About two weeks ago a heated discussion took place on my Facebook feed. And the crux of the disagreement came down to, roughly, this question:
Are Fat Girls Romantically Disadvantaged?
Though I normally receive questions through social media or email, this question sort of emerged in the thread. And I thought it was important to open the topic to the whole wide internet. I wanted to offer my thoughts on the matter because dating/romance is one of the top three things I get asked to discuss when I’m working with people in Babecamp.
Things really kicked off when someone said the following:
“The fact of the matter is that men hate fat women. Us fat girls, we are always single. We don’t get asked out on dates. Men reject us and treat us like second-hand citizens. So we have to starve ourselves and kill ourselves at the gym, in order to feel worthy of love.”
Some people disagreed. Some people agreed.
So, where does the truth lie? Do fat ladies face an unusual amount of romantic hurdles, or not?
I think the truth is: yes and no.
So let’s examine both sides of this thing:
NO: Almost all my fat friends are in relationships.
I’ve talked to A LOT of fat girls about their sex and romance lives. And most of the fat girls I know are in relationships that they seem to be happy about. It’s important to note that almost all the fat girls I know are fat positive, take-charge feminist types who aren’t particularly shy about expressing their desires or asking someone they’re hot for out on a date. Many of my fat girlfriends who are in relationships met their significant others through online dating. And most of them are not in relationships with people who identify as “chubby chasers” or “fat admirers,” etc. A lot of my friends live in the Bay Area or other metropolitan areas in the US. Some of them are straight, and others are queer. Most of my friends are between 20 and 45. Just to give you some demographics.
YES: Fatphobia is a totally real thing that negatively affects people’s capacity to enter romantic relationships that are meaningful to them.
In general, a person who dates fat women is likelier to be ridiculed or scrutinized, especially if that person is smaller. There’s a lot of social pressure for thin people to date other thin people, and also for fat people to date thin people. Sometimes fat people seek thin partners as a way offsetting the stigma of / attention to their own body or because they have internalized fat shame. Furthermore, thin people are coded as “normal” in our culture, and there are social rewards for falling in line with cultural expectations as well as social punishments for refusing to do so.
For example, once I had a veerrryy passionate week-long thing with this skinny emo – admittedly babely (but also assholey) – dude in San Francisco who was a self-proclaimed fat girl enthusiast and lover of big bellies. This was the first time I’d ever been with someone who was an FA – “fat admirer.” We talked for hours about my politics. He told me he was so stoked about fat liberation. And yes he loved my belly sosoo much. That was fun and all, but when it came time to move forward into dating, he straight up told me that he “didn’t have the balls” to date me because of all the shit he’d get from his male friends.
NO: Fat women fall in love and get married all the damn time.
This week I’ve legit watched like 20% of my fat babe Facebook friends get married or engaged.
While writing this, I’ve been thinking a lot about an online friend of mine who is a super sized woman who got married about two years ago. I remember she wrote this really poignant thing about her search for love. I won’t do it justice, but I’ll attempt to paraphrase:
She talked about how before she got married she’d worried about never getting married and being alone, but then she realized that maybe it was the idea of what her husband “ought” to be like or what her marriage “ought” to look like that was blocking her from finding a partner. She said she always thought she would only marry someone who was super educated and with a high-salary job, but once she let go of the idea that her marriage had to follow these heternormative ideals she actually found someone who adores her and whom she adores back. And now they take all these cute pictures together, and I love them.
I really appreciated that she articulated how damaging these fantasies of perfection are to our pursuit of genuine connection. Sometimes as fat women who have experienced super painful fat hatred, we become even more bought into intensely normative ideals. It’s kind of a coping mechanism, but it often leads to even more feelings of alienation.
YES: The more a person weighs, the likelier they are to experience more / more intense fatphobia.
Fatphobia is like other forms of stigma in that the discrimination happens on a spectrum. There are women of many sizes who identify with the word “fat,” but a smaller fat person is less likely to experience the volume or degree of fatphobia that a super-sized person may encounter when dating.
YES: Dating in cities like San Francisco and New York is ROUGH for fat girls.
San Francisco has SO MANY dudes in it. I could find one, right?
Even with increased access to online dating (online dicking, really), when I moved to San Francisco at around age 23 I found that my sexual and romantic capital was running at a deficit. Not only were men disinterested in dating me, it felt like I was literally invisible to them often. Sure, fooling around with me was on the table, but things never got further than that. When I was single, I often compared dating in San Francisco to trying to find a boyfriend in a strip club. I can’t tell you how many hours and plates full of pad thai my friends had to suffer through listening to the new psychoanalytic theories I’d come up with every week.
In affluent cities like SF, an above average degree of athleticism and thinness feels kinda mandatory. And, you know I’m never losing another pound in the name of love again. In fact, it wasn’t until I started looking at dating in the suburbs outside SF that I found a gaggle of normal, relationship-minded boys.
NO: Ok, maybe thin women have more dating options, but that doesn’t mean they have more GOOD options.
I want to tell you a story about a moment that kind of changed my life. I was on the MUNI one night, eavesdropping on people’s conversations as per usual. And sitting right across from me was this thin woman in a petite business suit talking on her phone to her friend. This woman was the San Francisco ideal when it came to looks, like the kind of lady you see on the arm of tech dudes on Valencia Street every day.
She’s telling her friend about getting stood up.
Here’s the story: the guy she was supposed to go on a date with called her up to confirm dinner. She confirms, but tells him that she has an early morning the next day so she won’t have time to get drinks or “anything” afterward. He says he’s on his way to the restaurant, but then calls half an hour later saying something like “Never mind, let’s reschedule when you have more time after dinner.” Then she says, “yeah, he didn’t want to bother having dinner with me unless there was sex afterward.”
QueWHAAAAAAATTTT!?!? This sounded perilously similar to my dating life at the time, and there were about 120 pounds and $1200 worth of Donna Karan that separated our lives.
Moral of the story: sexism suuuuucks, grrrrrl, whether you’re fat or thin.
One of my favorite things that my friend Deb says is: just because someone has more options doesn’t mean they have more good options.
CONCLUSION: Whatever you’re experiencing right now is real and valid.
I can SO relate to girlfriend’s words of pain above. I grew up being told that no man would ever touch me with a 10-foot pole. I thought I was the ugliest girl in the whole wide world for a very long time. That experience was so alienating, and it still haunts me. The threat of fat hate never feels very far away, and it lurks in all of our most personal pursuits. Dating and trying to find someone who will see you and love you is fucking terrifying, and it’s made even more daunting by the reality that fat women face a lot of stigmas culturally. This, at times, acts as a double whammy – it feels like there are fewer prospects and sometimes legitimately interested people are too intimidated by the possibility of social judgment to pursue. Add to that the fact that we are sometimes WAITING for the rejection, which impairs our ability to be present, engaged, and – most importantly – vulnerable.
All of this is harshypoo, and if you need to rage or cry I recommend you let it all out because there’s no point pretending. If you’re having a rough time, please don’t take any of my words as a form of invalidation. What you’re dealing with is challenging and demoralizing, but you’re not alone in your frustration.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.