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January 13th, 2006
01:49 am
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Weighty matters
I have a shameful, guilty secret to admit to:

Along with a small and decreasing number of the population, I find overweight people unattractive*.

Intellectually, this is a frustrating thing to me, because that's stupid and shallow. Politically, this is a frustrating thing to me, because I am a Good Liberal -- and besides, I am mired too deeply in my own alternative lifestyle choices to be judgmental of others' personal characteristics without making myself into a hypocrite. Emotionally, this is a frustrating thing to me, because people I am very close to -- and, yes, attracted to -- are overweight, and I just know that no matter how well I explain myself here someone I love is going to walk away feeling like I've just told them they're ugly. But viscerally ... it's just part of me, not something I want to believe. It's not something I have conscious control over, any more than I have control over finding women sexier than men*; being turned on by furry porn; preferring carob to chocolate; or any of a thousand other little subconscious preferences, sexual or otherwise, mainstream or freaky.

(At this point, I will stop to allow those of you who were derailed by "prefer carob to chocolate" to pick your brains up from the floor.)

And I just have to say that I find it bizarre -- but heartening! -- that less than a quarter of Americans share my bias, according to the poll linked above. This is down from over half in the 1980s, which is even more bizarre, because that's quite a swing in just 20 years.

I grew up in the eighties. I remember the days of supermodels who could slip through shower drains. I remember the days of endless agonizing over fad diets (well, to the extent that those days have gone away, which doesn't seem to be much) and of salad bars in fast food restaurants. I was as repulsed by it and cynical about it as anyone ... but apparently at least some of it managed to rub off on me. (And that's really saying something, for a guy as out of the mainstream as I am.) Aside from the cultural programming, there are some personal factors, too: I find people sexier who share my interests. The simple fact is that I'm a reasonably fit guy that enjoys outdoor activities in the time I can tear myself away from a computer; slogging through the woods with heavy backpacks tends to require physical fitness.

I'm conscious of these things, though, and am alert to not let them color my opinions. I ignore people's weight and evaluate them on their brain and spirit, what's important. Sometimes, to my regret, it has to be accompanied by a mental slap on my wrist. That's the guilty secret: I have to work at this. Doing what's right doesn't come naturally sometimes.

(Fortunately, fat jokes aren't a guilty pleasure. They're still not funny. Even when they take on people that deserve mockery on their merits -- like Rush Limbaugh -- I still can't do anything other than roll my eyes and sigh at the cheap shot. I'm not that much of a neanderthal.)

And it's not like it's something that's a major factor in my perceptions of potential partners**, either. I cultivate friends for their intellect and empathy, period, and I am incapable of wanting to be intimate with anyone who I don't already respect as a friend, so by the time I get around to considering their physical attributes, the truly important things have already appropriately weighted the decision.

But back to the survey.

Like most people who happen to hold a taste perceived as mainstream, I never really considered that it was different for anyone else. We've been fed images of skinny sex symbols from birth; where exactly would people have gotten the message that overweight is attractive too? So even the fact that half of Americans said that wasn't the case in 1980 was rather an eye-opener.

Of course, the possibility suggests itself that people are lying about their own preferences in the poll because of concerns about being perceived as bigoted. I'm not sure what would explain the constant, steady drop over the years, though. The days where Political Correctness was being bashed over people's heads sure seem to me like they've trailed off, and given that you'd think that the reverse would be the case.

One way or another, it's good to see attitudes are changing. The simple fact is that what's important about people is who they are, not the shape of their forms. The hormonal center of my subconscious disagrees with me on this one, but the vast majority of me knows the truth. And it's good to see that it's an idea the rest of the world is picking up, too.

--
* As a general, though reliable, guideline. Not as an absolute.
** Yes, I know, I'm married already. But this preference is something I've had all my adult life and I've had plenty of perceptions from which to base this assessment. (Not to mention, I'm poly even if not currently seeking.)
*** And now I'm wondering what the hell category to tag this post in.

Current Mood: guiltyguilty
Current Music: Splashdown, "Mayan Pilot"

(29 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:mister_pixley
Date:January 13th, 2006 12:07 pm (UTC)
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Of course, the possibility suggests itself that people are lying about their own preferences in the poll because of concerns about being perceived as bigoted.

There also stands the possibility that, because people have been getting progressively larger since the 80's, mainstream society has had to become, gradually and proportionately, more accepting of the trend.
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From:kistaro
Date:January 13th, 2006 12:11 pm (UTC)
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This is a post that comes at an amusing time, considering how I've lost 17 pounds in the last two months. My primary consideration was that being 190 (5'6") wasn't healthy. And now, appearance is a consideration, because I'm seeing how much healthier I look for losing somewhat under half of how much I need to lose.

I actually do think that the survey reflects not an attitude shift of what people perceive, but an attitude shift of what people are willing to express. Obesity is a large problem in this country (pun intended), and the vast majority of people are friends with at least one person who is overweight, and I would venture to say that the majority of people know someone who is obese. That weighs on peoples' minds when answering a question like that. "Hmm, I like Tom. I can't in good faith tell the world I think he's ugly, which I do, because that wouldn't be nice to him. 'No problem' it is."

It's growing acceptance as something that's normal, not necessarily something that matches the American ideal body shape or even an extension of the range that most people consider "acceptable". I really do think it's people being less willing to admit to it.

I'd need to know more about the survey. Did people have reason to believe their answers would be anonymous? Did people have reason to believe that their answers would not be anonymous? What was the actual question or set of questions on the poll? Was it identical in phrasing and methodology- not "similar", I demand identical- to the poll it was being compared with?

As interesting as it is, there is no way to determine from the provided information whether it is an attitude shift in what's attractive or an attitude shift in what's acceptable to admit to. Remember also that these polls tend to poll adults, and the generation now being polled is the one that grew up with the political correctness and tolerance of diversity push. Social movements like that tend to have a ten-year delay before they even really begin to show up in the polls- it's people growing up with it who are affected the most, not people who are exposed to it later in life. There's a reason that conservatives (for "conservative" = "inclined to follow the current social order"; I fully accept that within fifteen years or even fewer, my politics will be conservative because what is liberal now- "individual liberty"- will be considered conservative, and "liberal" will start to describe "liberal application of government"; by such do parties shift in a sine-wave shape without ever actually changing) tend to be older people.
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From:mithent
Date:January 14th, 2006 12:16 am (UTC)
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Did people have reason to believe their answers would be anonymous?

Just a point to make there: even in an anonymous poll, people might still feel the need to express the 'right' opinion. I'm not quite sure why it is, but it seems right to me - perhaps I've experienced such thoughts.
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From:roaminrob
Date:January 17th, 2006 09:47 pm (UTC)
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That's because many people have this thing called a conscience, which doles out guilt for having certain opinions that the person has been taught not to have.
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From:eclective
Date:January 13th, 2006 02:08 pm (UTC)
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Basically, I agree with everything you say. Yes, my attractions largely run likewise; no, it's not a good thing; no, we can't help it; but yes, it's nice that society in general seems to be changing for the better.
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From:taral
Date:January 13th, 2006 02:19 pm (UTC)
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Intellectually, this is a frustrating thing to me, because that's stupid and shallow.

I disagree with both of these characterizations. What is stupid and shallow is permitting this preference to negatively affect your *respect* for the person. I find overweight people strongly unattractive. Some of them are my friends.
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From:arethinn
Date:January 13th, 2006 06:34 pm (UTC)
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Agree. You are not obligated to find any body shape in particular aesthetically pleasing. It is not "stupid and shallow" to prefer green to red; it would be "stupid and shallow" to say "this car totally sucks" because it was painted red instead of green.
From:raki
Date:January 14th, 2006 11:00 am (UTC)
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I disagree. Ceteris paribus, it would be stupid and shallow to dismiss something for its superficial characteristics. But all other things are not equal. There's an ideology of thinness where there isn't an ideology of greenness. As thinking people we are obliged to question the ideologies we are fed. To have them continue to shape our sensibilities even after we recognise them for the false wisdom they are is... if not stupid and shallow, incredibly frustrating.
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From:roaminrob
Date:January 17th, 2006 09:53 pm (UTC)
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That's an interesting response.

So, how do you feel about people who are so incapable of coherent thinking that you can't relate to them?
From:raki
Date:January 18th, 2006 11:35 am (UTC)
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I don't think I've ever come across anyone like that... (as in, pretty much everyone I've found to be stupid was capable of thinking coherently, but was negligent in some area -- I've never really dealt with anyone with a mental or learning disability)
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From:cloakable
Date:January 13th, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
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I would disagree with you that it's a guilty secret. I find overweight women unattractive. No big deal for me, it's simply a preference. I have many preferences - some of them are the same as yours. But just because you find the physical appearence of someone unattractive, does not rule out being attracted on other aspects (i.e. personality, hobbies, etc). If you simply based your interactions on one basis (even personality - what if you have similar personalities, but different hobbies?), then yes, that would be stupid and shallow. But not what you're doing. And isn't part of liberalism(sp?) being free to express your preferences without guilt? I'm not sure, as my main political viewpoint has much in common with anarchy.
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From:hafoc
Date:January 13th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC)
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Yup, you've got it pinned down. It's amazing how difficult I find it to go out in the field and inspect factories, climb smokestacks, and all that, when I have to drag that all-you-can-eat buffet table around so I can "pig out on food all day" at the same time. Of course I have the compensation that, having been fat since I was six years old, I will probably die soon like my father did. So it won't be bothering me that much longer.
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From:r_caton
Date:January 13th, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC)
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I'm fat. 300lbs +.... I work as a repair engineer, at the bench until 6-7 at night, no time for food that doesn't come between slices of bread.....

2 hrs a day internet (that's why I'm here at all) and I don't watch TV at all. I'm fat, not a bloody moron....

Oh, and I'd be ugly even if I wasn't fat. Diets also make me cranky and violent.
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From:hafoc
Date:January 13th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, well.. I can't blame you for thinking fat is ugly. I do, and I'm fat. And ugly. Looking at what we know now, it looks like if I hadn't tried so desperately to lose weight, I wouldn't be so bad off. Don't know what to do about it, exactly-- about the only option left untried is surgery with a 10% death rate. But some days I think it would be worth it, whichever way it went. :D At least I could respect myself a bit.
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From:zxizaraxii
Date:January 13th, 2006 06:15 pm (UTC)
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Those who know the "right" thing naturally often don't see the meaning in it. Those who have to work at it tend to find something a bit more important in the meaning of why something's right.

I tend to agree with what Cypherwulf and Hafoc said down at the bottom otherwise.
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From:thoughtsdriftby
Date:January 13th, 2006 07:46 pm (UTC)
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finding no guilt, underweight/overweight negative
comprising however only one factor of a multifaceted being
how such are ranked among personal preferences is telling
---
Example:
Rachael McLish of some interest until talking to her
filling her empty head poor quality fluff with "born again" trimming
comparing perceptions with others as being too caricature like, verified
looks cannot override such lacking
(Jessica Simpson's Chicken-of-the-Sea question right up there)
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From:necama
Date:January 13th, 2006 08:41 pm (UTC)
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I have to admit, when I'm just physically attracted to somebody, it's usually somebody who is in better shape. But for me, that's not the real important thing. I've always been more attracted to smarts and ideals, to passion and confidance, and to sarcasm and wit than I am attracted to shapes.

I've gone on some dates based soley on appearances, and I've found those outings lacking in many important ways. Maybe there was something missing from the conversation, or maybe there was too much of an emphasis on what the other girls around us were wearing. Maybe it was a certain glint of the eyes that indicates that you're thinking about things. I've always been much happier on dates where I'm with somebody who can keep up with a conversation and not just provide me with eye candy to slobber over.
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From:necama
Date:January 24th, 2006 05:24 pm (UTC)

Oh, and I should add....

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Ellen is fine. Everything's quite lovely. :-)
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From:elynne
Date:January 13th, 2006 11:34 pm (UTC)
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If all I have of somebody to go by is their picture, I can be terribly judgemental; I like bohemian, androgynous, scruffy-looking - as a perfect example, I think most of the userpics of dan4th are freaking hot. And yet, when I look at the range of people I've actually dated... the only commonalities are that they're smart and geeky. And male. Tall, short, overweight, underweight, skin color, hair length, style of dress... there are no other common factors.

I would never have claimed that I'm completely blind to a person's physical body, that I'm attracted to their mind and spirit... but more and more, I'm finding that this is actually the case. :]
From:lhexa
Date:January 14th, 2006 03:38 am (UTC)
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There are people like capacitors, who store immense amounts of charge and then release it all at once. But who wants to be an analogue to a circuit component? And, who or what forces them into that metaphor?

The words are going grey. That means it's time to stop writing, a response to such a lengthy entry.
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From:firestrike
Date:January 14th, 2006 03:50 am (UTC)
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As always with such studies, I have to wonder about the specifics of the study.

...Only 24 per cent of Americans found a person carrying excess weight unattractive, as against the 55 per cent that did so two decades earlier.

I wonder what they are using as the criteria for "carrying excess weight". BMI? Percent body fat? Medical opinion? And how much is considered "excess" for the purposes of the study?

This is my little OCD mind-trap, as I get so bogged down in questions about the details of the research that I can't formulate an opinion about the resulting conclusion.
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From:sebboi
Date:January 14th, 2006 10:26 am (UTC)
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Who said you had to find them attractive to believe they have a right to live their own lives?
From:raki
Date:January 14th, 2006 10:54 am (UTC)
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For me, I find larger men unattractive, but seem to have no preference for skinnier women. I think it's because I'm small and female, and the idea of being easily overpowered by a male SO is unappealing. Women don't carry that threat.
From:raki
Date:January 14th, 2006 11:04 am (UTC)
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Also, there's a sense in which large women = curvy and large men = fat... There are definitely gender implications in all of this... Hmm.

I'm not sure what that's all about.
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From:jinian
Date:January 15th, 2006 06:42 pm (UTC)
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I think you sound inconsistent with your observable behavior, but nothing worse than that. Saying you don't find the trait of fatness attractive would remove the inconsistency of saying you're not attracted to a group when you are demonstrably attracted to some members of it. Correcting the precision of terms in an article one is commenting on is a time-honored and proper form of pedantry.

If I were feeling terribly optimistic, I would attribute the percentage dropoff to an increasing realization that BMI as a measure of health or appearance is absurd. (My usual example is that right now I'm merely "overweight," while if I'm in good shape I'm "obese." I'm within a couple inches of the same size either way, and muscle weighs more than fat.) The BMI standards also changed a few years ago, putting at least one women's crew team into the "too big" bucket. But (1) I have no idea how the study was done because it's not published yet, and it's likely they didn't mention BMI at all, and (2) yeah, right -- that might affect the eating choices of some people who find themselves unjustifiably called "fat," but it doesn't affect people's preferences for others, probably not even the self-reported ones.
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From:tailypo
Date:January 15th, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
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Trends come and go in the perception of beauty, from fat to hourglassy to twiggy to plump and all over the board. And of course people have their own personal attractions. Like you said, some people are born liking men, some women, etc. etc.

Some people don't like the look of skinny people. Whatever floats your boat.

Though I'm not quite sure I understand the need to broadcast this to a list of people with mixed-body-type, knowing that some people will be hurt by it. Getting it off your chest, I guess?


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From:roaminrob
Date:January 17th, 2006 10:30 pm (UTC)
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In your post, and in many of the comments following it, I'm seeing a clear confusion between two totally different ideas: overweight, and unhealthy.

I've pal'd around with a number of overweight people. They've all been healthy.

What most people find attractive in other people is health, whether it's a healthy mind, a healthy spirit, or a healthy body. So, do you actually find overweight people unattractive, or do you find physically unhealthy people unattractive? If it's the former, then yeah, you might have some reconciling to do in your own mind. If you find unhealthy people unattractive, and you're just confusing overweight with unhealthy ... well, I don't see how that's any different from finding someone with an unhealthy mind or spirit unattractive.

For example, there's a gal at one of the local hardware stores that I find really attractive. She's not a small woman, but she carries it well, has lots of energy, and has that healthy glowing skin thing going on.

Then there was my climbing mentor from way back, who I haven't seen in years. He never had any trouble hooking up with really gorgeous women, even though he carried a number of extra pounds everywhere and frequently referred to himself as a fatass. Thing was, he also played soccer, could climb as well as most anyone else, and was intelligent with a great, fun attitude besides. So despite being overweight, he was still really healthy.
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