Saturday, January 13, 2007

Self-absorbed screed

Before I begin this entry, I suppose I should warn any of you who are squeamish about sex and intimacy and semi-crude words to describe such acts that this post is exactly about that., and you might want to skip it. Otherwise, feel free to read on.

I had a hard time sleeping last night, partly because of the Midwest's rapid plunge into the frigid bowels of winter, complete with ice chattering against my windowpanes and two extremely fidgety cats who decided to spend their Friday evening and early Saturday morning burrowing for warmth underneath my thighs and also bathing and rebathing every single body part with tongues scraping against fur loud enough to imitate twin dueling belt sanders. I was also awake because a conversation I had with a close friend gave me a lot to ruminate over, and not in a really productive way.

Our discussion started out innocently enough. I think we were talking about celebrities he found attractive, and I interjected with a question I've been wondering about for a long time. I asked him if when men say "I prefer my women with curves" if they mean curves like a padded stomach and size fourteen hips and asses, or do they basically just mean "Big boobs, like a Victoria's Secret model"? He responded that he personally thought curves referred to women of size, and then added that a woman who could fit into a 10 or 12 jean was precisely what he found most desirable in the world. I guess, at this point, the Klaxon bells ringing in both of our heads should've clued us not to go down this particular path, that it's never a good idea to wage a one on one battle of the sexes, to just turn back now and talk about football or NBC television programming or basically ANYTHING AT ALL other than men and fat chicks and how they interact in the world.

But I didn't. I kept dropping the bait, and he kept biting.

I made a little comment that perhaps considering sizes 10-12 as an indicator of "larger women" would've been accurate in the 1950's, or even 1970's, but probably not now. Then I dropped the big loaded question and inquired why men who DO say they prefer women with curves act like they've done something great and philanthropic by declaring their tolerance for junk in the trunk, and the thighs that usually come with them. Do they think it's politically correct to say that? Do they feel they're helping to stop the surge of eating disorders in the U.S. by practicing fat acceptance? Do they even really mean it?

And my friend's response, as innocent he was in his intentions, was made me double over in disgust and shock right there in the middle of the conversation:

"I don't know. I've never really been with what you're calling a 'big girl'. I suppose it could be sensual, but honestly I would be scared my dick would even be able to fit inside all that cushioning."

There was a long pause. And then I asked him if he really thought fat women couldn't have sex...that somehow our size would prevent us from having working vaginas and being able to spread our legs and move sexually and bring a man to orgasm. He said he didn't know. He didn't think so, and he was surprised that fat women really could be capable lovers.

And so, in the wreckage of that conversation turned very, very ugly, I found the answers to the questions I had unofficially been researching this whole time. Perhaps this is an egregiously hasty generalization, but what I've learned is that men don't really like fat women, and if they do they want a goddamn merit badge for feeling that way.

Pasta Queen wrote an incredible article about some of the hidden benefits of being obese, and the one that resonated with me most (something I've been thinking about ever since I read it last week) was the idea that fat people tend to have a hyperdeveloped "asshole detector" in place as they interact with society. I think this applies especially to women, as men just don't bother with making the effort if there's not going to be sexual potential later. I wonder, if obese people were treated with the same deference as drug addicts and alcoholics and those who are sensitive about race and religion, if actually being healthy and losing weight would seem less daunting because at least part of the emotional baggage would be mitigated.

I think the moment we begin to strip away the pounds and the flesh, parts of our ability to cope also fall away and we're very raw until we learn healthier defense mechanisms. I know while I was in the process of gaining so much weight I was in a very deep state of denial, about my health, my size, who I was. Things were always "not that bad". I wasn't really as fat as the scale said, because we all know scales are inaccurate. My jeans were only getting tighter because I accidentally dried them on high heat. I liked being home alone on Saturday nights because I just didn't know anyone who was willing to appreciate me and willing to overlook my appearance. I would wait just another day before I started really dieting and working out because I was too tired to dig in today. I have done this my entire life, and ultimately all that fat that's on my body has served more as emotional insulation than physical. Even while I'm losing pounds, the ginormous chip on my shoulder is fixed firmly in place, because my size helps me identify the tolerant from the intolerant, the shallow from the genuine. It kept me shielded from relationships with people who ultimately wouldn't want the "real" me, even though the real me had been hidden for a very long time. When I was finally forced to be honest with myself about the state of my life, the wounds that well-meaning friends, lovers, boyfriends have all inflicted on me about my size reopened, and they hurt like hell. I cannot resent people for their opinions, but at the same time how can they think it's okay to tell someone they'd be an incredible person if they could only stop being lazy and finally get around to losing that pesky hundred pounds? How, how, HOW can we say that so casually to people we love when we recoil from the idea of asking others to cut back on the wine, or keep the pills in the medicine cabinet, and we would never, ever say " and I would be an amazing couple if you'd just try a little harder to stop being gay, you know?"

If I'm going to have to be a size 8 to be comfortable in my skin, to run a 5K, to have amazing leg extensions during a slow tango, to just physically accomplish the things I want to do in life, so be it. But psychologically, I'd much rather be a size 14 who can listen to all the bullshit people have to say about the obese and just respond with a polite "fuck you."

I have to wonder, though, when does it get easier to do that, or is it always going to sting?


BigAssBelle said...

what a great post. i don't know if it's being older or what, but the sting has pretty much gone out of the whole fat/sexuality thing for me.

not to say i don't get the occasional whack upside the head with some obscenely stupid statement by an utter clod, but it doesn't affect me the way it used to.

i also hate the desexualization of women who are overweight, and i do believe many of us hang on to the pounds as a kind of fuck you to the world, to men, to other woman.

hating fat people, especially fat women, is really one of the last acceptable prejudices. fat and smoking, about all that's left.

i'm sorry you had this conversation with a friend. it gives me the shudders to think about what my friends/family/others might truly be thinking about me.

on my better days i just say "fuck 'em" but some days it matters.

shinypenny said...

Fantastic post. When I was near my highest weight (215-220-ish), there were several male attorneys in my office who avoided looking at me or acknowledging me in any fashion whatsoever (not even the normal glance or nod as one passes coworkers in the hall). I used to think they just had poor people skills, but then I lost 60 lbs. All of the sudden these assholes are giving me smiles and nods. I mean, seriously, WTF?

fatpolly said...

Great post. It was great to find your blog. I'll keep checking on your progress as I progress with my project of losing 100lbs this year.

Lori said...

Erin, it's a great post.

I'd like to do a survey among the men I've been with in the past two years, but frankly, most of them are such great liars, I'm not sure what they would say.

I know That Guy's ex was heavy, like 250 and 5'7", his last GF was heavy and so I think he might be an exception. I don't think he's a chubby chaser either -- he likes Keira Knightly. She's roughly the size of my thigh.

I think Bigassbelle is right about the concept of keeping fat as a big fuck you to the world; one woman I know accused me of losing weight as giving in to societal demands. So I guess I'm guilty of being a tool of The Man.

OTOH, the Idiot Man dumped me for someone who is not thin (but thinner than me) and admits she's dumb as a rock. "She lets me be me" So if that's the criteria to have a BF, that's just as awful and demeaning. (I can lose weight but I refuse to get a lobotomy.) He always swore that my weight was never an issue (and the truth is that he's a weak, dishonest man).

I don't know if it will ALWAYS sting. I think a comment from someone we respect or love will sting. If it's some jerk in a beat up truck yelling something at me, it's not a sting but more an aggravation.

The one thing that I'm curious about is this: this close friend -- how does he see you? Does he see you a woman, a friend, or what?

Men are just so dopey. Whenever I told someone online that I was overweight, it's so difficult because to some men, overweight means 5 pounds and others, it means that you will be on the news b/c you fell and the fire department has to pound down your walls to extract you from your sofa. There's no training or manual for them to know what overweight is or defined.

The feelings of rawness with losing weight is very understandable to me. Besides new coping skills, it's also a matter of loving ourselves and forgiving ourselves for getting that unhappy and miserable.

It's 2 am and I'm rambling but it's a fantastic post!

Galen said...

I would like to comment from a guy's perspective, if that's okay.

I think that for most people, both men and women, being fat is a turnoff to them. It doesn't matter if your a guy or a gal; if you're fat, you don't get "those" looks.

I'm currently 342, and have been dieting since the 2nd of this month. My wife is obese and that hasn't stopped me from looking at her and wanting her. Sex is still great, even if both of us are fat. I suppose what I am saying is that not all men are like your friend. Even when I was a lot lighter in weight, size didn't matter to me (just ask some of my past girlfriends).

I am really sorry that your friend feels that way and am sorry that the vast majority of the men out there echo his sentiments, but there really are others out there who are like me and feel the way I feel. Size is only a part and a small part at that (no pun intended).

From a personal standpoint, there are times when I will go out in public, dressed very nicely, and watch people watching me. It is a sobering experiment and one that greatly saddens me. I look at all the skinny "fit" people, mostly younger than I am looking at me like I am some sort of leper, like I belong somewhere else. So it's not always the female who is looked at in that manner. A lot of us guys are too.


Erin said...

Galen, what a great point you bring to this discussion. I have to apologize, because as I read your comment I realized I turned this into an extremely feminist sort of rant and that wasn't my intention at all. My post was written as a result of a week of smarting because of comments from some close male friends, and I suppose I had an anti-man sentiment going on while I was composing this.

You are absolutely right that the prejudice goes both ways, and I think in a way the media is harsher on men than women by perpetrating the "thin, annoyed wife/fat bumbling husband" stereotype in sitcoms and commercials.

Thank you so much for sharing your opinion, both as a man and someone who is actively involved in the weight loss process!

Susan said...

As someone who has been on the other side for over three years, I can report that, yes, it still hurts. It hurts when people casually refer to a co-worker or acquaintance as a "big fat slob" and I realise that, a few years ago, they would have spoken about me the same way. It hurts when people make fat jokes and expect me to laugh. It hurts when (as shinypenny experienced) men who used to ignore me suddenly start flirting with me. Do they think that because I used to be fat, I also have no memory?

Even though I am developing a thicker thin (no pun intended) every now and then I'll get an unwelcome reminder of just how superficial people can be.