I had intended to run this post a few days ago, but the working week got the better of me (the crescendo of the financial year is always so intense), and I’m a little bit later than planned. But it’s still important and I know some of you want to expand the discussion more from the previous post – thank you for your patience and keeping in topic!
So last post I was talking about the scene from Louie with the rather amazing Sarah Barker giving a stellar performance as a fat girl on a date. My last post was a response to the criticisms of her statement that it sucks to be a fat woman were not a win for fat activism. If you still haven’t seen the scene, or need a refresher, you can check it out here.
It’s important to note that I do have issues with Louis CK and his TV show. But I’m not talking about those here.
Today I want to respond to some of the fatosphere criticisms of the scene with regards to dating and relationships.
The major criticisms that I have seen that bother me are:
- She is begging for attention/to have her hand held.
- That plenty of hot men want to date fat women, why did she go out with one that was reluctant to date her/be seen with her.
- Men don’t want to date her because she is whiny and annoying, not because she’s fat.
- It portrays single fat women as “pathetic” or desperate.
- She’s “settling” when she says she doesn’t want a boyfriend or a husband.
- Why doesn’t she just join a BBW dating site?
I find these criticisms extremely problematic.
The first thing that I have a problem with is the way that many perceive her as begging/whining/annoying. I think that reaction actually reflects the point she makes to Louis about the double standard between when men and women talk about how hard it is to date while being fat – how he can get up on stage and joke about being single and a fat guy and people think it’s adorable, but if she tries to talk about how hard it is for her, people call the suicide hotline. To me, suggesting she is begging/whining is deeply misogynistic. She’s being very clear about what bothers her about the way she is treated, and she’s also calling Louis out for behaving in a way that she finds really disappointing. She expected better of him. But because she is a woman, it is instantly read as whining/begging. However if a man were to outline when someone’s behaviour bothered him, he’d be considered assertive and honest.
The next point that bothers me is the suggestion that there are “plenty of hot men who want to date fat women” and “why doesn’t she just join a BBW dating site?” I think that this reaction to the scene also demonstrates exactly what she is talking about. She asks Louis if he has ever dated a fat girl, and quickly pulls him up when he starts to say yes and says “I didn’t ask if you’ve fucked a fat girl, every guy has done that.” She’s calling out the constant fetishisation and objectification of fat women. Those “plenty of hot men who want to date fat women” on BBW sites are in the majority not looking to date a fat woman – they’re fetishizing/objectifying us. Hands up if you’ve ever been involved with a man who is all too happy to sleep with you in private, but won’t take you out for dinner, or hold your hand in public, or introduce you to his friends? She quite rightly says that if she had offered Louis sex, he’d have taken it up straight away… what if that’s not what you want from a partner? There is nothing, NOTHING wrong with wanting to have a romantic relationship with someone, and to want them to put some effort into that relationship. She’s right, any woman who is willing can get laid. But it is exceptionally difficult to find men who are willing to date fat women in the same way that they would a thin woman.
Another criticism I find difficult to accept are those asking why she is bothering with Louis if he doesn’t get it (settling). That’s the judgement we all have to make on all of our interpersonal relationships with people who don’t quite get fat activism. We don’t live in a bubble of fat positivity, we live in the real world and it means making decisions about whether people are worth having in your life. Do you take up the challenge of educating them, getting them to see how their behaviour is problematic, or do you just move on. Sure, pick your battles, some people really aren’t worth your time. But some people are. Some people, while initially not getting it, are more than willing to listen and work through it. That’s what you have to decide. I’ve not that long ago dated a guy who kept putting his foot in it, not quite understanding what bothered me, but he was willing to listen, and asked me how to get it right. Sure, it gets frustrating at times, but I never felt that it was “settling” for me to continue to see him. One of the greatest moments with someone who “doesn’t get it” is that moment that the penny drops and they DO get it. I love that moment! Some of the most important people in my life today were really defensive at first, but I thought they were worth keeping around, and now they’re my staunchest allies.
But the one that really sticks in my craw is the suggestion that this portrays a fat woman as “pathetic”. Why? Why is it pathetic for a fat woman to call a man out for a crappy attitude/behaviour and state clearly what she wants? Why is it pathetic for a fat woman to say that she wants a man who will be proud to be with her and put some effort into dating her? It’s interesting that whenever a man shows vulnerability or wants a romantic relationship, it’s sweet and romantic, but if a fat woman does the same, it’s “pathetic” and “needy”?
Interestingly, those within fat activism that have been the most vocal in suggesting that this portrays fat women as pathetic are those who have the privilege of being in a relationship of whatever form themselves. It makes me really side eye them as supposed allies… do they really think those of us who are single and are interested in dating a man who is proud to be seen with us and puts some effort into us as “pathetic”?
I want all of you to know there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable. There is nothing wrong with speaking about what you want and expect from relationships. There is nothing pathetic about wanting to be in a relationship.
Personally, I found this entire scene empowering, because it articulates a lot of things that I feel and represents situations I have been in myself. That’s what I want to see in television – realistic portrayals of the lives of fat women. I don’t just want to see us lampooned or turning ourselves into cariacatures (a la Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids). I want to see realistic fat women in realistic situations. Awkward conversations, guys being jerks and then getting called out on it, fat women who are angry, disappointed, exasperated, and fed up, people who don’t quite get it but are willing to try, and sometimes getting that wrong too.
I want to see all representations of fat women, not just those that tick all the Fat Activism 101 boxes.