Fat Wars

This discussion took place early in the ORIGINAL original blog (hence the odd formating of the comments thread) apparently as a response to advice given in Disgust (“Men can be disgusted too, you know!”), and it remained a contentious issue (read: grounds for abuse) in my email for a long time afterward.

Once again, as in “No Excuses in Biology!” I am taken to task for disseminating scientific information that some of my readers deemed dangerous or irresponsible. Eyeroll.

I still think this material is essential to men’s understanding of some issues that could be inhibiting/otherwise messing up the women they love. So I decided it was important to include, without additional apology.

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After talking to some of my science sources and hearing from a few readers, I decided that I should make the question of F.A.T. into its own little subsection of this discussion. Although it’s always been clear to me that it is an emotional subject for a lot of couples, apparently it is even more complex and volatile than I realized.

When I left Friday I offered a painting for contemplation over the weekend, Peter Paul Rubens‘s “The Three Graces,” and rather mischievously asked, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Rubens, The Three Graces

Back in 1638 when Rubens created the painting, this kind of female body was considered a kind of mature feminine ideal. The Three Graces are mythological figures representing charm, enjoyment and social goodwill, and as such are usually presented in art as cheerful and beautiful dancing women.

Rubens, of course, is notorious for his loving depictions of women with, shall we say, ample fundaments, but it is also true that in that day and age chubby women were considered by Western culture to be very much more attractive than they are today. Although I’m aware that there are men who have no problem with this type of female body, and that there is in fact a whole corpus (!) of fetishism focused on fat women, the vast majority of American men would never summon up such bodies to play any role in their sexual fantasies, and for many the “Rubenesque” female form is a real and total turn-off.

What changed since 1638? Some of my scientific sources believe that the change is a classic example of “nurture” overcoming nature.

Women need a certain crucial level of body fat to mature sexually, become fertile (which is the reason why many skinny female athletes stop menstruating), and maintain pregnancies. A store of “excess” fat (most commonly in the buttocks and thighs, where it might also have conferred some other physical advantages like helping to balance a pregnant belly) ensured that a woman could continue to nurse her children even when food was scarce in our earliest evolutionary environments.

Babies whose mothers were fat by today’s standards were more likely to survive during the most difficult times in our early history, so genes which enhanced the creation and storage of fat on the female body were most likely to be passed on through the generations. In general, then, modern women are struggling with the strong appetites and fat-packing metabolisms that helped their foremothers stay fertile and feed their children in the days when calories were at a premium.

In addition, cultures where access to food is a measure of economic wealth (as it has been through most of our history) have always tended to value the fatter female body, because it demonstrates a surfeit of economic resources and therefore higher status. Status is probably as crucial a value to men in mate selection as what might be termed “pure” erotic appeal, so cultural considerations probably reinforced early women’s natural tendencies toward weight gain, since they were competing with each other to attract and secure male partners to assist them in raising their children.

Men liked fat women in that era not only because plush flesh was an evolved indicator of health and fertility (a “natural” erotic attraction), but because fat women were identified in the culture with high status (abundant food and no necessity to do physical labor). So the cultural valuation of female fatness in those eras might be called a “nurtured” erotic attraction. Thus the Three Graces’ avoirdupois packed a double whammy of erotic power in Rubens’s day — they were the cushy ideal of natural animal attraction, and they exhibited status characteristics much valued in that society.

In our own culture, however, food has lost its economic value. Fatness has now become an indicator of LOW socioeconomic status, because even the poorest among us can obtain vast excesses of calories, and relatively few modern jobs require a great deal of physical labor. In fact, it tends to cost money to LOSE weight in this society. So that part of the attraction equation has changed.

As one of my scientific correspondents put it:

… [E]ven moderate (i.e. sub-obese) fatness no longer signals unusual status or abilities. Men still find fatness an erotic turn-on, but a “social” turn-off. “Nature” makes them go for “Jell-O on springs,” but “nurture” intervenes, boringly.

This puts women in a very difficult position. By eating less, they “stand out from the crowd” as high status women, but what they gain in social status, they lose in [fundamental] erotic power. To sacrifice erotic power for “pulling power” is a terrible price to pay, and I think it does real psychological damage to women. A woman who goes on a serious diet is “behaviourally denying” her own sexuality. One might call it “sacrificing attraction for the sake of attachment.”

Because of the evolutionary bias toward robust appetite and fat-sparing metabolisms, the psychological effect of dieting is exactly what one would expect in any circumstances featuring a continual sense of deprivation and the suppression of fierce natural urges: tension, irritability, depression, anxiety and resentment. Add to this the low blood sugar too often induced by desperate dieting, and you have the perfect formula for a hostile control freak with no interest in sex.

People can’t help what they are attracted to and what turns them off. All the exhortation or logic or shaming in the world won’t make a fat person attractive to a person who finds fat disgusting. Reality is what reality is. Bodies do what they do and demand what they demand. People feel what they feel.

Do I think it would be a good thing if this society had a more mature attitude toward the average human body (or what my scientific colleage called “sub-obese” fatness)? Yep.

Do I think everyone would be happier if female status and erotic value didn’t depend quite so much on an uncommonly low or “unnatural” body weight? Sure.

Do I think these difficult circumstances are ever going to change? Nope.

So, you ask, what am I up to here? Why am I “wasting my time” on evolutionary history and the effects of social change on sexual desire? Why am I “justifying fatness” or “excusing obesity”? (I’m going to leave aside for the moment any consideration of why, even if I was attempting to “encourage women to ruin their health by giving up on weight control” there would be quite so much vehemence.)

What I’m trying to do here is show the real and very difficult landscape of rocks and hard places that we, men and women alike, have to deal with when it comes to this issue. Most people want to know where they really are, even if they don’t like being there and they don’t have a roadmap to get out.

I can tell you right now that I don’t have a map — or maybe I should say I don’t have THE map — but I think I can help you realistically scope the territory where you stand. In time you might be able to apply your own love and brainpower to figure out where to go from there.

Everywoman UK  [BLOGGER'S NOTE: BROKEN LINK]

Q. I am 32 and my husband and I have been married just under a year. I am dreadfully unhappy with where we live as it does not provide many career opportunities for me. Also, I am far away from my family. I have been depressed and have gained 20 lbs. Last night my husband told me that he was not as attracted to me because of the weight gain. He felt horrible, but wanted to be honest with me. I am mortified and furious. It cuts right to the core. I don’t know if I can ever let him touch me again, and don’t even want to be in the same room with him. Please help.

I sez to myself I sez, Ain’t no help for you, babe. Call the lawyers, this one’s Over.

Okay, maybe that was a little hasty. But starry-eyed optimist that I am — that’s a joke, folks — I still think the only (faint) hope for this marriage is if he didn’t tell her that in bed, or if he did, that he said it to explain why he couldn’t get hard when she wanted him.

As I said earlier, it would be ridiculous to blame a guy for not being able to get an erection with a woman he finds disgusting. If he can’t get it up or can’t keep it up, and he knowsthat his penis is not cooperating because she’s too fat for him to get excited about, he has to tell her.

However, in all other circumstances, I recommend some discretion and hesitation. It’s not that a man can’t ever be honest with his wife about how he feels about her weight, but when he does tell her, his attitude and and the context of the words will make the difference between dooming the marriage and giving it a fighting chance.

Let’s look at this situation from the man’s point of view. They are newlyweds, and they’ve evidently moved to a new town. Maybe she’s not the only one who has moved away from family, maybe he has, too. So he’s been counting on her and she’s been counting on him to be their only support in a new environment. That’s a heavy burden to bear on both ends even when a relationship is mature and long-standing.

The first year of marriage can be very rough under any circumstances because the couple inevitably discovers that their expectations regarding sex, companionship, money, and a myriad of other factors are not going to be perfectly met. People react to these normal, inevitable disappointments in different ways. The most common reaction, however, is anxiety, and the major component of that anxiety is a fear that one has Made a Terrible Mistake.

I suspect that both this wife and this husband have entertained that awful thought in the last year, and more than once. The underlying, continual anxiety has gotten “fight” reactions going on both sides. They’ve both over-reacted to things and had some major, highly emotional disagreements, which only made the fear worse. They start to believe that the love is going or gone, and that the marriage is irretrievably spoiled since they’ve screwed up so badly and this is just the first year!

I suspect that both of them are terrified and depressed, but that the man has taken refuge in an attempt to gain more control (over himself, over the woman, over life in general). He might even be dieting and exercising obsessively in order to feel that he’s right and correct and disciplined.

The woman has reacted in the opposite direction, with overt depression, lethargy and resistance to his drive for control. Anxiety and depression are prime motivators to seek the comfort of food or alcohol, but we shouldn’t underestimate a subconscious desire to assert her independence, to Show Him she isn’t like him, she won’t do what he does, and she won’t cooperate with his controlling “demands.”

Meanwhile, he’s stood by helplessly, seeing her gain weight, and that has added another component to his anxiety. He fears she’ll just keep gaining and gaining, that she’ll get more and more ugly and undesirable with every passing day, and that will reflect on him. It will make acquaintances and work colleagues look at him askance. It will diminish his Power. This society assumes that a man’s wife is a reflection of his intelligence and social competence. Not to mention that he can hardly stand to look at her, much less think about making love to that body.

So then comes the night when she approaches him for reassurance, for love, for sexual relief, and he can’t stand it. She’s Out of Control, she needs to be Taught a Lesson, she has to hear The Truth. Understand that under these circumstances, the husband might sincerely believe he’s Just Being Honest and He Feels Terrible (he does, he really does, although it’s not just noble guilt), but he isn’t only being truthful, he is also being punitive. He’s angry. He’s disappointed. He’s scared. So he smacks her in the mouth, figuratively speaking.

And she reacts predictably, as any human being reacts to being hurt, with fear, fury and — most important for our purposes — frigidity. She never wants him to see her naked again.

So here’s the question: what good did Just Being Honest do him?

Or her?

I sort of hesitate to offer some of these psychological theories on why people remain fat, because in my mind the physiological facts of fat storage and maintenance in an overfed society are good and sufficient obstacles all on their own, but there are other psychological dynamics that can make an already difficult situation even harder.

We’ve already talked about the anger factor, that reaction of defiance that makes a spouse’s harping on weight control not only useless but actively counterproductive. The more one person seems to be attempting to control or direct another — and this is a common and often correct assumption in a marriage where Love has faded and Power has raised its ugly head — the more the potential “controllee” is going to rebel. Again, this is not usually a conscious process, but it is hopeless to believe that any amount of nagging or criticism or “joking” is going to assist your spouse to lose weight.

What? You don’t think she KNOWS she’s gained weight? You think she might FORGET she’s fat if you didn’t remind her from time to time? You think mockery or anger or expressions of disgust are going to somehow motivate her to deprive herself of so much as a single potato chip to make YOU happy?

On the contrary, she’s much more likely, consciously or unconsciously, to want to “get back” at you for the hurt your remarks (i.e., lack of Love) have inflicted, and one way to do that (self-destructive as it might be — the unconscious tends to the irrational) is to stay fat or get fatter. It’s a passive-aggressive, unconscious way of saying, “So there, asshole. You’re not the bossa me.” Another component of that defiance can be a refusal to have sex. “You tell me I’m ugly and unsexy in the morning but you still want to use my body to get yourself off at night? Think again, Bub!”

Let me re-emphasize that many women would never in a million years allow themselves to think these kinds of things “out loud,” in such concrete and overt terms. Instead they will internalize the insecurity and anger caused by the criticisms and pressures, and they won’t really understand why they’re so strangely, inexplicably pissed off when their husbands approach them sexually, or why their bodies have gone so numb to their husbands’ touch, or why they can’t find any energy to start a diet.

Fat is also protective, and can have a lot of unconscious value to women who feel anxious in any number of ways. If she feels threatened by a realization that she has lost your love, she might be able to say to herself that the only reason you are rejecting her or drifting away is her weight. Therefore you are a shallow bastard whose love isn’t worth having and/or there’s nothing at all wrong with her except this merely physical thing called fat. Being fat explains all the marriage’s problems, see, and if she lost weight, you and she might have to face harder and deeper issues.

If she has had a problem in the past with unwelcome sexual attention or sexual abuse, getting or staying fat may be a way of protecting herself from dangerous men. Her brain tells her (incorrectly, of course) that if she’s unattractive, nobody will want to attack her sexually. She may even unconsciously think that getting fat will get her off YOUR sexual hook. If you don’t want her That Way anymore, she’ll be spared the nightly pressure to give you sex she doesn’t want herself — and doesn’t want to argue about, either.

Maybe even more likely, getting or staying fat can protect a woman from the dangers of her own desires. Weight gain can decrease libido in and of itself, so she isn’t as “bothered” by unwifely fantasies or wayward thoughts of other men, and more importantly, her fatness keeps potentially tempting men from coming on to her. No realities have to be faced and no decisions have to be made if illicit opportunities never arise, right?

This is also a major reason that many husbands unconsciously encourage their overweight wives to stay that way. No, no, hang on a minute. Give it a thought. It’s possible that although you believe you’d like her to be a sylph-like vision of loveliness, you really would not enjoy being the husband of a very, very desirable woman, because she might run off with a handsomer and more successful man in three seconds flat, right? Isn’t it better that she stay a little chunky and not be quite so socially valuable to potential competitors?

And isn’t it nice that she has such an obvious failing? You get to hold her fatness over her head and be the superior partner, don’t you? You might even be able to keep her in line a bit, let her know that she can’t make too many demands or kick up too much dust since she’s already sinned against you and society by gaining weight. Being fat reduces her social power, and makes her the weaker partner in your relationship.

But at the same time her unconscious mind can see fat as increasing her physical or “presence” power. She literally can’t be pushed around as easily as some little will-o’-the-wisp skinnybabe. If she wants to hurt someone (although she probably says to herself she never would), she has heft and stability, and can add her weight to the kinetic force of a blow. If someone were to attack her she might be able to pull him down just by hanging on to his shirt as she falls herself. Mass alone makes her more “visible” in the world, and more imposing to potential challengers. You gotta admit that if your greatest concern was the security of your body’s perimeter (and for most women that’s WAY up the list of existential worries), you’d want to be a linebacker and not a ballerina, too.

Now let me say again that absolutely none of this might be true for you or your wife. Sometimes being fat is just being fat, without all these overlying psychological storms. A little laziness, a little overindulgence, not enough time to exercise, not wanting to add one more mind-occupying set of tasks and concerns to the daily agenda, and, whoops, you put on a few pounds. And those few pounds make it easier to put on a few more (more on this later), and before you know it you’re on an upward spiral for purely physical reasons.

But since some of these “additive” psychological dynamics COULD kick in at any time on the gaining road, anybody who’s interested in breaking the physical cycle or helping their spouse lose weight needs to consider them.

People who are over-fat (not just overweight — you can be overweight according to weight charts and still have a healthy fat level) are at risk for myriad diseases and disabilities, including what we might call sexual disability. Although nature spares the genitals to a certain degree, genuine obesity interferes with intercourse and other sexual activities by making the “fit” less complete or more awkward, limiting breathing and circulation, and — perhaps not least — by producing hormonal changes that tend to diminish libido and sexual functioning (like lubrication).

Human fat cells are prolific producers of hormones, substances which can affect many body systems, including the brain. Prisons long ago discovered that the more overweight the penal population, the more quiescent it would be. This is because one of the major hormones produced by fat cells is estrogen, the premier feminizing hormone, which can have much stronger effects on men in small doses than it does on women who are already acclimated to it.

The most common (but not universal) psychological effect of estrogen (in the kind of steady-state supply released from fat cells) is a reduction in aggressiveness, sexual desire and, for some men, even a loss of sexual capability. One of the reasons many obese women have menstrual and fertility difficulties is because the constant estrogen being produced by their fat is interfering with or adding to the hormones produced in their ovarian cycles.

Other hormones produced by fat cells seem to be associated with the kind of low-level, systemic inflammation that has recently been linked to heart disease. If this is true, it’s another reason people’s joints and blood vessels begin to suffer as they pass from normal fat levels into obesity — it may not be just the rigors of mechanical strain, but actual inflammatory disease encouraged by adipose hormones. And worse yet, there’s some evidence that hormones produced by a certain critical mass of fat cells will encourage the mind and body to put on even more fat, in an almost cancer-like fashion.

Okay, let’s say that although your wife’s weight may be an embarrassment and somewhat of a turn-off to Power Man, Lover Man doesn’t want these awful things happening to her body. And, yes, in spite of the lessening of her public attractiveness, when you’re in bed, her body still calls to you and you still desire her sexually. The Lover Man in you wants her to be comfortable, wants her to feel pleasure, wants her to be healthy and live a long time with you.

So how can you help your wife regain her motivation and sexual confidence if her weight has become an issue between you? The most important thing to convey to her is that you now understand some of what might have been going on in her mind and body. You realize now that your fear for her and for your relationship has been what’s driven you to attempt to nag her or punish her into losing weight, and that you now realize that your “honest cruelty” has only made things worse.

You could say something like, “I’m going to stop bugging you about your weight because I realize now that you are the boss of your own body, and if you decide to do something about your weight, it has to be because YOU want to.” And then step back. This will be a difficult period, because if things have deteriorated enough between you, she won’t believe it, and she may even (subconsciously) test your resolve to remain silent on the matter by putting on even more weight for a while.

Yeah, I know, I know, it will be rough. But whatever happens, don’t break your word! Don’t even hint around or attempt to encourage her by, say, leaving diet books on the coffee table. If you find that she decides not to lose weight (give her at least a year of autonomy), you can decide THEN if you are able to continue the marriage if she’s going to remain obese. If you can’t, you will have to leave, because the relationship is hopeless. (But you may be surprised at how things change between you once you let go of your effort to literally “shape” her to you will.)

Now for some practical fat-control tips. I offer these because it is possible that your wife might ask for your advice and support in losing weight, and also because I am aware that although all this discussion so far has been about a wife’s weight issues, men can have them too, and one reason a wife might not want to have sex with her husband is because HE has gained weight and has become unattractive to her (see “Disgust”).

First of all, diets don’t work. Oh, sure, they’ll get you down the scale in the short run, but in the end you “go off” a diet. So don’t attempt to embark on a limited period of strict eating rules or special food. No Jenny Craig, no Protein-Sparing Fasts, none of that crap. Portion control — choosing a single cheeseburger rather than a Big Mac, say — is an essential consideration, but obsessing about fixing exactly the number of ounces of turkey the diet sheet says you’re supposed to eat today is not.

Although the initial quick weight loss of diets can be very motivating, large and sudden decreases in calorie intake also slow down your metabolism, so a return to normal eating will pack the fat back on faster than it did when you gained it in the first place — and then some. Metabolism is the crucial issue in weight loss. To raise your metabolism you need a relatively steady blood sugar, physiological retuning, and an increase in muscle mass.

The blood sugar issue has gotten a lot of press lately because of the Atkins diet. Atkins was a pioneer of the low-carbohydrate diet phenomenon, and although his diet is too extreme for most people to sustain over time, his basic premises are correct: protein and fat help to reduce hunger and maintain a steady metabolism, and carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates, tend to put your body on a rollercoaster of fluctuating blood sugar levels, which the body compensates for by storing fat. So if you’re looking to lose weight, you’ll want to limit simple sugars and other carbohydrates.

Other ways of maintaining steady blood sugar are to eat many small meals over the course of a day, or, more practically, to eat a really large protein-and-fat rich breakfast, a medium lunch and a small dinner. Some people find that a large breakfast can carry them into mid-afternoon, but it’s best to eat something halfway through the day even if you aren’t actively hungry, to avoid a “four-o’-clock crash” and gorging at dinner — because the increase in blood sugar levels at dinner time can’t be worked off as well in sleep.

You’ve heard diet gurus say to drink a lot of water, supposedly to clear the “toxins” of weight loss out of your system, but the more important reason to remain well-hydrated is because dehydration slows your metabolism. Even a small continuing deficit — which won’t even manifest itself to you as thirst — can slow your engine down.

And although it seems counterintuitive, a lack of sleep contributes to weight gain. Although scientists aren’t sure exactly why, recent studies have shown that people who sleep badly or don’t get enough hours of sleep tend to gain weight more quickly and lose it more slowly. Who knew you actually could “lose weight while you sleep”? Given that obesity often contributes to sleep diffficulties, this is one of those problems that can easily compound itself.

Dietary calcium is another important and overlooked aid to metabolism. It may be one of the reasons cultures which consume a lot of cheese and yogurt tend to be slimmer than others.

Breathing is also crucial. People with breathing difficulties and those who live in polluted environments will have slower metabolisms than those who are able to take in a lot of oxygen with each breath. Some weight-loss types believe that deep breathing exercises and other efforts to increase lung cleanliness and capacity can be a big help in fat control.

Limit your alcohol intake. Not only is alcohol caloric, too much on a steady basis tends to slow you down in body and mind. Alcohol’s depressive effects last much longer than you think, and in excess they are cumulative. Chronic over-consumption, even if you seldom actually get drunk, not only slows your metabolism, it can make you feel lethargic, “unmotivated,” and irritable, and its effects on judgment and inhibition are an overlooked reason why many people overeat in the evening. A small amount of certain kinds of alcohol is good for you: an ounce or two of spirits or a glass of red wine a day will keep you tuned up, but more will clog your valves. (Beer is carbohydrate-rich — I’d avoid it as much as possible, but one key to healthy weight control is to understand that nothing should ever be Absolutely Forbidden.)

Finally, even a small increase in muscle mass in relation to fat can begin a positive compounding cycle. Muscle burns more calories than fat, and as it is exercised it tends to create more of itself. So getting moving is crucial to weight loss. “Exercise” has become a dirty word to a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to mean calisthenics or other boring and painful activities. Try to think of ways to add even a little bit of extra motion into your day. How about “family dancing”? Put a lively CD on the living room stereo and everybody shakes their booty — for two minutes or ten, it’s all good. Even if a trip to the bowling alley or dance club involves a bit of booze or other indulgences, the increment the physical activity may add to your muscle mass and oxygen capacity can still be worthwhile. Nightly walks, even very brief turns around the block, can be a good opportunity for a couple to get out and breathe and bond. Almost anything that gets you on your feet can be useful, and the more fun it is, the better.

Comments in response to these postings:

Is it economics or realizations about the healthiness of it? Defending fat? Amazing. Pretty soon you will be suggesting that clorox-squeaky-clean, antiseptic smelling, (certainly without beer and pizza breath) men be licking the vaginas of fat sloppy women as “equality”.

Additionally, I repeat,

“The women [in 'The Three Graces'] are saggy, flat, and hairless except on their heads.”

What are you trying to say? That except for the racism, slavery, classism, and other oppressions of earlier centuries they were somehow more enlightened because of their attitude towards fat?

That is like suggesting that there is an unfair bias in culture against people who smoke cigarettes.

This is a health issue; being overweight is not desirable for valid health reasons. It is not, I repeat not, tantamount to a bigoted racial view, founded on a non-existent supposed genetic difference.

Somehow this is blamed on the media, but I can’t help what I’m attracted to.

While it saddens me that young women feel pressured to look a certain way whether it is easy for them or not, perhaps the focus should be on building up people’s resistance to media images instead of trying Orwellian tactics to change what men are attracted to.”

Attorney at Arms ? 4/14/03; 2:57:56 PM

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Excuse me, but you seem to be a bit overwrought and you are definitely jumping the gun. I’m not “trying Orwellian tactics to change what men are attracted to” because

A) “changing what men are attracted to” is IMPOSSIBLE

and

B) Whatever “methods” I’m supposedly using (although I must say I’m flattered to be compared to Orwell in any context), I’m certainly not trying to say that fat Should Be Okay with everybody or that not being attracted to fat women is “tantamount to a bigoted racial view.” Good gaud, what nonsense!

I’m making no judgments and writing no prescriptions. At least not yet. Today I am DESCRIBING some of the basic facts of the physical and cultural and emotional territory on which a discussion of this obviously extremely FRAUGHT subject can take place.

Take a deep breath and keep reading for a couple of days. You might be surprised.

Julia Grey ? 4/14/03; 5:17:13 PM

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Obviously changing what men are attracted to is possible if (1) today, men aren’t attracted to fat, and (2) they were in the past.

Attorney at Arms ? 4/14/03; 10:53:42 PM

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You misunderstand me. Yes, status signals can change in a society over time, altering that part of sexual attraction that can be attributed to nurture, but I was saying that mere exhortation, “Orwellian” or otherwise, cannot change what men are attracted to.

That was what you were accusing me of attempting to do, was it not?

Julia Grey ? 4/15/03; 8:15:13 AM

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Julia,

This is kind of a non sequitur as to the issue at hand, but I just want to register my appreciation for your most excellent blog. I kneel at the feet of your awesome erudition.

There is a lot in the WYW series that could have helped me the first time around and I’ll have to try to remember if and when there is a prospective second semiwife.

By the way are there any plans for a chapter entitled something like “The Other Fella”? Although I guess in my case it probably came under the heading of Boredom.

Seminerd ? 4/15/03; 12:44:22 PM

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“The Other Fella”

Yeah, and there’s going to be some talk about “The Other Gal,” too. gulp!

Boredom is a biggie. It’s huge. And sometimes there isn’t anything you can do. But I’ve got some ideas to try. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading, Semi.

Julia Grey ? 4/15/03; 1:59:24 PM

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I’m making no judgments and writing no prescriptions. At least not yet.

It’s hard for a reader to know this; has to do with the weblog form. Maybe it’s best to turn-off comments for posts that are themes-in-progress.

“This puts women in a very difficult position …”

No, it doesn’t. Disappeal for the Rubenesque form hasn’t happened over night; it’s much too charitable to suggest that societal norms change too quickly for women to keep up. I might not find heavier women very appealing for the same reasons they’d dislike it in me. It signals low self-respect or class assumptions, health worries, and a critical snapshot misdirection: she’s thirty-five, sexy, bright, nice smile, winning way, self-assured, 5′ 5″ and 160. A guy who might be able to work with that has to think about 42 and 170, 50 and 180. Such thoughts are the recipe for a brief-night stand, moped-style.

The whole thing’s made worse by the “that’s me: lots to love” popular comfort zone in ascendance around the U.S. But we can’t all be eating fried foods and hydrogenated snacks thrice daily into old age, can we? If she’s bigger now, that’s why. So what does she think about all that? What am I getting into (so to speak)?

In some avenues, nature moves faster than we’ve supposed. First-menstration has shifted -5 years from what our grandmothers took as normal — hardly the glacial rate we’re taught to expect from evolution.

I want to be a sport (and have been, and continue to be), but there’s a limit. Big now means bigger later , which was less a concern under the life expectancies of Rubens’ day. My suspicion is that modern indulgence is colliding with modern image forgiveness in ways that can’t work going forward, forming a corner of suspended disbelief in the women’s movement that the PC crowd can’t see for the spade it is.

In our world — past worlds really don’t matter — fat gets fatter, n’est-ce pas?.

LQ Lou Quillio ? 4/15/03; 2:23:47 PM

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Well, as just a snapshot response, I don’t see a lot of “modern image forgiveness” going on. That was essentially my point.

Cf. Lou Quillo, who is trying to be a “sport,” but for whom fat remains a major erotic issue. You’re not alone, my man, and all the PC in the universe ain’t gonna make you (or millions of other men) hot for fat chicks.

That is what I’m talking about when I say I’m writing down the rocks and hard places here. This is the way things are.

Acknowledging these realities might be misunderstood by some women as some kind of “permission” to get and stay morbidly obese, but does their foolishness mean that stating evolutionary facts is a public health hazard? If that’s the concept, I guess I can somewhat understand good cultural citizens speaking up with a word of humanitarian caution.

But what’s really got me scratching my head is the sense that some of these guys are taking this stuff personally , and some even seem to be downright ANGRY that I am offering these depressing facts in public, where lazy, willpowerless and impressionable women might see them!

Julia Grey ? 4/15/03; 5:33:33 PM

————

But what’s really got me scratching my head is the sense that some of these guys are taking this stuff personally, and some even seem to be downright ANGRY that I am offering these depressing facts in public, where lazy, willpowerless and impressionable women might see them!

Yeah, that’s odd. On the assumption that such reaction is coming from ultimately reasonable people concerned that evolutionary apologism is a recipe for kaftans, perhaps there should be a distinction made between curves and rolls.

To this fellow’s taste — best described as the Three C’s: clever, curvy and cynical — curves make the world go ’round, and it takes a bit of feminine roundness to form proper curves. This is all good. Finding my car keys under a flap of wife or girlfriend is not a variation on this form.

Look, a committed long-term relationship is gonna have phases, individual and joint. Commitment means signing up for a longer perspective that rolls (heh) with the psychic punches. Yet either party may make individual choices that vary the original terms of mutual physical appeal and strain adult circumspection. She’s decided to shave her head and acquire piercings deluxe? She’s re-tooled her ideal weight assumptions from 140 to 190? Somewhere on these continua are deal-breakers.

My grandmother is 93 and looks great. My mom is 66 and does too, and her daughters (my sisters) are following the same path. None of these women starve themselves, not hardly. They simply eat right and get a little exercise. No gyms. Walks. It’s not tough, you just have to pay attention and give a damn.

Fat America is fat because of its habits, not mixed evolutionary signals, but a lot of folks don’t want to hear that and will over value counter-arguments — especially scientific sounding ones. I understand, Julia, that you’re just laying down the background data here.

Some male readers, though, will hear “Rubens might have been right” stuff as another validation of the Twinkie rationalization. The more credible and authoritative the speaker (you) the stronger the validation, and the opposition.

Eventually you’ll have to speak directly to the fact that if stick-thin is ridiculous (and it is), so is super-sized. Within twenty pounds of the more liberal medical recommendations — plus a little tone — should satisfy anyone. Beyond that in either direction, something weird and largely irrational is going on.

Lou Quillio ? 4/18/03; 6:04:50 AM

———–

You don’t have to go far to find the appreciation of a fuller female form – think Marilyn Monroe. I think the trick here is to talk about reasonable weight. Today’s ideals of female weight fall outside the range that any healthy mature woman can aspire to without starving herself.

It seems that a lot of the peole who freak out about your blog have unrealistic expectations as what their mate should be like. I think the bigger lesson of your blog is that holding your mate to unreasonable standards of any kind is the surefire way to kill the pleasure/sex in the relationship.

e ? 4/18/03; 3:05:59 PM

————

I don’t know where you are getting your information on the condition that you are saying ( being fat) is causing the sexual dysfunction. What is causing the sexual dysfunction is that people like you have spent a lifetime telling people like me that there is something wrong with us because we don’t fit your picture. I am 5 ft 8, weight about 250 lbs, I have a 5 liter lung capacity, I regularly lift weights and kick box. I have no problem at all doing anything that I want sexually, the position problem I have is when a none flexible partner can’t get where they need to be. Do not be one of those people that we roll our eyes at.

Bobbie • 4/21/03; 10:58:40 AM

———-

Bobbie, you may be healthy and flexible at that size. Others are not, and their obesity and ill health does interfere with their sexual pleasure and capability.

I’m sorry you were offended by this post, but as I say to others who have yelled at me about something I’ve said being wrong because THEY don’t experience it as a problem, you can always assume that what I’m talking about does not apply to your situation. This is a smorgasbord of ideas, as I said in the beginning. Take what you can use and leave the rest.

If you feel good and you’re happy, be happy.

But I don’t think you can say that “people like me” shouldn’t address ourselves to those who aren’t.

Thanks for you feedback.

Julia Grey • 4/21/03; 11:37:47 AM

———-

I don’t necessarily want to start the nutrition wars, but I wanted to clarify one of the points you made about the Atkins Diet. You wrote:

protein and fat help to reduce hunger and maintain a steady metabolism, and carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates, tend to put your body on a roller coaster of fluctuating blood sugar levels, which the body compensates for by storing fat.

Ok, sort of. Dumping sugars directly into the bloodstream will have this effect, but the whole point of eating fruits and vegetables is that the fiber modulates the introduction of sugar into the bloodstream. In other words, you can eat carbohydrates, so long as they are consumed alongside fiber (like in fruits and vegetables). I’m not sure Dr. Atkins would have agreed with that statement (I’m, admittedly, not as familiar with his work as I should be, and I’m not a nutritionist).

In other words, there’s a lot of debate in this area, but the one central truth seems to be to not eat too many refined foods (white rice, white bread, cookies, most of the stuff in the middle of the grocery store, etc.).

Nice post, though; I’ve been enjoying this series.

michael • 4/21/03; 1:00:18 PM

———–

Clarification: I meant to imply that Dr. Atkins probably wouldn’t have agreed with my statement, not that he would disagree with the quoted selection.

michael • 4/21/03; 1:02:55 PM

———-

Jules:

Sorry, perhaps not the proper salutaion, but I have a 5-year-old named Julia, and that’s what I call her. (if you’ll excuse a little bit of self-reference that seems to be a part of most blogs. I have an inkling of starting one myself, except for the a)lack of time, b) crowdedness of the blogosphere and the potential for a bit of a bummer when you find that nobody reads yours, and c) general lack of opinionated-ness.) But then again, since you have a “lower” number of page-reads (folks don’t know what they’re missing!) I’ll indulge myself a little here.

I guess I’m kind of surprised at the relative amount of activity on the FAT subject, because it is entirely alien to my own experience (again, with the self-reference). I guess I’ve either been lucky, because that has never been an issue with me. Perhaps that might be due to being somewhat discriminating (or discriminatory?) in partners, but it has still been illuminating. However, I can see how it could become a major obstacle. It may well yet arise, as I’m not the catch I was years ago, and will be playing in a different league than I was last time I was playing.

But, enough about yourself, get to the point. First, kudos to Bobbie. There’s absolutely nothing that is not admirable about a person who may be heavier-than-normal who is still physically fit. It would be interesting to hear more about people like her, and less about those who are stereotyped into “fat person, must have some character defect”.

This comment might have been more germane to your post of a week ago, but regarding the change from Rubens to today’s body “examples” of attractiveness (TV & movie stars). There’s no way even the sex symbols of a generation or two ago would have even gotten a chance these days. The Jane Russells, Marilyn Monroes and Jayne Mansfields would be dismissed out of hand for being too zaftig. Okay, maybe not Mansfield. See Pamela Anderson, who is kind of a Mansfield, except with out the brains or talent. I remember running across an item a few months ago saying that even Playboy “girls of the month” have generally been significantly smaller in bust, waist, and hip measurements (for Playboy, probably the only stats kept) since the inception of the magazine in the 50’s. It looks increasingly like the new model is along the lines of “stick with a couple of balloons stuck to her chest”. A small improvement in recent years is that at least Jennifer Lopez is getting a little bit of attention for having (while by no means large) a tuchus that is not shaped like a pancake.

PS: Do you have a direct URL that I can go to access your site? The only one I’m aware of is through Salon, which is kind of a pain in the ass.

seminerd • 4/21/03; 5:29:22 PM

———-

Thanks for your kind words and additional thoughts.

The only URL I have is this one.

At least as far as I know. I am not the brightest blogger on the block, and too much of this stuff is still a mystery to me.

Julia Grey • 4/21/03; 7:03:40 PM

———-

Well my wife has such a low self-esteem because of her weight, she masturbates in the shower instead of being intimate with me. It’s terrible for me because I would do anything for her but she evades the discussion. Even after we have sex, the next morning she is in the shower masturbating.
I’m sure I’m not alone in all this.

LonelyNYHusband • 6/4/05; 8:26:45 AM

———-

Husbands get fat too, and wives can find them unattractive. I’m sorry this excuse making has made me so tired of our culture. No one seems responsible for anything, the only appearent thing you can do wrong these days is not except someone else riducules excuse for being grotestuely fat.
Had Enough Wife • 4/27/06; 11:43:56 AM

———-

thanks for the articles Julia, they are great.
I haven’t studied the subject and this comes from vague thoughts I have. I am reasoning a little bit here and would like some feedback and thoughts about it.

I was just wondering if fat is really supposed to be attractive or that was only what we perceived in Rubens’s time, the same way that we perceive slim and skinny girls as attractive in our culture. In Rubens’s time, fat meant hi status. In prehistoric time nobody had the time or the luxury to become fat. A woman had sometimes to protect the kids, walk miles and maybe run. I can’t imagine the average overweight or only a little bit chubby staying that way if they had to run, walk, move kids, transport water everyday. Add to that that there wasn’t always something to eat.

I believe that evolution did not make fat attractive but instead a toned body with solid curves. Look at African tribes. Most of these people are not fat and I think that they better represent the real woman’s body that men should be naturally attracted to.

rich from montreal • 10/30/06; 9:19:59 PM

———-

my gf after 5 yrs has let herself go 2 she is getting a very larger bottom

Mike Paahana • 1/13/08; 7:32:36 PM


14 Responses to “Fat Wars”

  1. Looking4answers Says:

    After 25 years do you think a husband our wife see theses things, I’ll speak for myself, as a young man, these things were important, but as I aged this crap has no room for thought. I know what the real beauty is and it’s not whats on the out side. I’m still skinny and have a good body and my wife has put on the pounds, after all she had three kids, but I really do not see it. Funny, I look at women about my wife age and I do not finds most attractive and then I say, my wife really look like that, but to me on a day-to-day basis, I just do not see it. Never ever made a remark that would ever make her feel bad, even when she starts about her self. Any man that loves his wife compliments his wife, because he loves her and want her to feel good about herself, at least I do.
    SO, to me this is just another excuse, I have heard them all about why no sex. I live with it all the time. So for all you man out there that say anything about their wife looks in a negitive way, your just selfish ass holes.

    • Poison Ivy Says:

      Looking4answers – you are my hero. I think anyone entering into a marriage under the pretense that life will be a fairy tale and looks won’t fade has got to be an ignorant dimwit. there are so many more important things in life and relationships that eventually I think looks become irrelevant.

      I weighed 185pounds which is overweight for my height but my (very fit and attractive) boyfriend of 3 years had not once put me down about it. When I endeavoured onto my weight loss journey he supported me and said ‘don’t take my support as a sign that I want you to lose weight, I just want you to be happy and confident again and if it means weight loss then so be it’ – and women don’t worry there truly are some men who love curves and a fullernfigure – my boyfriend now sometimes makes jokes that he misses having lots to grab – but nevertheless loves the new and happier me even more – not because of my bod but because I’m more confident, less irritable, and this in return makes his life easier as he is not burdened by having to reassure me every 2 secs on how beautiful I am – which puts a lot of pressure on men.
      So there you have it, a man should not wish you to lose weight for himself or his sexual urges but rather for your happiness and emotional well being.

      In regards to sex drive of the overweight – I had no problem with that when I was bigger and happy – but it shot down when I became unhappy with my body for whatever reason – which in turn made me gain more weight as sex is the best exercise! During my weight loss journey, my sex drive was extremely low until was close To reaching my target weight and it sky rocketing even further ;)
      Advice to ladies – do it for yourself, not anybody else.
      Advice to men – stop being selfish. Start complimenting your wife occasionally and you’ll see her self worth increase and as a result her motivation to exercise (and have sex) will also improve for the better.

  2. margaret Says:

    amen and amen to looking4answers—our culture makes way, way 2 much of a deal about outward appearance–and what men-and women-are attracted 2 is much more flxible than U think–one way 2 wean urself off the skinny preference is 2 stop watching so damn much TV–normal women’s bodies R censored severely –start seeking out alternative media
    you know, americans R a very defiant people, and our overindulgence in food is the ultimate fuck you to a media machine that pushes the unnaturally skinny body

    • Bryon Says:

      The big deal about outward appearance is that it can’t be hidden. How many people are truly “happy” about their being over weight? To me, being heavy isn’t solely about being attractive or not, it’s about being healthy and fit. My wife gained weight but I didn’t suggest she do better with it because I did find her desirable, I say it because it’s turn-off to me knowing that she doesn’t have the strength to do something about it. Maybe the same as a woman might have trouble with a sniveling, whiny, girlie man of a husband when he shows his weak, feeble, anxiety ridden self in a time of crisis where strength and protection are needed… a man can lose some respect for a spouse who can’t control that aspect for their bodies. If they can’t handle this, what else are they incapable of, and the doubting begins to whittle away at the image of our wives that we put on a pedestal long ago. My wife had our daughter 5 years ago and the pooch and thunder thighs are still there and she complains about it and wants it to not be there…problem is, I can count on one hand how many times she’s gone to the gym in those 5 years to get started on getting rid out it, but it doesn’t seem to hold… until recently. I paid for pole dancing lessons and she seems to have taken to it. My wife is gorgeous, but was endangering her health and that is/was a problem for me and one I felt needed my input to help alleviate. She never got upset with for saying something, but she STILL doesn’t want sex.

  3. cara Says:

    this is an amazing article. Let me tell you my story. I grew up a model and a pageant girl with the pressure of staying thin. I am only 20 now and I have never been “obese” or even “over weight”. When I hit 15 I was depressed and took anti depressants I worked out everyday and ate healthy (I am and have been a vegetarian since I was 13) but I gained weight and got teased by my family. But I gained the weight because of my medication (which men, this happens to 25% of women on anti depressants even if they work out, starve or diet). Though at the time I did not know. When on the medication I changed nothing. EXCEPT WHAT I ATE and how i ate.. I started starving myself, throwing up after most of my meals (funny that someone can be have an eating disorder without binging and still gain weight). Then, coincidentally before I started to edge near over weight, after getting off medication my weight sky dived, I was happier, not throwing up or dieting but ironically everyone thought that I had developed an eating disorder. So see men? The circumstances aren’t always LAZY or OVERINDULGING. Maybe you have to re-evalute the situation first.
    OH! and about me now? I’m 104 pounds, run everyday and you can BET YOUR BUTT I don’t diet, just eat well :)

    • margaret Says:

      thanx 4 sharing cara–i have a cousin whose weight skyrocketed when she had to go on psychotropic medicine–i have another cousin who was significantly overweight and the weight literally fell right off of her when she went on thyroid meds–had a client who gained weight on prednisone, and so on and so forth and scooby dooby doo—i myself am significantly overweight–and no i dont eat at mcdonalds every day nor veg out in front of the tv–i hate running and walking, but enjoy lifting weights and dancing—i think the bottom line here(pun intended) is that ppl R rude, controlling and disrespectfuland they need 2B called on their crap–and men who cant accept their wives as they R need 2B kicked 2 the curb and replaced

      • cara Says:

        Yeah it literally got to the point where my boyfriend was yelling at me for losing too MUCH weight and i got really mad and said that I am fine no matter what the number is. Now he is happily dumped,I’m single and I am currently one of your state pageant queens with the platform of true beauty:). See I love pageants, not the glitz, no no, I LOVE THE BUSINESS! so much that I have took it upon myself to go to school for corporate financial management so that when I’m done I can actually Work for them :D! Men though also only see my career as “a bunch of hot girls” so lately I find it hard to be interested any :(. .Men my age are a lot worst than the ones at 30-40. Now that shallow college boys find me more attractive, they hit on me like I’m some idiot with little knowledge of the world. Anyways, sadly until I find a man who can give me the respect I need who can look me in the eye and be honest with me, never let me win, and respect my goals, that’s when I’ll date, but I’m starting to believe they don’t exist and it’s stupid to think it does.
        -Single for life

  4. Food Fights and Class Warfare « Simon Studio Analysis Says:

    [...] Rubens found @Fat Wars « Why Your Wife Won’t Have Sex With You [...]

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I am am man in the exact situation you have described. I was searching on the internet out of absolute deperation and to be fair was at the stage where I was about to say the words that you described as likely to wreck everything. Anyhow, reading this has made me re-think and I am eternally greatful. I plan to follow the hands off apporach for a year. I think……. I love my wife, we have been married a year, there are many other difficulties that we face and that we dont want to talk about. My wife is happy with no-secual desire for many of the reasons you have described.

    Thanks
    A

  6. Alvin Shuford Says:

    It is the best time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or tips. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read more things about it!

  7. anthony r Says:

    I REGRET CALLING MY WIFE A FAT ASS.NOW SHE WANTS A DIVORCE

  8. Poison Ivy Says:

    Btw amazing article and insight – will be a dedicated reader from here on in.

  9. highballsport Says:

    Not only you are a great W.R.I.T.E.R., but you’re a master at understanding human psychology!

    I’m basically intellectually in love with you. Will you marry me?


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