04 July 2007

so just a few words on fatness.

in the interest of full disclosure, let me start by saying i'm not a fat person. i carry a few extra pounds lately. between 15 and 20, depending on the time of day and what i've eaten recently. those extra pounds keep me from wearing some of my clothes. more importantly, they indicate a basic absence of healthy living. but i'm not fat. i don't say that in order to preempt any misconceptions about what i look like. i say it because part of where i'm coming from in what i have to say on this matter has to do with overcoming my own prejudices as someone who has always been either skinny or at least on the thin side of average. more on that in a moment.

back to the topic at hand. fatness. about five years ago, i worked for my sister's company. we had a sales guy who worked with us. funny, funny guy. and super nice. everyone loved him. including all of his customers. and among those customers were a couple of women who owned a store in california. and these women were fat. not chubby. not a bit overweight. they were fat. and they would bring this guy brownies when they saw him at tradeshows and flirt every chance they got. i'm sure they had a bit of a crush on him. he was that kind of guy--a bit geeky, but just so nice and so funny that it didn't matter that he wasn't dreamy. and one day this sales guy and his sales guy buddies were joking about these women and their weight. and it just fried me. so i very snidely (and loudly) commented to no one in particular that it takes oh so much wit and intelligence to crack a joke at the expense of the fat girl. which shut him up pretty quickly.

i have a long history of coming to the defense of the chubby kid. for instance, when i was nine or ten there was a girl i went to church with who looked at me with a bit of hero worship in her eyes because when she was in third grade and i was in fourth, i defended her from the torture of playground girl-bullies who taunted her about her weight. i'm sure part of this had to do with having a couple of siblings who were chubby as kids and who were teased about it. but mostly it had to do with having been on the blunt end of the stick when it came to being taunted about body-image myself.

about a year after i derided my co-worker for his dimwitted effort at humor by making fun of someone because of their weight, i fell hard for a man i met online. and when i say i fell hard, i mean i fell like a barrel coming over niagara. i spent 40 hours talking to him the first week after he found me online. he was perfect. funny, intelligent, thoughtful, cute, an idealist tempered with just enough cynicism. a dream. he didn't have a picture posted, but he told me he was big. 'football player big' is how he put it. so i pictured a linebacker or something. someone definitely big but also athletic. someone sexy. the picture in my head was wrong. he wasn't athletic. and he wasn't sexy. he was fat. really fat. you could have fit two of me in a pair of his pants. probably with room to spare. and i found myself in the situation of loving everything i knew about who this man was, being turned off by the idea of his body, but feeling some pretty powerful chemistry when i let him close enough to kiss me.

it was a strange experience. and an incredibly good one. it forced me to confront my own prejudices--prejudices i didn't even know i had--and get over them. and it amazed me to discover how deep they were. how i had bought into the social construction of the fat guy as jolly and asexual. because, you know, there's just so much fat that how could he possibly feel desire in the same way a man with glistening muscles and rippling hair could? and because obviously a fat body couldn't possibly arouse a skinny one. it goes against every law of nature, right? you know, the laws that dictate that the bad guy wears a black hat and has brown eyes while the good guy wears a white hat and has blue eyes; that criminals have protruding unibrows, hairy hands, and an ungainly (though surprisingly speedy) limping gait; that the good people are also the successful people; and that the pretty people love the pretty people, while the fat and otherwise deformed people love other fat and otherwise deformed people.

i got over myself. because i loved this person for who he was and how we were together. because there was undeniable chemistry between us, no matter what silly notions i had about weight and sexiness in the abstract. when i broke up with him, it was over irreconcilable religious differences not over stupid cultural prejudices about sexiness.

for a good year after breaking things off with him, almost every time i saw a big guy i felt a surge of desire. and i still have that reaction sometimes. i like that. i like the fact that i've managed to, on some level, shed some of the culturally constructed prejudices about what it means for a human being to be beautiful and sexy.

so why the hell am i writing about this at 2:00 in the morning? because tonight i sat in a somewhat stunned silence as i listened to someone go on and on about how 5's don't date 9's ('she was fat--not just chubby, fat' said with just the right amount of scandalized disbelief. 'and we all know that a fat girl can't be a 9.'). and it ticked me off. but i didn't know this person well enough to be sure i was accurately assessing how serious she was about what she had to say, so i didn't respond at the time other than to say, a bit snidely, that of course being fat is just about the worst thing possible. maybe she wasn't, but she sounded serious. and when i got in bed a few hours later, i was still bothered enough that i couldn't sleep for thinking about it. so tonight the blog gets to be my exorcist. and my soapbox. because honestly what could be more pathetic than a grown woman thinking it's impossible for a stereotypically beautiful person to love someone who's stereotypically unbeautiful? nothing? that's what i thought.

{addendum: because i can just hear the comment: 'but amelia, if you had such a prejudice you had to overcome, why is it pathetic that someone else did, too?' here's why: because my prejudice was latent. buried so deeply that i was unaware of it until circumstances forced me to confront it. it was not something i articulated. 'but amelia, that just makes you sound like a hypocrite--you know, thinking one thing but saying another.' i disagree. all of us have culturally instilled prejudices that operate below the surface of our minds. the question is, when we think about a matter consciously, do our thoughts confirm or counter those prejudices? i have always known that i could be deeply attracted to someone who was not stereotypically beautiful. my past boyfriends and other men i'd kissed when i met the man i'm talking about above had included everything: pretty seriously over weight, rail thin, average, college athlete (former and current) with rock solid body, kinda funny looking, and stereotypically gorgeous. and i was aware enough of those around me, including friends and family who were a bit overweight, that i knew better than to categorically dismiss someone as unattractive based on weight. i knew how much it hurt those close to me to be dismissed in such a way. and i also knew that they were beautiful--to me and to others.}


  1. I love you! Yes, I take credit for you being sensitive to chubby people, or fat people. I sometimes still find myself not allowing myself to live a full life because I'm "fat". I had this thought yesterday that, yes, I am chubby, maybe even fat. Yes, I don't love the way I look at all times but does that mean I have to wait and live my life when I lose some weight? NO NO NO! I guess it is also a matter of allowing myself the happiness and not letting my weight get in the way. I know I have some emotional issues, and turn to food when lonely or depressed. I know I need to deal with these issues and yet I can't wait to get on with my life when I lose the weight. While I'm waiting my life is passing me by. I need to live the life I want no matter the number on the scale!

  2. exactly. someone doesn't look like society deems happy, fulfilled people look so they therefore don't deserve to be happy and fulfilled? or they can't expect those of us who do look like happy people are supposed to look to be involved in their happiness? that's just ridiculous.

  3. i haven't been by for a while - but i think i've missed your wise and articulate writing. this was a very well done post! thanks for sharing it (especially at 2 in the morning)!

  4. THIS fat 5 wants to praise your name to the heavens for writing these things. Thank heavens for slender 10's who also score a 10 when it comes to ranking generosity of spirit...

  5. Amy, this is awesome. Way to go.

  6. amelia, I've read this several times and I just want to let you know what an awesome post it is.

    zeeny, hooray for you. I love water sports and when I got pregnant and my body started changing I swore to myself I would never let the way I looked keep me from wearing a bathing suit and enjoying the things I loved!! Now, after 8 kids I don't look so hot in a bathing suit, but I still put one on and do my water sports. You're right, we shouldn't let life pass us by, no matter what our weight.

  7. I'm a new comer...but I absolutely loved this post. It is so well written and so insightful.

  8. thanks, chloe. and welcome. hope you'll stop by again sometime. and good luck with the grad school applications. that process can really be a beast.

  9. Perhaps you could share your thoughts on the misperceptions of being "skinny".

    Somedays....I think the world doesn't allow me to struggle... or be frustrated... or depressed or...or...or... because I'm "skinny" and that MUST mean I'm perfect? Happy? Have it together?? Therefore, *people* tend to "blow off" my struggles because "at least I'm skinny!!!" well, lot a good being skinny does when you are in need.......so fat, skinny take your pick....we all get to work through *STUFF*!

    Sorry.....too late for any real thinking (for me that is :)

  10. you are purely awesome.... I got here through a friend of a friend.... goodness how I needed to read it!

    which amuses me... because I'm a fat girl.. and I still find myself shallow enough to put off the other "grossly fat" guys and want my own buff hot guy sometimes.

    but still... kudos!

  11. Wow. I loved this post too. I'm a fat girl -- I've dated all sorts of different body types, but am now married to a HAWT man who is also amazingly sweet to me most of the time and loves my kid like his own. There are times I've caught myself wondering if he'd rather I be someone else or have someone else's body since he's so durn good looking. It's not like I'm ugly (I fancy myself pretty, in fact, just fat). I really needed to read this, if just to remind myself he loves me for me ... and wants me healthy, which should be my goal.

    Thanks for the linkage Steph, and for everyone's comments. Awesome post Amelia!!!

  12. thanks, steph. i think we all want our "own buff hot guy" sometimes. i guess the point is not allowing that desire to become so constant that it blinds us and leaves us always shallow, rather than just momentarily.

    and tasha, i agree with you. the fact is that the behavior you're talking about is another form of reducing someone to their body. where dismissing someone as unattractive because they're overweight is a negative and reassuring someone that at least they're skinny is a positive, both gloss over all kinds of complexities and nuances--the complexities and nuances that make us human. it's something that drives me batty.

    human beings made judgments based on appearances. because it's easy. it doesn't involve much work. you don't have to actually know a person to assess them based on appearance. obviously people who don't know us well are going to do this. the fact that they do can be hurtful, but at least their lack of emotional engagement with us offers them some excuse. it's when someone who is close does it that it hurts so much.

  13. thanks, stewbert. i forget sometimes that "healthy" is the goal--whether it's body (mine is currently not very healthy, no matter what it looks like) or soul. goes back to what i was saying about goodness last week--that it has to come from inside, not be imposed from outside. beauty is very much the same way, whether beauty of body or beauty of soul.