A response to Emma Lindsey’s “Why do fat people even care about dating skinny people?”

I thought that this Emma Lindsey piece did have some good points, but she also misses some stuff that seems obvious to me, as someone who’s actually fat and involved in fat acceptance, and she definitely comes off as condescending at times. But she’s also wrong in an interesting way instead of the same-old-same-old anti-fat-acceptance arguments.

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A bad relationship waiting to happen? Will the fat mouse’s constant body criticism sap the thin mouse’s self-esteem? Is the fat mouse setting up the thin mouse as the arbiter of attractiveness?

Emma Lindsey conflates wanting to date skinny people and wanting to be seen as equally valuable as skinny people (say, wanting to see more fat/skinny pairings in magazine ads). Romantically valuable, in this case, but it’s part of the overall project of wanting to be equally valuable.If fat people are only ever with other fat people, that implies there’s some reason for fat and skinny people not to date each other, and in this culture the implied reason is that a fat person is always too unattractive for a skinny person to date, that it would be inconceivable for a skinny person to find a fat person attractive–which Lindsey, as a not-fat person, knows from experience is not true, in addition to the fact that it reinforces all the bad memes about fat people being disgusting, etc. Perhaps it’s unavoidable that this will subconsciously “reinforc[e] the notion of “attractive” people as judges”, but I don’t think it’s better to never show fat/skinny couples, as if they are never a thing that happens and a skinny person would never be seen with a gross fat person.

(In the Jes Baker piece that Lindsey links to at the top of her piece, Jes says, “A note: I didn’t take these pictures to show that the male model found me attractive, or that the photographer found me photogenic, or to prove that you’re an ostentatious dick. Rather, I was inspired by the opportunity to show that I am secure in my skin and to flaunt this by using the controversial platform that you created. I challenge the separation of attractive and fat, and I assert that they are compatible regardless of what you believe.” So Jes at least is specifically pushing back against the idea of “‘attractive’ people as judges”.)

I do think that there is a danger of sending this message if we only show fat/skinny couples in the images we promote in the fat acceptance or the larger body-positive movement, so count me in favor of positive depictions of fat couples (and individuals) as well. Go here (NSFW!) for a recent article in Cosmopolitan about Substantia Jone’s Adipositivity project featuring many photos of both fat couples and fat/skinny couples. Here are a few couples (clothed!) with a mix of matched and unmatched weights. (Sorry, someone who spends more time on the image-heavy sites would probably have more recent recs for clothed fat or fat/skinny couples. EDIT: Here’s a video slideshow of couples in their wedding clothes, again a mix of fat and fat/skinny couples.)

If Emma Lindsey thinks that you shouldn’t try to be attracted to people you’re not attracted to, wanting to date skinny people if that’s who you’re attracted to would only make sense. Not a very noble reason, but not one that Lindsey can be judgmental about given her position here–and in fairness, I don’t think she’s against it in her article, but it is the headline of her piece.

Trying to get yourself to be into something is also dumb. This is really what the sand in my vagina is all about when it comes to fat acceptance. It’s like, normally there’ll be some like campaign to take a bunch of sexy pictures of heavy women, and I’ll have this weird guilt about not finding any of them attractive. But then I’ll like try to find some of them attractive and my body just refuses to cooperate.

Learning to be attracted to fat people is just about learning not to repress yourself when you feel attracted to them. It’s not something that has to be forced.

I mean, I think that both of these are a thing that can happen, for some people. But I don’t think anyone has a moral obligation to attempt to be attracted to fat people, and I think that how malleable (or not) your preferences are is very individual. If we could just get people to 1) admit/not repress attraction and 2) not yuck other people’s yum, so to speak–which would make it easier for people to admit/not repress attraction because there wouldn’t be so many negative consequences–that would go a really long way.

Unfortunately, most fat people do give some fucks. And this is where most of my conflicts around actually dating people who “struggle with their weight” come in. Self conscious is fine, if they own it, but often they don’t.

Worth noting here, people who “struggle with their weight” are not accepting their weight. Plenty of people who are part of the larger body acceptance movement promoted by the likes of Lane Bryant/Dove/even fucking Special K are “struggling with their weight”, but actively trying to manipulate your weight or making weight the goal is not fat acceptance. But the bigger issue is, she kind of goes into her issues with being in relationships with people who “struggle with their weight”, and it seems like she’s conflating “reason I don’t want to be in a relationship with this person” and “reason why fat people wanting to date skinny people is bad” and “reason why fat people wanting to promote fat/skinny pairings in media is bad”.

And here’s the condescending part:

I remember one fat woman on the interwebs saying that the men who were attracted to her were attracted to her in a fetishistic way, and this was painful. And I was like, honey, you don’t think thin girls deal with this? Like, yes, being objectified for your body sucks but I don’t really see the difference between someone being turned on by thin women and someone being turned on by fat women. On the receiving end, it is different, because watching your lover get hard over something that has caused you pain can be an emotionally conflicting thing. People may also treat fat women worse for other reasons (and, I think this needs to be the focus of any activism) but physically responding to fat bodies does not seem any more fetishistic than physically responding to thin bodies. In fact, thinking that it does seems deeply counter to fat acceptance.

…Fat people have often internalized messages about their bodies not being ok, so to them, someone else liking their bodies often also feels not ok.

(Also, how does this relate to her main point that wanting to see fat/skinny pairings is problematic? Is this piece just a catchall to complain about the ways fat people do romantic relationships wrong?)

Now, granted, I dated very few people before getting married, and I wasn’t really (probably still am not) fat enough to get into fetishistic territory, but… “honey”? really? Sweetie, if you don’t want to sound condescending, maybe don’t use fake terms of endearment? Anyway, the amateur-psychologizing in the second paragraph seems off to me (and, again, condescending). The times I’ve gotten uncomfortable with fetishizing language (not directed at me personally, directed into the airwaves/ether/whatever), it’s because it treated anyone from the category I was in (fat ladies, white ladies, teenage girls when I was younger) as interchangeable non-individuals–the category was all. “I am looking for a Barely Legal Teenage Girl. This female is in the category Teenage Girl. Hot!” Sure, probably some fat people feel uncomfortable with people liking the fact that their bodies are fat, but there’s also a legitimate grievance there. Which doesn’t mean it can’t happen to thin people, but seriously, knock it off with the “honey”.

The oppressive structures are, essentially, institutionalized shaming of people for non-normative turn ons. Any solution that doesn’t tackle that isn’t a solution. Getting fat people into magazines won’t help disabled people, or poor people, or nerdy people.

I think that presenting a pairing of an “attractive” person and a person who represents their “non-normative turn ons” as a normal thing and not there to set up a punchline IS one way tackling it! What does Lindsey think “tackling it” would look like? I think she’s also leaving out mockery of the non-normative for thinking they could possibly be attractive to normative people, in its cruelest form acted out as an insincere request for a date/other romantic thing–and by leaving this out, she’s focusing on the people who have non-normative attractions and not the non-normative people themselves. Perhaps an understandable blindspot for a not-fat person writing about dating fat people, but definitely a blindspot nonetheless. (And she’s right that tackling fat won’t automagically help disabled/poor/nerdy people, but those are problems everyone can work on, not fat people’s job more than anyone else’s.)

I think if Lindsey had combined her more personal writing in this article–her struggles with dating people who feel negatively about their bodies and how that spills over to make her feel negative about her body (though as long as we’re doing “thin people too”, let’s stipulate that thin people can be plenty down on their bodies); her experience that being the respectable person you bring to your family but aren’t that attracted to is no more fun than being the person someone hooks up with because they’re attracted to you but you’re not respectable enough to bring home to their family; her experience in not really having a “type” and being both turned off by “fat people are great!” media and (sometimes) turned on by fat people–if she had written an article along those lines of “How to date not-fat people when you’re fat, without being a jerk: tips from a not-fat person”, it might have been a much better article than “Fat people, you’re doing fat acceptance wrong: a hook to talk about some of my issues with having dated fat people, and my lack of pantsfeelings about images that are probably primarily for other fat people to look at anyway”. [I don’t think you can never criticize a movement of oppressed people if you don’t have the oppressed characteristic, but you better go into it knowing that you’ll probably get something wrong, and people are going to point it out. And hey, she’s wrong in an interesting way, at least, not just “fat people are gross!”, which is why I bothered to write a response.]

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