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13.5.11

On "Guys Who Like Fat Chicks"

I've been rather surprised at the positive reaction that this article on "Guys Who Like Fat Chicks" has gotten. When I read it, it struck me as deeply flawed.

I am a "guy who likes fat chicks." Four out of five women I've dated, and nine out of ten women I've had sex with, have been fat to one degree or another. It's not an exclusive attraction -- I could name you plenty of skinny women I find attractive -- but I do have a "type" that's more likely to catch my eye. So in theory I should have felt validated by this article. Instead, it made me want to dissociate myself from the men quoted in it.

The first problem is the way these men portray themselves as heroes. A theme running through much of their commentary (made most explicit in the final paragraph) is that by being "out" about their preferences, guys who like fat chicks are doing a public service. The fat women of the world would be able to put aside their despair at never being able to find a date and recover their self esteem if only enough fat admirers were to make their presence known. That this theme persists shows that none of these men have ever read a feminist blog. Without fail, when an article about the problems faced by fat women is posted, one or more men will show up in the comment section to declare that they think fat women are hot. These men clearly expect to be praised and appreciated -- but to their chagrin they discover that what they're offering is not what the women reading the blog want. What they want is an end to pervasive cultural narratives that say fatness is bad and that fat women are objectively unattractive. In a sense, the men in the article are taking the easy route. As much as they complain about the stigma they suffer as guys who like fat chicks (more on that in a second), to come out and declare that you like a certain type of woman, and to expect her to feel honored or validated by it, fits neatly into our larger cultural mold about how male heterosexuality should work. What's harder, but more useful, is to insist that your buddies stop using "fat" as an insult or rephrase their comments on a woman's unattractiveness in terms of personal preference rather than objective ugliness.

The second problem is the way these men portray themselves as martyrs. We hear again and again about how difficult it is to be a guy who likes fat chicks, to the point that one man insists on using a pseudonym so that his peers don't find out about his proclivities. I'd buy these complaints if the article was about "teenage boys who like fat chicks." At a younger age, the forces of peer pressure in trying to mold sexual expression into an acceptable script can be very cruel. I will confess that the one time I was asked out on a date in high school, I turned her down in part because I worried what my peers would think, about her weight among other things (a decision I have regretted ever since). But as an adult, I can say with confidence that I have not once have I ever heard the slightest judgment against me for my taste in women. If your friends are really going to give you a hard time because your girlfriend isn't skinny, then your friends are shallow douchebags and you need to get some new ones.

The cries of "woe is me" go from self-absorbed whining to politically dubious when these men start appropriating the language of the LGBT rights movement. They speak of being "in the closet" about their attraction and the need to "come out" as a fat admirer. Some go so far as to explicitly state that the predicament of a fat admirer is worse than the predicament of a gay man. But when was the last time a man lost his job because his girlfriend was fat? When has a man been beaten and left for dead after hitting on a fat woman at a bar? Which states want to bar men from marrying fat women?

The third problem is the way these men objectify and fetishize the women they're attracted to. Some of them insist that they're not fetishizing, and certainly I think it's possible to have a preference for fat women without fetishizing. But what else should we make of something like the assessment by one of the men in the article that being with a fat woman is "like one big boob"? I think objectification and fetishism are going to be ever-present dangers as long as someone defines their identity around a particular physical feature you're attracted to.

And the final -- and perhaps most fundamental -- problem is that the article is almost entirely about the guys who like fat chicks, with almost no word from the fat chicks who are liked by guys. The most interesting part of the article was the passage giving the point of view of one sexually successful and confident fat woman. My point here is not that fat women have it worse than fat-admiring men (though they obviously do) and therefore the men's problems don't count. Rather, it's that we can't really get a full picture of the situation of the men without understanding how the women understand their own fatness and the attraction of men to it.

It's a shame that the article has so many problems, because we need to challenge the discourse that says fat women can't, and shouldn't, be desired. But we'd do better to analyze and resist the ways that that discourse is created -- by movie casting choices, by the framing of a desirer's personal preferences as objective characteristics of the desire-ee, etc. -- not by getting guys who like fat chicks to "come out" and save us.

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