Do I Have to Find Fat People Attractive?

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.

104 thoughts on “Do I Have to Find Fat People Attractive?

  1. I am attracted to fat people. In fact, I find myself *more* attracted to them than to thin people – I think that’s because of my own body type. For me that doesn’t mean thin people are ugly and fat people are prettier. It’s just a matter of personal attraction. I think on some level, because I’ve felt I was fat since I was 11 (even though back then, I wasn’t, yet), I’ve never really viewed fat people as unattractive. Whilst I was conditioned to hate my own fat, I never hated the fat in other people.

    The other day I was watching Supernanny and it occurred to me I found Jo Frost very, very attractive.

  2. I agree with you, Kate, that it should never be forced, and that the primary thing is to be fully respectful to fat people even if you don’t find us attractive. “Fully respectful” includes things like respecting our right to have sex and believing that even if you (whoever the “you” is) don’t find us attractive, some other people do.

    But I do think it’s possible to slowly, slowly, rethink a lack of attraction to fat people. It’s nobody’s obligation to do this, but it could be someone’s choice. It would be a process of small intangible shifts. It would mean, maybe, when meeting someone fat and interesting, whispering inside your mind, “DO I like this person that way?” YOu can’t control when your mind and body will answer yes or no, but you can ask yourself the question openly for a while. I think it’s a question of slowly, slowly opening up the landscape of your mind so that new attractions would feel free to wander in.

    It may not work for everyone. But it may work for some people.

  3. Danielle – I am attracted to fat people too. But the technique I describe above, I have used for other topics, and found it to work. That’s just me.

    Also – Jo Frost totally hottt.

  4. I agree with you Kate. I think that even if you’re not personally attracted to fat people (which, regardless of your conditioning, may just be a preference), you still need to treat them with the respect that all human beings deserve. And, yet, while I understand everyone has preferences as to who they find physically attractive and that sort of thing, I’ve honestly always had a hard time being attracted to even the most “beautiful” person if s/he has no integrity or intelligence. I don’t think it’s so much “conditioning” yourself to love people of different body types, but at least giving them a chance to prove your notions of what’s sexy or beautiful wrong. And, even if you decide you’re not physically attracted to someone at that point, you at least have the foundations for a really good friendship.

  5. One more point I’ll throw in, that a friend brought up in this discussion — even if you aren’t interested in getting romantically/sexually involved with [more] people, human beings do generally bias towards those they find ‘attractive’ in friendships, work relationships, hiring, etc. Sad, but true.

    So for that reason alone, for social equity reasons, I think maybe I ought to be working on broadening my attraction window. I suppose the flip side would be to try not to let ‘attractiveness’ factor into any of those decisions, but it all happens on such a subconscious level, I’m not sure how possible that is.

  6. I don’t know if you can “condition” yourself generically or not. I’ve noticed that my range of who looks good has expanded after I’ve met someone of that type, have gotten to know them, and then developed an attraction to that specific person. Once that person turns into someone attractive, then suddenly other people with that body type look attractive, too.

  7. I’ve been very surprised by how many fat women – including myself – have families who think their spouses/partners are deserving of commemorative plaques and statues for taking on the fattie. Attention, these people: loving a fat person is not an act of pure altruism. You may not find fat people attractive, but please don’t commiserate with those who do.

  8. 10 years ago I would have said I wasn’t attracted to fat people. I’d have also said I didn’t find Asian men attractive. Both of these statements embarrass the hell out of me now! I’m not saying you can force yourself into finding any group sexually attractive but, seriously, if you’re willing to open up those boundaries…they tend to fall apart completely.

    I’ve noticed that the more I grow and open myself to new people and experiences, the more people I find myself attracted to. The more secure I feel in myself, the more able I am to see the sexuality and sensuality in all the other people I see.

    The more open I am to the world, the more of that world becomes damn sexy to me!

  9. Finding fat people more attractive may come naturally with the journey toward fat acceptance. I know it did for me, the more I realised fat stereotypes were bullshit, the more I started to find other fat people attractive.

    Which leads me to say… I think it is possible to undo that societal conditioning, and while I don’t think it’s necessarily required to be a fat acceptance advocate, I think it’s worth trying to do. Especially for someone who is single or poly and looking for a partner… why risk missing out on something that could be really amazing just because of some kind of bullshit societal conditioning?

  10. I agree with all the comments, pretty much. It’s the same with pretty much any group that is discriminated against (as in, a lot of people will say they don’t like people of a particular ethnic minority – someone I know limits the women he could ever find attractive to being white women, and wouldn’t even agree to be set up with anyone else!). Once you understand the discrimination a bit more, basically once you’ve stopped ‘othering’ people, you’ll be more likely to find them attractive. I think it’s happening for me.

    I do agree that an important first step is realising that even though you might not find someone attractive, other people do. A lot of the time when I was at uni and two friends would get together, people would here about it, and for months afterwards whisper “what are they doing together – this person is so much hotter than their new partner. Why would he/she do that?” I have to admit to having been very much part of those conversations in the past. When I began to think about attractiveness and weight as things that people can experience discrimination for, this was the first step I took in trying to change the way I thought about that.

  11. I like a wide range of body types, simply because it’s not a person’s body that turns me on. I’m attracted to people who have a wicked sense of humor (the more twisted, the better, I say). So I’ve dated men (and women) from thin to fat and everything in-between, liked all of them, and loved some of them. Size might be one of the first things I see about a person, but I reserve judgment on liking or disliking a person until I’ve had a chance to talk them and get to know them (this also applies to whether I want them in my bed or not). It’s not something I’ve ever had to work on in order to reach that state, it’s the way I’ve always been, so I wouldn’t have a clue on how to tell someone how to change the way they look at people to decide if they’re attracted or not.

  12. 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.

    This has really made a difference for me in dealing with internalized fatphobia and sexism in general (not necessarily about sexual attraction). There was a time when I very deliberately trained myself to notice when I had thoughts about a person’s ugliness and to “replace” it with a positive thought. (I put “replace” in quotes because it’s not that I censored or disappeared the first thought, but tried to supersede it with a positive thought.) It really made me feel a lot more charitable towards everyone — not in a pitying way, but in a “I am looking at people’s bodies through a lens of appreciation rather than criticism.” Changing lenses like that really helped me look at my own body positively as well.

  13. It really made me feel a lot more charitable towards everyone — not in a pitying way, but in a “I am looking at people’s bodies through a lens of appreciation rather than criticism.” Changing lenses like that really helped me look at my own body positively as well.

    Totally.

  14. By definition, I think fat prejudice ties into the physical body so much that it’s problematic to ignore sexuality or attraction when dealing with it. Since “fat people are disgusting” is so often the fatphobic refrain, I think redefining attractiveness to include fat bodies is important.

    While I do certainly think that judging people based merely on their appearance is a problem, I tend to believe that it’s a problem because we have such narrow definitions of beauty rather than because noticing and responding to what people look like is inherently wrong; that is, I want everyone to do what Sweet Machine mentions and find the beauty in everyone, rather than thinking beauty needs to be a restricted class, because I think we’re all better human beings when we respond to each other that way.

    So I guess I believe that shifting our focus onto the beauty that exists in everyone, no matter how close to or far from the beauty “ideal” they are, is a powerful way of affirming each person’s humanity and breaking down the mental barriers that sometimes keep us from doing so.

  15. I’ve never really asked anyone else about this but, for me, there’s a huge difference between thinking someone is good-looking and wanting to get him or her all sticky. Attraction is an odd and mysterious thing and is sometimes completely divorced from aesthetics, compatibility, common-sense, self-preservation – you name it.

  16. SweetMachine, please pop into my bedroom about 6:30 GMT every day and remind me to try this. Also, come back about elevenses and tell me again. This sounds like SUCH a good idea.

  17. I think it’s important to recognize that when we categorize general attractiveness in terms only of physical attractiveness, we are shortchanging ourselves by limiting our relationships, both sexually and otherwise.

    Before I met my boyfriend, I would never have considered dating a short guy. My ideal height in a man was 5’9″ or higher, and I’m only 5’4″. I always thought it was ridiculous to see a (heterosexual) couple where the female was taller than the male. But my boyfriend (soon to be fiance) is exactly my height (and shoe size, which cracks me up), and I find him wildly attractive. I’m so glad that when I met him that I didn’t let that factor get in the way of being with him.

    Attractiveness is such a relative thing that I think it’s impossible to say that everyone can be attracted or unattracted to any one group of people. For instance, rather than fat people, I have never been able to imagine being with a skinny guy. I have never, in all my years, been truly attracted to a guy who had very little body fat. Just my preference. And I’ve never felt the need to “force” myself into finding them attractive.

  18. Like Vesta up there, I don’t find myself attracted to any one body type, because it’s not a person’s body that truly attracts me at all. I’ve dated/been engaged to practically every type you can think of – from short/fat to short/thin to tall/fat to tall/thin. And pretty much everything in between. If you’d asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that my “type” was tall and fat. But that would have been wrong. My type is whoever floats my boat – and that includes a broad range of people.

    But yes, I do think you can retrain yourself to think differently about other people. Heh. I just blogged about something very similar about 30 minutes ago. You might not find yourself attracted TO them, but I think you can retrain your brain to think of them as attractive in a totally aesthetic way.

    As for the rest of it, Kate – I’m right there with you on that. As long as I’m treated with respect, like a human being has right to expect of other human beings, I could care less if anyone other than my husband ever saw me as attractive again. Not being treated like shit? WAY more important.

  19. My reaction to what you wrote here:
    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.

    is that it’s exactly the issue when we’re talking about interacting with people in a most general sense.

    We’ve all got tons of social conditioning to “get over” and some of it might have nothing to do with weight or age or socially constructed race or perceived gender but even something like me being told as a kid that “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” and then thinking that people who say not nice things are also not nice.

    I think that SM’s approach toward observing the internalized thought, and noticing the impact on interaction or reaction, and then “replacing” is a good one. I guess it’s also a very individual approach, I struggle with this, too. I think feeling angry at the thought, sorting out where it came from, and attempting to pull it out at the root is helpful for me as a parent to try to avoid passing these thoughts along, wherever they come from.

    And aside from trying to not pass these thoughts along, there’s also how I try to live my life, the choices I make, who I try to make eye contact with, how I spend my money (which I know is something I’m lucky — not deserving — to have). I’m far from completely consistent with my values.

    I wish I knew how to communicate better about all of this. Communicating online feels like it lacks real impact.

    I also think it’s perfectly okay to feel bad, or guilty, or remorseful about how we used to act. Probably not helpful to dwell there, but to just to be there for a little bit and let the feeling help guide future actions, that’s okay.

    Thanks, Kate, for making this more visible.

  20. I’ve always felt I was lucky in that somehow (nature, conditioning, whatever) my major attractions always have to do with individual people. There are certain physical things that will catch my attention, but if the personality isn’t behind it, the attention immediately fades. Likewise, there are people who don’t immediately catch my attention visually to whom I find myself intensely attracted once I’ve gotten to know them (my husband is one of these–I’d known him for five months before I ever started thinking of him in a romantic sense.)

    I have “types” that will pull me, but they’re less a matter of physical configuration and more a matter of personal style and bearing. Tomboys, for instance, make my thighs go up in flames. And that goes whether they’re tall and rangy and dress like Joey Ramone or shorter and thick and play rugby. Likewise, I have a thing for shy, nerdy guys, but that can go whether he’s a lithe little twink or a baby bear or one of those adorable chubby nebbishy guys like Jason Alexander.

    I have absolutely no pull toward the typical “hot” blonde babes and hunks. Fake tans, bleached-out hair and more muscles than brains? Ugh. Just… no. Give me the slightly-green pallor of people who spend their time in the library instead of the gym. Athletes? Fine. Love me some Alexandre Despatie. But not gym rats and tanning bed addicts. Bleh.

    And all of those things really come down to people, rather than soulless bodies. IMHO, if you’re having sex with body parts instead of another human being, you’re doing it wrong anyway.

    As for general sex drive, that really has nothing to do with attraction, IME. I’m generally always rarin’ to go, but I’ve had patches of low sex drive in which I was still plenty attracted to many different people, but I just didn’t have the mental and physical jones to actually go through with the act.

    Most of the time, these patches have had to do with varying levels of hormones and brain chemicals, but on occasion, they’ve had to do with my perception of my OWN attractiveness. I’d find myself getting hot for someone and then realize that there’s no way in hell that person would ever want to sleep with me, and that just takes the fire out of the whole thing. Sometimes, I’ve basically shut down my whole sexuality for periods of time because it’s just too depressing to accept the reality that the vast majority of the people to whom I’m attracted would not be attracted to me.

    Theoretically, that shouldn’t matter, especially when it’s just about fantasy and not reality (as with celebs and such) but there’s still a little voice in my head that knows the reality and it puts a damper on things. I’m very lucky that I have a partner who loves me exactly as I am, and most of the time, that’s enough, but sometimes it really does take the wind out of my sails to realize that so many people are so brainwashed by their culture that they’d never even think of me as a potential sex partner even if they otherwise adored me as a person.

  21. I think a lot of folks are responding by essentially saying that they don’t see the need to ‘force’ their attraction to any particular group.

    But I think what I was trying to say is that I feel I was already forced — that we all are. That we’re societally programmed to disregard and devalue vast swathes of humanity as possible sexual partners — because they’re too fat, too dark, too hairy, etc. and so on. And I really resent that programming, on a personal level. I would like to try to undo some of it.

    And I do get what many of y’all are saying about personality and intelligence and all that. I agree, for me, those are generally much more important. But I think most humans often do a subconscious filter based on appearance long before they get to the stage of even getting to know someone’s personality and intelligence. For evidence, I offer how much less often I get hit on these days (by both strangers and friends) than I did in my thinner 20s. My personality hasn’t changed, but my appearance surely has.

  22. I just want to ask preemptively that as we discuss our personal preferences and learning curves and the like, that we not denigrate any “type” of body, whether it’s considered traditionally beautiful or not.

  23. No, you don’t have to find fat people attractive. But you have to treat us with respect instead of something you’d scrape off the bottom of your shoe and leave in the street. Extra body tissue does not give anyone a pass to be an asshole.

    As for me, I have never liked the very muscular, hard-body type. Guys who look like they spend every waking moment in the gym rubbing up their pecs with baby oil is a total turnoff. Maybe it has to do with my always assuming they think only protein shakes and gym memberships. I know that’s wrong, but that’s the image I get. So muscles are out.

    The rare times I have been approached by men, they have been very skinny guys, with hardly any body fat on them. Maybe I present something nuturing to them, that they could get lost in my fat. I also tend to attract shorter men as well (I’m 5’9).

    But really, looks are the least of what is important. I like guys with a sense of humor, who like to dance, and have no qualms about showing off their inner geek (this is a gal that likes horror movies, Doctor Who, and Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I’m a card-carrying geek already). I have seen all kinds of men from every race and body type around I felt were good-looking. I know it’s cliche, but it’s what inside that counts.

  24. But I think what I was trying to say is that I feel I was already forced — that we all are.

    Yes yes yes. This is huge. I really cringe when people talk about feeling “naturally” attracted to certain types of people because to me the word “natural” is a huge red flag when we’re talking about bodies.

  25. I just want to ask preemptively that as we discuss our personal preferences and learning curves and the like, that we not denigrate any “type” of body, whether it’s considered traditionally beautiful or not.

    I do hope my gym rats bit didn’t offend. My point there wasn’t to talk about body type–obviously some people, especially athletes, are naturally muscular–but about a type of personality: people who spend a third of their life artificially modifying their appearance in such a way that they don’t even look human anymore. Fake-and-bake isn’t a natural body type, IMHO. ;)

  26. But I think what I was trying to say is that I feel I was already forced — that we all are. That we’re societally programmed to disregard and devalue vast swathes of humanity as possible sexual partners — because they’re too fat, too dark, too hairy, etc. and so on. And I really resent that programming, on a personal level. I would like to try to undo some of it.

    Absolutely — that’s the part I think my e-mail to you glossed over, which is why I threw it in at the end. And I do think it’s a super-important point — how do we undo programming we resent and recognize as wrong? — though I also think your question is so damned meaty, there are going to be a lot of tangents here. :)

  27. I really cringe when people talk about feeling “naturally” attracted to certain types of people because to me the word “natural” is a huge red flag when we’re talking about bodies.

    Would “instinctive” or “inherent” be better words, SM? I think I get what makes you cringe, but on the other hand, I totally get why somebody would say that. Because it feels natural for them, even though they know that “most” people would disagree with them.

    Make sense?

  28. Yes yes yes. This is huge. I really cringe when people talk about feeling “naturally” attracted to certain types of people because to me the word “natural” is a huge red flag when we’re talking about bodies.

    There’s a lot of chicken-and-egg here, though.

    A friend of mine feels that her “orientation” as such is strongly coalesced around a particular type of sexuality that is based in the kinds of images one typically finds in cheap porn. She doesn’t know why or how this came to be the core of her sexuality–it just is. That kind of imagery and behavior is what turns her on, and nothing else does. Trying to unlearn that would mean unlearning a core part of who she is.

    Personally, I’m a constructionist, and therefore I don’t think that any sexual attraction is somehow hard-wired into the brain, other than a generic ability to be turned on by other people. Rather, I think it’s more like language, and it’s something we learn all through childhood and adolescence. We’re pre-primed, biologically, to learn sexuality, but it’s really our experiences that shape the nuances of that.

    However, just as we can’t really unlearn our first language–though we can learn others–we can’t exactly unlearn our core sexuality. We can dig deeply into what we have learned and work through it to some degree, but it’s really impossible to completely erase what our culture and upbringing have taught us about something so fundamental. Ask anyone who has tried to relearn how to find a spouse attractive as his or her body ages and changes. It’s possible, sure, but it’s damned hard to get rid of those early-implanted ideas that sex is something for younger bodies.

    This is why, IMHO, what’s really important is to ensure that kids don’t get brainwashed by media images of sexuality that are limited to a very narrow range of people, ages, body types and activities.

  29. Nobody should be obligated to find any “type” attractive but I think there’s a bigger problem here than that.

    I think the key is to step outside the objectification and see the person as a person, not as a sexual prop. Appearance has absolutely nothing to do with who I find appealing, it’s all in who and what they are.

    (bearing in mind of course that I’m 47, beyond childbearing age, and happily monogamous)

  30. I am very surprised who I find attractive. I was shocked out of my mind when something switched in my brain and I found my chubby brilliant husband attractive 32 years ago. I did not plan it….just ZAP something moved in my Psyche and BAM…the rest is history.

  31. I think I get what makes you cringe, but on the other hand, I totally get why somebody would say that. Because it feels natural for them, even though they know that “most” people would disagree with them.

    I do understand why people say it, because sexual desire wells up inside you; it is an intense feeling that you experience in your body as well as in your mind, and it makes you want to reach out to another person and breach the walls we all try to make that protect us from being vulnerable to other people. We call it “natural” because it does feel intrinsic in the most literal sense of the word: it comes from inside.

    But sexual desire is also about fantasy, and fantasy is a kind of narrative, made of words and imagined pictures and sounds and touch. Those things are inexorably informed by culture, and that starts from the youngest ages. What’s inside our heads and what feelings we learn to appreciate from our bodies are not planted there from birth, waiting to flower; they’re part of who we are, yes, but also part of who we’re becoming.

    In debates about whether something comes from nature or from culture, people often talk as though nature is immutable and culture is easy to fix (which is why evo psych trolls love to assert that sexism is a part of nature). But I think all of us who think about systemic oppressions know that cultural change requires concerted, widescale, relentless effort. Culture is not easy to change just because we think of it as being not-nature. Moreover, the word “natural” is used both to value and devalue actions, characteristics, and groups of people. Sometimes we use “natural” to mean “good” and “worthy of continuing” and “unnatural” to mean “something abhorrent that must be stamped out” (like gay marriage); sometimes we use them the other way around, such as when women and/or people of color are described as “closer to nature” than white men (and therefore less able to run “culture”).

    My suspicion of characterizing specific forms of erotic desire as natural/intrinsic, then, comes from two related objections: 1) nature/culture is a false dichotomy that 2) has a history of being used as justification for subjugating the (un)natural.

    [/dissertation]

  32. Once that person turns into someone attractive, then suddenly other people with that body type look attractive, too.

    Some things that still intrigue and amuse me: Before I met my hubby, who exhibits varying degrees of facial hair from stubbly to verging on that guy from System of a Down (you may know the one), I absolutely did not go for guys with facial hair of any kind. Now, I think it’s kind of cute, on some guys. (Although it depends on the guy, and since I’m taken, finding it cute from a distance is as far as it goes). The other thing is that until I met him, I absolutely didn’t understand the thing some of my girlfriends had always had about men’s butts. When I met him and had had a chance to observe said ‘tocks – whoop-de-doo!

    What I think happened here is that liking him, as a person, made those things attractive to me in general where they hadn’t been before. So it can happen naturally, as it sounds like it has to many people here, although I for one can’t recall ever making a conscious effort to like those things where I didn’t previously.

    There are various things I’ve always gone for – eyes, hands, a well-kept head of long hair – but I don’t believe I’ve ever gone for a particular physique. Proviso: I will now say that I like skinny guys, but I think, again, that’s because I happen to be married to one now. And, I’ve always found very muscle-bound guys a turn-off – to look at, but I think that’s more to do with what you say, Tal, about people who spend a third of their life artificially modifying their appearance – I’d suspect a guy who took the trouble to look that way wouldn’t have much time for a relationship. Getting to know such a guy might, of course, prove me wrong.

    And, I don’t think I’ve very often fallen for a guy purely on appearance. The times I have, it’s invariably turned out to be disastrous personality-wise. For me, the perception of anyone’s appearance really is filtered through what I know of them as a person. Having often not been given the benefit of the doubt myself on looks, I know it’s important to make sure the person gets a chance to show you more than just their appearance.

  33. Once you stop hating people based on silly prejudices, you’re much more likely to start finding them attractive. But I don’t think it’s a guarantee or an obligation.

    In fact, a lot of arsemouth trolls around FA sites often make the complaint that we’re somehow INSISTING they find us attractive. Uh, no, dude. I just want my basic rights as a human being, and for you to stop assuming your own whacked-out fetishes are universal, evolutionarily predicated standards of All That is Good and Proper.

    I tihnk what buttercup said is important: <em”I think the key is to step outside the objectification and see the person as a person, not as a sexual prop.”

    I’ve personally never had a problem with this, and I tend to become attacted to people (physically) as I get to know and love their personalities. Apparently it doesn’t work this way for everyone?

  34. “Once that person turns into someone attractive, then suddenly other people with that body type look attractive, too.”

    I’m so completely this way, it’s crazy. So because of that, when I noted I was a big ol’ fat fat-woman-phobe, I decided to attempt this for women, too.

    Although I’m straight-identified, I get wee crushes on women, and I went out and found myself a range of women to have crushes on. I think that was a turning point for me: it was, in essence, trying to look at people through the lens of acceptance and love rather than judgement, and it marked the beginning of healing this hole in my psyche.

  35. I was thinking about a similar subject earlier today. In My history as a fat activist, it was vital to teach Myself to find fat bodies attractive. Not individual fat people, mind you, but to unlearn all the shit I had in My head about fat being ugly. It took years of reprogramming My brain, where I would literally stop whatever negative thought I had and replace it with a positive thought, reframe My perspective on fatness over and over, surround Myself with positive images of fatness, and with people who got fat oppression and found fatness beautiful, and “act as if” I valued fatness and fat people, before I could begin to find My *own* fat body attractive. (It came much easier to find other people’s fat bodies attractive than it was to see that in My own.) I did not do that alone, I had a community of fat activist friends where we did it with and for each other. I can’t imagine doing the kind of cultural fat activism I have done without having reprogrammed My brain that way.

    I feel like this is a classic way to reprogram folks who have been living with double consciousness, a way to create a different more positive voice in our heads and our lives, to combat the ever present voice of oppression, a way that has a long history. What is the place of fat pride in fat activism? Why have pride movements historically focused on reframing oppressed bodies/people as beautiful as well as worthwhile?

    I feel like My life has been altered in amazing and flabulous ways by spending all that time and energy reframing fat as beautiful, handsome, sexy, attractive, fabulous just as you are, etc. Is it essential to fat activism? I’m not sure. It has been essential to Mine.

  36. I think that a very important belief shared between FA and feminism in general is the concept that we can treat a person as a human being, even if we don’t find him or her sexually attractive.

  37. Thank you, buttercup, I agree with what you said. This is coming across as pretty creepy to me, suggestions of looking at fat people in an effort to deliberately retrain yourself to find them attractive.

    Then again, I’m probably not the best person to be joining in a conversation like this. I would never find someone unappealing because of their looks. Cleanliness and behavior seems to be the only thing that matters to me. I know I’m not normal, I’ve never met anyone else who feels this way, and I think it freaks most people out (or they don’t believe me.) But I just don’t react to appearances, although I do ashamedly admit I have been momentarily taken aback a couple of times by physical deformity.

  38. She doesn’t say how long it’s been since she’s had the baby, or whether she’s nursing or not (if she did and I missed it, sorry.) I know from my own experience that the six months or so after having a baby (esp. while nursing) can play havoc with hormones, especially sexual desire.

    I say this because she mentions that she isn’t finding *anyone* attractive – not her partners, not people on the street, zippo.

    This lack of interest in sex is very real – it doesn’t hit all women, but when it does hit, you really don’t feel like any sex, period. Not only that, some women get vaginal dryness, irritation, and even hot flashes, because their estrogen levels are quite low from the nursing.

  39. Heh, in my case it was exactly the other way around – only a few days after giving birth, while still in pain and not even close to considering having sex again, I was suddenly so attracted to my boyfriend that it creeped me out.

    I’ve never had a problem with social conditioning when it comes to body types because I started being attracted to fat people as soon as I started being attracted to anyone. I am totally guilty of the short/tall thing, though. These days I always tell myself that I’ll never date again, so why should I care? But maybe I should try this “exercise” anyway, only with hairy and short guys instead of fat people. Just … to see what happens.

  40. I figure, people are who they are. You like them for who they are, or you don’t.

    Some people just aren’t compatible for one reason or another, and that’s okay.

    (I also think it is very okay to not be worrying about if you’re sexually attracted to people all the time. Sex is great, but there are other things in life.)

  41. I’ve never had a problem with social conditioning when it comes to body types because I started being attracted to fat people as soon as I started being attracted to anyone. I am totally guilty of the short/tall thing, though

    Well, it sounds like you’ve never had a problem with the specific fat/thin form of social conditioning. But that’s only one rubric by which certain bodies are (in general) valued more than others.

  42. Like the rest of you, I strongly suspect if you’ve worked on the deprogramming of the rest of the ideas about fat people, then the next/last logical conclusion is the ability to find fat people attractive.

    I think the ability to find fat people beautiful (or, more likely, to admit that you see the beauty that fat people already have) is a good first step. Maybe? Or a last step, depending on your current relationship status.

    I don’t know. I’m ridiculously happily monogamous with a tall skinny guy. I think he’s incredibly hot, but it started — for both of us — because we read the same kinds of books. (No, really. He was the first guy I’d ever met who had read, and was still reading, Tamora Pierce’s books. I was the first chick he’d met who was still reading them in college.)

  43. Honestly, I could care less if some one finds me attractive or unattractive. I am honestly at the point where I prefer to have friends and relationships where I don’t think that anyone in them have ever thought about having sex with me (either with a shudder or a grin.)

  44. Definitely agree with Tal about the chicken/egg problem – the first boy I ever had a crush on was tall and skinny, and the second, and the third, etc., and I married one, too. There were a few other types in there, but give me a tall gangly sci-fi adoring nerd and I’m already fluttering about it. I don’t know if the first boy was just the first of the type, or if he set the stage for the rest, as it were. I have since branched out, but that type is still an easy sell for me.

  45. I have the same experience as Sniper, way upthread: Attraction is an odd and mysterious thing and is sometimes completely divorced from aesthetics, compatibility, common-sense, self-preservation – you name it. And, I make a point of not allowing that to justify me or anyone else being one of those people who use the tired-out ‘I can’t help who I’m attracted to’ to justify being a bigot. Because I can. I have an extremely powerful sexual organ: my forebrain. And the leanings of my attractions are neither sacrosanct nor happening in a cultural vacuum. [Sweet Machine at 8:30pm, in other/better/more elegant words.]

    If I notice myself locking off any possibility for connection (whether sexual or not) with a whole group of people, I have a pretty good indicator that I’ve swallowed some cultural/media Kool Aid and might want to re-examine what the bias is about so I stop a) being an asshole and b) missing out. I do have particular things I’ve learned don’t usually work well for me personally (skinny people, other femmes, whatever); still, sometimes I’m surprised – and as long as I’m open to being surprised, I figure I’m doing ok.

    What helped me wrap my head around the politics of my own attractions (which I was worried about too at one point) was when I figured out with deep clarity what it is I *am* attracted by – the particular way someone inhabits their space with competence and grace and strength and confidence and charismatic animal presence. If this presence doesn’t ignite me, nothing about how someone looks will, and someone who fits in this way *will* ignite me, even if they’re someone I tend to think of as not so much my thing.

    (Also, as I’ve gotten into my 30’s and more tired, someone has to have intellectual brilliance matched by emotional intelligence and empathy to make the hazards and exhaustions of dating seem at all worthwhile – so as you can imagine, I don’t get out much these days.)

    Maybe more helpfully/practically/specifically – Mary Anne said: I really resent that programming, on a personal level. I would like to try to undo some of it. I hear you, and agree that it does need undoing. I don’t think any of us achieve adulthood without internalizing huge amounts of deranged garbage that makes our lives smaller and more mean. Like Arwen said, it makes a hole in the psyche that needs healing.

    The main concrete action I took was to stop watching TV and looking at mainstream consumer mags of any kind with advertising/fashion/etc. in 1990. Doesn’t keep me from constant exposure to the relentless programming about insane, murderous, and plain bizarre beauty standards in grocery check-out lines, in movies, from other people’s language or reactions to me – but it minimizes it.

    Radical, yeah, but it shouldn’t be, and it made me feel better about and more able to clearly see both me and other people in every way (including opening up more and better lust instead of less). Initially I viewed it as a kind of detox, but then I realized I liked my life better that way, and never looked back.

  46. Two things for me: first of all, what I find sexually attractive and what I find aesthetically attractive are two different things. Sexual attraction is very much tied up in personality for me, and certain personality traits are like catnip to me. I’m old (45) and every guy I’ve been seriously in lust with has had those same certain traits. (Oh, and I guess they’ve all been tall. I’ve dated short guys too, but all the ones I’ve been crazy hot for have been tall, though they haven’t had much else in common physically.) But as far as aesthetics go, I find a wide range of people aesthetically pleasing: tall, short, thin, fat, and every point in between. They just have to have something about them that I consider “pretty” and it’s really hard for me to quantify what that is. Nice hair or skin, beautiful eyes, and a personal sense of style in dress all go a long way towards that for me, I think.

    What bothers me–what I’ve tried to work on, pretty unsuccessfully, sadly–is that I’ve noticed that I cut people a break more if they ping that “aesthetically pleasing” thing for me. I used to post in a discussion forum where a lot of people used their own pictures as their avatars, and I noticed that there were a few people whose inane and insipid opinions didn’t piss me off as much as they might have otherwise because “ooo! she’s got the most beautiful red hair!” or “oh, I love his tats!” If I thought someone’s picture was unattractive, but they said things that were smart or funny or interesting, I’d still like them. The fact that I was also, at least subconsciously, finding myself somewhat favorably disposed towards people who were kind of idiots just because they had pretty hair was really disturbing when I realized it. But I even being aware of it, I would find myself still doing it.

  47. I once took part in a conversation with a large group of women that could have been called “oddly attracted.” As in, “To whom do you find yourself oddly attracted – men who land far from the classic definition of good-looking or handsome?” As names were called out, often followed by laughter and shouts of, “Hey, me too!” I began to form the idea that maybe attraction is either ALL odd, or none of it is.

    PS: FWIW, my names were John Malkovitch, Drew Carey, and Michael Chiklis.

  48. Yay! I love sex talks!

    I am so totally thankful for having been a rebellious, curious teenager. If not for that in my personality, I wouldn’t have asked a friend of mine, the one out lesbian I knew in high school (and she a virgin!), if we could have a slumber party and, you know, give it a shot. Because sexual attraction to girls, at that point, wasn’t “natural” for me. But once I tried it, well, that switch was flipped, and set off a chain of other possibilities.

    If not for that high school encounter, I might not have realized so early and so well that I’m bi. If not for _that_ realization, I wouldn’t have been open to my first long-term relationship with a girl, who was adorable and Russian-speaking and shy. Also, she was a little round fattie. If not for her being a fattie, and me _loving_ her body and loving to get her off and just spending all kinds of time enjoying her curves, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to come to terms with my own body. Another switch – click!

    My hubby and I met on the Internet, and made each other go nuts with our writing. In person, he’s short (8 inches shorter than me) and South Asian. Neither category had been previously ruled out, but the point was moot because I had been in a monogamous relationship with the cute fattie and the entire category of boys was completely off limits, short, desi, or otherwise. But upon meeting him and falling for him, those qualities suddenly become very, shall I say, interesting to see in passersby. I became alive to the fantasy possibilities of short and/or desi dudes–attracted to them–in a way that I had not actively been before.

    So big props to shy babydyke, sweet sweet butterball o’ lesbian love, and Mr. bigmovesbabe. I’m not necessarily a better person, but I’m certainly a more easily triggered horndog.

  49. For a long time disliked body hair on men. I ended up falling in love with a fairly hairy guy, though, and unlike waxed chests, it reminds me of times when I’ve actually gotten laid, and not just pretended.

  50. In fact, a lot of arsemouth trolls around FA sites often make the complaint that we’re somehow INSISTING they find us attractive. Uh, no, dude. I just want my basic rights as a human being, and for you to stop assuming your own whacked-out fetishes are universal, evolutionarily predicated standards of All That is Good and Proper.

    Amen!

  51. A few quick responses:

    – Several people said above that it doesn’t matter whether I (or others) find fat people attractive, as long as I treat fat people with respect. That second part is a given for me — *of course* I want to treat fat people, and everyone else, with respect. So all the reiterating of how important that is feels a bit off-topic and distracting. The question I asked isn’t about respect — please take that as a baseline assumption. My question was about whether there’s a personal and societal value in finding a broader range of people attractive, *beyond* simply treating them respectfully.

    – It sounds like several folks here want to say they don’t need me, or the world, to find them attractive. “I could care less if some one finds me attractive or unattractive.” Of course you don’t and shouldn’t care whether I find you personally attractive! But this deprogramming I want to do, it’s not for you, or for any other individual fat person. It’s for myself, because I think breaking down these internalized barriers may make me a better, saner, happier person, and hopefully a better citizen of the world.

    – Stefanie, it’s been fourteen months since baby, and I’m no longer breastfeeding, so that’s not the direct cause of my reduced sex drive. (Certainly for the first six months post-partum, I had almost no interest in sex at all.) Although it may be in part that I spend so much time snuggling the baby that I’m a bit touch-glutted, and that’s part of why sex seems less interesting in general.

    – Theriomorph, great comments, and I think your advice re: ditching tv and fashion magazines is wise. But at the same time — I’m a professional writer, and I not only love tv, but I study it for storytelling, so I’d be very hesitant to stop entirely. As for fashion magazines, I look at them very rarely, but I’m again hesitant to stop entirely because I love clothes so much. Fabulous fabrics, great styles, etc. What I’d love would be fashion magazines that emphasized the clothes, using models of a variety of sizes, shapes, ages, and skin colors. I wish you Shapelings would start a magazine like that. Also a sexy tv channel that did the same.

    – Andrea, this bit is actually what I’m most worried about in myself: “The fact that I was also, at least subconsciously, finding myself somewhat favorably disposed towards people who were kind of idiots just because they had pretty hair was really disturbing when I realized it. But I even being aware of it, I would find myself still doing it.” I’m a college teacher, and I would HATE to find myself treating my students differently based on how conventionally attractive they were. If your teacher isn’t fair, you’re just screwed, and I really don’t want to be that teacher! So I feel like I’m in a position of power, and I have a real responsibility to work on this problem as a result.

    – I’m starting to think there are two ways to approach this whole problem: a) don’t allow perceived attractiveness to influence your reactions to people, or b) find the attractiveness in everyone. In some sense, I think option a) is better — but I have absolutely no idea how to go about it. So given that, I think I’ll be trying to fall back on b).

    Thanks everyone, for the discussion so far. Very interesting!

  52. Mary Anne, have you considered watching movies with fat actors as an exercise in alternate attraction? I’m thinking Sydney Greenstreet , Philip Seymor Hoffman (SP?) or Marie Dressler? I suggest movies because you mentioned liking TV for storytelling and all actors are fantasy fodder by virture of the media. I find that talent and an interesting story gets me looking at an actor in a new way. Just an idea.

  53. Actually, the sad news of Bernie Mac’s death reminded me of how funny he was in Bad Santa – and how he became more attractive as the movie went on.

  54. For what it’s worth, before I was with my Andre-the-Giant-sized partner, I was only with skinny men. Despite the fact that I was very attracted to my partner’s personality, hair, face, etc., I couldn’t get around the body. (This was wayyyy before my FA.) I finally said to myself, “Girl, you are CRACKED OUTTA YOUR HEAD if you let the fact that he’s fat deter you.” I made a very conscious decision to get comfortable with him, and I have been genuinely SO attracted to him ever since. It’s also carried over to finding other fat men attractive in passing.

  55. Sniper, that’s a good idea, but I actually barely see movies these days, see aforementioned baby. :-) I can squeeze in a half hour of tv here and there when utterly exhausted, but usually a movie is too much of a time commitment. Any suggestions for tv shows with fat actors portrayed well?

    Note: I’m not really interested in seeing more shows like the sitcom “According to Jim”, where there’s a fat male protagonist with a skinny hot wife — especially if he’s always making comments on how sexy she is, and how it proves his manhood that he ‘got’ her. Ugh. Ick.

  56. I’m not really interested in seeing more shows like the sitcom “According to Jim”, where there’s a fat male protagonist with a skinny hot wife…

    Yeah, fuck that. That’s actually why I thought of Sydney Greenstreet first, because the guy was never cast as a love interest as far as I know (and if he was, please tell me). He was also quite old when he made his movie debut, and is still mesmerizing. At least I think so. Marie Dressler in Dinner At Eight is not what most people would call cute, but she steals the show. Oh, and Queen Latifah in Chicago, and John Candy in anything… I can’t think of too many because I don’t see a lot of movies myself – especially new movies. I tend to be more of a TCN kind of gal.

  57. Queen Latifah isn’t even a stretch for me, hooray — she’s just absolutely gorgeous. My fat tolerance is definitely higher for women than men — in part, I think that’s because fat women are likely to take more trouble to dress well, to the extent that they can afford the time/money to do so.

    A lot of my male (sf/computer/math geek) friends wander around in t-shirts and jeans, which are generally not super-flattering on the larger folk among us.

  58. Mary Anne – I’m struggling a bit with this as well, the fear that I am more likely to go easy on students who are more attractive. But then I also know I’ve cut slack to some of my fat students, especially the girls, or at least gone out of my way to encourage them a little bit extra (I was teaching film at the time and we SO need more women in film). Is that better or worse? I dunno.

    But if we tend to treat people we find attractive/good looking/aesthetically pleasant slightly better, it’s worth while to stop ourselves and question how we’re defining that range and whether our definitions (and how much of them we’ve absorbed from the culture) maybe need to some stretching.

    On a one-on-one basis it’s a different story than talking about general interaction with the world.

    DRST

  59. Queen Latifah isn’t even a stretch for me, hooray — she’s just absolutely gorgeous.

    You’re far from alone in that, and she does get some drool-time from traditional media (see http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,422764,00.html). The others I mentioned, not so much, although I find John Candy very, very cute, especially in the old SCTV shows. Oh, also Orson Welles… maybe not cute, but certainly compelling.

  60. So all the reiterating of how important that is feels a bit off-topic and distracting.

    I just want to note that although I really hope you get some useful advice, Mary Anne, I think a lot of people are taking these questions in the abstract — not necessarily trying to advise you personally. And the point about respecting fat people is really important and worth reiterating, even if it’s a given (which I know it is) that you already do.

  61. I posted a version of this o’er yonder, too.

    1. I absolutely, wholehearted, agree with what Kate wrote.

    2. My experience:
    At some point late high school/early college, as I was feeling my way (figuratively) around the cosmos of sexuality, I had a thought. If I don’t think that I am attractive, why will anyone else.

    So I gave myself the mental challenge of finding everyone hottt. Men, women, old, young, fat, thin, conventionally attractive, those considered unattractive, tall, short, whatever. I gave everyone a shot. I was asking it of others – please oh please want me – so I found a way to want them, too.

    I became more sexually experienced over time (ahem) and I learned that immense (size pun, not entirely unintended) pleasure could be had with a body shaped like mine. It became easier to see the sexxxy in others, regardless of their shape or size.

    No one I have ever dated or loved retained my attention because of their looks. It’s all brain for me. If you turn my head on, my body will follow.

    I’ve had partners, male and female, that ranged from underweight to 5X. I myself have been average weight to 4X. I cannot think of a time where our respective sizes got in the way. Heading to TMI territory here: there were times when certain activities/positions were not engaged in because of physics, but that never got in the way of the enjoyment of the activities that were engaged in. (Why am I blushing?)

    In a weird, maybe backwards way, I think it was in my recognizing the hotness of others that I started to recognize it in myself. It didn’t come naturally. I do think my distaste of fat bodies was very much a learned behavior. And, as such, I unlearned it. That worked for me; everyone else’s mileage may vary.

  62. The best thing you can do is to be aware of it… once you’ve isolated that you may in fact be treating someone ‘conventionally’ attractive better than someone else, then you stop and say “No!” in a sharp inner voice. Recognizing it is half the battle to modifying it.

    Part of it is also just growing up, not to suggest you or anyone here are, or are acting, immature, but I’ve found that I’ve gotten older some things are just a lot more obvious, maybe it’s more information, maybe it’s just being old and not caring so much… I don’t know.

    I do know that I’ve gotten a lot more broad-minded about attraction and who I might find attractive. I have never had trouble with fat people as such, but I’ve always had various prejudices such as beards (ew), back hair and so forth. I don’t think I’m quite over the anti-back hair, although I did meet a nice fellow who I really liked a lot who was prone to that so there ya go. I met another person with a beard and as some have said before, now if I see that particular beard style on someone who resembles that person it’s like “Oh!” with the pitter patter heart.

    And I certainly NEVER thought I was attractive to ANYONE even though I’ve been married since the dawn of time to the most patient person on the earth.

    Trying out movies with fat folk in them is a great idea to nudge yourself along the path.

    The best way I’ve found to to get attracted to people however is to simply sit down and talk with them. Once you can get by the small talk and really talk with people, then attraction or non-attraction will follow.

  63. There was a time that I wasn’t attracted to men who had any excess pounds – I liked them short and fit. Now, I find myself regularly attracted to men who would be considered chubby.

    I don’t know if it’s my age (38) or because I feel guilty about breaking the heart of a man who was rather overweight because I only saw him as a “friend” (that was about 3 years ago), or because I fell for a man who was a overweight, and completely changed my thoughts and opinions about getting involved with a larger man.

    I definitely still find fit and slender men attractive, but now I am overly attracted to middle-aged, chubby men. I try not to ask why, and just go with the flow.

  64. I have been lucky enough to succeed at expanding the set of people I find attractive, including but not limited to expanding the range of sizes that I find attractive. I am very glad this worked for me, because it’s nice to experience more beauty in the world and be open to romantic possibilities with people who come in a wider variety of bodies.

  65. I find this subject extremely interesting because I never used to think I could be attracted to fat people. My boyfriend is not skinny, but he’s not much above average. Of course, this feeling that I couldn’t find fat people attractive (although I am, and have always been, fat myself) was before I ever learned about Fat Acceptance, back when I loathed my own fat body, and I think what I found unattractive in other fat people was that they reminded me of my own body. I was a deeply unhappy young woman back then and my fat was just one of many things I hated about myself.

    Anyway, since I ‘discovered’ Fat Acceptance and started analysing both my own and my culture’s assumptions about fat and coming to my own conclusions, I hate myself less (still struggling with self-acceptance, but I’m making progress). And now I find a lot of fat people extremely sexy, which is great :)

  66. Soul-searching never hurts. That’s always a good place to start.
    I don’t know how one would effect a change in personal aesthetics. Maybe time will change it for you, maybe the author’s hormones are just kind of jacked up right now and the best thing for that is patience. But for what it’s worth, my story:

    I am an “average”-sized person (I’m quoting, so you know whose average I mean) who’s always been attracted to tall, lanky, pretty (feminine, perhaps) men. I could think of a lot of possible “reasons” for this, but it’s attraction, so “reason” always has limited use. When I met my current SO, he did not exactly fulfill my type, and I was not attracted to him.
    But, over time, I changed my mind. We talked. We wrote letters. I got to know him. And then I pounced him.

    We’re still seeing each other, so the other physical experiences I’ve had since then have been filtered through the boundaries of our open relationship, but here’s what I noticed – while I still appreciate a pretty man, conventional beauty has very little bearing on whether I’ll hook up with a guy. Some examples: I kissed a guy at a party who talked about feminist theory with me. Another guy at another party got my attention by being charming and funny and asking a lot of interesting questions. Both of those men are overweight.
    So perhaps sex is something different from this kind of safe playing-the-field that an open relationship allows, but it seems pretty clear to me that as I’m nearing 30, a number of qualities have become more attractive to me that just plain old attractiveness.

    So there’s that. But seriously, if your hormones are jacked up or if any number of a thousand things are affecting your sex drive, don’t hold yourself accountable for being attracted to anyone. Give your body some room to feel better first.

  67. Mary Anne – I can’t help with short/while-baby-naps-friendly TV shows, given the whole not-watching-TV thing, but I’m also a writer, so I have a thought about using that muscle in service of your question –

    I do literary fiction, poetry, plays, etc rather than screenwriting, but the basic challenges of character and story and empathy are the same, and one thing I do when I’m having trouble getting inside some aspect of a character is to write a scene for them that challenges me to confront whatever I’m hung up on (maybe even just for myself/not for inclusion in the final draft).

    It might be useful and fun to try writing short scenes with large characters who are smokin’ hot in their own skin and for whom people swoon (whether they meant to or not, which would also give some opportunity to write through some of the baggage), with or without sex scenes as you like –

    When I do this kind of writing exercise, I treat it as journal-scribbling, with no internal pressure to make it great; I just use it to work something through. But often, what comes out eventually (sometimes with many trial runs at it first), is good – and if that happened, you’d have some potential contribution to positive and three-dimensional fat characters on TV! Maybe a whole series! And mad wealth! A changed world!

    And yeah, further proving Sniper and I have similar reactions: Phillip Seymour Hoffman makes my thighs tremble. He’s one of the bravest and smartest actors working, I think, and positively reeks with capital-P Presence. Can he be in your TV show, Mary Anne? I’ll watch that. Hell, I’ll buy it on DVD. : )

  68. Heh. I don’t actually write for tv, at least not now, and maybe I’m fooling myself when I tell myself that the storytelling techniques I see on tv will translate to fiction. :-)

    It’s funny — it seems obvious in retrospect that writing sexy fat characters and/or people who find them sexy would help with this deprogramming. And I wrote erotica for almost a decade before I switched to mainstream literary fiction (I write immigrant fiction-type stuff, sort of like Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, but with Sri Lankans), so you’d think fat characters would have come up at some point — but I was young and in college, and mostly writing about college-aged folks, who tended to be “normal”-sized. I did once write a poly erotica story featuring older characters, “Wild Roses,” for the anthology Ripe Fruit, which was explicitly looking for characters over fifty years old, and I love that story, and the anthology overall. There must have been erotica anthologies focused on fat characters, but maybe they came around after I stopped writing much erotica? I don’t remember any calls for those. Anyone here know of any good ones?

    In my lit. fic., certainly I have people of varied ages, sizes, and body types, but I think that’s not as actively helpful in the deprogramming, since the focus isn’t on how sexy the people are. Interesting.

  69. Mary Anne,

    *I posted this comment a moment ago, but it got stuck in moderation, due to a typo on my email address. So I am posting it again, with a corrected address*

    I think that in deeming some comments as “useful” and others as “not useful” you are missing the point. Yes, you are respectful to all people of any weight. But with all do respect, and I would like to say that I am very glad you brought this subject to the fore front, it is not all about you. And I think that this is where the entire problem stems from. You ask advice but then you sigh when it is given because it doesn’t answer your “question”. The men and women on here are answering your question, just not in the manner you want it answered. Then you tell the people on here, who have taken the time to discuss their preferences with you, “Thanks, but it’s not about you” I call Shenanigans.

    You ask “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?” Worth making the effort for whom? Worth it to you to try and find them attractive? This is the height of arrogance. You treat these “fat” people from your past as thought they were waiting around for you to find them attractive. What makes you think they were attracted to you? I certainly wouldn’t have been, not because you weren’t attracted to me, but because you lacked to foresight to see that it might be worthwhile to know me and cultivate a relationship with me regardless of your desire to fuck me.

  70. with all *due* respect. I’m at work, so I lack the time to use my usual editing skillz (mad skillz, hahaha yeah right)

  71. First let me say, Jo Frost is a major BABE. And I echo the fact that everyone deserves to be treated respectfully, regardless of whether or not we want to sleep with them. Treating someone nicely just because you want to jump into bed with them isn’t really respect, IMO.

  72. Well for TV shows, if you don’t mind some gore, Criminal Minds has a techy geeky fat woman whom I have a bit of a girl crush on. She’s smart and capable and she has the most adorable love interest who is slightly chubby too; the last show of the last season (or perhaps the penultimate one) showed them just coming out of a shower together.

  73. I think a lot of folks are responding by essentially saying that they don’t see the need to ‘force’ their attraction to any particular group.

    But I think what I was trying to say is that I feel I was already forced — that we all are. That we’re societally programmed to disregard and devalue vast swathes of humanity as possible sexual partners — because they’re too fat, too dark, too hairy, etc. and so on. And I really resent that programming, on a personal level.

    So, this is beautifully put. And I think it’s why the type of approach SM is suggesting is such a good idea — consciously deciding to think positively about bodies, flooding yourself with positive images of different bodies, etc. It’s a kind of counter-brainwashing. And, in my experience, it works.

    But I do wonder if there’s a deeper problem (or maybe not exactly a problem) with your sex drive. I applaud your desire to free yourself from cultural programming about what is or isn’t attractive! And if you’re not being turned on by anybody right now, I think starting with the group you were culturally conditioned to find unattractive even in your jump-everyone days is an interesting approach. But you’ve also got two partners who I understand from your letter are fatter than average, and you were attracted to them and now you’re not. And you just had a baby, which can mess with your hormones long-term or permanently, and your description of losing your sex drive reminds me of what happens to me on birth control pills. I just envision you frustratedly pounding away at your programmed notions about fat people, not understanding why you can’t budge them, when the real issue is that your current hormone balance doesn’t leave you particularly attracted to anyone. That sounds unpleasant.

    I think it’s tempting to ascribe your lack of sex drive with your partners to their weight, exactly because we’re taught that fat is unattractive. But the fat may be a scapegoat here. It reminds me of fat people who don’t realize their eating habits are an eating disorder because they think that’s how all fat people eat… they think “fat people eat this way so of course I eat this way.” There may be a part of you saying “well, fat people aren’t attractive, so of course I’m not attracted to fat people,” which in a less sensitive person leads to “so fat people should become more attractive” and for you leads to “so I should start being more attracted to fat people.” In fact, it may be more like “well, I’m not attracted to people at the moment, so of course I’m not attracted to fat people.”

  74. I also thought I’d add, I find no group X attractive for all people who identify as X. Not all men, not all fat people, not all with broad shoulders, not all dudes with crinkly crows feet and three-hundred watt smiles. Although that last one seems necessary, it’s not sufficient.

    So, it’s more about dismissing people in group X as possibly attractive, rather than finding them attractive as a matter of course. This is a helpful distinction, I think, because it’s hard to Turn On like a light switch, but it’s easier to look at someone who you attracted to for OTHER reasons – both superficial and deep, from their dress style to their incredible laugh – and say to yourself “Don’t dismiss this person as a sexual person”.

  75. I’m trying to think about erotica about fat men, and mostly failing. There’s an awesome fat man in one of Mary Gentle’s novels, with exactly one sex scene (not explicit, but pretty hot.) I am trying to think if any of Hanne Blank’s stuff has fat men in it – I can remember very clearly the descriptions of fat women but i’m blanking on the guys (shows where my focus is, huh?).

    The best thing I ever did for resetting my ideas about humans was to turn off the TV and hang out with more naked people…that’s logistically difficult with a baby or toddler around your neck. (When my son was about 14 months, just weaning, he bit a friend of ours on the tit. CHOMP. And she was wearing a shirt, just a low-cut one. He also has a tendency to poke people and say “What you got there?” now that he’s talking well. It disconcerts people – I can’t imagine taking him anywhere with nakedness at the moment.)

  76. Fillyjonk, I think I wasn’t clear in my original, sorry!

    My current partners are a) slightly overweight and b) normal, respectively. I’m technically obese, according to BMI, after gaining thirty pounds of baby weight, and if anything, I think being notably fatter than them (and feeling less sexy as a result) probably has contributed to my recent disinterest in sex. Although I do think it’s likely hormones too.

    It isn’t that fatness is a factor in my not finding my partners attractive — it’s that the effort to find them attractive again post-partum, which has been somewhat successful, has made me wonder about whether I could also condition myself to find a broader range of people attractive in general.

    Hope that clarifies.

    And Arwen, I’m not *certain* this addresses what you say, but I’ve known quite fat people I’ve found attractive (and dated) in the past, and it’s clear in those cases that their personality was more important to me than their body shape. I think that’s almost always true for me.

    But I don’t want to let myself off the hook here, because I’m sadly afraid that even though there are some folks with awesome personalities that overcame my prejudice against their bodies, there probably are a lot of people for whom that prejudice got too much in the way. Not ever on a conscious level, but on a subconscious level, where some deep part of my brain just never considered them as possible partners. That’s the bit I hate.

    Let me put this another way — given the circles I run in, which include a lot of smart and interesting sf/f geeks, sedentary writers, and computer programmers, I’d say that a large number of my friends were moderately to severely fat. (Myself included.) If I didn’t suffer from social prejudices, I’d expect most of the people I’ve dated to reflect that reality. But instead, most of the people I’ve dated have been, at most, slightly overweight. That’s worrying, and indicates to me that there’s some subconscious process going on that’s keeping them in the friend category, rather than the potential lover category.

    They’ve also almost all been white, which is similarly worrying, given the diverse ethnic circles I run in. :-( Although that’s a more complex problem in many ways, because my reasons for not dating other South Asians are, I think, very different from my reasons for not doing people of color in general.

  77. Fillyjonk, I think I wasn’t clear in my original, sorry!

    It’s also more than possible that I didn’t read carefully enough. Either way, I appreciate the clarification, and yeah, that makes sense.

    The rest of the comment is quite interesting too… of course, as a relatively thinky person (from what you’ve posted so far), you’re able to let brains and personality matter more than body — but it’s great that you’re wary of finding fat people attractive in spite of their physicality.

    About your friend group: rather than selecting the thinnest and relegating everyone else to friend status, is it possible that you find thinner people attractive because they’re unusual, striking, exotic, or what have you given that you tend to hang out with a larger crowd?

  78. Oof, it’s hard to say. Part of my confusion in pinning all this down is that it’s been a long time (2 years or so) since I even wanted to date anyone new.

    But that’s an interesting idea — I kind of wish it were true, but I still think socially-ingrained prejudice is more likely to be the source. Sigh.

  79. Here’s a clarifying question: are you wanting to shift your attraction to fat people because you’re interested in pursuing a relationship (whether physical or emotional or whatever) with a fat person, or because you’re wanting to generally shift your perceptions about physical beauty? I’m a bit of a compartmentalizer, and these would be very different undertakings for me.

  80. And hormones do play hell with sex drive… as well as if you’ve got any kind of post-partum depression at all. And if you get any meds for the depression some will knock your drive totally offline so to speak. Took me four different kinds and combos to find a med that makes me feel better but also allows me to “Feel.” And that includes writing too. Some of them turned my writing desire off as well as the sex, so don’t be shy about saying “This isn’t working for me.”

    Give yourself time.

  81. Yeah, I definitely hope that Mary Anne keeps the idea that she might just have a low sex drive right now at the forefront of her mind. But maybe this is a good time to be doing this kind of work, huh? If you work on throwing off some of the cultural brainwashing while your sex drive is generally low, you’re at least not going to be unexpectedly thrown off by some hottie who’s Just Your Current Culturally-Approved Type.

  82. The nature of attraction is a mystery to me. It seems to have set-in-stone facets and yet is still malleable. For example:

    Peggynature said: “…I tend to become attacted to people (physically) as I get to know and love their personalities. Apparently it doesn’t work this way for everyone?”

    It does for me. Sometimes. And then again, sometimes not. Wish I knew why!

    Early in my sexual experiences, I had a totally chemical, animal attraction affair with a guy who flipped the same way for me. He was totally not what I would have found sexy ordinarily; he was an inch shorter than I was and a bit on the skinny and swarthy side (Italian-American) with a Jersey accent. As a result, I’ve always paid attention to men that look and sound like that ever since. This is going on 25 years ago now and I still dig short men.

    Some things I’ve just mellowed about with age. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, baldness really turned me off. Then, all of a sudden, Mitch Pileggi, the guy that played ADA Skinner in the X-Files was really teh hawt for me. Now lots of baldies are cute to me. Really tall (over 6 ft.) guys aren’t that interesting to me still, even though I’m married to one!

    Btw, the men that always have piqued my interest have been between 5’6” and 5’10” tall, blond or redhead, stocky and have at least a bit of a belly on them. Roger Hazard from “Sell This House” on A&E is a great example, yowza!

    But my very first boyfriend in HS was Japanese. I was extremely attracted to him, but he was my first heartbreak and my last Asian affair. Coincidence?

  83. re: erotica about fat men

    The best erotic fiction out there eroticizing fat men is bear erotica, I think. Ron Suresha has edited a few anthologies. I don’t really read straight erotica, so can’t help with that, but if you are open to gay men’s erotica, you might really like bear stuff.

  84. I’m finding this whole discussion useful and fascinating; thanks to all.

    No time to fully participate in the discussion at the moment, but wanted to mention a science fiction story that might be of interest to people interested in attraction: Ted Chiang’s “Liking What You See: a Documentary,” from his collection Stories of Your Life and Others. It’s about a future in which it’s possible to technologically induce “calliagnosia”–turning off one’s own “that person is attractive!” reaction.

    It’s not a perfect story, but it made me think about attractiveness in new ways, and made me more aware of the degree to which I was treating people better if I found them attractive. I still do that to some degree, but I did change some of my behavior after reading the story.

  85. People are attracted to whom they’re attracted to. Simple as that. I’ve never been attracted to big guys, just as I’ve never been attracted to conventionally handsome, muscular athletic types. Skinny nerds have always been what floated my particular boat, and I married one:) Personally, I think there’s a lid for every pot, no matter how much the media tries to convince people of what they should find attractive.

  86. Then, all of a sudden, Mitch Pileggi, the guy that played ADA Skinner in the X-Files was really teh hawt for me.

    *wolf whistle* Mitch is gorgeous. He’s got a great voice too. (There’s that one XF ep with the gratuitous floor-level shot of him stripping down to his underwear too. The producers clearly knew their audience ;)

    He’s been popping up on Stargate: Atlantis the last couple seasons, FYI.

    (sorry to thread jack there. Bald dudes being awesome, I couldn’t resist!)

    DRST

  87. I love sitting down and having conversations with my female friends about the type of guys we find attractive and what qualities (physical and otherwise) we look for in a guy. Attraction is such a messy and mysterious thing. Most of my friends are really amused by the fact that I find thin white guys attractive, lol.

  88. Since FA removed my prejudices that all fat people are lazy, gluttonous, or whatever other shit I was believing, I’m free to find anyone attractive without a body bigger than a certain size automatically being ruled out because I assume they have xyz character trait. It’s a beautiful thing. (Unbelieveable that it took the FA movement to make me question such ridiculousness, but a beautiful thing nonetheless.)

    With regard to learning to find others more attractive helping with your own self-image (which a few people mentioned above) — oh, absolutely it does. When I have those days where I just feel like shit and oh I’m far too fat she’ll never fancy me rah rah rah, I remember that Sara Ramirez is hotter than the sun and her cheeks do the exact same thing I’m convinced people will find repugnant on me. That just does not make sense. So I either have to accept that Sara Ramirez is not hot (MADNESS), or that I can be hot, cheeks and all. Same with my stomach on the days when it’s getting me down. The more you can find people with your body type attractive, the better you’ll probably feel.

    Using cognitive dissonance to your advantage = win.

  89. From SM, WAY above….”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.

    This has really made a difference for me in dealing with internalized fatphobia and sexism in general (not necessarily about sexual attraction). There was a time when I very deliberately trained myself to notice when I had thoughts about a person’s ugliness and to “replace” it with a positive thought. (I put “replace” in quotes because it’s not that I censored or disappeared the first thought, but tried to supersede it with a positive thought.) It really made me feel a lot more charitable towards everyone — not in a pitying way, but in a “I am looking at people’s bodies through a lens of appreciation rather than criticism.” Changing lenses like that really helped me look at my own body positively as well.”

    As I child I was often picked on for one thing or another. I learned to deal. And I guess because of that I was a little more compassionate toward other people’s situations. And I had no desire to get an eye for an eye, I decided I would be like SM, and pick out the best thing about someone and focus on that. I took on the mentality that everyone has beauty in them. I believe there are no ugly people, only ugly personalities. Besides, doesn’t that follow the golden rule, treat others how you want to be treated…? But in the last few years, I’ve become an adult, and wonder often if this attitude bites me in the ass. I guess it’s the tricky art of reciprocation. I mean, I’ve sat here and pointed out everything beautiful in you, about you, and all you can do is focus on this one bad thing about me. Over and over this happens. And I guess I’ve just gotten a slight bit jaded and a little part of me wants to be selfish, and say, “OH YEAH, well, I take back every nice thing about you…” and point out that person’s flaws and make them feel badly. But I don’t. Because I’m a nice person who still believes everyone has beauty in them. I think it boils down to vulnerablity. It’s important to break down your attractions and figure out where they come from. It shows weaknesses in your character, and like me, maybe you’re not as strong as you thought you were, that you don’t believe in yourself as much as you thought you did. I believe forcing yourself to find others attractive is the ultimate test in loving humantiy as a whole.

  90. When I’m attracted to someone it tends to be independent of looks, especially of body (unless you count Michael Phelps because, well, damn). I tend to very rarely be attracted on looks alone (again, with some Olympic-related exceptions) and usually I like someone’s personality which then leads me to find them attractive.

    It works vice versa, too. If I am actually attracted to someone’s appearance right off the bat and I later find him to be a douchebag, the attraction fades.

  91. It works vice versa, too. If I am actually attracted to someone’s appearance right off the bat and I later find him to be a douchebag, the attraction fades.

    I forgot that part, but it’s SO true! And not so much fades, as turns off like a switch (for me, anyway.)

  92. Wow, this is an interesting thread. Thanks for posting this – it’s really made me realize how shallow* I am!! I don’t really have a type and the guys I’m attracted to aren’t Adonises, but attraction is either there or it isn’t, from the get-go. Sure, it will grow or fade as I get to know the guy, but I can’t force it if I like him as a person but am not attracted (lord knows, I’ve tried). I’m very envious of people whose attraction to potential partners isn’t based at all on looks, or who can find someone unattractive at first and then become attracted based on their personality. This is definitely something to work on for me, and yet I really didn’t think this through 100% until just now. Thanks again.

    * yes, I realize that it’s not decreasing my shallow factor that I hardly ever post here and when I do, it’s all “me me me!” but thanks for the forum and the great posts. :-)

  93. And not so much fades, as turns off like a switch

    True!

    Except a lot of the time if I’m already attracted to someone it takes me longer to fully realize he’s a douchebag. lol

  94. Great thread..it made me get to thinking (and yes, I have a type, so I suppose I’m shallower than the rest of you..), partly because my type is always taller/bigger than me. I have never been interested in a skinny or slender man, which I suppose is my own internalized crap (I don’t want to feel bigger than my partner and don’t want to be in a relationship that is going to make me feel like crap and totally obsessed with my weight – I spent too many years being obsessed with it on my own.) Interesting points above about how youthful experiences can cause attractions – I think depending on what happened to you in your youth it can also cause things you’re not attracted to (particularly something traumatic that takes you to a place you’d rather not go.)

  95. I’m attracted to all different types, but with the exception that I also am attracted to men that are taller and bigger than I. I know some of that is cultural conditioning, when I was young you didn’t go out with a man that was shorter than you, but some of it was not wanting to be fatter than the guy I was going out with. Which is ridiculous but it took FA to make me see that.

  96. Oddly I just wrote about a date I had Saturday where there was no physical attraction (on my end anyway) because the man was large and had lied about his weight. Yeah, they lie about their weight too. I have a “type”. I’m usually attracted to men of average height and weight. This I blame on childhood conditioning. Since my favorite males were of average stature and size I tend to prefer my partners to be the same.

    But that only applies to men. As I grew to accept and love my body I discovered my ideas of female beauty changed too. Where once only model physiques were thought beautiful, now I find the more fleshy form attractive.

  97. So my predicament is that I am gay and find skinny guys attractive. Since I am overweight I cant ever imagine anyone been attracted to me because all I find is skinny guys attractive. Arrgghh. But it is starting to change. Funny thing is I never USED to like thin guys. So I think that your tastes can change depending on who you meet etc.

  98. I tend to find shorter men attractive, because I think that some of them understand what it’s like to be outside the range of what’s considered attractive. So some of them are better able to understand what a larger woman has experienced, because they’ve experienced some of it too. People rejecting them as romantic partners because of physical characteristics, for example.

  99. No, it’s not required that people have to find fat women or just fat people in general attractive but in the world we live in, people don’t just say they aren’t attracted to fat people, they’d belittle them and mock them. I think there’s a difference between saying you’re not interested and saying you’re not interested because fat people disgust you. Someone can find blond haired, blue eyed girls attractive but it’s different if you say you only like them because everyone else is sub-human.

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