Double standard: overweight men vs. overweight women

Double standard: overweight men vs. overweight women

Last week, Salon published and then Jezebel did a discussion post on how society goes relatively easy on overweight men, compared to women. I aptly followed the Jez discussion threads and have been noodling on it ever since. Salon’s main contention was an interesting one:

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost 70 percent of men are overweight, compared with 52 percent of women. Yet, somehow, 90 percent of the commercial weight-loss industry’s clients are female, and somehow, this industry hasn’t seen males as a viable business. How can that be?

Two sentiments emerged in the comments on Jezebel:

  • YES, we should be harder on overweight men. They see big buffoons married to thin, hot women, whereas overweight women are deemed sexless and loveless.
  • NO, we shouldn’t demonize ANYONE for their size, period.

I see value in both arguments.

The fact of the matter is that, yes, there is a double standard. Just as men enjoy a place of privilege on a general level, they also enjoy an extension of it when it comes to media representations of their bodies, and the expectations placed upon them. Yes, fat hate is pervasive across society, but a giant helping of it is heaped upon women in particular. Why? Because women are meant to be objects to be observed and enjoyed by men. Most advertising and media is designed (oft subconsciously) around this concept, so women bear the brunt of fat shaming because HOW DARE YOU BE UNPLEASING TO THE EYE?!?!

I, too, have observed the overweight buffoon/hot, thin wife/girlfriend trope in media and it has bugged me. (This ties into a whole other subject I’ve been meaning to discuss — women ‘downgrading’ physically while mean are expected to ‘upgrade,’ and not the other way around) That said, perhaps I have merely been conditioned so, or I’m open-minded, but I don’t mind a tubby, huggy bear kind of guy. I use a Kevin James/King of Queens picture with this post to demonstrate the phenomenon… but I actually find Kevin James & his schtick totally adorable.

It’s not that you’d never see the dichotomy in real life of a big guy/thin and/or hot woman. It’s that you never see the opposite in media — fat/overweight/obese woman with a thin, gorgeous husband.

So there is a sense of annoyance, and even occasionally rage, that a man can be 50, 100 lbs overweight and be lauded, but a woman cannot be the same and get the same positive treatment. HOWEVER, to go after men and fat shame them the way we are fat shamed? Doesn’t really solve the problem or help anyone. At the end of the day, the media/people shouldn’t fat shame *anyone*.

That said, the original point of the Salon piece was with regard to Weight Watchers now marketing to men, and wondering why it took so long. I have to say, a marketing campaign directed at men about making lifestyle changes, if it strays away from a fat shaming tactic, is a-ok with me.

What do you think? Is it a unique experience to be a fat woman, verses what men experience? At the end of the day, is it the same?


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11 Responses to “Double standard: overweight men vs. overweight women”

  1. Leanne says:

    This is something I always talk about re: news anchors. A male broadcast journalist can be overweight, balding, grey haired and pop-eyed (We had one in Pittsburgh) but women have to fit into a certain mold. I’ve never seen an overweight female news anchor or any with gray hair, either. It kills me.

  2. curvynerd says:

    @Leanne Yes! In general, women are held to much higher standards of physical attractiveness than men, across many fields and aspects of life. The weight standard is prevalent, but as you mention, so is age. I think the closest I’ve seen to an older, graying news anchor is Monica Kaufman (now Monica Pearson) at WSB in Atlanta. HOWEVER, she joined that station when she was young and hot, and is still pretty darn attractive. [link]

    It sucks to be a woman in society, with the insane pressures put upon us to look a certain way. A part of me wants men to see/feel what they do to us, but of course the more logical/sensible idea is not to do it to anyone!

  3. Robin says:

    Clearly a sign that I watch mostly television geared towards men (i.e. ESPN and other sports) is that almost all the diet and fitness ads I see are geared towards men.

    While I don’t like the idea of shaming anyone for their body or their habits, the unattractive, usually fat man paired with the hot, thin woman is a trope that pisses the hell out of me. I feel like it sets this expectation for guys that they “deserve” attractive women even if they are not that attractive or don’t have that much to offer.

    I get the sense, though, that this is something that’s going to get more equal only because it’s getting worse. There are SO MANY diet ads and fitness quick fixes aimed at men nowadays. So many ads for beauty products (soap, hair dye, fragrances), age fixes (hair loss, ED drugs) that are pushing the same appearance focused eternal youth on men than on women. The truth is there’s a lot of money to be made by making men feel insecure, and it’s a market that is only beginning to get tapped.

  4. Robin says:

    Also, I just read that Salon article and holy misused statistics:

    “Similarly, in big-time sports, our male superheroes are often super-fat. Harvard University, for instance, found that 55 percent of Major League Baseball players are overweight, while the University of North Carolina found that 56 percent of National Football League players are obese”

    I know that there is the occasional massive lineman whose job it is to be massive, and pitcher like David Wells or Rich Garces, but dude… the reason so many athletes are overweight and obese is because the designation doesn’t discriminate between muscle and fat! Have you seen the weights these dudes lift? It’s pretty hard to carry that stuff while at a “normal” BMI.

  5. curvynerd says:

    @Robin Agreed — that trope bugs the hell out of me, too. Lately, I’ve noticed a LOT of commercials for random products using it — one for a casino & one for some vacation product in particular set my teeth grinding every time I see them. The former is a so-so looking corporate drone type (so not overweight, but NOT attractive) with a cute/hot wife going out for “girls night” at a casino. He imagines her having fun and being hit on by a “hot” older guy and is like “actually, I’ll go with you.” I hate it on SO MANY LEVELS, included but not limited to the idea that he’s her keeper and has to impede on her girls night in order to make sure no one hits on her. WTF POSSESSIVENESS.

    The second one bugs me b/c it’s the overweight/not much to offer guy + hot wife trope. He’s overweight and just looks like one of those creepy guys who spies on girls changing in the locker room — the creepy nerd. I can’t even remember the product. All I know is the casting rubs me the wrong way.

    But you’re right — advertisers are trying really had to give men insecurities so they can sell them products. It’s an interesting shift. I think men have always felt the pressure to be “strong” and muscular, but haven’t specifically been chastised for obesity.

  6. Caitlyn says:

    I see this with sportscasters as well, the men are overweight, balding, etc. while the women are hot blondes who know next to nothing about the sport they’re dicussing/announcing (not always, but often). It’s such a coveted job that there MUST be knowledgeable, talented women out there…

  7. Another very interesting post. I’ve been trying to think of instances in the media where we’ve seen an overweight female with a thin male partner. Remember the (short-lived) show October Road? Janet and Eddie (boy, was he hot) were an example; much of the storyline had to do with her disbelieving that he’d really be into her. There was also the ex-husband and his second wife on Reba, although she lost weight eventually.

    Makes me think of the hubbub surrounding Maura Kelly’s comments on the show Mike and Molly, where both partners are fat. We’ve been seeing big dudes getting affectionate with thin wives (Doug and Carrie, King of Queens; Jim and Cheryl, According to Jim; Bill and Judy, Still Standing) on TV for years, and nobody said a word until a fat woman entered the picture…

  8. Oh, if this gets you perturbed, I highly recommend checking out the French study that came out last year about the amount of sex overweight men have in comparison to overweight women. It’s not just the media nor Hollywood that creates this strange standard for women. This is life. Women are more forgiving than men, which is why overweight men tend to get around more frequently than overweight women. Grr! (And yay Salon for posting these insightful articles)

    • curvynerd says:

      Ooooh, thanks for the link! I will definitely read the Salon feature. It really is frustrating, and I find it completely true — women are more “forgiving,” I think in part b/c we are told that we should be. You usually see the “looks don’t matter!” fairytale involving a hot woman w/ a less-than-hot man (not often the reverse). Le sigh.

  9. The Voice of Reason says:

    Double standard?? What the fuck are you talking about??? A woman who is 300lbs can get as much male attention as a skinny twig, yet a 300lb man is shunned from society. Get real and wake the fuck up and stop believing this made up bullshit


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