractive to others. Sorry, but that's life.

Like I said, I certainly do not expect a potential partner to be in the top 5% of adults in terms of physical fitness. Lord knows I am not. I do find many women who are slightly overweight to be quite attractive. What I ask of a partner, should I ever have one, is to have repect for both both themselves and me in doing what they can to stay in shape. I promise to do the same for them.

Heather

My husband claims that he likes the way I look - that I'm sexy to him even though I'm atleast 30 lbs over weight. But I know in the past when I've lost weight he's really encouraging and praises me. And then mixed into that, I think he likes me being overweight because it means I'm not attracting as many other men AND it gives him permission to be overweight. Lots of things going on there.

But, good to know there might be a distinction. Growing up I've always assumed that men just really and truly aren't attracted to women who are more than model thin. They will have sex with us when we're overweight, but they wouldn't want to be seen with us, and they certainly wouldn't pursue a long-term relationship. I hadn't thought about the image vs. attraction thing.

Noumena

(I'm copying the comment I made at Meloukhia's, verbatim. I'm a bit more cautious than I would normally be in my comments here -- an unfamiliar community and all.)

Disclaimer: Whoever wrote this article is, indeed, asstastical and misogynist and probably deserves a flaying. The position I'm sketching below is liable to be controversial, and I'm trying to be as nuanced as possible given the space limitations; please read what I'm saying carefully and charitably before responding, otherwise this is liable to turn ugly, and that certainly isn't my intention.

While you're dead-on in regards to the profound misogyny of this article, you're making some generalizations about men that just makes my inner anti-Freudian stand up and start shouting 'Ill-founded psychoanalysis! Gross overgeneralization!' I'm talking about this paragraph in particular:
First let's start with the premise that it's your responsibility to tell your girlfriend to lose weight as though it's some sort of moral obligation. Clearly, you wouldn't want to be seen dating a fat girl, so as those pounds creep up, you've got to take decisive action...or dump her. And you wouldn't want to dump her, now would you? This premise also assumes that it's totally socially acceptable and ok to tell your partner to lose weight, albeit in oh so clever and devious ways. As a self respecting man, you've got to take a stance somewhere, right?

You and Hugo are probably right in regards to the last half or so -- it's a safe bet that a lot of straight men care more about their partner's ability to be a trophy than about her happiness and health. And certainly this conditions heavily whether they consider her 'attractive'. But this doesn't imply that all straight men are conditioned this way.

I'm a straight man, but I'm also a feminist who's sensitive to how badly our culture's norms of thinness fuck with women's self-esteem. Thus, I'm not going to care a bit if my (hypothetical) girlfriend goes up a few dress sizes over a couple of years, and I'm going to encourage her not to care either. On the other hand, suppose she gains not twenty or thirty pounds but on the order of a hundred. Maybe she's suffering from some deep depression, starts eating compulsively, and is barely able to get out of bed most days. Now, I'll still care deeply for her, and really want to help her with whatever shit that's going on and is contributing to this weight gain in any way I can -- but I also probably won't find myself attractive to her sexually. If she's deeply depressed, 'I'm not attracted to you' certainly isn't going to help things any, so I can concede that telling her outright is generally not the best idea, but it doesn't seem reasonable that I should be somehow required to feign sexual interest.

Hence, I want to suggest that, while it's entirely just to reject the way subjective standards (what one person finds attractive) are turned into objective standards (standards everyone ought to live up to), it is generally unjust to reject any individual's subjective standards. Indeed, it seems the critic who does this is making precisely the move they're criticising.

Little Lion

The null hypothesis is that a significant weight gain of one partner will tend to induce an involuntary perception of reduced attractiveness in the other; said perception will occur prior to any perceived reduction in status among one's peers. It's not clear how men "use" female desirability to gain status among other men--there would seem to be a limit to what any individual man can attract. That goes for women too. Life is to short to spend time with anyone who justified their weight gain as a protest against perceived masculine "uses."

Anthony

Just because some men might prefer a thinner partner out of social conditioning, and that the writer of the article is an ass, doesn't mean that there isn't a real issue there to be addressed.

While one's sexual tastes should mature as one matures - a man who can't find a fit woman of his own age sexually attractive is disturbing - expecting someone to change their sexual preferences at the whim of a partner is asking too much.

As Glitch says, a significant weight gain is usually a sign of soemthing else. I dumped a girlfriend of over 4 years after she'd gained over 100 pounds, and that, plus some other issues, led me to realize that she was profoundly unambitious about almost everything, which was not something I wanted to deal with anymore. But realizing that I was turning off the lights before sex so I wouldn't have to see her body as much was a major factor in the breakup, too.

Anthony

To be fair, I don't believe that men should be at all exempt from criticism for changes in their physical condition, either - if my partner is concerned that I'm gaining weight, or otherwise doing something unhealthy or that she dislikes, it's her right to bring it up to me, just as bringing up some issue about specific behavior not related to physical condition would be.

Anthony

Heather says:

Growing up I've always assumed that men just really and truly aren't attracted to women who are more than model thin. They will have sex with us when we're overweight, but they wouldn't want to be seen with us, and they certainly wouldn't pursue a long-term relationship.

That's probably one of the more damaging lies girls get told growing up.

Some men really aren't attracted to women who are more than model-thin. Probably more so among men in their teens and twenties, and among men who are themselves model-thin.

More men are attracted to women who are model-thin, and also attracted (equally or sometimes more so) to women who are somewhat larger, up to BMIs in the 25-30 range. There's a subset of these men who are breast-fixated, and are attracted to women with large breasts, even if the rest of the woman's body is large, too.

Some men are only attracted to "women with a little meat on their bones" - they really aren't sexually attracted to model-thin women, but they're usually not attracted to very large women either. This is fairly common, especially among men over 30ish, and among somewhat overweight men, but probably not as common as the groups above.

A rare few men really are indifferent to body size, and another rare few men prefer significantly obese women. These men *do* exist - I know a few.

Hugo

Folks, the huge weight gains linked to depression are not what the article is talking about. If it were, one of the tips might have been "encourage your girlfriend to seek prompt professional help." Buying a slightly smaller sized outfit also implies that the author at AskMen is not referring to extreme obesity. The way the article is written makes it clear that it is directed towards men troubled by slight amounts of weight.

Hugo

Anthony, I appreciate the diversity of male sexual attraction. What role do you think the culture plays in shaping that attraction? And given that virtually everyone who researches this stuff suggests that when it comes to body type, very little of our desire is innate, what responsibility do we have over what we are attracted to?

This is a topic for another post, but I don't buy for one cotton-pickin' second that our attractions are set in stone, entirely beyond our control.

Little Lion

Indeed, let us focus on the text of the AskMen article: "One man's lump of coal is another man's diamond. If she is active, healthy and happy with her size, you best file your misgivings away. The worst thing you can do is swing below the belt. But if she is overindulgent and lazy, and her figure has paid the price, even our best girlfriends need a little help getting a weight loss regimen into full swing."

Note the caveat--as even tempered as could be expected at these abysmal cognitive levels. So much for the contention that the concern is for slight increases in weight. These could fairly be called significant. With a view to further-ranging discussion, there is probably more grist for the male feminist mill out of Doc Love's columns at Ask Men.

Anthony

Hugo, well, growing up in California suburbia at about the same time you did, most of the messages I received were that women with a small waist and large breasts were the most attractive, and that overall slender women were a close second. Those messages came from my peers as well as the media. And I *do* find both those types attractive. But I also find women who are larger than the Playboy ideal to be quite attractive, and have at least since high school.

Anthony

Hugo, well, growing up in California suburbia at about the same time you did, most of the messages I received were that women with a small waist and large breasts were the most attractive, and that overall slender women were a close second. Those messages came from my peers as well as the media. And I *do* find both those types attractive. But I also find women who are larger than the Playboy ideal to be quite attractive, and have at least since high school. And the only reinforcement I've received for that attraction has been sometimes from the recipient of that attraction.

Anthony

Sorry for the double post. For some reason, posting comments to your blog, the page never finishes loading. It's not a typepad thing, I think.

Kristie Vosper

Here's the thing that seems to seep in after a while "You're not beautiful anymore. Your beauty is conditional. Your intrinsic value to this world is based on your body size and the way that measures up with a fluxuating standard."
This is the lie. This the lie that swirls around and seeps into the concious of most women if not faught head on. Liking your body is so subversive these days. I noticed the other day that if a woman says "well, I'm beautiful" every woman in ear shot raises an eyebrow. Seems our culture is less about saying "yes! you are" and more about saying "you think so? Well, not as beautiful as __________) THIS is tragic.

I think if you're truly loving someone...you see their soul more than you see their body...and that is what you love. Love shouldn't be so conditional.

Tara

"If she's overindulgent and lazy"

Chances are that either she's always been overindulgent and lazy, it just hadn't affected her figure yet, and then, yeah... you're still shallow for not caring as long as it doesn't touch her figure.

Or else something happened in her life that changed her, or changed her priorities. Maybe she's "lazy" about her figure because she's devoting her time and attention to other things, like other people. Either way, if you don't like her any more, you're not doing her a favor by sticking around.

Hugo

Indeed, Tara -- when we love someone, we do challenge them on their character flaws. We don't however, judge a character flaw by how its manifestations affect us. We don't get to say "your overindulgence with food bothers me because it has made you gain weight" but "your overindulgence with cocaine doesn't bother me". When we call someone on their sin, we call them on the sin itself, not on the way it manifests itself.

Gluttony is a sin. But not every person who is heavy is gluttonous, and not every thin person is abstemious.

Sara

I sometimes masochistically dive into the comments at fark.com and there is a recurring conversation where most men (and the farkettes, who seem as misogynistic as the general fark reader) will talk about how they should not have to feel guilty about leaving a partner who gains weight. What is this relationship based on, exactly? You love her...but not if there's 20 more pounds of her. How could you not forgive and understand whatever circumstances lead to something as inconsequential as weight gain? And, for that matter, I think attraction is made out to be more rigidly defined than it really needs to be. Before I met my husband, I was kind of grossed out by hairy chests. Now that I've been with him for five years, I find it attractive. It reminds me of all the kind, sexy, and pleasant things he's done for me, and now the hairy chest is amongst the things that I love about him. If a committed sexual relationship is about expressing love for each other through physical interaction, then it's a good idea to remember that your partner's body is the only thing through which this kind of communication can take place - and that they can only have so much control over what happens to it. If your girlfriend is depressed and gaining weight, worry about the depression, not the weight. She can decide what is appropriate for her health and her body.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

They will have sex with us when we're overweight, but they wouldn't want to be seen with us, and they certainly wouldn't pursue a long-term relationship.

Actually, I was model thin when I was young, and I still got the impression that most men who pursued me wanted sex, but not a long-term relationship.

Hugo

Sara, you write

If a committed sexual relationship is about expressing love for each other through physical interaction, then it's a good idea to remember that your partner's body is the only thing through which this kind of communication can take place - and that they can only have so much control over what happens to it.

Indeed.  And it's also important to remember that our physical love manifests something much deeper, the soul love of which Kristie was talking about.  The changes our bodies display, for better or worse, are part and parcel of our human condition.  Come the resurrection, we may well all have perfect bodies -- but not in this life, not for any length of time.  True erotic passion is not just a response to the body but to the person inside of it.

Anthony

True erotic passion is not just a response to the body but to the person inside of it.

But so often the body reflects what's going on with the person.

Hugo

Of course the body sometimes reflects inner conflicts/private behaviors. But weight gain can happen for any of a vast number of reasons, not all within our control. And ageing is the best example of this. If a man can trade in his spouse cause she's packed on a few pounds, is that any more justifiable than trading her in because her hair has gone gray, or she's gotten wrinkles?

Anthony

No. But when "a few pounds" is 100 pounds in less than 4 years, the answer is yes. Where's the cut-off? I don't know.

Oh, and significant weight gain with age is *not* inevitable.

sophonisba

were I to have a partner who gained a significant amount of wieght and who showed no concern I would, in all honestly, think that she didn't respect herself.

The "Oh, it's not the fat, it's the self-respect!" thing is absolutely classic, and hilarious. When someone says this, what he means is that he would not respect her. Because he can't respect a fat woman, it is absolutely inconceivable to him that she would respect herself, and because he doesn't respect her enough to tell her the truth - that he isn't sexually attracted to her - he makes it about her self-esteem, rather than about her appearance. Also because he can't say "If you respected me, you'd be sexier" with a straight face.

aldahlia

Yuck. If you've put on 100 pounds then you don't need round-about hints from the man in your life to figure that out. 100 pounds is pretty significant weight gain. That AskMen article isn't about 100 pounds or 50 pounds or even 20 pounds. That's for the kind of totally shallow loser that would bug a woman for 5 or 10 pounds. Surely, we've all met That Guy, right? The one that bitches about his gf's "pot belly" because she's went from a size 8 to a 6 over the course of a two year relationship?

aldahlia

er, from a 6 to an 8.

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