Monday, February 8, 2010

Society Series: The Double Standard of Dating

While I’ve been mulling over how to write my first post of The Society Series, I happened upon this quote by Ellen DeGeneres from Us Magazine that introduces my topic:
"It's a double standard because there are men with really beautiful women that don't have great bodies, and yet nobody's saying anything about that," she tells Katie Couric on CBS Evening News. "Women [think they] need to keep themselves up to look good for a man or for society. It's not fair."
I’ve only had a couple of boyfriends in my relatively few years on this earth, and while most of my dating history can probably be attributed to my…quirks, I can’t help but blame my appearance most of the time. 

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It has always irked me that society tells us that boyfriends/husbands can be fat but girlfriends/wives should be slim.  You see slender girls with larger boys all the time, but how often are those tables turned?  It’s rare to see an overweight gal with a “normal-sized” dude.  And in the chicken-egg debate of “does art imitate life or vice versa?” there are several TV shows that perpetuate this relationship rule.

Honeymooners11
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The Honeymooners

This pairing is probably just a product of 1950s society; the pretty little housewife catered to the bread-winning man.  Maybe this was one of the first instances of the fat-husband-skinny-wife TV template?
Vivian_Banks_Philip_Banks
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The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Philip and Vivian Banks belong to high society; he’s a wealthy businessman, and she – well, does she work?  I don’t remember.  I do remember one episode when she went to dance classes or a big audition, and she was one helluva dancer (read: in good shape).  Regardless of occupation, he’s fat, and she’s thin.
 
The-Drew-Carey-Show-christa-miller-2942029-512-342
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The Drew Carey Show

Drew was the lovable big guy who often dated girls smaller than him.  I used to watch it but am only vaguely remembering – did he and Kate date a few times? Did they end up together? Nevertheless, it follows the pattern of the larger dude with smaller chicks.
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The King of Queens

This is the one that always sticks out in my mind.  She’s hot, and he’s fat.  He’s funny and charming and sweet (like Drew up there), so that’s what won her over, I guess.  However, “funny, charming, and sweet” rarely ever get fat gals dates – it’s the looks that usually reels in the fellas.

So we see patterns here – the man is either the breadwinner or he’s funny and charming.  I mentioned a chicken-egg argument earlier, and here’s another: is the man’s weight a moot point if the couple/family adheres to the paternalistic bread-winner model?  Should I be attacking that model instead (because trust me, I do)?  Is he “allowed” to be fat because he should be the “head of the house” and should be “taken care of” at home?  Maybe that’s why the balance between fat spouses is skewed toward the man – historically, excess weight has meant excess wealth.  Are we still brainwashed to believe that?  Are guys actually so shallow as to say “no fatties,” or are they afraid to look “weak” by taking a partner who looks physically bigger?

I think the main reason we don’t see more large women in relationships with smaller men is because of those historical gender roles.  The man is “supposed” to be larger because big = masculine, and the woman is “supposed” to be smaller because dainty = feminine.  While society has largely moved on from the single breadwinner financial model, I think we’re stuck on the body image stereotype that accompanied it.  It’s definitely difficult to break down social mores and protocols that have been hammered into society over several generations.  If men have always understood that slender = beautiful, they’re afraid to even entertain the idea of getting involved with larger women for fear of looking like “less of a man.”

I’m starting to feel rants and tangents coming on here, so I’ll just open it up to comments.  Tongue out

Also, I did a few quick Google searches to see if there were any links I should include or resources to back up my rants, and I came across this post from Back in Skinny Jeans.  I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who is bothered by this pattern!

Do you agree or disagree that it’s more taboo for an overweight gal and slender dude to date/marry?  Why do you think that is?  Does age have anything to do with it – might those stereotypes get weaker as we get older?  How does race play a role in these rules?  Am I completely off-base and only seeing what I want to see?  For the record, I’ve known very few big girl/small dude pairings but plenty of the opposite, so maybe my little corner of the world is skewed.

Update: I just knew I'd come back and edit this for some reason.  Laura brought up a good point with her comment - I'm not just ranting about dudes, because I am totally subject to this "brainwashing" as well.  I don't want to date someone who's thinner than me; I look for bigger, burlier dudes.   I don't want to be the big one in a relationship, but I wouldn't mind having a guy who's a little bigger than me.  However, it's not often that dudes can say the same thing.  So while it sounds like I'm bashing guys for having this skewed mindset, I'm really questioning the status quo and society in general.  Carry on.  Tongue out

14 comments:

  1. I can't speak for everyone, just myself, but I think you're right MOST of the time, that is the case. It's not socially acceptable for thin men to be with fat women. My husband is 6'4" and 175 pounds, and I...am not! Often if someone meets him before me, you can see the look of shock on their face when they meet me.

    Will this ever change? I don't know. I do know that if he were the fat one and I the thin one, we'd get fewer odd looks!

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  2. Nope, you're right. If a "thin, pretty girl" goes out with a fat or ugly guy society assumes he's rich or especially nice. If a thin, handsome guy goes out with a fat or ugly girl, they think there's something wrong with him.

    It's all about the men, it has been for years, and unfortunately it's getting worse and worse again.

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  3. It's hard to remember clearly but I do recall prefering to date larger guys. But then I fell hard for my (now) husband. He was as high as 150lbs and now just barely keeps his BMI high enough to be normal.
    When we started dating I was over 250 and nearly 280 when we married. Over 8 years and 3 babies I'm around 225.
    I wouldn't trade him for anything. And I wouldn't change him.

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  4. I agree it's the norm. Chubby guys walking around with these super thin girls. The other way around almost never happens.

    I think this is why I always love seeing Pierce Brosnan and his wife. He's most def a hunk and his wife is a beautiful chubby girl!

    In my years of dating I have had plenty of guys smaller than me hit on me and tell me they would love to date me but then nothing. Or they say you are cute "for a big girl". It's like thanks, how about you have some balls and take on this big girl. The chubby guys are always game. Eh it used to piss me off but I always thought of it like this:

    I can always lose the weight but you cannot change your ugly personality and ignorance.

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  5. totally agree with you, kat. though i will say, and i don't know how this makes me sound, but i like being smaller (or about the same) than the person i'm dating. i want to be shorter and smaller than him - maybe it's the girly-girl in me or something worse, but i prefer it that way.

    everyone's right though - if a skinny/normal guy dates a bigger girl, it's labeled as a "fetish" which by definition isn't normal. Why should it matter?? Hrrmph.

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  6. @Ali - Thanks for commenting! It's something that's bugged me for awhile, and I like hearing other people's take on the subject. I'm glad you've found your husband, no matter what you guys look like!

    @Kate - Sadly it's true. I didn't know if I should expect comments to agree or disagree with me, but I'm glad to know I'm not completely out of line in my observations and rants.

    @Running Large - Thanks for commenting! Have you guys ever run into any comments about your relative sizes? I'm glad you've found each other! I hope to find my own one day, no matter what size we are when we find each other!

    @Randi - You're right about Pierce Brosnan's wife...you see fat slobby famous guys with little skinny things on their arms all the time and the tabloids barely bat an eye, but they have a field day when Pierce, et al. spend a family day at the beach. It's frustrating when people say "you're pretty" or whatever, but that doesn't translate into dating. You're right; I'm going to lose weight but I'm glad for the cynicism it has brought me. I've got douche-dar now because of it and would never date a guy because he said I merely "looked good."

    @Laura - You're completely right, and I added an update to my post because it sounded like I was picking on guys alone. Years of being fatter and taller than my peers (though I'm pretty average height now!) left me feeling burly and masculine, and I'm insecure in my femininity as a result. I want a dude who's taller and stronger than me so I'll feel dainty in comparison. Effed up? Yes. But a product of society's reflection of me. And yeah, if a skinny gal dated a bigger dude, it's one thing, but vice-versa and they're "into fatties" or a "chubby chaser." Gross.

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  7. I think that definitely what we see in media presents the impression that fat man + skinny woman = okay, whereas skinny man + fat woman = not okay.

    But in practice in real life, in my own life and observations in my own cities, that is not as much the case. I've done a LOT of dating, five or six years ago when I was 30, 40, even 50 pounds heavier than I am now. I never had issues with men not finding me attractive, and often a lot of them were smaller than me. In fact, when dating a slender man, it was more likely that I would end up finding him unattractive than him finding me unattractive. I definitely feel like I see heavier women with thinner men on a fairly regular basis.

    I like a stronger, burlier guy. Who's to say that's because of society teaching me that being smaller than my man equates me with being feminine? It could just as easily be some long lingering biological instinct to find a mate who can protect me and my young.

    Regardless of anything though, there is an obvious tendency in media to feature a fat man with a thin, pretty wife. I'd like to see a little more vice-versa...and also, why does fat equal ugly anyway? I know lots of beautiful heavier women...

    side question: You know, we often hear people say, "She's heavy, but she has such a pretty face." We don't really ever hear the equivalent for men. Is it just because we focus so much more on looks for women?

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  8. @Fallon - it sounds like you've been quite a lucky lady in dating! Where did you meet the fellas you dated? And are these patterns you regularly see Australian phenomena as opposed to American? Or in your experience are the patterns any different in both places?

    In thinking about the whole biological argument, it does kind of parallel that social "male breadwinner model" in my opinion. For argument's sake, maybe we as women are hardwired to search for a mate who can protect us and our young, but what are men hardwired to look for? Big ol' boobies and wide hips for the kiddies. It doesn't behoove either sex to seek out fat partners, because that would be seen as a detriment to survival. Though, on the other hand, fat could be seen as a survival mechanism for famine...and here is where I start arguing in circles.

    And I totally agree about your last point. It's like "aw shucks, her beauty should redeem the fact that she's fat" but dudes can get by on their own devices such as smarts, business-savvy, humor...it's always "a shame" that pretty girls are fat, like it's a waste of beauty, and the fat completely gets in the way of any other qualities she has, but fat doesn't seem to be a barrier for guys the way it is for girls.

    Thanks for commenting - this is the type of conversation Jenny and I were hoping to have on these posts!

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  9. Great topic kat, I've noticed this a lot before also & it bugs me but unfortunately it's the way our society works, its unfair.

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  10. @Laura - Thanks for your comment! I agree, it's unfair. And like everything else that's taboo, the cycle has to stop somewhere. However, the trailblazers who are trying to escape that taboo are going to get some funny looks at first. Plus, like I said - I fall subject to this, too, so it's a hard case to crack (if it even needs cracking!)

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  11. I have a good 50lbs on my husband and people are often shocked when they see us together. It makes me sick, really. I think there are a ton of double standards re: men and women and this is just one of them.

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  12. 1)this is an awesome post. I read it the day you posted it. i read it yesterday. i am read it TWICE today. AMAZING.

    2) i totally agree on so many levels.

    3)i am going to be posting my society series post VERY SOON - as a discussion via gchat with another blogger regarding this awesome post has spiraled into my revelation in several areas.

    4) i could go on for days, but ill save it for my post ;)

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  13. oooh I LOVE this post. This is so true most of the time.

    But my husband weighs 10 lbs less than me! (ugh! hate that!) But to be fair, he weighed more than me when we first started dating. He lost weight so much faster than me!

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  14. @Christie - It's so stupid. It's not fair, the stereotypes people hold aren't valid and aren't for any good reason. You guys are perfectly happy and in love and attracted to each other - why do your looks have to matter? If you're both healthy and happy, why should anyone care who's biggger? Especially today on Valentine's day, I'm particularly bitter about this sort of thing, and it makes me sick.

    @Heather - I'm so excited you're gung-ho about this series! I can't wait to read what you have you say about it! Confession - I often open up your posts to comment on, then it takes me awhile to formulate what I want to say. You always give good food for thought, so I'm looking forward to what you'll bring to the overall conversation!

    @Amanda - It sucks how men have the ability to do that, right? A guy and a girl start dating, they start indulging on dates, and the girl gains weight faster than the guy. They decide to get healthy together, and he loses faster than she does. It's not fair! :(

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