Thursday, April 22, 2010

Being a Fat Woman

Being a fat woman when I saw In the Company of Men, the cruel game at the movie’s core didn’t come as a huge revelation to me. While Aaron Ekhart’s sadistic character, Chad may feel writ large, if somewhat familiar, Matt Malloy’s Howard is the guy who always seems to hover near the fatties wringing his hands and rending his clothes because he just can’t seem to get it right. I know that guy. Entirely too well. I’m not sure there is such a thing as getting it right, but I know for certain, these guys don’t. 

Be a fat woman long enough, and you will undoubtedly encounter the man who doesn’t know how to place his feelings for you. He likes you. A lot. He’s overwhelmed to some degree with his feelings for you, but for the life of him, he cannot figure out what to do with you. He certainly can’t drag you before his friends as his latest trophy. Still, he wants to hug you and stand too close to you and touch you, but he can’t quite get over a certain queasiness when it comes to thinking about you naked. He spends all his spare time with you. He gets jealous when you spend time doing something else. Or someone else. But for the life of him, he swears, you are just his friend.

This scenario is tremendously hurtful all the way around. He feels like he’s shallow, and you really can’t argue with him (nor do you want to). Depending on how much he wants to flex his Alan Alda, progressive, liberated male bullshit, he may spend more or less energy being operatic about the whole hand-wringing thing.  On your part (my part) I once was heartbroken. I now pride myself on wising up earlier rather than later.

I once was heartbroken because I loved them back. Fat girls don’t often get that kind of attention. Doors don’t get opened, chairs aren’t held out, and no one offers to carry heavy items for us.  If we are admired, it is usually for our utility—we’d make good farm wives, we’re troopers, and you can’t get a better secretary than a fatty.  Everyone knows we’re good cooks. So when a man showers you with attention, can’t stop talking to you, always has a hand on your arm or knee, it gets your attention. And for my part, I still can’t tell whether I’m misunderstanding it. Because the thing about being a fat woman, is not only do other people have a hard time believing anyone can feel romantically toward you, you have a hard time believing anyone can feel romantically toward you.

So, by the time you notice how you feel, having ignored how you feel, because how you feel is so very often wrong—you’re in deep—riptide deep—sucked under and flailing. And who’s there to save you? Some wimpy guy who can’t stop wringing his hands long enough to throw you a life preserver. Worse, some guy who finds the whole scenario so repugnant, so alien to the person he feels he is—the player or the judger of fine wines and seducer of hotties—that you become the locus for all his self loathing about feeling the stirrings of love for you. How dare you confuse him like this, you disgusting thing!

This bizarre situation can play out a million different ways. The variants are endless. The one way it does not play out: he does not, under any circumstances, declare his love in any way that would dispel the crazy—atop a table in the break room at work, or from the balcony of the fraternity house, or hire a skywriter, or buy a big diamond. There is no real life equivalent to the Lifetime Network Movie. Invariably, it ends badly. Most often with the fat girl (me) not knowing what hit her, or if any of it was real, or if she should be feeling as bad as she does, because it was all in her mind anyway, wasn’t it? 
Like Adele, you were the only one in love.

The first few times, I tried to review the tapes in the cold rational light of the morning, weeks, months or years afterward. In the case of one R.M. I still don’t know what it all meant, but I still care. Most of the time, the caring is pretty easy to get over because the encounter itself is nothing more than a weird dinner or a strange implication-laden conversation full of conditional clauses.  R.M. gave me enough material to file this field report.

Until you’ve been down the same road a few times. Then it just seems tired and silly. And you wonder how you could have possibly fallen for it again. Such is the nature of hope and romanticism: no one would ever fall in love if no one ever suspended suspicion. Normal people are able to form healthy relationships because they haven’t sustained the kind of damage that would prevent them from greeting some new bright and pretty personality with anything other than a deep sense of well being and fearlessness. (Who do those people think they are? And shouldn’t we all take a moment to hate them?)

Maybe only damaged people think that way. Consolation: I know I’m not the only one.

When I was in grad school, we only had two boys in the program. This was a fascinating opportunity for a roomful of “smart girls,” which are very different creatures than the “pretty” or “beautiful” girls. Smart girls may, in fact, be beautiful, but it is usually sideways—there’s something deeply asexual about us or some desperate flaw (an unfortunate nose, a withered hand, fat, freakishly short, a Brillo pad of unmanageable hair paired with the fashion sense of a bag lady). A side note: consider for a moment the number of cat ladies who carry a stunning intelligence and the ghost of an equally arresting beauty; they’re all single. Interesting.

This is the brain rot of it: your husband is a freak—that is the only possible explanation for his bizarre affection for you. If men find you attractive, it is because of some dark fetishistic and vaguely unhealthy attachment to porkers; not a douche commercial perfect fusing of person and body, where you are a beautiful vision of chiffon and flowing hair, sweet-smelling and lovely (inside and out!) and he just can’t get enough of the stuff you use.

Back to grad school. One of the men confessed that he had participated in dogfights—like the movie of the same name staring Lili Taylor—only our boy was competing for the ugliest date bedded rather than presented for inspection (though, the bedding of the ugly is sort of the point of the dogfight—easy pickings). Three guesses what we wanted to know: Did we want the story of the ugliest girl? No. Did we want to know how many times? No, isn’t once the same as fifty? Did we want to know if it ever went like the movie with Lili Taylor? We were the smart girls, remember? No. We wanted to know the criteria for judging. We wanted to know if we’d have been declared winners.  Our friend was forthcoming. No, Cave Mouth, you are a beautiful woman; there’s no way you could win just for being fat.

It is notable that this admission was the first time a man had described me as beautiful. I was around 25. Fat girls aren’t beautiful. We are well dressed. We make an effort. We have beautiful features. Such pretty faces. We’re like chubby china dolls. We look like plus size models. We look like Adele, Romeo Void, Helen Terry, Rosanne, the fat sister of Liv Tyler. We are never simply beautiful. Our beauty is qualified: we are beautiful to our beloved. We are examples of “true” beauty. We are big— and beautiful. 

So what do you do with all that? When by some freak accident you stumble into bed with a guy who is fascinated with you not as a grotesquerie or a mark of his sexual adventurousness, but because—somehow—you both managed to greet each other without a shit-storm of damage foregrounded, but blessedly forgotten for an evening? You marry that man. You marry the first man who says you’re the most beautiful woman in the room no matter the room.


  1. Wow...what an interesting perspective, I think we had different experiences, I did not get to fluffy size until after my first marraige dissolved, I gave up on men all together for 5 years, I was the cat lady. By the time I turned 30 I decided that I am what I am and if they don't like it, it's their problem not mine. I let my fluffy girl out, I let her were a bathing suit in public, and went out and did all the things I thought I will lose weight and then go do. I am still fluffy, I do what ever I want, my husband keeps trying to feed me cookies, he likes a big bum. I try to keep my weight in control for my health, but I don't stress being perfect, skinny, young. I am what I am a middle aged, happily married mom of two that when the effort is made can still look hot! My husband calls me beautiful every day even when I look like I have been run over by a mack truck. Acceptance of myself was the biggest road block I ever hit, once I accepted myself the rest took on a life of it's own. We are all beautiful and special!

  2. I would not consider my self a freak but I know I love my wife who is full figured. I dont know if I could ever love another woman as I do Her. I think society dictates what we are suppose to be. She big then shes big now and I cant keep my hands off her. Now you can consider me a freak. Kudos Sybil

  3. This is so frighteningly on the mark all I can say is thanks. I don't know if I'll ever be able to trust someone enough to believe him if he does tell me I'm the most beautiful in the room. G-d, I hope so.

  4. Just doing my part by speaking my truth. Thank you for all the feedback; I enjoy it!

  5. Amazing post - Now that I am chunky and happy, I feel so bad for the little depressed girl that was bone thin and didn't realize it.

  6. Fuller figure, fat, large, big - they're all humans, people with feelings. Those feelings can get very hurt. I am sorry to say there was a lot of me in the description of 'the typical man denying his true feelings because 'she ain't no supermodel'.
    Cave, I think you've made me see a shallow side to myself that I will get rid of now. The larger woman is sexy, and extra cuddly cos there's more love bumps to man handle. Enjoyed reading you

  7. my problem with this is you have pictures of plus size models who are like size 8's and 10's this post seems to be more about really fat women...I'm a "plus size" model at a size 10 and I kind of resent being grouped in with obese women who don't take care of themselves... Crystal Renn's boyfriend doesn't have a fat fetish, she's hot and definitely NOT fat.

  8. Anon, it is shocking to me that a size 8 or 10 model at over 5 foot 7 inches is considered "plus size" by anyone. Those models are healthy and athletic with height-appropriate body mass.

    Narrow definitions of beauty are damaging, possibly most so to those who subscribe to them. I can't help but note that when I was considered a "fat" teen, my body looked a good deal like Crystal Renn's body.

    You take offense to being grouped with "fat" women. Why? Is it possible that the word "fat" is no more or less moral or aesthetic than "skinny"? Is it possible that the word is merely descriptive of a place along a continuum of body shapes? Maybe "fat" belongs with the words "skinny," "thick," "athletic," "soft," "muscled," "slight," and "solid," instead of being grouped with "ugly," "stupid," and "lazy"?

  9. At the risk of being snarky, I have to also note that if you are Adele-sized and think people don't think of you as a "fat girl," you're delusional.


All comments are welcome.