What makes a woman sexy? It has less to do with looks than you might think. And even less to do with body weight and size. In fact, if you ask Rebecca Jane Weinstein, author of Fat Sex: The Naked Truth, more and more people are considering overweight women downright sexy today–including guys who are attracted to larger women, even though they won’t admit it.
To find out more about how overweight women are shedding the once stereotypical belief that they aren’t sexy and desirable, we talked with Weinstein, who says sexy is all in the mind.
OK, first of all, congratulations on your new book, Fat Sex, The Naked Truth. What was your intention with this book and why did you feel the need to write it?
I wrote the book as a response to conversations occurring on a website I started PeopleOfSize.com, an information and social networking community for people concerned with size issues. There was a great deal of discussion about romance, relationships and sex. It was more common than not that people shared experiences of shame and low self-worth when it came to romantic partners. In particular there seemed to be a distorted sense that even when someone showed attraction, a large person finds it difficult to believe. These stories clearly needed telling, and that is how the book idea was born.
You say there is a hostility and obsession with weight in our country–what do you mean by that?
Fat has virtually been criminalized on our culture. It has gotten to the point where large people are accused of destroying our economy and exclusion of large people on airplanes and public venues is not only tolerated, it is expected. Beyond that, there is a sentiment that fat makes a person weak, self indulgent and ignorant. The newest Weight Watchers commercial uses the tagline that losing weight can bring a life back into control. Fat people are seen as out of control, and even the slightest evidence of fat suggests a life in chaos.
What are some of the most damaging and untrue assumptions people make about those who are overweight?
There are so many, and they come from a combination of prejudice and ignorance–which of course, go hand-in-hand. There are the standards: fat people are lazy, undisciplined, gluttons. The irony is that while there has certainly been a shift in what people consume and how much physical activity most of us get in the modern technological world. But overweight people struggle endlessly to lose weight and keep it off, and they are anything but lazy about it. For someone like myself, it was a 40 year project, and a futile one.
The most damaging assumptions though, come from people not understanding the biological mechanisms of gaining and maintaining weight, and how the body fights against weight loss long term. It’s a battle against biology. I am not talking about genetics, I am talking about the response to dieting–what the body perceives as starvation. The other related assumption is that fat people are unconcerned with health and unhealthy. Fat people tend to be quite obsessed with health, as they are often told they are ticking time bombs.
How, in your opinion, can we turn that around?
This is very difficult, especially now when the fervor around obesity is so intense. There is plenty of good research out there that counters common perceptions. The problem is even doctors often don’t know the complex nature of weight, and getting information out there is combated by a multi-billion dollar diet industry. People who talk about the complexity of the issues are viewed as radical nuts, making excuses and rationalizations, even when they back up what they say with research. But it’s essential to keep putting the information out there. Say for instance with global warming, it was a long haul, but people kept pushing, and attitudes changed–hopefully not too late. Perhaps eventually we will get there with weight and health–and as a result we will certainly have healthier citizens, which should be the goal.
I love how you talk about the unrealistic proportions of Barbie and say that she couldn’t even stand up with those proportions and the average guy doesn’t look like Ken. Are you trying to get people to simply accept that the majority of people are overweight today? Or is your goal bigger than that?
It’s not about whether the majority of people are overweight, or not. The issue is distorted and unattainable body images. Barbie would not be a “normal” thin woman; she would be an alien. There is no human being that can possibly look like her–it is physically impossible–and yet she is our ideal. This impacts everyone, regardless of whether then are fat or thin. It perpetuates low self-esteem and behavior that leads to eating disorders, body dimorphia, and other dangerous and unhealthy feelings and actions. I am not suggesting we get rid of iconic dolls, just that we keep them in perspective and realize what they really are.
You say that “a lot of people desire sex with the not-so-svelte”, what do you mean by that and why is that?
Many people are attracted to larger bodies. It is simply a fact. We know this for many reasons, but one clear demonstration is that “big beautiful woman” “adult entertainers” are extremely prevalent and popular. There appear to be many more men attracted to large women than might be admitted in a night out with the boys. And it seems women have always been attracted to larger men. This would also be true in the lesbian community and also, though perhaps to a lesser degree, in the gay male community. Preference is partly intrinsic and partly learned. In different times and different places, large bodies were idealized. That is cultural. What we are inherently attracted to is more mysterious, but confident large-size people have no trouble finding sexual partners, so clearly people desire them.
You also say that “fat and sex may cohabitate, but they have a volatile relationship.” Why?
Culturally there is often a conflict between what we are attracted to and what is socially acceptable. Right now fat is taboo, so not only do large people often feel unworthy, those who appreciate them may be embarrassed to admit it. Many men who are “fat admirers,” those who prefer fat women, are said to be “in the closet.” In other words, while they genuinely would rather be with a woman be fat, they are afraid to admit it or make that preference public. Additionally, at this time fat people are desexualized, and in essence, invisible, when it comes to sex in much of our popular culture–or if not invisible, mocked.
What are some of the stereotypes that you want to erase in our society about women who are overweight?
That they are lazy, stupid, out of control, emotionally unstable, and physically unhealthy. Body size says little or nothing about those characteristics. It is worth mentioning health in particular. Even when people accept that large people should not be shamed or mocked, many still have a problem with the “health issue.” There is great misunderstanding about weight and health. Certainly weight can exacerbate certain conditions, but health is far more complicated than pounds. There are many unhealthy thin people, so clearly thin doesn’t make you healthy.
Is it possible, in your opinion, that our society will ever fully 100% embrace and accept women who are overweight?
There have been times in our society and in other societies when larger women were seen as ideal. Whether that will ever happen again is impossible to say. In times or cultures where food is scarce, only the wealthy are fat. Then fat is prized. Hopefully we will get to a point where “overweight” stops being used to describe bodies. The BMI comes from health insurance tables and are arbitrary and inaccurate. “Overweight” has no real meaning, except you have crossed a line on an outdated health insurance chart. Health is actually measurable. We have the tests and technology to know if a person is actually healthy. Perhaps someday we will stop discussing body size and focus on objective concrete evidence of health. There is no good reason we can’t do that now, except prejudice.
Will the fat/skinny wars ever end?
I don’t know, but it is certainly a waste of time and only does more harm than good. Nothing and no one is served by that fight. But people are highly competitive and appearance is a very obvious target for competition. If we did stop that war there would be fewer eating disorders, healthier people in general, and far less insecurity about the superficial. We can hope, and also discuss it, educate ourselves and others, and attempt to find empathy and compassion.