Dearest Aunt Fattie,
I was recently excited to stumble across an online dating site which includes a body shape descriptor – I prefer larger guys and want both my own size and my preference in men to be stated up front. Not long after signing up, I found a cute, sweet-seeming fat dude who shared a lot of interests. I messaged him, of course, and we got to chatting.
It turns out this darling chubby boy is quite swept up in self/fat-hatred, and while he’s open minded about the size of his partner, he has lost a fair bit of weight in the past year and hopes to lose a great deal more. He even went so far as to schedule gastric bypass surgery, but ended up deciding to “wait and see if I can do it on my own.”
So as a believer in fat acceptance, I feel torn about actually going out with this fellow. It’s early yet to write something off before it starts, and I feel like this guy would actually benefit from learning about HAES, if he was interested. But I have met and crushed on several self-hating fatties in the past, and I’ve found that their own body issues have ended up projected all over me (something I don’t quite have the Sanity Watchers points for).
On the one hand, I don’t want to have to argue anti-diet, HAES, fat-loving, etc, to a guy who possibly loathes his own adipose and blames it for his problems. But as a lover of big guys, I have to admit it is also going to be no easy feat to find a big, happy, self-loving, fat-accepting dude who can love me AND himself. So what’s a good strategy here? Hoping to convert the self-deprecating? Or waiting around until a single, fat, HAES/FA dude stumbles across my path?
– More Fat Fish in the Sea
Ah, the emotionally fraught world of online dating. The internet has thrown open so many of the previous barriers to meeting people, barriers of luck and geography and time, and all we have to do in exchange for this bounty is put up with awkwardness, uncertainty, and occasional bleak rejection. In this case in particular, It’s no surprise you’re not sure which way to go. At the heart of your question is an age-old conundrum: Can people change? Should we expect them to?
The answer, as with so many things, depends. If your conundrum were whether you could date someone of a different religion or political party, Aunt Fattie would still suggest that you meet — chemistry, either romantic or social, can overcome a number of important differences, and rescript them as irrelevant or even exciting. But she would also advise that you hold out no expectations that he would change his beliefs or significant personality traits. The question, going into the date, would not be “can this man become the Democrat/Muslim/extrovert/etc. that I want him to be” — that would be disastrous. Rather, you would approach the date with curiosity about who this person is apart from the things you might consider to be dealbreakers. Assuming he’s always going to be a Republican/atheist/introvert, can he be a Republican/atheist/introvert friend? A Republican/atheist/introvert boyfriend? You are in no way required to look past differences that prove to be too great, of course, but internet dating is best entered in the spirit of experimentation.
With something like HAES and fat-positivity, though, the rules shift a bit, because your fellow has probably never been exposed to this way of thinking. While it’s a fool’s game to wait for an otherwise perfect beau to change his political affiliation, for instance, there are plenty of couples in which one member becomes more of an environmentalist or feminist, starts eating less meat, becomes more religiously observant, gets kinkier, or heck, even changes political affiliation after all because the other partner exposed him or her to a whole new perspective. Of course, while some partners snap instantly into a new way of thinking, others take much longer. Your fellow may find HAES appealing, but still take longer to warm up to it than you want to take to decide if you want a relationship.
Or he may reject it entirely, and you may in turn reject him. You get to choose how you relate to his body image, and you are not a bad guy if you decide you just can’t handle it. Wariness about past boyfriends whose “body issues have ended up projected all over me” is a perfectly good reason to tread carefully; in no way are you showing evidence of undue pickiness. But the point you’re at, after just a few emails, may simply be too soon to tell. You know a lot about where he is now with his body image, but what else do you know about him? Do you know if he’s open to new ideas? Is he confident in other areas? Do you find his vulnerability charming or offputting? Does he tend to think analytically, or will he always be accepting cultural constructs? Will arguing with him be wearisome, or will he be interested in what you have to say? Do you know where his body image issues came from, or where they might go? Naturally you are well within your rights to avoid a relationship that will have a negative effect on your mental health, and your wariness, in this sense, amounts to self-preservation. But you’re not in a relationship yet. Give the guy a fair shake by getting to know him better (and that means meeting him). At very least you may find a friend, even an ally.
Aunt Fattie does not recommend zealotry, which is perhaps inherent in “conversion.” While you get to pick how you relate to this fellow’s self-image, you do not get to dictate that self-image for him, even if your way is clearly better. But if the question is “do I make this guy aware of HAES and see how he responds, or wait for an effortlessly fat-positive dude to cross my path,” the answer is indubitably “both.” You are dating, so date joyfully and with a pioneering spirit. Meet this guy — you have nothing to lose, as you aren’t yet invested enough emotionally for his self-image to slingshot back at you. See what he’s like in person. Meet other guys; see what they’re like as well. Meet self-hating fat guys who’ve never considered that they could stop hating themselves, and non-self-hating fat guys who’ve never imagined that they should start, and self-hating fat guys who are too invested in self-hate ever to stop. Meet self-deprecating types who are otherwise perfect and HAES types who are otherwise jerks. Ask yourself how you feel about each, and what you expect from each. When you meet a guy who engenders more answers than questions,
that just might be your man.
If you’ve got your own questions on fat, fatshion, fatiquette, self-esteem, or body image, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.