Friday, July 16, 2010

Finding Fat Men Sexy: Culture, Gaze and the Male Body

This post started off as a comment on the post written by Plumcake from Manolo for the Big Girl called No Fat...Dudes? I ended up writing a post's worth in the comments so decided this was the better venue.

In that post, Plumcake asks whether she is a hypocrite because she has never dated a fat fellow hasn't historically dated fat fellows. I think this is a very interesting question. I've done a lot of dating and for a long time I too had never dated a fat man. In the fat-o-sphere I have the general impression that the message is:

"We don't want all men to find fat women fuckable because 'you're attracted to who you're attracted to' (YATWYAT) and that's fine. We just want you to respect the fact that some men are attracted to fat women and not deride them and us about it as if the possibility of wanting to have sex with us was unthinkable."

I think the message that our worth is not tied to whether you want to have sex with us is powerful and important but I think we may be doing the movement a bit of a disservice when we don't examine this more closely. The "YATWYAT" line is actually problematic. All of us are trained in this culture in many explicit and not-so-explicit kinds of ways to respond differently to different body types. We all absorb these messages even when we're trying to fight against them and I think it often takes vigilance and specific action to counteract the effects. Many women have to work to find their own bodies and bodies like theirs to be attractive and I think we need to do that same work with regards to the men we find attractive. So often the men presented to us in magazines, movies, and on TV as sexy or as objects of desire are very slim and muscular. Big and fat men are often presented as comic characters and often do get to be the love interest. When they are the love interest it's often in a role where the relationship is already established and they are not shown as an object of lust. This is doubly true for fat women in the mainstream media but this post is about the dudes!

A little over a year ago I decided to take on the project of retraining my eye to better appreciate the beauty and sex appeal of fat men. I had briefly dated a fat man and though I hadn't initially found him physically attractive I was attracted by other things and soon found myself physically interested in him. This conversion led me to realize that I'd been unfair and that I was missing out on a group of guys who might make great partners both in bed and in relationships so after we broke up I embarked on my gaze retraining project.

I was hesitant at first to even try because I believed the "YATWYAT" trope but I started seeking out images of fat men to see if it was possible to retrain my gaze. I'm happy to report that my project was a big success. I've been able to re-train my eyes to appreciate the sexiness of a variety of different male body types. One of my favorite resources for this has been the (often NSFW) blog Men in Full and the accompanying tumblr feed. The pictures of the men, sometimes nude and sometimes clothed and the commentary focusing on what made them sexy for the blogger there (sorry I can't find her name) helped me to start seeing these men differently and the fat men I run into in real life differently too.

Like Plumcake, I definitely didn't have a "no fat dudes" rule but I just didn't tend to notice them in the same way I did a more fit man. Men notice when you notice them. We put off subtle signals that give them the green light to flirt and I wasn't giving those signals to fat men so they weren't coming on to me. Now, over a year later, I notice big guys all the time and they often flirt with me. I've come to appreciate fat men like Jorge Garcia in a different way. I often saw his character on Lost as endearing but after this project I sometimes noticed that I wanted to jump Hurley's bones when he was on the screen in the same way I sometimes wanted to jump Sawyer's (Josh Holloway.)

Image copyright Fabrice

So my intrepid readers, what do you think about this? Have you dated fat men? Do you find them attractive in general? Have you changed what you find attractive or do you think it would be possible for you to do so?


  1. Thanks for the post, and double thanks for being the first person in history to actually believe me when I say "if you write a huge long post in the comments field, I will delete it". Also, in the point of fairness I've dated two fat guys (not just chubby, fat). Thanks for being a great reader and active commenter.

  2. Sorry I misunderstood! I fixed it above. I'm not trying to call you (or anybody else) out for not dating fat guys. I just want to encourage myself and others to critically examine our own patterns of attraction. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Have you dated fat men?

    I have gone out on a few dates with larger/fat men. I am about an american size 12, and am considered fat here in Aus. I didn't have any problems with their size, but disappointingly I think a few of them had problems with myself. Meh. Just because they are big I don't expect them to have to like big women.

    Do you find them attractive in general?

    I just can't find myself attracted to slender or slim men, which is a failing on my part. I prefer larger, beefy guys - probably heterosexual 'bears' would be the best description. I know that society says that I should find slender guys good looking, and I can appreciate it from an aesthetic point of view, but I want to be cuddled by a big guy, ideally someone who is taller than me. I don't have any objections to my friends dating slender guys, but it's just not my cup of tea. Of course if you reverse the genders and preferences (eg I am a guy that just doesn't find big women attractive) I sound like a bit of a jerk, but I have never held peoples' preferences against them, only their prejudices and actions.

    Have you changed what you find attractive or do you think it would be possible for you to do so?

    Hmmm...I think I could find a slender body desirable if I found the person themselves desirable. Just like yourself, if you go out with them and like them they become attractive. It's just getting past the original resistance that's difficult.

  4. Re above posting, have had a bit more of a read of it. No, I don't sound like a bit of a jerk - I am a jerk, and a hypocrite to boot.

    Way to totally buy into the societal norms, and try to justify it as how I actually feel about the issues. Who knows what I want? I am the product of over 30 years of conditioning and cultural imperatives, believing that I as a woman should be smaller and shorter than a man.

    If I am disappointed that big guys want slim ladies then I can't be upset with their disappointment given I also have preferences.

  5. I wouldn't be quite that tough on you A. This is a hard system to get out from under, even just enough so you can pull your head back and get a good look at it! What I'm trying to do with this post is to ask folks to stop, pause and see if they can see the forces that have shaped who they are attracted to. Perhaps if we know where the patterns come from, we may be able to change them.

    I was thinking today a bit more about this because I was out and about and I was looking at couples. One of the things that I realized was that looks and bodies just don't stay the same. When you choose to be with a person, it has to be with the knowledge that they will not always look like they do today. Relying on our biased gaze as a tool for choosing a partner may really be limiting us.

  6. I've dated a few fat men over the years and my ex put on a few pounds while we were together. I tend to go for the average build because I find large men to be somewhat intimidating, a holdover from my childhood with a bully brother.

  7. Awareness of why we find people attractive or intimidating seems very important to me. We are all constantly responding to patterns from our childhood but we have the power to bring them forward and explore them so that we don't end up running our lives based on the fears or expectations of our 8 year old selves. We may still end up with a preference for one thing or another but knowing that one's attraction for blue haired rocker men who wear eyeliner is linked to a childhood experience is different from just saying "I'm attracted to what I'm attracted to." ;)

  8. I do not wish to offend, but I must whole-heartedly disagree with your experiment.

    Training yourself to be attracted to someone seems to be kind of forced and unnatural to me. Sure, society has brainwashed us into behaving and thinking certain ways, but is that innately a bad thing as long as we're aware of society's influence? Why not retrain oneself to never shave/wax again if one presently does so? Or never use hair dye or cosmetics or deodorant or wear clothing that emphasizes the body in any stereotypical manner, be it sexual or not? These are also all physical molds that have years and years of baggage stored in them. Or how about giving up any and all veneers of politeness or political correctness, since why should we only shake off the brainwashing relating to physicality? Why not entirely strip away any mold we've been cast into?

    Now then, I realize that I'm exaggerating your point a bit, but why not take it along its own train of thought?

    I'm not saying giving people normally outside your physical type a chance is a bad thing, in fact it's a great thing because you tend to meet lots of great people, but to actively say "okay, from now on I'm also going to like X" doesn't seem very genuine, since you're making a concentrated effort to like X instead of just plain ol' liking X or growing to like X through continued exposure. Is it really any different from someone saying "Hey, this is my token black friend. Look how tolerant I am."? Or a heterosexual person engaging in sexual activity with someone of the same sex and gender just for the experience and bragging rights of open mindedness without any actual attraction?

    Wouldn't it be more honest to take whatever your preferences are, admit to them, and act accordingly, while still treating all human beings with respect even if they don't happen to make your eyes cloud over with lust?

    I don't know, just my two cents.

    To answer your questions though:

    No I have not dated a fat man. Then again, considering my dating history is all of two long term relationships (one of which might very well be in the dictionary as the definition for dysfunction), I can't say my sample size of people I've dated is large enough to draw very many conclusions from as to who I would or would not date, hypothetically speaking.

    Do I find them attractive? Not really. I like well educated childless tall skinny (not muscular) white or Asian guys with glasses who range from my age to not more than a decade older than me. Does this also make me racist as well as agist and sizist? How about visionist? Or educationist? I'll cop to being prejudice against acquiring children, though.

    As to will I/can I change what I'm attracted to, my rather specific preferences aside, for me attraction takes a while to manifest. I'd never romantically approach a guy because he looks just like my favorite rock star. I'd fall for him because he's funny or sarcastic or smart. So falling for someone outside of my ideal is pretty easy. If that guy happens to be fat (or overly muscular), then sure. But I'm just not a fan of big guys, and won't go out of my way to train myself to be. I don't expect guys to give me the time of day if I don't fit into their schema of what is attractive, why should I have a different standard for myself. Also, what about the fat guys in question. What makes anyone think they'd want attention from me in the first place? And as to whether I get male attention, it's almost always from people I'd rather avoid like the plague (read: creepy men more than twice my age who think sexual harassment or lewd come-ons constitute flirting. This constitutes about 95% of it.)

  9. And does everything I've just said change if I mention my father is a rather large man, and our relationship is rather strained and emotionally abusive? Should it change if I toss those facts out there? Am I subconsciously avoiding people like my father or do I just really prefer skinny dudes? Does my being a white, average-looking but busty, hourglassy, and tall size 8 impact things? Would my opinion matter more or less if I were a 2 or a 20? If I were more or less attractive? If I were some other race? If I were bi or trans or genderqueer? If guys who weren't creepy and more than twice my age regularly hit on me? Just some food for thought.

    Apologies for the length.

  10. You don't offend me at all with your response. I wrote this merely as a project to stimulate thought about our own pre-judgments as to who is or is not attractive. I'm not trying to say that you have to find fat men sexy, but I think it's a good exercise to think about why you don't and if you're currently dating (as I am) and want to be partnered, you may want to broaden the pool of men you consider. Unfortunately in online dating quick judgments are often made based solely on pictures. It's certainly not a perfect system but it happens all the time from both men and women.

    Now as to the "why not throw off all societal standards and molds?" question, I think it is important to examine why we do the things we do. Some things I do because they make my life better, some things I do because they make sense, some things I do because to do otherwise would make people around me so very uncomfortable as to be problematic but if things are limiting me from living the life I want to live, I'm going to examine alternatives, even if they're not the most socially acceptable. That's a big part of what has brought me to my radical body acceptance. Long term focusing on dieting and "lifestyle changes" brought me pain and misery. It took a long time, but I had to walk away from it. I had to learn to love the body I'm living in and to celebrate feeding myself well and engaging in joyful movement without the ultimate goal of losing weight. Some part of me hoped the weight would magically drop off when I did that and so when it didn't I had to re-evaluate again and realize that living a positive happy life was more important to me than trying to fit into the societal norm.

    All of our experiences shape who we are and how we interact with other people but we can choose to work on changing our reactions to them. Sometimes it's not worth changing, but sometimes it is and only each one of us can make that decision.

  11. You know, I took a long time to think about this. I have dated men of various body types - anything from as semi-professional handball player to a guy who was barely taller than I am but weighed twice as much. I first thought I didn't really have a preferred body type, but then I realized that I do. If you showed me two pictures of a (slightly) muscular guy's body and a fat guy's body (i.e. no face visible) side by side and asked me which one I was attracted to, I'd always choose the muscular guy. However, a person's body just doesn't interest me at all when I'm dating said person. Other things (nice eyes, mouth, hands, voice plus humor, education, etc.) simply seem to overshadow the effect of adipose tissue on my perception of them. Weird how I just realized that.

  12. I'm very pleased to have come across this blog and I thank you all for sharing your opinions. I am a fit and curvy woman and recently began to date a man I met online. As I don't believe in dragging things out, we had our 1st date within days of meeting. I was attracted to his photo (tall and clearly a "sturdy" man with an athletic build) but it was his profile that got me. We clicked while we spoke on the phone and the banter is so fun. When we met in person, he was about 25 lbs heavier which disappointed me. I have never dated a stockier man (almost with a linebacker build) but I wanted to be more open regarding the men I date. My history of dating men with immediate sexual chemistry and hot looks haven't worked since I'm still single.

    It has been a few weeks and this new man is doing all of the things I want in a guy: calls, not text - prioritizes making time for me, was wonderful when he met my friends. I agonized because I feared I was so shallow that I would never be sexually attracted thus would never find true love if I couldn't look past looks. It is still early but as we spend more time together, I find that what keeps me is his voice, gentle nature, his consideration and that he's not a game player. This may not turn out to be anything but the point is that I too had to face my own dating biases. Someone said that looks change over time so personality definitely pulls more weight (pun not intended) in the long run. Sorry for my long post but this blog is helping me in my quest to be more open.

  13. Hi there, a very good read and it sometimes just takes someone to post something like this to make me realise where I’ve been going wrong! Just added the site to my bookmarks so will check back now and then. Cheers.

  14. Hi---thanks so much for this article! :) (Speaking from a guy's point of view.)

    I wanted to add that I was once athlete-thin, and enjoyed the experience of having the so-called "perfect" body at 5'9 and 161 lean pounds. But a year after I took a desk job, I had gained 22 pounds, which I "disguised" by dressing carefully, standing straight, etc. Rather than trying to lose it, I instead let myself go even further to see what effect it would have on my dating life.

    22 pounds turned into 38 pounds - I ended up weighing 199 pounds, which, for me, was FAT!

    I found, in brief, that white women didn't like it at all. Who did like it were Asian, latina and black women.

    I am writing an article about the experience, not published yet, but wanted to say thank you.

    (And, no, I haven't lost the weight!)