Fat shaming can be an easy and enjoyable way to bond with others, and increase one’s own self esteem. In high school I took part in fat shaming, making fun of fat people. Not incessantly- I saw myself in the middle of a spectrum between cruel and mute, the same comfy place where most kids in high school reside on the issue- but in reflection I’m sorry for the small role I played in the maintenance of a culture that can be toxic to overweight people who don’t have the strongest of egos.
If you’ve been paying attention to the ‘body positive’ movement recently, you might remember the infographic I’ve embedded. It was part of a popular series that made its rounds through Facebook, Pintrest, Tumblr and the blogosphere. For some, one of the interesting surprises here was ‘BBW’s’ listing as one of the world’s most popular porn genres. (BBW porn is a genre defined by female performers whose body sizes range from almost plus-size model, to obese.) The graphic clearly plays into fat-positive politics, and it was spread alongside a host of similar graphics in support of fat-positive agendas. The only problem? The makers of this chart- and others alike- are flat out lying.
Escaping ‘Fat Plato’s Cave'
Long before puberty I found myself the beneficiary of a culture which stigmatizes being fat. Years after high school I started to realize I actually found some fat women attractive. I concluded this might be an unnatural sexual fetish which I had no control over. It was okay because I never lost attraction to slimmer girls, so I was relatively pressure-free from embracing that side of me. I certainly wouldn’t allow myself to be seen with a fat chick in public, not in that way. But over time and nights intoxicated, I found myself hooking up with some fat girls. And it was pretty good.
In a very general sense, my own experience found fat women to be nicer, smarter, funnier, and more caring than their thinner counterparts. I think it’s fair to assume this would be due to them having more need to cultivate these traits in their day to day lives. Also, it required dramatically less work to woo an attractive fat girl than it did an attractive skinny girl. It became clear that the only thing holding me back from being openly involved with a fat girl was what other people would think of me. Now, not only did I question the validity of my newly accepted attractions, but I also had to question my own moral integrity. My behavior seemed to make me a shitty person.
Lacking positive motivation to do so, I took no investigative initiative to explore any related societal problems or personal dilemmas. But whenever pieces of information passed my way which would support a convenient position on the topic, I held on to them. Eventually something became clear: modern western culture has brainwashed men into suppressing their innate attractions to bigger, ‘more womanly’ women. Not only did I no longer need to question the validity of such taboo attractions, but I was superior to the average guy for both breaking the chains society had placed me in, and having the guts to live free of them. I guess you could say I had escaped Fat Plato’s Cave, and was now looking back at some chumps holding measuring tapes to shadows on the wall.
Two warring camps were to be seen:
Fat Love, (or fat/size acceptance, fat activism, fativism, fat power)- a movement seeking to change anti-fat bias in social attitudes.
Fat Hate, (or shitlording, fat shame)- a movement seeking to conserve or strengthen that same anti-fat bias in social attitudes.
Fat Love Is Popular
From Victoria’s Secret and Dove, to Pirelli and Sports Illustrated, many prominent companies in the public eye have recently been supporting the movement in their own ways, often through popular advertising campaigns. Tess Holiday, a controversial icon of the Fat Love movement boasts an Instagram following of over 1 million users, runs her own clothing line, and is a prolific public personality. Thousands of notes and re-pins regularly flood Tumblr and Pintrest by members of the burgeoning community, utilizing hashtags such as #EffYourBeautyStandards.
Growing alongside Fat Love, has been Fat Hate.
Fat Hate Is Popular, Too
Although much more of a grass roots movement, ‘fat hate’ groups are some of the most active areas on websites like Reddit and Voat. Reddit’s /r/FatPeopleHate had more than 150,000 subscribers at the time of it’s controversial ban last year. All over the internet, Youtube, Imgur, Tumblr, even in the comment sections of ‘body positive’ op-eds published on the incessantly-Progressive Huffington Post, one encounters a horde of very upset users shouting their venomous disdain. Of Tweets containing the word ‘fat,’ one in every three top Tweets belittle fat people or quote music lyrics which stereotype fat women. What arguably makes Fat Hate such a powerful force is the fact that many people hold some politically incorrect beliefs that are in line with the movement, while not being active members of any organised community themselves.
The amount of myths, lies, and demagoguery plaguing both of these groups is unfortunate.
What’s Fat Love Got to Do With It?
There was never a radical seachange for me, I remained just as capable of honestly sharing appreciation for commercially hot girls during any typical guy talk. But I became more and more familiar with the pervasive pro-fat arguments of Fat Love:
- Human history is filled with indicators that fat women were venerated in cultures past- from writing, to art and erotica. Obviously there was a recent change that effected man’s hardwired appreciation for fat women.
- Fatter women tend to have bigger breasts, hips, butts, and thighs- all parts widely appreciated by men. Naturally, fatter women should be appreciated more.
- Experience is proof. A fat woman who has experienced men being sexually attracted to her, or a man who has been attracted to fat women, can both posit their own natural-feeling experience as proof of man’s innate attraction to fat women. And networking with others who share the experience adds further confirmation.
- Ask any fat woman with a pretty face and curves, she’s likely to have a heap of stories about men who’ve pursued her- not in a passing drunken pursuit, but a persistent and pleading one- while tacitly avoiding any situation which would make their attraction known publicly. Experiencing this time and again, it would seem all men do like fat women, just secretly.
Defending the Fatties
While fat women now have sprawling support networks, and multi-million dollar marketing apparatuses telling them they’re beautiful, men who find fat women attractive don’t have much more than a light peppering of creepy, small online communities, and several somewhat less creepy, unpopular figureheads to help shoulder public scorn.
If you’re a decent-looking average guy, with decent-looking average guy friends, you’re gonna get shit if you fuck around with a fat girl. Endless shit. I have a friend who, in his words, ‘forbid’ me to sleep with anyone substantially overweight. He was serious. I had friendships deteriorate due to me refusing to lie about the fact I thought some fat women were attractive. To be clear, I wasn’t grossly advertising it, quite the opposite.
Conversations on the topic were like talking to a wall, a wall that really likes to argue. Or explaining empathy to a sociopath. Some people simply can’t accept or understand how anyone could like a body with a BMI noticeably above normal. As much as they couldn’t understand, I couldn’t understand how they couldn’t understand. Why is there so much hate for fat people? I amassed a war chest of defenses, things I heard and read, reasons why some men might be so deluded:
- Consumer culture has been driving mass media to push unachievable expectations for women’s bodies. Not only has this effected women’s perceptions of themselves, but men’s perceptions of them.
- Insecure men want a tiny woman so they can confirm their masculinity and dominance.
- Guys with small dicks can’t appreciate bigger women because they couldn’t hope for much satisfying penetration when facing bigger asses and thighs. (Yes, I’ve actually heard this argument. Shout outs to the forum at bodybuilding.com)
- As our society generally looks down on a man with a fat woman, a public relationship of this sort would typically lower a man’s social status; in this negative feedback loop, a fat woman makes for the opposite of a trophy wife, a fat woman is a liability.
It got to the point where I pitied guys who couldn’t appreciate a fat chick (or didn’t have the balls to.)
Oh Snap! Studies, Stats & Facts
When I started writing this I thought it would only take me a day or two and I expected the finished product to be of a much different nature (and shorter.) Initially my only chore was to find specific data I needed to flesh out a simple thesis: ‘big is beautiful, y’all, embrace that shit.’ However, my findings were shocking, and not in the Buzzfeed headline way.
A good indication of what men find sexually attractive is what they privately jerk off to. I expected a few Google searches to instantly reveal the first data point central to my position, a common refrain in Fat Love: BBW porn is popular. It wasn’t so easy. I spent hours scouring Google search results for leads to hard data in support of the claim. Already dismayed by initial difficulties, in the end I returned to the above BBW-friendly infographic and realized there were a handful of citations at the end of the series. Desperately, I followed up on them.
Alarm bells grew louder: I discovered the infographic series was produced by— wait for it — wait for it… —… Asian Amour, a ‘sensual New York Asian escort service.’ Not the most reputable-sounding source for accurate, scientific information. Suffice to say, nowhere in their cited ‘studies’ was support for many of their scurrilous claims. I had fallen for baseless Fat Love propaganda.
Recently, PornHub.com and several other of the world’s most popular porn sites released in-depth analytical data on users’ activities. All the numbers point to BBW porn’s relative unpopularity. As you can see in the embedded Pornhub chart, BBW porn doesn’t even make it to the top 20 genre range, going so low as to lose huge to ‘Cartoon,’ ‘Massage,’ and ‘Step Sister’ porn. BBW porn is so unpopular that no website even had its actual ranking published, leaving one to guess just how unpopular it may be. Moreover, some sites included top genre breakdowns country by country, covering specific areas ostensibly outside the reach of western culture’s supposed influence- BBW doesn’t even grace a single country’s top genres list. And it never has. Google Trends and Alexa traffic rankings all confirm the same undeniable fact: BBW, curvy, chubby, fat, what-have-you, the porn has simply been unpopular, all over the world, for as long as the internet has existed.
I felt a load-bearing pillar of my work fall. I gave up writing. I actually got quite depressed. ‘Guys really don’t like plus-size girls at all? Were my friends right? Was something wrong with me, was I sick?’ All this must’ve really been some kind of shameful, disgusting, unnatural fetish. I thought, ‘atleast I still like slim girls.’ I was going to wash my hands and walk away, thanking my lucky stars I checked facts before voicing an opinion.
I was familiar with the claim that men’s sexual attractions have changed throughout history, but it seemed hard to believe culture could account for such an extreme shift. However, my ego still clung to other rationalizations: ‘there may be an aversion to the BBW genre due to the wide range of body types included under the umbrella;’ ‘Men who are into ‘thicker women’ might be put off by the obese, or otherwise classically unattractive fat women who can overwhelm the genre’s general search results.’
I had to do it- I had to wake up Smart Jason [note: author’s name is Jason,] and dig down into the facts. Into the crevasse I dug. And my god did I ever dig, to now emerge for you wielding the mythless truth, forged from the groundbreaking research of our day. [Unfortunately, Medium doesn’t support footnotes. You can access my long list of selected sources here. Most source titles indicate what subject they involve.] Let us now take a ride on my Magic Schoolbus into the cobweb-ridden sky. Buckle up. Etc.
We might dive too deep into the tedium of numbers and jargon for some, but unfortunately it’s necessary.
What Men Want
In contrast to the still pernicious common knowledge of old, yore based on yesterday’s flawed studies, when being judged for attractiveness, female waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is actually far less relevant than body mass index (BMI.) Indeed, modern studies have shown BMI to account for more than 75% of the variance in men’s attractiveness ratings, whereas WHR overwhelmingly fails to emerge as a strong predictor.
From an array of studies we can see a BMI of 18–20 is the preferred BMI for attractiveness in the western world, and is also suspected by some to be the BMI range for optimal health and fertility. Not coincidentally, the average Playboy Playmate has a BMI of 18.5. While this shuffles what indicators of health and fertility are most important, these findings do not effect the widely accepted notion that men have evolved to find the best hopes of replicating their genes most attractive.
Not to grasp at straws, but I do think it should be mentioned that, having seen the images which some studies used to survey their participants, it’s possible someone with my disposition wouldn’t reply much differently than the surveyed average. The studies didn’t seem to do much more than add love handles and make increasingly frumpy versions of lower BMI silhouettes to form the images of higher BMI’s. Furthermore, these studies rely on self-reporting; we know that participants of self-report surveys are less likely to be honest about sexual behavior than they are about topics as mundane as caffeine consumption. It’s fair to suspect pressures resulting from perceived social norms could have some impact on surveys regarding sexual attraction to bigger women.
Despite the above slivers of doubt, the outcome of these studies in conjunction with the loud and clear internet porn statistics is very strong evidence that men are generally not sexually attracted to plus-size women.
Ayyo, Dem Big Butts Doe?
Associated with the WHR myth have been others, such as the big butt myth.
Since Sir-Mix-a-Lot’s decades-old ode to big bottoms, it has been relatively safe to say men like big butts (also see: songs by Queen, Beyoncé, and Kim Kardashian’s Instagram.) However, today’s research says otherwise. It’s not the size of an ass that gets men off, it’s the spinal curvature which creates the illusion of a big butt.
In trailblazing recent studies, researchers tested the relative attractiveness of fat, muscle mass, and spinal curvature effecting the appearance of a woman’s ass, and found conclusively that men’s attractions were by and large determined by spinal curvature. The findings provided evidence for researchers’ hypotheses that the attraction to this feature is driven by evolutionary biology- women with such a spinal shape would be best able to effectively center their gravity during pregnancies and thus have a far easier time continuing to perform physical activities such as foraging, maximizing their survival rates. This is a previously undiscovered mate preference which once again fits seamlessly within a broader evolutionary logic for standards of attractiveness.
Although a number of prolific porn stars have relatively gigantic asses, their BMI’s amazingly still stay near-optimal range, and I’d be interested to confirm an assumption that they also tend to posses this optimal spinal curvature.
What I personally found more shocking than the ass-myth busting, was man’s preferred breast size. I expected to be on the same stereotypical-man page as every other guy: when it comes to boobs, bigger is better. But the fact is, men actually prefer closer to medium-sized breasts, and even perceive women with larger breasts to be less favorable in professional and social characteristics. Again not coincidentally, the most common stated porn star bra size is only 34B, while American women now average something in the D-cup range. (A sidenote I found interesting: a preference for very large breasts is correlated to holding beliefs in the subjugation of women, while a preference for small breasts is correlated to a strong preference for sexually submissive partners.)
BMI being equal, curvy is a plus, but an overweight woman would not be found particularly attractive even if she is remarkably curvaceous.
The evidence would seem insurmountable: men do not like overweight women. They don’t like them and their asses; they don’t like them and their breasts; they don’t want them for girlfriends; but maybe easy sex.
A Fatter Rabbit Hole
I knew there are other people who like fat women. It was time to explore a term I had heard before, and one that I was hearing increasingly throughout my research: Fat Admirer (or FA.)
There was an earlier incantation of this article (…it's now an essay, isn’t it?) which included a section where I vehemently denied classification as a FA. I don’t ‘admire’ fat (stupidest fucking name ever.) But after extensive research and reluctant soul-searching I had to accept that, although I think the term is an embarrassing misnomer, within the parameters of accepted categorization I would technically be classified as an FA.
There is no widely-held consensus in defining FA, but the term is typically used in relation to individuals who find attractive someone considered clinically overweight (a BMI higher than 25.) Possibly accounting for the rampant creepiness in the active FA community, preferences can be broad, and there are many vocal FA’s who are fetishists, virtually unable to be sexually aroused if incapacitating amounts of fat aren’t involved.
Before my research, I had no idea the average man’s sexual attractions were so rigidly defined. Interestingly, FA’s are not only attracted to fat women, but find a wider range of women attractive, even rating underweight women more attractive than their mainstream counterparts do. It’s evident that the mainstream are in fact the ones who have a particular ‘admiration’ complex, even if you want to call it ‘appearance-of-optimal-health admiration.’ FA’s, insofar as I’m part of the group, would be better named I’m Easies, Bi-Sizuals, or ‘No Limit Soldiers’ (shout out generation X.) And no, not ‘chubby chasers.’ I’m not chasing shit.
Do men who find fat women attractive associate their fat with unhealthiness? Although attraction still existed for BMI’s perceived to be unhealthy, men in the FA community perceived women of heavier weights to be healthier than the mainstream community do.
Almost all research in this area has been done in the past decade, and it’s currently not possible to know how prevalent FA sensibilities are. The only information I could find was one estimate based on ‘surveys’ (surveys I never found) done by ‘Dimensions Magazine, a publication for FA’s and the women they love,’ which placed the number at roughly 10% percent of the population. One word: dubious.
Whatever the numbers, it’s unclear why this deviant segment of the population should exist. As the conductors of one study concluded: an explanation for fat admiration may be that FA’s are simply rejecting sociocultural norms of attractiveness.
(I’d like to clearly restate this to anyone in the FA community who may be reading: you guys have a dumbass name and it’s negatively impacting your brand and political momentum.)
Now we’ve exposed ourselves to the state of man’s sexual attractions in relation to BMI. We science’d it. (Okay, you just took my word for it, but you can dig through the sources page and do your own research if you wish.) We see mainstream man, a man who won’t look twice at a woman who falls outside a very narrow range of physical standards. And in the corner, we see a small band of freaks who like fat chicks.
One might suppose that this state of sexual attraction is only true for modern man, while modernity itself has internationally stigmatized bigger women- man’s true natural sexual desires will only be unearthed when considering times and cultures before the Internet and television. Fair enough, let’s go there.
A History of Hard Dicks
One of the oldest works of art ever discovered is The Venus of Willendorf (c. 28,000–25,000 B.C.E.) Discovered in early 1900’s Austria, the figurine is a very fat female body and is suspected by some to be a fertility idol or ancient pornography. Such artifacts have since been hazily pawned off as proof of man’s natural attraction to fat women.
The truth is we have no reason to believe The Venus of Willendorf had anything to do with fertility or pornography. We only have wide ranging speculations based on very limited information as to what its actual function was. What we do know is it’s only one of many other similar figurines found of the same era. All of them are different shapes, some skinny, and archaeologists have speculated that the exaggerated female characteristics of this particular figure might have been due to the original shape of the limestone used.
But the more interesting discussion here is: even if The Venus of Willendorf was the ideal woman of men from that time (the last ice age,) it wouldn’t undermine an evolution-based standard of sexual attraction.
Hungry for Dat Azz
The impact of psychological stress on man’s sexual appetite has been studied. Through numerous methodologies we’ve discovered that the experience of stress significantly shifts man’s maximally attractive body size. Stressed men judge overweight women as attractive and obese women as more attractive than do control groups. Studies even go so far as to prove that a man who is simply hungry will have a greater preference for heavier women. These results indicate that human attractiveness judgments are sensitive to variations in local ecologies and reflect adaptive strategies for dealing with changing environmental conditions. Men living in the ice age, for example, we would assume would prefer very heavy women.
Connected to the experience of stress, it is widely accepted in the scientific community that body-size ideals are in part determined by the individual’s resource security (it would seem the cliche of poverty-stricken rednecks and welfare recipients with morbidly obese lovers bickering on Jerry Springer might have an evolutionary basis. Moreover, the stereotype and statistically supported notion that black men prefer bigger women correlates to the statistical economic disparity between black men and the general population.) At this point I’d like to point out we’ve only discussed three areas influencing male attraction: BMI, spinal curvature, and stress levels. All of the findings have been sound support for a primarily evolution-based standard for physical attraction. Those in the social sciences and vocal ranks of Fat Love who preach a primarily cultural standard of attraction would seem as Young Earth Creationists, making entertaining arguments despite mountains and valleys filled with contrary evidence (not to mention an arrogance in suggesting we are so radically apart from non-human species.)
Your Argument is History
All artifacts from before the agricultural revolution are only real to us archaeologically. Their use to us here doesn’t go beyond speculation. The further we go back before modernity, the more any claim for evidence of substantial shifts in sexual attractions is lost in a haze of uncertainty. How much did natural environment play a part? How do we know the artifacts were representative of what was sexually attractive? Could they rather have been fashionable forms, or made to an outlying taste of their creator? Controlled scientific studies are a modern thing.
Instead of abruptly brushing off all discussion of historical nature, let’s be thorough and address Fat Love’s two most popular and convincing historical arguments. The first is based on a prominent use of heavier women as subjects of paintings ranging historically from the Middle Ages to the 17th century Pre-Raphaelites.
Paint Me Like One of Your Fat Chicks
A mother lode of attention here is focused on the work of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640.) Rubens’ catalog is so well known for depicting heavier women, such body types themselves have come to be known as ‘Rubenesque.’
Rubens believed the purpose of painting was to create an idealized imitation of nature, and he dedicated his life to mastering the painting of the human body. No doubt he thought the women in his paintings were most beautiful (one of the women repeatedly painted was his own wife.) But Rubens’ women were in fact heavier than average depictions during the era. Boticelli, Cranach, and Rubens were all prominent painters belonging to closely related Germanic populations of similar times, each with unique styles of painting women. Who’s to say Cranach’s quasi-pubescent, weightless muses weren’t representative of public preferences, while Rubens were?
In such a time of relative food scarcity, a Rubenesque body signaled opulence, and these women would be seen as status symbols. Throwing a Calvin Klein logo on the painting above would create an ad we’d expect to see in a Baroque fashion magazine if they existed at the time. But fashion magazines are about just that, fashion, not sexual attraction (more on this to come.)
We consider controlled scientific studies to reveal modern Europeans’ sexual preferences, not the looks of high-fashion models. We would come to different conclusions if we based our considerations on high-fashion models. It would be similarly careless to view a spattering of famous paintings from pre-modern Europe and assume that their contents reveal pre-modern Europeans’ sexual preferences.
The second argument is based on the voluptuous iconography of 1940’s and 50’s America.
All Our Idols Have Shit to Say
The bygone pin-up girls who lined walls of forgotten mechanic shops and cells of yesterday’s felons, were heavier women than many supermodels of recent history. On dorm posters, desktop wallpapers, and Pintrest profiles, these throwback images have become part of a modern day counter culture. They can signal subscription to the belief in a power and sexiness of more natural women’s bodies, away from the pressure of today’s society.
Like the ancient artifacts depicting heavyset females, and select paintings from European history, these pin-ups are often broadcast as defacto proof of a time when men openly preferred bigger women. Upon inspection however, the preference of today’s man isn’t challenged by this era. Consider the pin-up icon Marilyn Monroe: at 5'5, 118 pounds, and a 19.6 BMI (the low-side of normal weight,) she is well within modern mainstream man’s standard of maximum attractiveness. Indeed, in all classic pin-up images, it would seem impossible to find a single body deviating from the standards some argue men have always been attracted to.
Immediately following the pin-up era, high-fashion rapidly shifted to the anorexia-inspiring thinness embodied by models like Twiggy (BMI 15) and Kate Moss (BMI 16.) Women increasingly felt pressure to be thin, the rate of eating disorders ballooned, but men’s attractions seemingly remained the same. It’s well established that men don’t prefer the bodies showcasing expensive women’s garments on prestigious runways around the world today. While fashion and culture changed, a 20 year study of Playboy centerfolds (1978–1998,) showed no appreciable change in either BMI or WHR. As a ‘celebration of curves’ in the face of a high-fashion industry that promotes a shape impossible to attain for many women, the old American pin-ups are a suitable symbol. But as a Fat Love rebuttal to modern taste and evolution-based standards for physical attraction, they are not.
Mass media has advertised a somewhat different image of women than what men are attracted to, and this is evidenced by the fact that the average Playmate is shorter and has a higher BMI than the average model. Many women now assume men would be more attracted to them if they had the body of a fashion model, when the body that men are most attracted to is closer to the one they already have.
Let’s remember: Marilyn Monroe had an affair with a president. Twiggy did not.
A note on muddied waters: I’ve seen some confusion and needless misunderstanding occur for two recurring reasons: one, depending on the speaker, the word ‘fat’ can encompass any shapes from average female body to totally immobile amorphous blob; and two, people often conflate the meanings of the words ‘beautiful,’ ‘sexy,’ and ‘fashionable.’ There is overlap, but all these terms have their own unique domains.
Where’s the Fat Love?
I had huge throbbing expectations when I stepped into this. Not only did I expect there to be massive silent appreciation for fat chicks among modern man, but I assumed standards of sexual attraction had substantially changed alongside culture. But no, modern western man is not attracted to fat chicks, and the study of history seems to provide no proof of cultural impact on such sexual attractions.
It’s not difficult to find areas of the world where preferred BMI’s are substantially higher than in the west, but time and again, the differences seem easily explained by the natural environment and economic reality of the area in question. Presented with rare chances for controlled studies of cultural impact on sexual preferences- like the introduction of television (and subsequent cultural invasion) of Fiji in 1991- researchers repeatedly flubbed the opportunity, failing to collect data on potential shifts in sexual preference. In Fiji, for example, the research instead wholly focused on female eating disorders. It’s true that exposure to western culture results in growth of both body dissatisfaction and the prevalence of eating disorders, but judging by the limited scope of studies, one could suppose this was solely due to women feeling undue pressure, without any shift in the desires of men.
Despite initial difficulties finding support for my assumptions, it seemed to me an axiomatic truth that sexual attractions are somewhat influenced by culture (on a deeper level than the mostly cosmetic body modification of pre-modern tribal cultures and today’s subcultures.) Afterall, social norms have been shown to influence other preferences we consider personal or private, such as what music we like or what policies we support. More still, there are other cross-cultural variations in mate selection unexplained by environment. For example, western men don’t place a high value on chastity, western women value it even less, but in China both sexes value it highly; for the characteristic of ambition and industriousness, most studied groups of females value it much higher than do their male counterparts, however, the relative preferences of the sexes are reversed in Zulu culture. The list goes on. But what about differences in purely physical sexual attraction?
The Boom Cometh
While researching, I noticed the most current and interesting studies often shared one author: Martin J. Tovée (for anyone with further interest, I highly recommend checking out his full list of publications.) Tovée has a Cambridge University PhD in Experimental Psychology, and studies both body image dysfunction and human mate selection. While poring through his work I noticed he had released a study the same week I started writing, entitled “Television Exposure Predicts Body Size Ideals in Rural Nicaragua.”
The first of its kind to control for confounding variables to isolate effects, Tovée’s study examines western media impact on body size ideals using static Nicaraguan populations with varying degrees of media exposure but insubstantial differences in income, education, socio-economic status, and food availability.
I was captured by the study’s abstract, but it was so new that I couldn’t readily access it online, so I got in contact with Tovée. He was kind enough to give me a copy. And finally, one of my dear assumptions proved right.
Tovée isolated three groups of men and women with different levels of western media exposure. As you can see in the embedded graph, higher media exposure is directly related to a substantial shift downwards in preferable BMI’s. This was true for both the women and men studied. Critically, the trend cannot be explained by other factors known to influence such preferences. We can say with relative certainty, western media plays a significant role in shaping attitudes to attractive female body size.
This study finally demonstrated that culture impacts judgments of what is sexually attractive on a level beyond the cosmetic. It can be conclusively said that the burden of proof is on Fate Hate if they want to claim otherwise.
Although the discussion at hand is not the focus of Tovée’s research, the study above and several others he conducted support this same truth in their findings. In his study “Visual Diet versus Associative Learning as Mechanisms of Change in Body Size Preferences,” Tovée directly proves exposure to images of different body sizes can effect one’s preferred body size.
A Final Note on Fat Admirers
Midway through my writing process I started examining the BMI’s of celebrities and pornstars I find attractive. Although I’m aware of plenty of porn classified as BBW that I do very gladly jerk off to, going through the entire list of ‘BBW porn stars’ at ‘Boobpedia.com’ I came up with no more than three or four women I found particularly attractive. The vast majority were completely unattractive to me, and I’m someone who admittedly likes fat women. The average performer on the list appears to have a BMI of about 40, making them not only overweight, not only obese, but morbidly obese. Considering this, perhaps the astounding unpopularity of BBW porn throughout the world is actually not indicative of man’s disinterest in ‘big beautiful women,’ but rather to ‘morbidly obese women of more questionable beauty.’
I’m brought back to Fat Admirers. It’s important to understand two factors which most certainly effect the study of FA’s.
Super Fetish-Size Me
The FA community is a safe space where various fetishists can latch onto a movement that somewhat normalizes and allows public expression of their kinks. Macrophilia, Feederism, Squashing, and straight up Fat Fetishes all find a comfortable home within the FA community. A fetishist’s motivation to associate with the movement is fairly straightforward- the individual’s fetish becomes associated with a relatively benign and more socially acceptable political and moral fight of white knights battling for the indiscriminate acceptance and respectful treatment of women. Although I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with having a fetish, I think this situation creates a sizable (pun recognized) problem when studying the group. We know there’s some significant subset- possibly a majority- of FA’s whose attractiveness rankings are not representing a ‘rejection of sociocultural norms of sexual attractiveness,’ but rather a direct expression of their fetish.
While the above fetishists have motivation to be vocal proponents of the FA community, there is a pronounced lack of motivation for other people.
Why the Fuck Would I Call Myself a ‘Fat Admirer?’
I’m certain there are other people who, like me, have a knee jerk rejection of the label ‘Fat Admirer,’ because they are not as the term suggests (again, stupidest fucking name ever.) I like slim girls, short girls, tall girls, and yes, fat girls; in this regard it would make as much sense to call me a ‘height admirer.’ When examining the studies however, I’m remarkably abnormal and much more closely aligned with Fat Admirers. But I would rather wear a raspberry beret with a pink pom pom on it than call myself a ‘Fat Admirer.’
As a point of reference for the uninitiated, consider you’re attracted to Asians; first, does this mean you like all Asians? No. Would you appreciate the most extreme Asian characteristics possible? Someone THREE feet tall, with NO eyebrows, and the chest and butt of an eight-year old boy with high metabolism? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) No, you simply appreciate a taste of some qualities that Asians have to offer. But you could also end up dating a blonde. You might think a particular girl looks better with short hair- someone of my disposition could just as easily think a girl looks better fat. I’m attracted to women, women generally have curves, and women with more curves often seem more womanly. If the fat’s been put on right, my sex drive is all for breaking the BMI ceiling. It seems pretty natural to me. But then again, I’m also a stressed guy.
With such motivation for fetishists to be active members of the FA community, and the lack of motivation for others, we should expect to see a substantial skewing of body preference data to favor the heaviest of women.
It has been suggested by some researchers that the FA community as a whole could be a group of fetishists. Fat Admiring may be a kind of paraphilia (a harmful or obsessive fetish, like pedophilia, exhibitionism, and voyeurism.) This is said to be evidenced by the almost negligible female representation among outspoken FA’s (paraphilia is far more common among men.) Trying to put aside my obvious bias, I still don’t think this argument holds water.
First, we’d expect more male FA membership due to the aforementioned fetishists in the makeup of the group. Second, there are key pressures more pronounced for men than they are for women which would encourage a declaration of ‘Fat Admiration:’ externally, the stigma of a woman dating a fat man is much lesser- there is less need for her to defend or explain herself; internally, women value physical appearance far less than men, instead being more interested in characteristics like affluence, social power, and intelligence- the drive to find a partner who’s maximally physically attractive is lesser. Inside and out, the pressure for women with FA sensibilities to associate with such a group is much lower. Accepting the above, the high ratio of male to female FA’s would not be indicative of sweeping paraphilia.
Back to the battlefield.
Tides of War
Ironically, the Fat Hate movement see’s itself as closely tied to a classically liberal element of the modern anti-feminist movement, but is squarely on the regressive side of an argument here. In opposition to the prominent rhetoric of intersectional third-wave feminism, much vitriol is defensively directed at demands of censorship, propagation of falsehoods & circular logic (‘lack of awareness to a particular bias is proof of that bias,’ etc.,) and calls to usurp, ban, or fire many things-happenings-and-peoples deemed offensive. However, in the Fat Hate movement, the most vocal proponents find themselves not only demanding the censorship of upsetting bodies, or the imposition of a kind of anti-fat trigger warning, but even outright harassing women and communities, entirely unprovoked.
Just a short time perusing congregations of each community shows in no uncertain terms that Fat Hate is guilty of the more dastardly and shameful tactics to achieve their goals. You’ll see the ridiculing of recently 10 pound-heavier ex girlfriends, merciless gang ups on women and girls who- by any reasonable reading of the gestalt- are already fragile, vulnerable, & socially inept, and blatant efforts to dehumanize an entire segment of the population (often a fat woman will be referred to as ‘it.’)
There’s a lot adding fuel to the Fat Hate fire. It’s understandable one would lash out when it’s suggested their sexual preferences are due to a fault in their upbringing, or brainwashing. The Fat Love movement has been gaining such influence recently that their alarming missteps can be internationally heeded (example: in a Barbara Walters interview, Jennifer Lawrence recently proposed a law against calling people fat on television.) Even I shudder when encountering typical Fat Love double standards, as commonplace as they are blatant. The same hour a mealy-mouthed, body positive, #EffYourBeautyStandards post is made, a #ManCrushMonday might follow depicting a male body only achieved via full-time personal trainer, nutritionist, and cycle or two of anabolic steroids. Women are statistically far less attracted to fat men than men are to fat women. It’s not hard to sympathize with Fat Hate.
The response to Fat Hate’s objections shouldn’t be boisterous ignorance of facts, holier-than-thou bullshit conjecture, or the recent spat of ‘thin shaming.’ Facts are not bullying. A joke is not harassment (even if it’s not a good joke.) Forcing bad ideas from sight does not make them go away. The only way to combat a bad idea is with a good idea.
As is the nature of media and the internet, the most incendiary and controversial voices often receive more attention. It might surprise some readers that Fat Hate is not purely a group of idiotic demons, some have well-reasoned impetus to their actions.
Learn to Hate
From both personal experience, and fairly extensive research, I believe I have a grasp on all the reasonable arguments of Fat Hate:
- Altruistic concern for the fatty’s health.
- Pragmatic concern for over-burdening the healthcare system with fat-related illnesses.
- The assumption the fatty is eating too much is an indictment of his or her inner character.
- Some even go so far as to claim fatties are causing global warming (no hyperbole. And to some extent it’s true.)
Although one could argue any of these points from rational grounding in support of Fat Hate, they can’t justify the glee with which fat shaming is typically done, nor any obsession with shaming. Accepting all the arguments as true, there are still innumerable fatter problems in the world to focus on. Even if unburdening the healthcare system and policing the health of others is of particular interest to someone, the shaming should be done with the cold stoicism of, ‘this hurts me more than it hurts you,’ rather than the reveling sneers shared between so many in Fat Hate communities.
There has been recent science suggesting that some people may be genetically predisposed to be disgusted by fat. As body disfigurements, physical abnormalities, and rotten food have been shown to subconsciously trigger primal fears of disease, excesses of fat too may trigger the same nausea-inducing terror in some people. I’d find the admittedly dubious science harder to believe if I hadn’t had honest conversations with friends who confided that seeing particularly fat people makes them want to puke. The irony is bask-worthy- given that the term is so often used in arguments from the opposing political side- it may be that Fat Haters were ‘born this way.’ But as attitudes towards the disfigured can be improved with conditioning, so too can attitudes towards fat people.
Dangers of Fat
The label ‘overweight’ implies surpassing a desired weight. However, about 18% of Americans have BMI’s which categorize them as overweight while possessing a muscle-to-fat ratio objectively resulting in zero health risks.
Not only has the scientific community accepted that active overweight people are usually healthier than inactive skinny people, but new research has revealed that overweight and even moderately obese people often live longer and fare better when faced with chronic illnesses than do normal weight people; compared to normal-weight fit individuals, unfit individuals have twice the risk of mortality, regardless of BMI; overweight and obese fit-individuals have similar mortality risks as normal weight-fit individuals. There is no argument against the importance of fitness to health, but being overweight (or even mildly obese) and fit is not uncommon.
A relatively new discovery has been the existence of ‘healthy obese’ people. The cellular mechanisms responsible have yet to be pinpointed, but a distinction between phenotypes has been noted. Some obese people don't develop the metabolic abnormalities which result in a wide range of risks normally associated with obesity. The prevalence of healthy obese people could range from anywhere between 2% and 50% of the total obese population. This discovery pumped nitro into the Fat Love movement, and the ‘Healthy at Every Size’ (HAES) lifestyle drove to international media attention.
HAES advocates a widely criticized ‘weight-neutral’ approach to health management. We must keep in mind that whatever the prevalence of healthy obesity, on the whole, obesity has been cited to account for 100,000 to 400,000 deaths per year in America alone. Moreover, not only does a state of healthy obesity still pose greater risk of joint disease, psychiatric disorders, and cancers, but the most recent studies have shown that healthy obesity, more often than not, leads to unhealthy obesity down the road. There is, no doubt, such a thing as ‘too fat.’
This is a complex and vast area of inquiry, but from just a brief gander we can see widespread controversy within the scientific community, and many conflicting studies. However, even if we stop here and consider the amount of people overweight who face no health risks, the potential for overweight (or even obese) people to be more healthy than normal weight people, and the discovery of the healthy obese, it’s clear that modern public health has exaggerated the black and white negative impact of fat. And with so much controversy remaining in the area of study, any claim made by Fat Hate touting certitude and scientific high ground in dismissing valid sexiness of a heavier woman would appear either ill informed or disingenuous.
Accepting the above, a FA’s perception of overweight women as relatively healthy could be more in line with scientific reality than the perception of the mainstream. This is important because throughout various studies we see a very strong correlation between ratings of healthiness and ratings of attractiveness. While western men are maximally attracted to women with BMI’s between 18 and 20, BMI’s between 20.0 and 24.9 have been associated with the lowest risk of death and chronic illness.
I would think a reasonable Fat Hater could read this far and conclude, while the goal posts may have moved slightly, the game and tactics are still the same: some people are still too fat, and they should be targeted and shamed.
Does Fat Shaming Work?
It has been said that fat people are the last socially acceptable group of people to discriminate against. It’s argued that this is for good reason: deterrence.
The masthead of any principled fat shamer is an understanding that strong social pressure, possibly stretching into the realms of outright discrimination and abuse, will reduce obesity rates. Daniel Callahan, Harvard PhD and co-founder of the bioethics research organization, The Hastings Centre, has been one of the most eloquently vocal of proponents of fat shaming. In an installment of The Hastings Center Report, Callahan says “the force of being shamed and beat upon socially” may be needed to help best combat obesity.
Obese people are already the most openly stigmatized individuals in our society, with published data showing that weight stigma is more pervasive and intense than racism, sexism, and other forms of bias. Obese children are 60% more likely to be bullied in school than normal weight children. From workplace to family life, studies have shown weight stigma to be already palpable everywhere. Yet the obesity epidemic shows no signs of stopping. This begs the question: if fat shaming works, shouldn’t its positive impact be more apparent? Or is it possible that in addition to contributing to eating disorders and body dysmorphia, the stigmatization of fat, as it currently manifests, might be actually increasing obesity rates?
70% of the American population is now either overweight or obese. There are more overweight than underweight people around the world. It’s no wonder the issue has been receiving so much attention recently.
Studies of the perception of obese people to anti-obesity public health advertisements show overwhelming favor for ads with positive messages focused on future action as opposed to the more shaming negative messages. It’s difficult to gauge whether such positive advertisements actually lead to healthier lifestyles. However, if we accept feelings of depression, guilt, and shame can lead to overeating and inactivity, it stands to reason that fat shaming could have a negative impact. In fact, there’s robust evidence that internalizing weight-based stereotypes, teasing, and stigmatizing experiences are associated with more frequent binge eating.
If we are to believe testimonies by members of the Fat Hate community, there’s no doubt fat shaming has inspired some people to lead healthier, more active lifestyles. But if we are to believe the greater magnitude of testimonies by people like Boogie2988 in the video above, then perhaps fat shaming has a far greater negative effect.
As Fat Love and Fat Hate are both political movements, it might be instructive to consider research conducted in the realm of political campaign strategy. When measuring a political candidate’s margin of victory in relation to positive and negative campaign strategies (ie. a strategy of attacking one’s opponent, or advertising one’s own strengths,) the results cast doubt on why candidates would ever run negative advertisements. Candidates who focus on positive advertising and steer completely clear of attacking their opponent can increase their margin of victory, while there are no measured benefits from a negative strategy, even if one’s opponent has gone on the attack. To the extent that candidates wish to increase their margin of victory, the only way to do so is to avoid attacking one’s opponent.
A final thought: If you want to turn a Jew into an atheist, behaving like a Nazi might not be the best method.
Is it Possible to Willfully Change Perceptions of Beauty and Sexual Attractiveness?
If you’ve read this far, you already know the answer: yes. Western culture has shifted preferences towards thinner bodies, and exposure to simple visual stimuli of different body types can increase preferences towards those bodies.
There have actually been studies done in the realm of reducing anti-fat bias. Participants who read either HAES articles or ‘fat rights’ articles are substantially more likely to say that an overweight women could be healthy. While HAES articles focusing on health information were not enough to mitigate a visceral dislike of fatness to the point of reducing anti-fat prejudice, exposure to the more radical fat rights frame resulted in fewer anti-fat biases and more willingness to celebrate body-diversity. Researcher from one such study, Dr. Abigail Saguy, remarked, “given that anti-fat stigma is a health risk and a barrier to collective solidarity, fat rights viewpoints can buffer against the negative consequences of anti-fat stigma and promote a culture of health by fostering empathy and social justice… [but] disseminating health information will not be sufficient to promote a culture of health.”
With the recent high exposure of plus-size models who match all standard metrics of aesthetic beauty, diverging only in BMI, Drake’s admission of ‘liking his girls BBW,’ and the forceful ‘body positive’ social media movement, it would appear an impact is already being made.
Let’s look again at what men are jerking off to in the privacy of their own homes. Google trends show the search term ‘BBW,’ while unpopular, has been growing in popularity. Mic.com teamed up with Pornhub a few months ago to explore the impact the body positive movement is having: Pornhub users’ BBW searches have increased by a whopping 47% since 2013, indicating that interest in larger women has been ascending for quite some time now. In short: we are already increasingly masturbating to plus-size women.
Human behavior will always be selective and preferential. In no society have humans preferred to mate with all members of the opposite sex equally. If we imagine a society where men did desire women indiscriminately, all we need do is imagine that society’s future- the man who mated with women past reproductive age would fail to replicate his genes, the man who mated with the sick or unhealthy would also be more unlikely to replicate his genes. Basic evolution would gradually develop psychological mechanisms which would attract men to the outward signs of youth and good health in future generations. However, as discussed, it would appear moderate desirable shifts in perceptions of beauty and sexual attractiveness not only can occur, but are already happening.
I started this off expecting to quickly make a strong, concise, clear, and easily accessible argument. None of that happened. But it was quite the adventure, when not tortuous ordeal. And in the end a modest understanding was reached. Ineffable became fairly effable, ethereal became somewhat real.
Modern western man’s sexual appetite is largely directed by a genetic predisposition and environmental factors. His preferences then, due to cultural biases, are moderately shifted towards thinner bodies. It’s my own theory that these attractions are even further elaborated on by a fourth factor: herd mentality.
Consider this recent experiment from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Researchers used a dating website that allowed users to rate random people. After they made up their minds, some users were shown the average scores from other visitors. The users saw which types were proving more popular, and started to score other faces along similar lines. Soon, everyone’s taste had converged — their attractions had shifted into an homogeneous unity. This is despite the fact that the process was completely anonymous. On a smaller scale, a similar effect can be achieved simply by being seen with members of the opposite sex who you could potentially couple off with. Others will assume that you’re already popular, and are more inclined to follow suit.
This behavior creates a winnowing effect where only the most desirable remain desirable- images deemed attractive most often are then deemed attractive even more often; images deemed attractive less often are then deemed attractive even less often.
It could happen in any society, but especially in our globalized world, where subliminal and overt messages communicate to the masses a very specific female body as most desirable, it seems reasonable that the same herd mentality should take effect. If we apply the principle to our attractiveness rankings, we would expect to see the same winnowing, masses flocking together in pursuit of the same specified ideal. Indeed, the steep non-inclusive peak of mainstream man’s attractiveness rankings could be exactly what this winnowing effect would look like. Let’s take another look at the graph comparing FA and mainstream attractiveness rankings.
Imagine modifying the blue mainstream attractiveness rankings to neutralize both a moderate cultural bias for thinner bodies, and the relative non-inclusiveness created by a herd-mentality winnowing effect. The mainstream ranking set now comes much closer to following the green line I marked as an estimation of my own sensibilities. Now imagine modifying the red FA attractiveness rankings to neutralize an irrefutably substantial warping from fetishists. The FA ranking set now also comes closer to following the green line. Indeed the two distinct groups might now become two halves of one unified group. And finally, tell me- am I the only whose mind is blown by this?
Now it would seem that I’m simply a stressed man (with a resulting increased attraction for heavier women,) who also rejects sociocultural norms of sexual attractiveness. All I can do is nod my head and say, ‘that sounds about right.’ Yeah.
Knowing that many women who would read this are also deeply sensitive to the topic, it’s my hope that they will understand the brazenly obvious objectification of women throughout is absolutely necessary in the area of studies discussed. By no means do I wish to leave an impression that how a woman looks is more important than how she feels or the things she can do.
With that said, men also find smiling, happy women more attractive.
Shameless self-promotion aside, I would much rather have read this article than have had to go through the process of writing it, so please share it if you feel so inclined and save others the time, stress, and periods of self-disgust.
TL;DR: I think fat chicks are alright, and I reason that the stigma behind this is largely society’s problem, not mine.