Jessica Max Stein

Dan Savage & Fatphobia: It Gets Worse

Filed By Jessica Max Stein | June 03, 2011 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: Dan Savage, fat phobia, It Gets Worse, Jessica Max Stein, Lindy West

Dan-Savage.jpgDan Savage has long been called out for his fatphobia. But the, ah, fat hits the fire in this week's installment of Savage's sex column, Savage Love.

Generally I adore Savage's writing. He's blunt, deft with language, and funny as hell. His column creates a dialogue, a space for people to talk openly about sex. Most of the time it makes me laugh out loud. But other times, I cringe.

This week brings us "Almost Twice the Wife," who asks:

Is it better to stay with your overweight wife--who happens to be the mother of your infant daughter--and cheat on her to get sexual gratification (and be a shit of a husband) or leave her (and be a shit of a father)?

Frankly, the guy already sounds like a shit. To me this is a rubber-stamp DTMFA (in Savage-land, Dump the MF Already). See ya.

At first, Savage's response is spot-on. He adroitly reminds the letter-writer of options beyond "cheating" or "leaving": "You could go without for six months or a year--you know, like most new parents." Savage also calls him out for contributing to his wife's weight gain, imagining her perspective: "She may not be feeling it for the husband who doesn't find her attractive in her current state--a state he put her in."

But Savage never questions the assumption that newly overweight equals unattractive. He tells the writer to "take a little responsibility" - not for sharing childcare, but rather for "knowing that pregnancy and its tragic aftermath, aka 'parenting,' leave new moms with very little time for the gym." Furthermore, Savage posits that if the woman seems more concerned with the baby than with her weight, then she deserves whatever she gets.

For all I know, your wife is one of those lousy spouses who abandon routine physical maintenance once the first kid arrives.... Forgoing routine physical maintenance is the mother of all take-you-for-granted moves, one that quickly kills desire and slowly smothers love, and it can constitute grounds for cheating and/or leaving.

Alternatively, "forgoing routine physical maintenance" can be a sign of depression, because here you are with this squalling infant, up to your ears in baby bodily fluids, and your husband is off talking to Dan Savage about how you're too fat to fuck!

By the way, let's do some math. The letter-writer signs himself "Almost Twice the Wife." A woman gains an average of 25-35 pounds in a pregnancy. Even if we double that (to, um, pad the argument), and assume that a weight gain of 70 pounds makes her "almost twice" her previous size, then she used to be a 90-pound weakling and is now about a size 12. This guy needs to meet some women besides Twiggy and Courteney Cox (who, by the way, was still hot in a fatsuit).

But seriously, both the letter and its response gave me pause. When I desire someone, I'm attracted to the whole package; a little weight gain (even a lot) doesn't turn me off. Yet it seems genuinely beyond the worldview of both Savage and Almost Twice the Asshole to understand that lovers can desire each other even as bodies change, as bodies inevitably do over the course of a life. If lovers are going to pledge fidelity to one another - particularly the lifelong promise of marriage - then they need to stay true to each other not just in sickness and in health, but literally through thick and thin.

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I’m gay, chunky, and OK As Is. How many times do I have to go sex a skinny guy at 2am after he finally realizes he is not going to get sexed from his fellow skinny gays - because they all kept holding out for someone hotter, and hotter and in the end they got nothing? Then it’s fat me with my sexcellent skills to the rescue. Skinny bitches be on notice that ya’ll owe us chunks some reparations.

I think you're making a lot of assumptions that the way attraction works is the way it works for everyone else.

I am amazed sometimes at what attracts me. Really skinny guys. Really chubby guys. But not all chubby guys do it for me. Not all skinny guys do as well. And it changes with time, my mood, etc. etc.

What we are attracted to is so specialized, and for me changes. And as the whole weinergate incident has shown, Men and Women's sexual attractions are driven by very different things most of the time.

I liked Savage's response. And as he talked about in the previous posting before the one you mention, half of these problems wouldn't exist of heterosexual culture changed and allowed folks to be sexually open in marriage without all the world coming to an end.

Apparently it only "gets better" in Savage's world if you are thin. If you're not, you apparently deserve every slight that comes to you. What's ironic is that Savage's advice mirrors the marital advice from conservative Christians who tell women it's their fault if their husband is no longer attracted to them. I just read this out loud to a friend who is a former fundamentalist and she was flabbergasted by how familiar Savage's words sounded.

I've dated women of all sizes and in the end I'll say that the most beautiful and attractive women I've been with have been above average weight or self-identified "fatties". If this guy can't look at his wife and see the beautiful woman who bore his son, she's the one who deserves better.

I am overweight, and of course want everyone to love me. My husband is overweight, and I am absolutely repelled by him.

To be fair and honest, much of what I'm repelled by is tied up in his personality, and we're right now working out the terms of our divorce. I'm not sure how much more I might want him if he were thin as a rail. Probably not much. But I've done a lot of thinking lately about the overweight issue, and I suspect it may be an evolutionary/biological thing.

We are all programmed to desire healthy specimens as partners. I've seen overweight people who look "healthy" ... i.e. tight skin, good color, bouncy and energetic ... and hardly even notice their excess weight. But someone who is overweight and flabby, pasty, lethargic, jaundiced, etc. gets biologically flagged as "unhealthy" and for the most part, I think all of us lose a degree of physical attraction.

And I think the "unhealthy" overweight people are suffering from much more than a love of food. They most likely have an imbalanced system, hormonal disorder, excess of insulin, depression, etc. The really unattractive overweight people need to see a caring, proactive doctor more than anything, who will look deeply into known (and suspected) causes of weight gain, such as thyroid imbalance, food sensitivities and insulin resistance.

Unfortunately, there aren't enough doctors out there who will help overweight people more than sending them off with a short "you should think about losing some weight" salutation.

Eric Payne | June 3, 2011 1:48 PM

You've made some interesting comments, Jessica. Thank you for sharing them.

Most of your comments, however, do deal with some personal assumptions - about Savage (about who I know nothing, outside of his occasional appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher and, of course, the It Gets Better online video series - and, even then, it's the videos, and not him, personally) and the letter writer.

You say, though:

"But seriously, both the letter and its response gave me pause. When I desire someone, I'm attracted to the whole package; a little weight gain (even a lot) doesn't turn me off. Yet it seems genuinely beyond the worldview of both Savage and Almost Twice the Asshole to understand that lovers can desire each other even as bodies change, as bodies inevitably do over the course of a life. If lovers are going to pledge fidelity to one another - particularly the lifelong promise of marriage - then they need to stay true to each other not just in sickness and in health, but literally through thick and thin."

In an ideal world, your viewpoint would be the view shared by everyone. I, personally, share it. But it's not an ideal world.

Societal pecking orders become established; sometimes those pecking orders can be reversed through legislation, sometimes not. There's no real change, though, until the thinking of society changes.

Blacks look different than whites, therefore it's okay for whites to own blacks as property... when that became "not okay," then it became okay to not own blacks, but to keep them separate from white people. Very slowly, all the legal arguments that made discrimination based on skin color "okay" fell before state and Federal Legislatures, the last "legal" stumbling block falling 44 years ago next month with the decision of Loving v. Virginia.

Yet there are still places in this country where the people's thinking hasn't changed, where white parents disown children who marry non-white spouses.

With issues like weight and, general, physical unattractiveness, it's far more insidious - you can't legislate away fat- or uglyphobia. It can't be changed, except in the smallest possible one-on-one increments. It can become an issue again at a future time with the same persons, all over again.

Since the invention of the motion picture, society has had its ideal of physical perfection highlighted, enhanced and romanticized. With the invention of television, that ideal became perpetuated 24/7.

It's a stigma that can't be overcome. It's also a stigma that ends marriages and personal relationships. If Savage's reader decides to leave his wife due to her weight gain, then he's going to leave her because of the weight gain. He may even have already made up his mind and simply written Savage for some type of validation of that decision.

All one can hope is, after that break up, in her next relationship she finds someone who loves her for her, and he finds someone who'll look at him and think: "hmmm... he's cute... except for that scar..." and that new someone in his life, overtime, obsesses about that scar.

Did we read the same Dan Savage column? I think not, because Savage DID admonish the writer to, basically be realistic and stop having unfair expectations, as well as not expect his wife to lose the baby weight immediately.

He further encouraged the writer to "give it some time" and accept that having a child can effect a couple's sex life for quite some time.

To attack Savage just because one of his advice seekers is clearly a "size-ist jerk" is unfair...and "thin-skinned" as well...please find some REAL anti-fat discrimination going on to get (rightly) upset about, because this wasn't it.

I'm no Dan Savage fan, obviously, but I also thought this response was about his nicest yet. He took the guy to task instead of giving him permission one way or another. I took the "don't take care of themselves" section to include many things like grooming and not weight loss.

I lost a lot of respect for Savage the night he went on Keith Olbermann and amazingly, said on the air that the only two issues left for LGBT people to resolve were DADT and marriage, as if we weren't also denied basic civil rights in employment, housing and public accommodations. It seems to me that this guy lives in a world of his own, a world where the concerns of wealthy elite gay men are the only ones that matter.

He wants to tell kids "It Gets Better" but he doesn't seem to really have the slightest clue as to what it will take to actually make it better for those kids. For every good and well-meaning response he seems to say or do something to prove that despite all the pretty words, he really just doesn't get what the world is really like for most of us.

It's really a pity. He's got a media reach many of us would kill for. I just wish he'd use it more responsibly.

I guess I'm all over the place on this one. We can choose who we love, but we can't choose who we're attracted to (although our attractions can evolve in some ways, if we have that potential). That said, if the letter-writer entered into a monogamous agreement with his wife, then he's asking a question that does not have any ethical answer, the way he framed it.

Savage is an entertainer. Sometimes he'll say something valuable and sometimes he'll go for dramatic potential. It reaches a point where one is neither here nor there.

Body weight issues are something I have some empathy for, knowing what it's like to be considered "not ideal." Things like rights and societal disparity we can try to fix, but what about the negativity that causes depression and isolation? All I've ever found that can help make that better is to challenge phobic attitudes. And hope that for those of us who are "non-ideal," there will be someone out there for whom it's not an issue.