It CAN be done right!

My favorite day for the local commuter paper is Tuesday, when they have the fitness section. I know, how many people would freak out to hear a fatty say that? But I love it. I’m never going to pay for the classes they review — I fucking pay enough for belly dance (it priced me out of yoga!), and I already have a gym I don’t have to pay for. But I like reading about them and fantasizing about the fitness programs I would fat-test for you guys if this blog were my permanent job. And there’s often good advice about things like weight-lifting technique or decent-tasting energy bars or how cinnamon is good for you.

And I love the advice column, Baggage Check. The woman who writes it, Dr. Andrea Bonior, makes some forced-sounding jokes, which irks me — I’d rather she, you know, be a knowledgeable clinical psychologist than meet her weekly humor quota. But she’s always seemed sensible and the column does not make me want to hurl the paper against the wall, like some other columns I could mention (*coughAskAmycough*). Until today, though, I just considered Baggage Check to be another nice feature of the minor weekly pleasure that is the Express fitness section. Now, I can confidently report that it should also be a role model to other advice columns. Again unlike other columnists I could mention, Bonior seems to be capable of writing sane, caring, non-fatphobic advice for men with fat girlfriends.

(See, Savage? Even fatties, even feminist fatties can be satisfied. All it takes is acting like a fucking mensch for five minutes.)

The short version: A guy writes in to say that his girlfriend has gained weight and has “hygiene and grooming” issues, and is it fair for him to “expect his girlfriend to maintain a certain weight”? Dr. Bonior reframes the question:

Your approach, though, should not be about “expectations” (which sound suspiciously like the phrase parents use before a grounding) or numbers on the scale. It should be about your concern as to why she’s changing and what seems wrong under the surface.

Bravo, Dr. B., bravo! I think the “hygiene” thing may be a red herring — hard to tell, without knowing a priori whether the guy is a jerk, whether we’re talking about a depressive episode or a drop-off in leg-shaving frequency. But the reframing is exactly right. Do you care about your partner’s weight because a significant gain or loss could signal a problem? Do you care about their grooming because it indicates lethargy or depression? Or are you just worried about the state of your arm candy?

If you like the column, feel free to write Bonior and express your appreciation: baggage at readexpress.com. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to pat people on the back for the radical act of suggesting we treat fat people like people, but this isn’t, and we do.

32 thoughts on “It CAN be done right!

  1. The response was a really good one. And I agree with you about the red herring. Suddenly Smelly is not only a sign of a true mental/emotional decline, but perhaps a less superficial hardship on attraction. (Or perhaps I’m nasally superficial myself.) But wearing less makeup or doing less up with the coif could be apathy or could be complacency or could be a lot of other -y’s that are not necessarily diagnosable.

  2. Unless we’re talking about depression or mental illness, this is about nothing more than personal preferences. It seems pretty simple to me: If a person is serious about having a life partner, and staying (truly) happy with them, and have their partner be content in who they want and need to be, they need to get past the partner-as-stylish-accessory mentality. And guess what, it really is possible. You do have to grow up a little first, though.

  3. Somehow, I’ve always thought that if the love is still there, the sex will stay hot. Define “hot” as you will.

    My weight has been lower, and higher. My breasts have been higher, and so has my ass. My spouse’s body has changed. Christ, we’ve been together 13 years. But I still have a “life of affection” with my spouse.

    I guess I think it’s time to call foul on this notion that sex and longterm sexual realtions are mostly about physicial attraction.

    I’m not saying that physical attraction isn’t important. Regardless of my weight, I bathe, pay attention to my hair. I brush and floss. AND I try to be a good partner. I think that factors in to “attraction.”

    I mean, I’ve definitely fell out of lust with an attractive partner because, gosh, he turned out to be an asshole.

  4. I would love to have commented on her column, but something about the “security box” would not allow me to post my comment. I wish Dan would read her column.

  5. Could it be, as people are hinting, that the relationship (in her mind) has finally hit the critical point where you can *gasp* appear before your partner without makeup or your cutest clothes? They’ve been together nine months — for them, they might just have hit the ‘not perfect anymore’ state.

    The weight gain, well, could hypothetically just be that she isn’t wearing the corset and not eating or eating like a bird in front of him anymore. Who knows.

    But yeah. Sensible information, gasp!

  6. I was also thinking the hygiene thing could be about body-hair expectations on his part.

    Ditto. I was out with friends the other night, and one told the story of being at the beach in a bathing suit, and having a guy point to her escaped pubic hairs and say, “Now that’s just rude.” RUDE. The hair existing on her body, not his wildly inappropriate statement about it, of course.

    She said she was like, “Well, clearly, I’m an adult, so what did you expect?” But then, she also said that experience led to her first bikini wax.

    This generation of guys seems to think that at least an old school bikini wax, if not a Brazilian, should be a standard part of personal grooming — and any woman who won’t put herself through that is a slacker who’s not “taking care of herself.” I PROTEST!

    And the worst part is, Al and I recently had a conversation about waxing the triangle of paradise, in which I said something to the effect of, “I just don’t think I could take the pain, even if I wanted to.” Al: “Oh, does it hurt that much?”

    DOES IT HURT THAT MUCH? Does putting HOT WAX on the most sensitive part of your body for the purpose of RIPPING OUT CLUMPS OF HAIR hurt that much? Are you fucking kidding me? But I suppose if guys can’t put it together that that would be INCREDIBLY PAINFUL, DUH, it makes more sense that they think it’s along the lines of getting your hair done regularly.

    Aaaanyway. That’s a whole other rant, obviously. But the conflation of “unwaxed cootch” and “poor hygiene” is a major pet peeve of mine.

  7. one told the story of being at the beach in a bathing suit, and having a guy point to her escaped pubic hairs and say, “Now that’s just rude.”

    You know what’s REALLY rude? Sitting there staring at a woman’s cooch. Now THAT’s rude.

  8. Al: “Oh, does it hurt that much?”

    The only appropriate answer to that is to find the footage I saw one morning on TV over here of a guy who volunteered to, um, have a Brazilian. They didn’t show the gory details, but I think the screaming said everything.

    Stephanie, I wonder about the whole early-dating thing where people are desperate to impress one another. If they do it to the extent that they’re not really being themselves, then after the very early stages when they feel more relaxed with this person, they will revert to type. Because it’s hard to keep up hardly eating anything, or dressing in clothes you find uncomfortable, or subjecting yourself to painful and expensive ‘beauty treatments’, or (no, I’ve actually heard of this) getting up an hour before your husband to apply makeup so he never sees you without it. So people resume their normal behavior. And often, the partner will then assume they’ve ‘let themselves go’.

    That’s the expression applied to looks, but it happens with other stuff too…the partner who can’t come clean about not really liking football or dance music or, as once happened in my case, ham radio. It can be much more serious – I’ve heard all sorts of nightmare scenarios where someone suddenly found out their partner’s views were entirely different to what they thought they were on stuff like religion, money, wanting/not wanting children – I actually only found my ex was staunchly pro-life after a (thankfully, false) pregnancy scare! (OK, stupid of me not to ask, but he knew my pro-choice views and had never, till then, said a word against them.)

    There needs to be more honesty at the beginning – ‘this is how I am, how do you feel about that?’ Otherwise, we’re not having relationships with people, but with carefully constructed images. Unfortunately, we live so much in a society where image is everything, and it’s perilously easy to get caught up in that.

  9. There’s a great scene in [i]The Torch Song Trilogy[/i] where one of the two gay guys in the relationship does jump out of bed to wash and floss and deodorize before his (new) partner wakes up. It was really interesting to see that from — sort of — the other side.

    And I know the day I’m okay with getting busy without having just shaved my legs and primped that I’m in a Relationship, not just “dating seriously.” Personally, I like that day.

  10. I will CONSIDER — I repeat, consider — trying a brazillian wax when 80 percent of men in the West wax their scrotal sacks because “it’s just feels so sexy to ME.”

    Until then, I’m not paying ANYONE to tear out my pubic or anal hair out by its tiny, tenacious roots.

  11. BTW, I think Kate might be onto something with her musing about men thinking waxing is just part of “taking care of yourself.”

    I recently was reading an internet board about the movie The History of Violence. There was a huge thread about Maria Bello’s “bush” and how awful it was.

    I thought her nude scene was great — but I don’t wax. Never have.

  12. I know this is mostly off topic, but you mentioned belly dancing! Ever since I started reading FA blogs, I’ve been wanting to take belly dancing classes.
    I’ve had my eyebrows waxed; it wasn’t too bad, but I don’t think I’d want to do it any other part of my body.

  13. Ever since I started reading FA blogs, I’ve been wanting to take belly dancing classes.

    DO IT

    Also off topic, there was a woman in my class last night who was much fatter than me, which is not something that usually happens (plenty of fat women in the studio, but they never seem to be in my classes). And hoo boy, they are NOT kidding when they say you can shimmy better the more you’ve got to move! Shimmies looked effortless for this woman. But then on the flip side, you can see the muscles working in thin women, and that’s awesome too. My point is that people of all sizes should belly dance.

  14. Maybe this guy’s girlfriend stops shaving in the winter… I know I do!

    On waxing: I have had 2 brazillian waxes in my life. The first time I took some tylenol 4 I had laying around the house, and it wasn’t so bad. The second time I went without a painkiller: I could barely walk the three blocks home afterwards.

    But I do have an unfortunate combination of Italian and Mexican genes that have blessed me with a nice ‘stache. I do have to wax that. it drives me nuts.

  15. Does it hurt? Does it hurt??? Has Al never so much as taken a Band-Aid off his arm or leg?

    Damn, do young guys really expect a waxed cooter these days? I guess this old fart got off easy. Because the day I get Brazilian waxes will be the day he gets monthly hair plugs. Fortunately, my “he” (over 40, natch) would never ask.

    But yes, I would generally agree with more “be more of you early on so your partner knows ASAP who you really are.” If you want to cut your hair short, don’t wait until after the wedding. Quit dieting. Let a good fart rip now and then. Don’t pretend to love football if it bores you to death, or to hate it if you secretly know all of Bronko Nagurski’s lifetime stats. (And if you actually know how to spell “Bronko Nagurski” without looking it up, don’t keep that a secret either.) Maybe you’ll have to wait longer for a ring, but at least you won’t be tied down to someone who only thinks he knows you.

  16. Kristin, great point — if they’ve only been together nine months, he’s never seen her in the winter! Possible she stops shaving, possible she puts on weight in the winter like many people do.

    I wish Bonior had taken this into account — the fact that the guy may not be the most reliable source of information about his girlfriend’s habits — but for a face value answer I still think it’s as good as it gets.

  17. All this talk about showing who you truly are when you’re first getting to know each other makes me really glad that I had to have surgery just a month after my now husband started dating. He got to see me in all my painkiller laden, lack of showers because it was too painful to stand that long, lack of shaving glory. Heck it even primed him for all the hospital stays and illnesses I’ve had throughout the years.

  18. Have you all read this article? According to this jerk, hygiene for women isn’t just waxing. It’s “haircut, highlights, manicure, pedicure, waxing, tanning, make-up, facials, teeth whitening etc.”

    Hygiene for a man? Well, he doesn’t mention it, but various advice sites I’ve seen have mentioned such radical procedures as “showering” and “hair-combing.”

  19. OUCH. Let’s not exclude the next line of that article:

    They will spend a further $1,000 (£500) a month on physical conditioning such as military fitness, spinning sessions, vikram yoga, Pilates, deep-tissue sports massage, personal training etc.

    So, that’s, like, $1700 a month (which, by the way, is a hell of a lot more than my net income — or my gross income, even) just to be acceptable to men?

    That man isn’t just a jerk, he’s a rich jerk with plastic friends.

    Oh, and let’s DEFINITELY not leave out this line:

    I’m not saying that I’m the greatest prize out there, but at least I’d put on a clean shirt, shaved and brushed my teeth.

    So, um, putting on a clean shirt isn’t a regular thing for you, mister?

    Can I blame the patriarchy over here?

  20. According to this jerk, hygiene for women isn’t just waxing. It’s “haircut, highlights, manicure, pedicure, waxing, tanning, make-up, facials, teeth whitening etc.”

    “HYGIENE: conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease.”

    Yet, somehow, practices involving carcinogenic bodily irradiation and tedious, expensive, sometimes painful practices including the application of poisonous chemicals somehow gets shoved under this umbrella – but only when it’s women on the receiving end. And they wonder how on earth we ever started to twig that dieting is toxic too.

  21. I appreciated the fact that she asked the writer to thoughtfully examine his own motivations before he made a move to speak to his partner. It delicately allowed for the possibilty that his partner had no problem at all and that the writer himself was the one at fault. And I appreciate that it was done in a kind, gentle way.

    I know that kindness is not as sexy and attention-getting as confrontation and self-righteous snarking, if that were the case then there would be no so-called “reality” tv or columnists like Mr. Savage whose technique relies upon shock value and “oh no she didn’t go there” value. But in this instance it was EXACTLY the right response from ths columnist. It was sensitive, wise and HELPFUL.

  22. Damn! No wonder I am such an affront to the patriarchy! I only have an income of $800/mth, which means I am lucky when I get a haircut. As a single, welfare mom, I am everything that is wrong with America- then add fat, with fat kids. Oi! The only thing I am missing is that I am not a WOC, and I am sure there are women around here that fit the bill.
    $1700 on ‘hygeine’??? My head is spinning.

  23. $1700 on ‘hygeine’??? My head is spinning.

    Man, if I had that kind of money to throw around it would so go to books and DVDs. And cooking supplies.

  24. I’d forgotten about the twisted definitions some people have for “hygiene.” I assumed that he meant “she has toxic b.o.” or “She wears the same undies for a week” or “she never brushes her teeth.” Silly me.

  25. Dee, yeah, I think it could go either way. The face value version — that she’s put on weight and also wears the same undies for a week — does point to depression, and that’s the version I think Dr. Bonior handled perfectly. The cynical version — that she’s gained three pounds and doesn’t shave her legs every ding-dang day — is what makes me wish Carolyn Hax were writing the column instead.

  26. And the worst part is, Al and I recently had a conversation about waxing the triangle of paradise, in which I said something to the effect of, “I just don’t think I could take the pain, even if I wanted to.” Al: “Oh, does it hurt that much?”

    DOES IT HURT THAT MUCH? Does putting HOT WAX on the most sensitive part of your body for the purpose of RIPPING OUT CLUMPS OF HAIR hurt that much? Are you fucking kidding me? But I suppose if guys can’t put it together that that would be INCREDIBLY PAINFUL, DUH, it makes more sense that they think it’s along the lines of getting your hair done regularly.

    I like men with lots of hair. (Who knows why.)

    I also like it when they’re willing to go for a back wax, or beard laser if they deal with ingrowns, to understand the level of suffering we TRULY put up with in the name of “beauty” and “grooming” and social expectations.

    Usually after just one episode, they have a little more empathy.

    Has the LW inquired after her mental health yet, though?

  27. Oh, and yeah, Safran?

    Check out his pukey “credits” on IMDB.

    I heard Jon Stewart (swoon) worked on the movie and is still embarrassed to be reminded of it.

  28. “haircut, highlights, manicure, pedicure, waxing, tanning, make-up, facials, teeth whitening etc.”

    I get my hair cut every couple of months and I wear ChapStick in the winter. Somehow, I think Tad Safran would be a bit disappointed in me. How very very sad.

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