There is a label that has been floating around the Interwebs for the best part of two years that describes this so-called phenomenon, called ‘mixed weight relationships’. This has recently been highlighted in the US show Hot and Heavy, which focuses on the lives of couples (predominantly featuring fat women and slimmer men) who live and are happy with this physical dynamic.
Let’s be honest: relationships are hard enough as it is. But what happens when yours is singled out because you and your partners’ bodies do not ‘match’?
It’s unclear as to where the specific term originated from, but a quick Google search led me to various sources which feature body positive plus-size YouTuber, Gloria Shri Henry, who talks about her relationship in a now viral Youtube video with her husband, who is slim.
The notion of fat women being with slimmer partners has been a subject of fascination long before the term was introduced into the public lexicon. In keeping with the theme of patriarchy and its’ approach to acceptable beauty standards, women’s bodies have always been the subject of intense scrutiny, over policing and judgement, and it seems to increase ten-fold when you add being visibly fat to the equation. This is because fat bodies – despite the various body image movements we have today – are still not normalised and recognised as being deserving of love, respect and basic human decency.
There is this fallacy that has been created within society that in order to be happy and attractive, one needs to be slim. There is an inherent patriarchal ideology that places female partners as weak, docile, chaste and super-feminine. All the nouns that aren’t afforded to fat women for the most part (not that we even need to be described as this anyway). Seeing someone unbothered by their size and living a happy and loving life in a relationship with someone who is straight sized challenges that core belief of what women should look like in order to be seen as attractive and super feminine, which then can lead to the policing of bodies, awe, fascination and prejudice. But only for women, it seems.
This is why whenever we see couples featuring fat men and their slim wives on TV (Homer and Marge Simpson, Peter and Lois Griffin, Vernon and Petunia Dursley from Harry Potter and DJ Khaled and his wife to name but a few…) no one seems to bat an eyelid. Male fat bodies aren’t as heavily policed as womens’ bodies and so because they are so normalised within society, these particular pairings aren’t seen as anything out of the ordinary. Patriarchy, AMIRITE?!
But let people see a pairing featuring a fat woman, and all hell breaks loose. Why? Because society has been brainwashed into not seeing fat people – and by extension fat women – as human beings. We are constantly dehumanised, fetishised and made to believe that we aren’t worthy of not only love, but love from a man who society would deem to be socially attractive. There have even been some studies to show this.
One study in 2016 asked 230 participants to rate how they felt towards a variety of fictional couples. The mixed-weight couples were viewed less favourably. Participants were then asked to matchmake a series of couples with a variety of BMIs and were noted to only pair couples that had similar BMIs. In a third test, researchers asked what their advice would be to mixed-weight couples and similar-weight couples, and many advised mixed-weight couples not to take their dates out in public.
Now, while the term ‘mixed weight’ may not seem an offensive term to most, it’s a word that many consider extremely loaded. Asking a woman about her experiences in a mixed weight relationship can be seen as the same as calling them ‘brave’ for wearing a bikini on a beach, for instance – it’s meant to be a compliment, but has the power to cause an incredible amount of shame and self-awareness. So, while it’s important to see people in mixed-weight relationships, putting a label on it implies it’s not a normal part of dating
As a visibly fat woman, this is definitely something I have experienced in dating and relationships, where I would be out in public and not only receive stares from people on the street, but also unsolicited comments from strangers who have told me how ‘lucky’ I was to find the man, and if he ‘minds being with a bigger woman’.
Living within the intersections of being larger plus size and darker skinned black, I’ve also had my share of fetishising comments from white men who claim to be into fat, black women under the assumption that we are aggressive, dominant and sassy – all prejudices based on overt racial tropes. While I do my best to block and delete these kinds of messages, it hasn’t stopped people from commenting on the weight and racial dynamics of men I’ve dated in the past; assuming that I am either a prostitute, or a dominatrix. The feeling of being dehumanised and not being seen as being worthy of love is an incredibly emotionally draining one. You could be the most body confident person in the world, but the strain of constantly having to defend your humanity in a relationship can sometimes begin to take its toll on your emotional wellbeing and self-esteem, as it did with mine. I am currently single and in a much more mentally healthy place.
Nevertheless, it’s important that ‘mixed-weight’ relationships are visible. It is only through the constant exposure that we can begin to normalise things once considered ‘other’ – recognising our differences and sharing our knowledge is how we learn acceptance. However, this isn’t a term you can force upon someone – it’s up to the couple in question to decide whether they want to embrace such a label, not a way to body-shame those who fall outside of society’s narrow beauty standards.