Why men are big fat cowards

Men who are attracted to women, at least in the Anglosphere, (you can swap that with “western society”, if you like, they’re almost interchangeable in intent) have a big fat problem. It has to do with what we find attractive.

Frequently you’ll hear us say that we like big breasts. Sometimes we mention that lovely hourglass figure. But there’s a big disconnect: Most men won’t own up to what they really, deep down, find attractive. Here’s a hint: It’s probably quite different for each of us.

I’m going to break our unspoken vow of silence though. Because I can, and because it is time we woke up and started talking about our sexuality in New Zealand- and I don’t just mean whether we like boys or girls or both. I mean what we like about boys and girls, and how we act about that- certainly eyes are incredibly sexy, and eye contact is a great way to capture attention. Attitude is hugely important, too- I like women who stand up for themselves, who’re willing to disagree with me, and who aren’t afraid to ask me out. But none of these things are controversial- they don’t require me to challenge how much of a big fat coward I’m supposed to be.

So what is our problem? Our big problem is fat- or rather, body shape. You see, one of the things I personally find very attractive is women with slightly different body shapes from the average- namely tall ladies and curvy ladies. As someone who’s always been one of the tallest people in the crowd, and never been able to put on a substantial amount of body weight, I understand that bodies come in several natural shapes. I understand that some of them are larger or smaller without necessarily being unhealthy. Anyone who is watching that they’re eating relatively healthily, and is exercising well, has no reason to be worried about the shape of their body in my book.

But that puts me in a dilemma. You see, men are not allowed to like “fat girls”- they’re supposed to be unattractive. Talking to a fat girl in a bar is something you’re only ever supposed to do as a wingman who’s taking one for the team, and the nastiest insults that women throw at each other on reflex often resort to variations on the theme of “fat bitch”. Some of our friends will pressure us into admitting that we find thin girls sexy- and now and then, we will, because attractiveness is too complex to be described merely by body types. (If anyone ever wants to introduce me to Keira Knightley, I will go totally fanboy on her. Just for the record.)

But the really tragic thing is, there are some of us that will end up staring at women that we would never be able to admit to “the blokes” that we find attractive. And for the less courageous men, that means that we simply won’t ask women out that could have really pushed our buttons and made us happy. And that is a big fat-problem. πŸ˜‰

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19 Responses

  1. I have to confess my hypocrisy. I’m not usually sexually attracted to men who carry a lot of weight although I wish it wasn’t true. I’m not exercising enough for this not to be hypocritical. I also find tall men attractive, and it’s such a cliche. I’m just as bad as your average dude who avoids bowling up to women on the cuddly side in the pub or who gets obsessed with a waist to hip ratio or whatever. However, I figure I can’t really argue with myself on this one. The best thing to do is try and respect people and judge them on their merits at all times and then just see what happens. And reflecting on your final par – there are many worse things for a woman than NOT having a guy who is solely attracted to how she looks ask her out. I’m sceptical about how many people would really avoid someone they had a true mutual attraction to just because of their friends, and if they did, the person concerned is better off without them, surely.

    That said, the point of your post was the idea that we should get some discussion going about what’s attractive and try and broaden it out, and I’m all for that. Eyes are good, but there’s nothing like a well-turned sentence or a really good political debate, I find : )

  2. Hey Lyn- I liked your recent piece on family formation, by the way. πŸ™‚

    Firstly, I think people are attracted to people with different body sizes all the time. If you don’t like dudes with big stomachs, the only way you’re hypocritical there is if you eat when you don’t feel hungry, or if you don’t exercise enough. I plan to blog on this later, but you don’t need to be slim to be healthy, and curvy women shouldn’t feel hypocritical if they don’t want to date big guys.

    I absolutely agree with you that this isn’t the worst thing ever, either for men or women. But I think we should listen to our subconscious on what we’re attracted to, and if people look attractive to us and act in a way that attracts us, then we should listen to that instead of being afraid of what our friends will think. πŸ™‚ And nobody talks about this sort of thing in New Zealand, because we don’t talk about sex or sexuality very often at all.

    I agree with you that smart people are sexy, and that deserves its own post I think, and has been on my plans for a while πŸ˜‰ This is really just the opening shot, and I’m gonna be coming back a lot to sex and sexuality. πŸ™‚

  3. Cheers for the props. As for the comment, hell – I eat ALLLL the time when I don’t feel hungry. I never exercise. Of course I’m a hypocrit!!! But it’d be worse if I reduced the value of the people around me to how sexually attractive I found them, and that I avoid like the plague.

    As far as your comment about fearing friend’s opinions goes, I stand by what I said – having recently been in love, there’s no way I can imagine that someone who was seriously attracted to someone else would care about what their friends thought. But maybe that’s just me. But I do certainly agree that listening to what we’re really attracted to (or really aren’t into) is very important. It’s why I can live with my hypocrisy re chunky guys. We don’t talk about sex and sexuality much in NZ and it’s good to get into it. It’s great that you’re putting it out there as a guy, too. I was waiting for a D4J attitude to surface, but so far, so good!!!!!

    As far as smart people being sexy is concerned, well – that’s a cliche too. They say the brain is the biggest sex organ, but I think it all depends on what you’re into. I just happen to find a well turned sentence a thing of beauty. The irony is that the three relationships I’ve had with writers all turned to custard. You can’t just love someone on the page. It’s not just about initial attraction – it’s all about what you’re actually like as a combination. I suppose I was alluding to that when I said that there are worse things than not being approached by someone who’s only attracted by one thing about you.

  4. I have always thought the fat thing to be over-blown media hype. Most guys I know don’t mind a bit of meat on the bones, and if chicks dig scars then guys are into curves. Its one of the big myths that a bit of skin is unattractive – after all, skin is responsive to touch so if there is more of it. Guys who go on about weight are usually just frightened of female sexuality in general.

    To be honest, in my experience the girls worry about weight much more than the men they are trying to attract, at least in my crew.

    Very overweight has always been and will always be an unattractive thing in both sexes, but the real enemy is the lack of self worth and loss of confidence an image obsessed media can create in anyone of either gender who isn’t a waif.

    I suppose since sexual self worth is a very deep part of what makes you who you are then if you are really hung up on your weight you should just go on a diet. It’ll do wonders for your self esteem. Being defiantly fat and challenging the world is a fight you’ll always lose. You can never beat city hall.

  5. I have a chunky friend who’s always been “out” about his affection for chunky women. Of course, now that he’s out of his twenties chunky has become more obvious, but the point is still there.

    Personally, I’m more flexible about my attraction to tall women, but fat ones I have not been able to shift. Even solidly built very rarely does it for me. On the other hand, my current partner is about 1.5m to my 1.85m, which is a lot but it works for me.

    Thing is, there are consistent things that I find attractive, and some of those just don’t work for fat people. Eating healthy food, sure, but I also exercise as a way of life. Too many of things I do involve riding around the place and waiting while friends use public transport gets tedious. I’ve ended up with a friend circle who almost all ride, and about three own cars.

    I also associate being fat with being unhappy – I know two women who were fat and unhappy, but once the unhappy shifted they lost quite a lot of weight. In that order, both times. Less comfort eating, perhaps.

  6. Lyn- I have mentioned I’m a feminist right? I don’t think I’ll be doing any D4J-style rants. I admit he’s right that there are some areas of fatherhood that are undervalued, but I don’t feel there’s any insidious “Matriarchy” out to get men- rather, it’s our own bloody fault for being oveprotective of women πŸ˜‰

    I’m certainly not the most experienced person when it comes to love, but of the few people who’ve caught my eye, all of them have had some sort of positive feedback that strengthens the feeling as time goes along, and I view any lost chance to experiment with that sort of thing as a shame. I also know for sure that there are people who are that afraid of being true to who they are that they take years to realise they don’t have to let their friends define them- I’ve talked to them. πŸ™‚

    Toms- some of it is. As I’ve said, guys are attracted to practically everything when you take us as a group. Some people like feet, some like legs, others like breasts, some look mostly at the face, others like body shapes, some like skin complexion, some prefer curly or straight hair, others discriminate by eye and hair colour- and that’s just appearance. You’re certainly right that the worry over fat is actually far more pathological for girls/women. πŸ™‚

    Personally speaking- it’s not the weight that bothers me so much as people not looking after themselves. Anorexics starve themselves, people who really are overweight and not just big usually eat too much or simply don’t exercise. And not looking after yourself gives a hint of misery- which I think is part of the initial justification behind fat hate.

    I’d be careful about what you mean with a “diet”. Specialised diets like Weight Watchers are bad because everyone eventually falls off the wagon- any change you notice will be temporary. But slow, methodical improvement of eating habits- getting lots of different types of food in you, balancing intake of fats with grains and fruits and vegetables, etc… will help. So will training yourself to only eat when you’re hungry.

    I’ve heard shock stories of fat girls with bulemia and even anorexia, that doesn’t leave them thin- sometimes, your body shape is just bigger, and you have to accept that and look after yourself.

    Moz- good on your friend. πŸ™‚ I’m not trying to say everyone should be attracted to larger women, by the way. Just that those of us who are should embrace it, and treat those women with the confidence that we deserve, and the respect they deserve.

    There are certainly women who will be able to permanently lose weight. There are also women who can maintain being “thin” for a couple of years, but the requirements of doing so will be so unnaturally strict for them that they are likely to lapse. Then there’s the women who diets just won’t work for at all. People should certainly look after themselves- but if they’re doing it and there’s no change going on, that’s because they’re simply a larger shape than normal naturally. And that ought to be OK. πŸ™‚

  7. Hey – just to weigh in again (heh), Ari – you did mention you were a feminist, it just took me a coupla posts to get the vibe calibrated. And if you have friends who can’t get past what *their *friends think about female fat, then I’ll take that – it’s outside my scope of experience but I’ll trust you on it.

    I think the timbre of comments about looking after oneself in thread above is interesting….it’s possible to be fit and fat, although I’m sure it’s harder to feel ok about yourself if you fall on the overweight side of the spectrum. I attach as little moral value to body size, food and exercise as I can (which doesn’t mean I’m free of it, otherwise I wouldn’t have identified myself as a hypocrit in the first place) because we’re all so hamstrung by it. If I diet (I did once – NEVER again) I get neurotic about food. I’d just rather eat my veges and not think about it too much, y’know.

    I agree that lifestyle choices are really important in picking a partner, whether or not they’re reflected in body size/shape. My first real BF was a total sweetie (possibly the world’s nicest man) but we were totally different – he likes extreme sports, I like having a good think. It was never meant to be. But here’s an interesting thought – I saw him last year for the first time in ages – and it’s been about 14 years since we were together – and we were still into each other physically, even though he’s built like a commando and I’m a couch potato. Which just goes to illustrate the point of the original post – when it comes to physical attraction there’s no accounting for taste. And perhaps also that not all men are big fat cowards.

  8. We’re certainly not ALL fat-cowards. πŸ˜‰ That’s just the prevailing attitude, which makes those of us who are unafraid of declaring how attractive we find curvy women a bit more controversial. I’m prodding a wasps’ nest, figuratively speaking- calling us out on what we, as men, are bad at. And one of those things is admitting that a woman can be hot without being a thin-as-a-stick supermodel with perfect skin that coats herself in makeup every day. Or alternatively, having suffered from AIS– damnit, I need to stop opening cans of worms on myself. πŸ™‚

    I think “fit and fat” is actually a really important message to get out in general, especially seeing doctors are likely to focus on your weight if you come in with an unrelated problem that has similar symptoms. The fact that it feels bad is because we don’t have this subtle distinction between big people and unhealthy people. Go figure.

  9. I just saw this over on Alas a blog and thought you might be interested (you may already have seen it)

    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2008/04/03/women-face-anti-fat-bias-at-lighter-weights-than-men/

  10. I think you’re being a bit unfair on men here. Yes, the teasing will occur if a guy chats up a ‘fat chick’, particularly in a social environment. But if it becomes serious, the teasing won’t happen, certainly not if his mates are real men. Where do the societal pressures on women to be thin mostly come from?….Other women! Just because men are attracted to women should not lead you to automatically point the finger at them. Fitting into a certain mould is usually determined by your own kind – and this is certainly true when dealing with women and weight. Just have a look at the signs in society that tell women they should not be fat – it is women telling them! Magazines, ads, TV, brochures, womens-only gyms etc etc. Sure there is the odd bloke working in an advertising company on these messages but lets look at the overall picture. Men may be chiding men about chatting up fat chicks, but its women telling women they should be thin.

  11. In truth I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that any group of people in particular tell women to be thin. We’re all dealing with pervasive norms that have to be navigated. As an example, ads for women’s gyms might be aimed at women but as you point out, the advertising isn’t written or made only by women – it just fits within norms already established for how women want to look – and why do we want to look like that? Because we know those norms too. And so do men – try finding a fat chick in Playboy. The whole thing is endlessly recursive and far more complex than the idea of women getting together and oppressing each other over coffee.

  12. SeΓ‘n- I agree with your first statement that there are decent guys who will make it quite clear that their teasing is just for a laugh, and they will back off and never speak another word again if you’re serious about her. There’s also the other type that genuinely believe you have no reason to be attracted to anyone who’s not some stereotypical exemplar of feminine beauty- fortunately they get rarer if you manage your social network well, but they exist and they have effects.

    Yes, a lot of the pressure for thinness, perhaps more of it in fact, originates from women- issues of sexuality are particularly tricky in this sense because when one gender starts making something fashionable, the other gender picks up on that attitude and compounds it.

    But just because women pressure each other too doesn’t mean we should excuse ourselves- we’re responsible for being honest about our desires and feelings as men regardless of what benefit that has for women. Gender issues don’t arise purely from men or women “deciding” to do something on their own- they result from feedback of a lot of men doing something, and then women liking it, and that attraction causes more men to do that thing, and so on, sometimes with the genders reversed.

    I imagine the culture in advertising is sexist towards both genders, actually. Advertisers peddle stereotypes a lot, and there’s certainly a pervasive attitude of “white men are acceptable targets” among advertisers, for instance, in addition to the occasional bouts of sexism and racism.

    Lyn- You’re awesome. πŸ˜‰ Speaking of women’s gyms… :>

  13. Sorry – maybe I’m just being a bit dim, but “speaking of women’s gyms” – huh?

    Also – it’s not just stereotypes that advertisers are peddling – it’s hegemonic norms. I reckon that mass media has more to do with sexism in appearance than social feedback – although that’s open to interpretation I guess…

  14. I’m agreeing you on the norms, it’s just easier to explain them as stereotypes because people understand that term. If you say “oppressive cultural norms”, people start running for the hills.

    As for speaking of women’s gyms- I dislike ConfigureXpress or whatever they call themselves in principle, even if in practicality they do good work πŸ˜› Maybe they’ll merit a post sometime.

  15. Lyn – I am not talking in absolute terms, obviously a certain amount of generalization should be accepted in such a large issue (no pun intended). Think of me saying “On the whole…”

    Lyn said “try finding a fat chick in Playboy.”. Well I don’t know about Playboy magazine, but there’s a line of porn devoted to overweight women. A little mouse told me.

    Ari & Lyn – you should recall my first line “I think you’re being a bit unfair on men here.”. I’m not excusing men, I’m just highlighting that you’ve in fact missed the major source of pressure on women not to be fat.

  16. I didn’t think you were excusing men. I just thought that I wasn’t being unfair πŸ˜‰ Both men and women are responsible. This post just focused on the role of men in the problem, because it was written from my perspective as a man, and not in general as a feminist. πŸ™‚

  17. I think if you are going to generalize about what men do or do not find attractive, it is worthwhile to note how that attraction changes over a lifetime. The attraction that single men feel is not the same thing that men in long-term relationships feel.

    As a longtime married woman (twelve years) who has put on more than a little weight through four pregnancies, I can’t imagine my husband’s attraction to me ceasing because of my weight, nor can I imagine him being embarrassed by his attraction for me. He is much more likely to find ridiculous his young co-workers’ insistence on specific body types for women.

    The same man will find different things attractive over a lifetime. My mother is tall and thin and curveless, but when she hit age fifty, suddenly her male contemporaries began flirting outrageously with her. A woman who golfs! And hikes! And plays tennis! Their standards changed from appearance to companionship, and suddenly she became a hottie.

  18. Sean – I take exception your idea that women are doing this to themselves. I think there’s a lot of collusion, but that idea smacks of the idea that we should stop complaining because it’s all our own fault, and possibly hints at the idea that men aren’t culpable at all. This thing is bigger than the both of us. And – yeah – there’s fat-chick porn but it’s hardly mainstream. It’s made precisely because it’s not part of what’s available in the usual outlets. Physical norms are reinforced by this way of presenting fat women as freaky and exoticised.

    Veronica – interesting perspective. It’s awesome that you’re able to be so sure of your man and even more awesome that your mom is having such a good time at 50+.

  19. Hey Veronica- I’m careful not to make generalisations about what men actually do find attractive. I’m sure that it differs significantly from what we say we find attractive in our 20s, but I’m not sure how often or how strongly that’s going to be the case statistically speaking, and frankly- it’s irrelevant. The problem is that we can’t accept the idea of people being attracted to different things.

    I smiled seriously reading your post though, because I’m somewhat of an outcast among my age group for agreeing with you- companionship is really far more important than us young men give it credit for. I don’t hit the clubs or anything like that for this reason- too many people looking for a body, not enough people looking for a person. πŸ™‚ (And frankly, you can’t have a good conversation there anyway)

    And SeΓ‘n- have you seriously looked at fat-porn? I had to study porn for a philosophy course, (who said academia was boring?) and that’s what really cemented me as so supportive of feminists. Most of the porn being sold is so pathological, so mentally toxic for independent women it’s sickening. If you’re fat, the message is that you are an underclass person and if you’re lucky someone equally as desperate and ugly and depraved as you will want you despite that, and that they will call you names and treat you as property because you deserve it for being fat. To me, that’s far more about degradation than it is about attraction to larger ladies. πŸ˜‰

    I’d disagree with Lyn that it not being mainstream is a problem. Mainstream suggests most people should be finding larger ladies attractive, which probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The problem is that it’s degrading, and offensive, and androcentric/patriarchal.

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