So, friend of the blog Mary Anne Mohanraj has posted a question in her personal journal and wonders what Shapelings have to say about it. I’m quoting most of it here, leaving out the intro where she talks about how she’s new to fat acceptance and still struggling with her own relationship with her body — if you don’t go read the whole post, please keep that in mind when you comment.
Here’s the rest of it:
Okay, so with all of my confusion about my own ‘fatness’ in mind, here’s the thing. Pre-pregnancy, especially in my twenties, I found tons of people attractive. Most of them, in fact, especially if I spent a little while talking to them and getting to know them. Even more so if they were evidently smart. If I thought they might actually be smarter than me, I pretty much jumped them right then and there. (I leave it to the reader to guess how many people that meant I ended up sleeping with. :-) The one exception back then was people who struck me as fat. And I can’t say now what that weight or body fat percentage would be, for men or women — I’m guessing somewhere above a 3X, but I’m just not sure. I didn’t like the fact that I didn’t find them attractive, but I didn’t worry about it too much, because I was having enough trouble handling my attraction to all the other folks. (Poly only compounds that problem, in many ways.)
But now, I don’t know whether it’s hormones or what, but my sex drive has taken a nose dive, and I just don’t find folks attractive anymore. Not people on the street, not cute guys and girls at cons, and most of the time, not my partner Kevin or my sweetie Jed. I can appreciate their looks in an aesthetic sense, but I don’t get turned on nearly as quickly as I used to. I have to work at it now, get myself into the mood, think about how nice it might be to have sex (and gosh, doesn’t that sound weak, compared to the “barely keeping my hands off this guy or gal I really shouldn’t touch, but I’m losing my mind” of my younger days*). Most of the time, reading a book or watching tv or even, god forbid, working (!) sounds more interesting and fun.
Now Kevin and Jed have been very patient, but the lack of sex definitely has been a strain on both relationships, and it’s not like I don’t like the sex once I get there — I do, very much. So I’ve been making the effort to get there, and it’s mostly working. Even if we do have to do things like schedule Wednesday night for sex. (Don’t call me on Wednesday night, ‘kay?)
So I think I can condition myself to find them, and others, attractive. Which makes me wonder about those people I thought were ‘too fat’ back in college? If I had made the effort then, would I have found them attractive too? Is it worth making that effort? Should I, for political reasons, to try to counter all the crazy media brainwashing around weight? (Not to mention skin color, straightness and length of hair, lack of body hair, etc.) Should I make the effort, just in case I’m missing out on a fabulous relationship for stupid reasons?
I’m not sure exactly what my question is here — but it’s something like: do you find a broad range of people attractive? Are there types you don’t find attractive? Do you think it’d be worthwhile to find more people attractive? (Those of you in monogamous or polyfidelitous relationships may want to reframe the question for your once-single selves.) Do you think not finding ‘fat’ (whatever that means) attractive is a particular problem? And if you do want to recondition yourself, how would you go about it?
One exercise I read about recently is to try and think of at least one positive thing about the appearance of every person you see, no matter how minor. I wonder if that would help, over time.
The first comment is from Jed, linking to Laurie and Debbie’s post about a “what to do when you’re not hot for your wife anymore” column by He Who Shall Not Be Named. Excellent post, excellent answer to some of these questions.
Here’s what I told Mary Anne in an e-mail:
I think it IS possible to condition yourself to be attracted to people, but I also don’t think anyone’s obligated to do that, and you (collective you) shouldn’t necessarily force it. Where Kevin and Jed are concerned, you know it’s not a case of them being people who just don’t float your boat — obviously, they’ve floated it in the past, so you’re probably just experiencing a pretty normal post-baby thing and possibly even just aging/long-term relationship stuff. (This article talks about how unrealistic it is for anyone to still want to rip someone’s clothes off after they’ve already had sex a thousand times, which might actually be more relevant to your specific problem than larger questions of attraction.)
As far as being attracted to fat people goes, obviously, that’s very likely a matter of bullshit social conditioning, and it sucks to know you’ve got that in yourself when you’re someone who tries to resist damaging cultural narratives. But your personal attractions don’t necessarily have to interfere with your efforts to promote social justice. I often hear from trolls who are all, “Stop trying to make me find fat chicks hot!” and it’s just like, where am I doing that? My policy has always been, if you’re not attracted to fat people, don’t date them — easy peasy. The hard part is treating fat people with respect and dignity even if you’re not personally attracted to them. If you’re going to work on getting rid of social conditioning, resisting the idea that attractiveness is a measure of someone’s value as a human being is a lot more important than whether you, personally, find fat people hot. (And I’m not saying that’s something you’re struggling with, just that I think it’s the key big-picture issue here. And this question does come up a lot.)
I tend to think that “types” or no “types,” attraction is highly individual and unpredictable, and generally speaking, there’s no reason why anyone should force chemistry that just isn’t there. (Trying to reconnect with long-term partners is a different ball of wax from trying to find a new person attractive when there’s no spark.) But the message that certain types of people are categorically unattractive and therefore less worthy of love and respect than other human beings is a big fucking cultural problem that we should all be working against.
So in short, no, you don’t have to be turned on by fat people to be a good person. But you do have to believe that fat people deserve love, sex, respect, bodily autonomy and all the same rights as anyone else. If you’ve got that part down, you’re fine.
What do you think, Shapelings? She asks a lot of really interesting questions, and I’m wondering if my answer is too simple, or betrays sadly low expectations. I give variations on that answer a lot to people who tell me they just aren’t attracted to fat people, because it’s the most pragmatic one — nobody has to be hot for me, you just have to not treat me like shit. But then, Mary Anne’s not a troll whining about how she doesn’t like to think about fat people having sex. She’s someone who recognizes that she’s been culturally conditioned to hold negative beliefs about a particular group of people, and she wants to fight that. So maybe some extra soul-searching about her personal attractions is in order. Thoughts?
*Note: In the original post, that sentence had a very amusing string of hyphenated words instead of the bit in quotation marks, but all the hyphens fucked up the formatting here, so I made that small edit for clarity.