Home Beauty Size Politics: Dating, Salaries, And Friendships

Size Politics: Dating, Salaries, And Friendships

by Erika Nicole Kendall

When I shared my thoughts on the Crunk Feminist Collective’s “Dating While Fat and Feminist” post, I didn’t expect the firestorm it caused. I don’t know why… I just didn’t. Talking about the fact that there are people in society who think that way is one of those nasty realities that generally results in crickets from the peanut gallery. For one reason or another, people don’t really like to jump into those kinds of convos, and I understand that.

Weight is a messy topic. It just… is. I write about it the way that I do because when I write, I’m blogging to myself. I don’t “fear” regressing back into my old habits, but writing about these topics helps me reinforce the fact that I not only understand this, but I have a record of my understanding to help me regroup should I need a “refresher.” There’s only been one time that I’ve written a post and regretted it, because I didn’t write it the way I’d want someone to have said it to me.

There’s a weird dichotomy going on, here, though. People often struggle to not say what their “real” thoughts are about overweight people, but the things they actually do say often still lack compassion. It’s not a matter of “babying” someone, but it is a matter of being mindful of their feelings. People generally don’t use compassion or sensitivity when dealing with overweight people – how many of us have stories of being told we’re going to be some variation of “big as a house” for eating something? – because they think that’s going to help compel us to lose weight. That’s not to say that it’d be better to dangle the metaphorical carrot in someone’s face – “Don’t you want to get a man, girl? Lose that weight! Come on! Hup! Two! Three! Four!” – but that is to say that the appropriate conversations aren’t being had.

There are, however, a few things I’d noticed in all of the comments I’ve received on that post thus far:

1) People feel some kinda way about the prejudices they hold against overweight people… and they should. If I see an overweight person in the gym, they could’ve just started their journey today or three months or three years ago. They could’ve lost one pound or one hundred eleven pounds thus far. If I look at you today and see an overweight person, what you look like today says nothing of your ability to “control yourself,” especially if you being 260lbs today means you are happy because you’ve lost 65lbs thus far and intend to keep going.

The number of people in those comments protesting my comment about “not wanting to date a fat person” was bizarre to me, because you could’ve looked at me one day and saw a 230lb brick house who had impeccable control… impeccable control that dropped me down 100lbs from that point. In short, judging my 230lb frame can’t tell you anything about how far along I am on my journey, or whether or not I’m even on a journey. You’d need to – gasp – get to know me to learn otherwise. You should feel some kind of way about the fact that your pre-conceived notions prevent you from that.

And, to make it clear, if you think that means I feel some kind of way about the fact that people judge me, I don’t. People judge me every day. I’m also not hurting for friends.

2) If you’ve been overweight your entire post-adolescent life, you have no idea just how prejudiced people are towards you. You’d never think that your weight being considered so unsightly would change the kind of service you receive at a restaurant, but it does. You’d never think your weight would play a role in how people treat you at the gym, but it can. (You’d never think that’s the reason why you’re encouraged to spend so much time in the cardio section instead of the weights, either, but it’s highly likely that it plays a role.) You’d never think those soft snickers are due to someone having the balls to crack jokes about you within faint earshot but not having balls big enough to say it loud enough to get stomped out for it. There are lots of things that our minds black out, choose to not focus on or simply allow us to ignore because focusing on it would be too painful. It’s the same kind of pain that leads to the desperation people feel in wanting to lose weight so badly that they take the eating disorder route. (Want to know why there are so many stories about the increased prevalence of eating disorders in Black women? Start here.)

3) People like to act like we all haven’t seen at least ONE episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Stop playing.

Aside from the fact that I don’t write about overweight men because I’ve never been one, let’s stop fronting like overweight men aren’t out here winning in the media every single day. Biggie was stealing your girl and offering her cheap juice and scrambled eggs, while your fit ass was turning around to order a bottle of cab at the club. Uncle Phil had a dream house, the ill job (and paycheck) and a beautiful wife with a great figure after having three children.

Homer Simpson got fired, rehired, blew his last money at a dog race and brought home a mutt instead of a paycheck on Christmas, almost cheated on Marge several times, is of questionable intelligence and hygiene… and still has a wife that is decidedly slimmer than the other women in her neighborhood – compare Marge to, say, Mrs. Lovejoy. I’ll wait – who still loves him unconditionally and has a great figure after three children. Should she? Of course. She’s his wife. Find me a TV wife who can say the same about her husband.

Family Guy. Another bumbling idiot who still manages to have a “gorgeous” wife with a great figure after three children.

According To Jim. The George Lopez Show. King of Queens. C’mon, man.

Are women out here being society’s definition of unattractive and still “winning” like this?

So, no, fat men don’t need to be discussed here. The media has y’all covered.

4) People genuinely underestimate the meaning of the phrase “lifestyle change.” That means, yes, who you date will be affected by and changed by your efforts to make fitness a part of your life forever. Are you going to bust your ass to lose 50lbs, only to date and marry a man who whines about how much time you spend working out? Or are you going to accept that you need to include “likes to work out” or “enjoys being active and adventurous” on your list of priorities? Here’s a secret: most people don’t have a problem with being more active especially if it means these are your dates. Most people have simply never committed to being more active on a regular basis and would welcome and meet the challenge of keeping up with a more active partner. My fiancé isn’t The Rock, but he doesn’t bristle at the thought of packing up the dogs and the jogging stroller and setting out for a few miles on his day off, and our idea of a “date night” is… the gym. This brings me to my next point…

5) People genuinely get a kick out of oversimplifying weight and weight loss. If you put weight on, it’s because you’re a slacker/a lazy bum/an emotional wreck. There are well over 1,000 posts on this blog. They’re certainly not all about “eat less; move more.” Weight, our bodies, our minds, our lives… they’re far more complex than a four-word edict that is touted as the end all be all to our body woes.

6) People lie to critique other people’s reasons for doing things… myself included. I had to think long and hard about Crunk’s post because, to be honest, I was taken aback by it. Of all the reasons to want to lose weight, why that one? But the reality is, we’re all compelled to lose weight for any number of reasons, and no one is in anyone else’s shoes 24 hours of the day, 7 days of the week. I remember all those nights I wound up wasted at the club because I spent the night hugging the bar instead of being asked to dance. It’s a big part of the reason I eventually just stopped going to the club – my ego as well as both my wallet and my liver were taking a beating.

Maybe that’s the thing that brings you to your “come to fitness” moment. Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t be the kind of couture-touting diva that you fantasize about unless you get down to a good size 8. Maybe you hate that you can’t walk down – not up, down – a few stairs without feeling winded.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that judging what brings people to their “come to fitness moment” isn’t fruitful. All you can hope for is that they do what they’re doing in a way that promotes both mental and physical health, hope it brings them happiness and hope that they experience success from their efforts.

Lastly. And this is, quite possibly, the most frustrating of them all.

7) People like to sweep under the rug the fact that these generalizations exist about overweight people… while still benefiting from the fact that they exist.

I find that mad disingenuous. I didn’t attack the reality that people have preferences. I attacked the fact that society has prejudices and they influence what we find attractive, desirable and acceptable. Taken from a comment I left on the post:

What if I brought up the salary gap in white collar companies between the thin and the not-thin? What if Crunk was saying that she believed her income was being adversely affected by her weight, so she was going to lose? We’d all be like “Hey, do what you’ve got to do to get that money, but damn if it doesn’t suck that this is the reason why you have to do it.” THEN, this blog post would be all about the things you learn about how people’s perceptions of the overweight affect the salary they offer them, or whether or not they’re offered a salary at all…and if you DO lose weight and find out just how much money you were missing out on, you might be so crushed that you decide to work someplace else, instead. This isn’t a man-hating diatribe. This is “Hey girl, hey…this is how it is and you might not’ve known that before, but understand that your weight may matter far more to others than it does for you… and, even if you DO change it, it might not yield the desired results.”

My weight today tells you just as little about my ability to control myself (you don’t know whether my weight is coming up or down) as it does about my ability to do my white collar job. Appearances matter…and they apparently matter less for the men than they do the women. That’s why this is a feminist issue.

And, on that note, I have a date with my yoga mat.

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Shaunel April 23, 2012 - 12:53 PM

I did not read the previous article which inspired this entry. However, I do understand not wanting to date someone that has a lifestyle or food issue themselves. I’ve been there. I dated a man who struggled with food and weight. When we went out he would try to motivate me to order things that weren’t necessarily the best thing for me to eat but I would never oblige (I’m stubborn like that). Then he would proceed to order two meals for HIMSELF, encourage me to help him eat said meals as always I declined and then complain about how expensive it was for him to take me out to eat (we went out to eat often). *blank stare* Needless to say we did not date for long.

JJ June 5, 2012 - 9:07 AM

Shaunel, I commend you on sticking to your guns. My struggle was similar but I was not as strong as you. My husband was a tall, thin 170lbs. When he met me I was 165lbs (firm and big boned). In no time he started to sabotage my efforts to workout and maintain a proper diet. Before I knew it I was 225lbs and feeling like I would die if I climbed 5 stairs. Thank God, 4 kids and 10yrs later, I reclaimed my life and managed to get down to 188lbs. Wish I had your resolve from day 1!

Grace @ Healthy Dreaming April 23, 2012 - 1:11 PM

You make a valid point about the media showing overweight men succeeding whereas there are no women counterparts! Super insightful!

Enjoy yoga!

Vee April 23, 2012 - 3:12 PM

I agree..I think that was one of the points Erika had mentioned in her last post that some poster may not have understood.

Michelle April 23, 2012 - 4:31 PM

Point 1 was REAL. I’m down 120lbs (was 123 the other day, but whatevs). I’m still big. I always wonder what people think when they see me at the gym. People who didn’t know me before don’t know I was an entire person bigger. They don’t know that this isn’t day, week, or month 1 in the gym. People who knew me before call me “skinny” (as if that’s a compliment) but people just now meeting me? They still see a big woman and offer me all of the silliest, most basic, mundane, annoyingly simple advice.. as if they are somehow helping to motivate me. “Cardio will burn the fat girl!” like… like I didn’t know that? Somehow I managed to burn a whole damned lot of fat. Maybe if you see me without clothes or if I flex for you….

Point2, again REAL… I commented on the last post sayng that I definitely notice a difference in how people treat me these days.

Fat people are still the one group of people against whom discrimination is UNIVERSALLY accepted. No boundaries for race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, nothing. There are protections for fat people against discrimination, so EVERYONE goes in.

Fat people still make everyone else feel better about themselves.

“At least I’m not fat…” is still a pervasive mantra.

Jen April 23, 2012 - 7:24 PM

I totally agree with you! I’m down ~33lbs and am still big. However, I am definitely noticing a difference in how people treat me, especially men! And like you, my friends and family think “I’m looking skinny,” while new people probably still see me as big. But, I am not going to let it stop my weight-loss journey!

B. April 24, 2012 - 9:34 AM

Congratulations on your journey, Michelle! That is awesome!

Nicole April 26, 2012 - 6:39 PM

Congratulations on your success! I’ve lost 170 pounds so far, and I am beyond annoyed about being called “skinny.” I, too, often wonder what people think when they see me at the gym if they didn’t see me at the beginning of my journey. I actually had some guy try to tell me what kind of exercises I need to do to lose weight. My response: “I’ve lost more weight than what you currently say.” End. Of. Story.

Thanks for sharing your post with everyone!

Nicole April 26, 2012 - 6:40 PM

*weigh not “say”

reyden April 23, 2012 - 5:48 PM

I really loved your post and the comments. It was painful to read, but exhilarating to see a discussion that felt so rare. I went to the CFC blog to read the entire post and those comments and experienced similar feelings.

Sometimes there is a thin line between thick and fat. I was been on that line for years. With big breasts, a tapered waist and round hips standing at about 6 feet since I was in middle school, I would wear baggy clothes hoping the men would stop approaching me and asking me to come home with them or how strict my parents were. In college, it got back to me that a group of guys were debating whether they would hit it from the front or back pointing out the parts of my body that would be most appealing to grab and gawk at during sex. A group of girls told me I was a ho and pointed to the shape of my body as evidence. I was always approached at clubs, and grabbed, and booty smacked and invited home.Interesting that the approaches to slimmer friends were somehow more dignified. (Not to mention: Interesting that my white girlfriends were asked out to coffee, while my black girlfriends were asked back dorm/apartment) Little did anyone know that not only was I a virgin but completely sexually shut down. I felt like I was constantly being turned into a sex object, and so while my girlfriends had boyfriends and dated. I never did until I was 21. My first boyfriend had sex with me before suggesting he couldn’t be with me long term unless I lost weight. I didn’t understand. I cried. It’s not like I gained weight during the relationship. “I showed your picture to my grandmother and she said ‘oh you are dating a fat girl'” It was all good weeks before when the fellas at his office’s holiday party gave him pounds because I was “thick as shiiiiiiit”. So I called myself waiting all those years to lose my virginity to that. And then I shut down again. By the time my husband and I started to date 5 years later I had developed a psychological/physical condition called vaginismus. It’s when your vagina tightens and won’t let anything penetrate it. It was the culmination of the shame and fear I carried around for years. I went to therapy and received treatment and my now husband supported me.
After having our two children with pretty rough pregnancies, I realized I wanted to take my body back and get in touch with it, be healthier and decrease the chances of the type 2 diabetes many in my family are dealing with, buy clothes at most stores because they carry my size and and just be comfortable in my own body so I can have lots of fun with my husband. Anyway, that’s a little walking tour in my shoes.

Vee April 23, 2012 - 8:51 PM

Go Jen don’t give up;-)

Danielle August 10, 2012 - 7:53 AM

Wow. Some of your story sounds so similar to mine. I’m glad things worked out for you.

Janine December 8, 2012 - 10:23 PM

That shit is real. Thank you for sharing.

Kait April 24, 2012 - 4:19 PM

I effing adore you. That is all.

Neikata June 24, 2012 - 2:17 PM

I love that post! It is so TRUE.

Vana August 10, 2012 - 6:48 AM

What about Oprah? She seems to be the only one allowed to succeed as a large woman; she’s a multi-billionaire now. What about Jordin Sparks, who won American Idol at 200 pounds; she now tips the scale at 150. Go Jordin!!! Mo’Nique won her Oscar as a big woman. Still waiting for Gabby from Precious to decide to lose weight. My point is, you can start out as a big woman but at some point you are expected to lose weight. This is NEVER expected of the large men.

Vana August 10, 2012 - 7:01 AM

I forgot about Olivia Spencer who won her Oscar as a large woman. Aretha Franklyn due to health issues has lost weight. Chaka Khan lost 60 pounds! Go Chaka! It has got to be hell for large famous women whose weight lost challenges are publicized.

But the big men who lost weight: John Goodman, Drew Carey and Anthony Anderson, who is still sexy as hell, their weight lost is barely mentioned. And it never makes the front page of ANY fitness magazine.

Vana August 10, 2012 - 7:02 AM

On a personal note, I was 180 last year. This year I am 165, headed toward 150 pounds.

Vana August 10, 2012 - 7:07 AM

And Ricki Lake, former and soon to be talk show host, was a big girl and famous for HAIRSPRAY, lost weight and is now back on TV. Eventually large women lose the weight. Fat is a feminist issue.

Vana August 10, 2012 - 11:23 AM

And how could I leave out Jennifer Hudson who lost 80 pounds on Weight Watchers. She too won an Oscar as a big girl. But now…… STUNNING!

I also remember the late great Vesta Williams and her 100 pound weight loss and Jennifer Holiday.

Vana August 11, 2012 - 10:15 AM

And Octavia Spencer won her Oscar as a big woman. I didn’t suspect she will trim down unless it’s health related.

christine December 4, 2012 - 2:05 PM

Dating while trying to loose weight is terrifying…especially after divorce. Your ex was used to all of your curves, but will the new guy like them..arrrgh
You know you look great in those jeans, but what happens after the lites go out..that’s why I’ll never wear spanx, this is the real me..love me or leave me alone

Kalimah August 6, 2013 - 10:13 AM

Christine, I agree I have always been tall and thick and I have never been a fan of body altering products like spanx (or body magic) because one I like to breathe and two I hate sweating(outside a workout) guy wants me he gets the real me straight no chasers.

Sarah January 31, 2014 - 8:54 AM

It looks like this article was published awhile ago, but it’s new to me. As a woman can’t remember not thinking about weight, size & body image. From one feminist to another, thank you for giving voice to this, thank you for doing this work.

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