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Dating the Other August 14, 2009

Posted by Jae in Dating & Relationships, Fat, Intersectionality.
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Today, I let my subscription to match.com expire without having even been on one date.

This is not my first time on the online dating carousel, though I’ve never had much luck at it, mostly, because I would chicken out before meeting up with anyone I corresponded with.  I did have a brief semi-relationship with a guy I met on Yahoo! personals once; he was nice, but the two of us just weren’t in the right place so things didn’t work out.

Perhaps another reason for my lack of luck with online dating was that I never contacted anyone who I found interesting; I just waited for men to contact me.  Back in the day, I was too shy and insecure to make the first move, even online, and I told myself that if I didn’t act that just meant that the right guy was going to come to me.  This time around, I decided not to be so passive about things; I promised myself I would contact anyone who I thought sounded interesting.   Sadly, I didn’t run across a whole lot of guys who really tickled my fancy, but what I did find was a whole lot of support for society’s standard notion of beauty.

On match.com, every profile you view is assigned a sort of compatibility percentage; it tells you how many traits you share with that individual’s ideal match (and vice versa).  Ninety-nine percent of the time, if I was a near perfect match with someone the reason that I wasn’t a perfect match was that I had described my body type* as “a few extra pounds.”  Among those who specified a preferred body type, I never came across anyone who was willing to go any higher than that and most didn’t go higher than “average.”

Something else troubling that I noticed: the amount of men who, if they checked a preferred ethnicity, often selected a preference for white women or women of a background considered by our culture to be exotic (i.e.: Asian, Native American, and/or Middle Eastern).  Occasionally, Latina women were included, but the rarest of all stated preferences (at least in my limited research) seemed to be for African-American women**.

The message here is clear:  there is the beautiful, the thin, white or exotic women and there is the other.  This isn’t really news to anyone I’m sure, it certainly wasn’t news to me, but it really drove home the fact that even seemingly slight things, like checking a preferred race or body type box on a dating website, continues to help perpetuate a culture where women are simply objects.  So many people think that hatred is always something huge and obvious, like an unapologetic white supremacist or a person who thinks that disabled people should be euthanized; what they fail to realize is that subtle actions are what allow these larger than life examples to grow.

I can already hear the objections:  ‘It’s just a personal preference,’ ‘I’m just not attracted to (insert culturally unacceptable feature here); it’s not racist or sizeist,’ and that may be true for the individual person.  However, what people don’t often consider is that when an individual has a preference that just happens to fall in line with what is considered culturally attractive, there is some question as to why they hold that particular preference.

Speaking only from my own experience as a white, cisgendered, able-bodied,  moderately fat woman** I can say that I received some notes or winks from men who had said that they were not interested in women my size.  I included a full body picture of myself and indicated that I was heavier than average, so there is little chance they missed this fact.  I can only assume that those men either a) were contacting anyone and everyone to see what would stick or b) they looked at my picture and decided that I really wasn’t too fat for comfort.  But yet, before they saw me, they had it in their minds already that they wouldn’t want to meet anyone who dared tick “a few extra pounds” as their body type, which leads me to believe it isn’t totally about a personal attraction, but that they, like most everyone alive, have taken a cue from the world they live in about what they should find attractive and, more importantly, worthwhile.  Before they read my profile and decided they liked my sense of humor, or thought I had pretty eyes, or seemed engaging, they decided that no one with my body could be any of those things or that if they were those things, that those things were less important than being conventionally attractive.

For example, I have a friend who I fell for when we first met, and eventually he told me that he liked me too.  He told me that he had been feeling pretty lousy about life, but that spending time with me made him forget anything was wrong.  We stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, just talking.  We made everyday trips to run errands into all-day hangouts.  We talked baseball.  We talked literature. We talked art.  But when it came time to do something about it, he  balked.  He didn’t tell me it was because I wasn’t thin or because I was white (I later found out that the only white girls he has ever dated were either foreign or punk-rock type girls [though it is important to note he is not a punk-rock type boy]), but he didn’t have to.  Because I’ve seen the girls he’s dated since; they have all been very thin and all been considered exotic for one reason or another.  And I’ve seen him compromise on things he considered important to date them.  It’s the look of the person that matters most for him, and who that person is clearly comes in second.  In our case, it didn’t matter in the end how much we clicked, because I wasn’t what he was supposed to want.  And on the other hand it also doesn’t matter if these beautiful women he dates are smart or dig the same kind of music he does, he appreciates those qualities but wouldn’t miss them if they were absent, because they are  beautiful.

Those are the kinds of choices we make about furniture or clothes.  We’ll wear a pair of pinchy high heels instead of our comfiest sneakers on a job interview, and while we’re at it, we’ll buy a business suit that we wouldn’t wear otherwise because we want to look professional so we can land the job.   But making those kinds of choices about who to fall in love with or hell, who to even just spend a couple of fun evenings with?  That equates people with an itchy sofa you bought because it matched the rest of the living room furniture.  And that is just fucking problematic.

*I could write a whole ‘nother post on how one is supposed to chose one’s body type on such a site, and how men are given a lot more leeway than women.  And maybe I will!

**There is an interesting discussion on Racialicious that talks about this from a race and ethnicity perspective, but the post is nearly a year old.  If anyone knows of any others (my googling skills have failed me here), feel free to leave a link in the comments.

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Dear NY Times: Fat People Need Clothes Too! August 12, 2009

Posted by Jae in Uncategorized.
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Dear Mr. Hoyt*,

I am writing you today in response to an article written by Cintra Wilson entitled “Playing to the Middle,” which seems to be a review of sorts of the new J.C. Penney in Manhattan.

I do not know quite where to begin with this piece.  In short, it was stunningly classist and bloated with thin priviledge and written with such a snide, holier-than-thou tone that it was practically unreadable.  Ms. Wilson’s contempt for anyone above a size eight is clear.  While Manhattan is a city of “sleek” fashions, J.C. Penney is “dowdy” and “waddling” around Manhattan.  She mocks what she perceive to be the “obese mannaquins” and remarks that she is glad her size two self isn’t really that interested in shopping there, because J.C. Penney’s dare’s to provide rack space to mid-sizes like a ten and even the very smallest of the plus sizes: a sixteen.

As a woman who wears a size 18/20, a size by the way that Ms. Wilson suggests should be happy to spend $80 on a shapeless polyster sack, I am sadly used to this sort of attitude.  I am used to hearing it in the halls of high schools out of the mouths of sixteen-year-old smart alecs and in the comments of internet postings; I am highly disappointed to find it in the Times.  Everyone deserves to have something to wear that makes them feel good about themselves, no matter if they are a size zero or a size 32.

And what I disappoints me even further, is the fact that, aside from all the fat-bashing in this article, there is a lot of class bashing too.   Even as Ms. Wilson lauds what a great development this is for those who are not, as she puts it, “stress-thin, morbidly workaholic, Pilates-tortured Manhattan ectomorphs,” she insults the clothes there are being not only fashionlesss, but implies that wearing anything from there only signals that one is, to be plain, a loser, and probably an idiot as well; her ancedote about J.C. Penny’s apparently vast discrepency with sizes in other stores ends with a dig about someone being able to wear a size medium shirt with “enough room in front for eight months of unborn twins” thinking how thin they must be to wear a medium.  Those whose budget only allows for them to shop at stores like J.C. Penny are not any dumber or any less aware of their body size than those who can spend on a blouse what most New Yorkers spend on rent.

On her personal website, Ms. Wilson posted a response where she apologized to those she had offended by claiming that she loves fat people, really, and that she really meant for this to be a positive review and she was sorry that we were too offended to see that.   I propose that someone there perhaps send her back to journalism 101.

*  If you would like to send a letter to Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor for the New York Times, you may do so here: Contact Mr. Hoyt.