It’s repeated fairly often in Fat Acceptance spaces that there is no obligation to be attracted to fat people. And I agree. (It gets repeated so often because Fat Acceptance advocates sometimes accused of advocating that.) But usually the discussion stops there, sometimes with the addition of “You can’t change/control who you’re attracted to.”*
I think that this is probably sometimes true. But I don’t think it’s always true. I’m not arguing that anyone has complete control over who they’re attracted to or can just decide one day, “From now on, I will stop being attracted to thin people and start being attracted to fat people!” I’m also not arguing that there’s an obligation to be attracted to fat people or even to attempt to be attracted to fat people. But in my experience if you try to find the beauty in people who aren’t your “type”, often you can expand the pool of people you’re attracted to a bit.
At the very least, I strongly disagree with the idea that what physical characteristics you’re attracted to don’t change. My preferences seemed to be especially subject to change without notice when I was a teenager. And I think that most people have experienced a shift in the age range they’re attracted to as they’ve gotten older.
My boyfriend has said that the women he’s dated have influenced the characteristics he’s attracted to. For example, he didn’t have a strong preference about breast size, but after dating a rather buxom woman he began to prefer women with larger breasts. Despite the perennial letters to advice columnists where a husband complains that his wife has gained weight**, I think the influence of a spouse on people’s attraction is part of why most marriages don’t break up when one person gains weight.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but I was reminded again of it when my boyfriend was watching The Two Towers last night. At the time the movies were coming out, I thought that Sam was a little chubby for my taste***, but seeing it again, I thought that he was pretty good-looking. Could the influence of Fat Acceptance have something to do with that? I know that since being exposed to Fat Acceptance, I’ve been more conscientious about trying to find the beauty in both fat women and fat men. Although I keep wanting to substitute euphemisms like “larger” as I’m writing this, so I don’t think I’m all the way there yet and may never be. Again, I’m not arguing that you can suddenly decide to be attracted to a totally different body type, just that sometimes, some people can expand the universe of who they’re attracted to somewhat.
I do also want to make it clear that there are probably some things that any given person is flexible about being attracted to, and some things that are not flexible at all. If there are some people who are fat admirers despite all the messages from our culture that fat people are unattractive, there are also probably some “thin admirers” out there who will never be attracted to fat people no matter what. Even if they lived in Mauritania. And no one is owed a romantic or sexual relationship. Still, I think things are a little more complicated than, “You can change who you’re attracted to” would imply.
*This article on Scarleteen discussing sexual attraction and race goes so far as to say that who you’re attracted to is “hardwired”–and implies that not being attracted to certain races is just as “hardwired” as not being attracted to certain genders. As someone who has had that aspect of my attraction change (probably in part from becoming more used to seeing people of other races over time), but not what gender I’m attracted to, I disagree. I’m not the only one whose attraction to other races has changed. (That link also includes some interesting thoughts about racism and attraction.) Actually, in some ways there may be parallels between not being attracted to certain body types and not being attracted to certain races, but I’m not confident that I can tackle that topic.
**I don’t think I’ve seen one with the genders reversed or with same-sex couples or non-binary people.
***I’m not sure that would have been a dealbreaker IRL, but there are a lot of good-looking men in that movie IMO, so there were plenty of other characters I found hotter and could focus on instead.