Last month during an intimate girls’ night in, I publicly posed the question that many overweight women wonder but never say aloud: “Is someone only going to marry me to get US citizenship?”
I don’t mean to knock cross-cultural love, but the fear I’d always had confronted me a few days before. A woman I knew—a good-looking gal with a great job and also about a hundred excess pounds—just got engaged to a weird-looking guy who I don’t think speaks English.
And, apparently, my fears are pretty commonplace among bigger gals. Says Wendy Wimmer, a blogger for the popular fat acceptance blogger, “The bumper sticker says it all: ‘No fat chicks.’ I have a lot of guy friends and they kind of forget that I’m a chick sometimes, so I have a glimpse into this male mindset, and I see the societal expectation for them to have a trophy girlfriend.”
Jenny* rarely dated when she was in college or in her early 20s. “I wouldn’t get a lot of attention,” she says. “All my friends would be getting chased, and I wouldn’t.” AJ Feuerman, a graduate student at the University of Southern California, has had similar laments: “I have had a couple guys tell me that they didn’t want to date me because of [my weight]. I had one guy tell me health is such an issue that he couldn’t imagine being with someone who looked so unhealthy. It was one of those few instances where I wished a guy had lied to me.”
While it seems shocking that a guy might say that, maybe it shouldn’t be. A Yale University study found that the average woman starts to experience discrimination when she becomes thirteen pounds overweight, while an average man can be nearly 70 pounds past a six-pack before his size interferes with his relationships or his work. The authors of the study also noted that “sizeism” was more socially acceptable than discrimination based on sexual orientation, ethnicity or nationality, and disability.
This discrimination, Wendy thinks, is what drives curvy women to settle: “You can only be a strong-willed woman… for so long,” she’s written. “How many times can you be turned down because you’re a fat chick? If someone doesn’t push you down because of your weight, you’re just like, ‘Oh, thank God.’ Do you live your whole life without your sexy time, or do you just go with this person?”
Hardly surprisingly, many women take the rejection to heart. Says AJ, who is currently dieting, “It’s one thing if a guy rejects you because your personalities don’t match or you have a habit he doesn’t care for, but those are all things you can’t do anything about—that’s your personality, that’s you. But when a guy rejects you because of how you look, it hurts more, because it’s something you can change and it’s something you can’t change fast enough to please him.”
But are the stereotypes true? Does male approval really rest on a certain waist-to-hip ratio? “I think the stigma is based on that idea that women are supposed to be smaller and non-threatening and attractive for men,” says Wendy McClure, author of I’m Not the New Me, a memoir of her experiences with dieting—and eventually coming to terms with her size. “I really think it’s there to keep women in their place. It’s hard not to feel filtered out [of the dating scene] because your weight is over a certain level.”
Dr. Stacey Rosenfeld, a New York-based psychologist, echoes her sentiments: “It might come from men who are indoctrinated with this belief that someone they’re dating needs to be thin because that person is of value and will look better and will give men more clout in society,” she says.
Arguably, the media can make the romantic landscape more perilous for overweight women. Even though there are more overweight women than ever before, there is great cultural stigma surrounding fat women wanting love, or worse, sex. The stereotype that overweight women would (and should?) be lonely is so culturally understood that the motif has been woven into commercials for national companies like Weight Watchers and Subway.
Movies like Shallow Hal and Norbit are intended to disgust viewers with the concept of overweight women’s sexuality. But, ironically, getting sex isn’t always a problem for overweight women.
“The one thing I like about fat girls is that they’ll always [sleep with] you,” is what Rhiannon* heard a guy say when walking near a strip of bars popular among the college crowd in her city. “I personally had a good six months of being a total tramp in my early 20s,” she says. “I see these bigger girls out at clubs or at coffee shops, and they’ll just throw themselves at anyone who looks their way.” Says Wendy Wimmer, “It goes back to this whole idea of settling, this theory that fat girls are easy because they haven’t had any sex, so their ankles are up by their ears.”
But what if a gal wants more than just sex—something like, well, love? “There are ‘BBW’ dating sites and parties,” suggests Shannon, who blogs about her weight ups and downs at Musings of a Fat Chick. In some scenes, craving overweight women has emerged as a fetish. And online communities and dating sites catering to the overweight have cropped up, but they’re not a cure-all.
“In theory, these parties are awesome,” says Wendy. “But I would never go to something like that looking for a long-term partner…” Wendy has had some success finding guys at regular bars with her friends, and at one point dated a guy who “looked like a rock star.” The bottom line on dating if you’re overweight? “There are plenty of women who are fat who are in great relationships and plenty of women who are thin and dating unsuccessfully,” says Dr. Rosenfeld. “Women should be focusing on the things they bring to a relationship other than just their looks.”