Lots of different outlets are covering this article from ABC News, but they’re putting a really sensational spin on it and it, to me, is losing its more salient point… so I’m going straight to the source.
Before I do, though, I want to share this quote that’s in the comments and, hilariously, sums this article up in under fifty words:
“Attention women! Don’t fall for this headline. Read carefully, and you’ll see that all you have to do is be thinner than your guy. Thus, if you’re fat, no need to put down the fork and get off the couch and all the cliches that fat-shamers spew. Just find a guy who’s bigger than you! Problem solved.”
So, before you begin, it’s not saying women need to be “tiny.” They just need to be “smaller than their partners.”
From ABC News (the bold is what I felt to be most important):
Marriages are more satisfying for both partners when wives are thinner than their husbands, according to a new study.
The four-year study of 169 newlywed couples found that husbands were more satisfied initially and wives were more satisfied over time when the fairer sex had a lower body mass index — a common measure of body fat. The study was published in the July issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science.
“There’s a lot of pressure on women in our society to achieve an often unreachably small weight,” said Andrea Meltzer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Tennessee and lead author of the study. “The great take-home message from our study is that women of any size can be happy in their relationships with the right partner. It’s relative weight that matters, not absolute weight. It’s not that they have to be small.”
Just how relative weight impacts marital bliss is unclear, but Meltzer has a theory.
“One idea is that attractiveness and weight are more important to men,” she said. “That might be why we see this emerging at the beginning of the marriage for husbands, and their dissatisfaction might be affecting wives’ satisfaction over time.”
The finding held up even when other marital stressors, such as depression and income level, were ruled out. But relative weight is not the only factor that affects marital satisfaction, Meltzer cautioned.
“Obviously a lot of things play into relationship satisfaction and this is just one of them,” she said. “It’s not a guarantee to be happy in a relationship.”
Man and women tend to be happier in a relationship when the men are “more powerful in a benign way,” according to Susan Heitler, a couple’s therapist in Denver and author of PowerOfTwoMarriage.com.
“The good news is there are many dimensions that symbolize power for men,” she said, adding that height, weight, earning capacity, intelligence, education level, personality, even a big smile are all empowering traits. “Those signs of bigness lead to a subconscious feeling within the woman of more security and, in turn, more marital satisfaction.”
The effects of marriage on weight, and vice versa, are tricky to tease apart. For women, unhappiness can often lead to weight gain — a situation that both partners often feel uncomfortable talking about. But Heitler said using open-ended questions to understand the impact of weight changes on the relationship can help.
Instead of asking, ‘Are you annoyed that I’ve put on weight?’ try, ‘How do you feel about the weight I’ve gained?’ Heitler said. “It’s better to know if the weight bothers your spouse than to not have that information.”
The importance of relative weight may vary between couples as well as between cultures. Ninety-four percent of the partners involved in the study were white.
“The emphasis on weight is an American and European value,” said Heitler. “The finding may be very different among the black community. In Africa, weight is a sign of fertility and voluptuousness. Heavier women are prized in that culture.”
Similarly, older partners may weigh the importance of relative weight differently than younger newlyweds.
“The effects of relative weight could definitely change over time,” Meltzer said, adding that all the couples in her study were younger than 35 years old. “As attractiveness plays less of a role, perhaps relative weight has less of an effect on satisfaction.”
Speaking of benign, I don’t really know that this story told us anything we didn’t already “know” in an unspoken way: men care more about their partner’s weight than women do. Is that residual from the 50s era of the “Honey, I’m home!” man with his bread baking (and bon bon-eating) wife? Probably. Is it funny that it’s only “relative weight,” in that she only has to be smaller than her husband? Damn straight. As the commenter said above, “you only have to be smaller than your mate!”
Here’s what’s annoying about this, to me. I can understand saying “marriages are happier when…” and thinking you have the tools to prove your assertion. However, the spin on this is hilarious… and awesome. What would this study look like if it said “marriages are happier when the husband weighs more than the wife, because the wife feels more protected, safe and secure in her husband’s care?” The authors of the study saw their findings and immediately went to the wife’s weight, as opposed to the husband’s. Why? If there’s not something specific in the study that lends to that, does the spin not reflect upon the biases that the author of the study might have?
Oh, and about 94% of the study’s participants being white. Is 94% of the population white? No? Oh.
Putting the “study” and its findings aside, I do believe the theory about communication is a big point, regardless of how the study arrived at that conclusion. It’s a point of contention: one partner starts to feel insecure, doesn’t communicate that insecurity to their mate, that insecurity starts to affect their contributions to the relationship in other ways that affect the happiness of their partner in greater forms, the relationship starts to collapse. It’s pretty simple. How often do we hear about the husband who starts feeling insecure about his ability to provide for his struggling family, doesn’t talk about it with his wife, and then rectifies his insecurity by getting another woman on the side to try to make himself feel better? Y’know, because he feels so bad about his inability to provide, that he can’t possibly sleep with his wife anymore?
Or the wife who, because of age, starts to put on weight and doesn’t understand it; starts to feel insecure about her body; feels disgusted by the thought of being naked with her husband and, in turn, decides to make herself feel better by drowning her sorrows in a bowl of ice cream whenever she starts to feel bad?
Maybe because I spent soooooo much time celibate, I have a little bit of a different opinion on relationships that involve actual commitment. Not just the boo-thangs that are hangin’ around and keeping us “busy,” but the ones you commit to for the long haul. Why not trust your partner to talk to them about your insecurities and help them build you up? I mean, it might seem like a bad thing to be insecure, but it’s an even worse thing to let a wound fester to the point where it evolves into an infection… and who better to trust than the person who is committed to loving you and staying in your life? Who could be more invested in you building your self-esteem than the person who’s going to have to handle the immediate effects of you not having any?
What am I getting at? A few years ago, I asked the readers if anyone in their family was allowed to bring their weight to their attention, and a LOT of the answers I received sounded an awful lot like “hell naw!” But is that a result of an insecurity about one’s body, and if so, who better to trust to talk about it than the people closest to you… the people who are most affected by our insecurities? There was a great suggestion to use open-ended questions that don’t require simple “yes” or “no” answers. What about that?
Or are we still scared to communicate our issues as they involve weight? Thoughts?