Love Handles: Getting a Grip on Body Image and Relationships
By: Leslie Abshire
I’m chubby. My stretch marks are a map of my life. My hips refuse to apologize for the space they take up and my thighs seem to have separation anxiety. My stomach is unashamed of its softness. I am proud of my body. I am comfortable with how I look. Or I was. Until I loved a thin boy.
I’ve been chubby my whole life. My presence on the playground was less for my enjoyment and more for the amusement of my classmates, and my name from second to eighth grade was simply “the fat girl.” But that is in the past, and in many ways, it seems like this sort of body insecurity ought to be as well. After all, (almost) no one goes out of their way anymore to make jokes about my stomach or my hips or compare me to large mammals (terrestrial or marine), and I haven’t been a playground scapegoat in at least a decade.
The thing is, when you exist in a fat body, you’re never allowed to forget it. Could I have stood up to my childhood bullies? Sure, and I did. Can I stand up for myself (and others) now? Sure, and I do. But even when I stood up to those kids and even when I stand up to people now, that does not change the fact that on a societal level, they’ve been learning to hate and reject fat bodies since the day they were born, and that we have, as a culture, been learning to define women by their bodies for just as long.
It is important to recognize that when it comes to the devaluing of fat-bodied women, there is an intersection of fatphobia and sexism. Bombarded with advertisements and television shows and movies and magazines which show already-thin women airbrushed and shopped to look longer, leaner, thinner and surrounded with images that are designed specifically to cater to the heterosexual male gaze, we learn early on that our beauty is our worth,. We learn that only thin, pale, able-bodied, cisgendered women are beautiful. To be fat (or to fail to meet any of these other ‘standards’) is to fail to be beautiful. To fail to be beautiful is to fail as a woman. Fat is treated as something disgusting and wrong, and therefore fat women, defined by their bodies, are disgusting and wrong.
Does this mean that every person who sees us will think we’re disgusting? No, certainly not. The problem, however, lies in the fact that often times, we as women begin to see ourselves in this light. We internalize the message that reshaping our thighs is more important than reshaping our world and that our worth is inversely proportional to our waistlines.
So, how exactly does this tie into the concept of being a fat girl with a thin partner? I’m glad you asked. See, the thing is, because women exist apparently for the viewing pleasure of men, those of us who do not fit the beauty standard are deemed undesirable and, more importantly, undeserving. My boyfriend is 6’2″ and he’s pretty thin. I’m 5’6″ and I wear a size 18, and I spend most of my time with him worrying on some level that I’m too fat for him.
But what if this were reversed? What if he were 5’6″ and chubby, and I were tall and thin? Well, that would be just fine. That would be every Seth Rogan or Jonah Hill movie ever made, every poorly-written sitcom on TV (such as King of Queens, Yes Dear, The George Lopez Show, to name a few). He would be assumed to be funny and smart, and I’d be out of his league but approachable and “not like other girls.” Conversely, were I to reject him based on his looks, I’d be the classic “shallow bimbo who simply won’t give a man a chance.” Because men are allowed to multi-faceted creatures. Because they’re allowed to be more than the sum of their parts. Because it would be wrong to reduce them to their appearances.
The fact is, if my boyfriend were to end things solely on the grounds that he “doesn’t date fat girls,” it would largely be more than acceptable and even praised. After all, a man must have standards.