When my first and only long-term relationship ended toward the end of 2012, I was warned that I would likely do one or more of the following at my ex: date at him, eat at him, exercise at him or shop at him.
And though he had no Facebook account and we have very few friends in common for him to find about any of the above, I dove headlong into the dating and exercise variations of imaginary vengeance. I got a Living Social deal to a bootcamp and willingly entered that special circle of Hell where self-esteem goes to either flourish or die: OKCupid.
Bootcamp made me feel and look better almost immediately. Having settled into a work-dinner-Netflix-bed-routine, I had made little time for exercise during my relationship so my new friendship with endorphins and kettlebells was awesome.
OKCupid was...not endorphin-producing. This site has covered OKCupid up and down so I assume people are familiar enough with its many terrors that I don't need to summarize. For me specifically, the horror lay in the "Body Type" section. Like many women, I've felt overweight when I wasn't and felt significantly overweight when I was only slightly.
I settled on selecting "Average" and included pictures that only revealed my head and torso. A steady stream of offers came in that ranged from decent to disastrous. Nothing magical. Par for the course, I assumed.
When a friend insisted on seeing my profile after I complained of the mediocrity of the experience a few months in, she looked at me incredulously when she came to my photos.
"Why are there no full body pictures?"
After much haranguing, I agreed to an impromptu photoshoot in stretch pants and changed my body type to "Fit."
Having never really recovered from the times when I was called fat explicitly, I failed to notice that my body was transforming into something deemed desirable to a large swath of the population. I was delighted at first. But then it turned out that that large swath of the population that I had been pining over turned out to contain a significant number of sizeist assholes.
As I went on more and more dates, I was suddenly and inexplicably on the receiving end of fat jokes. On dates. First dates. Dates when you're supposedly trying to impress people by being a good person.
I almost excused the first one as typical first-meeting banter. I'm a stickler for punctuality and since lots of my dates are not, I told the guy, "I'm really glad you're on time!"
His reply was, "I'm really glad you're not actually an obese middle-aged divorcee!"
I get that it was a reference to the potential nightmare of being Catfished (do people really say that in real life?) but the heart of that statement is "Lol, good thing you're not fat."
During the course of another date, the man with whom I was sharing dinner conversation described a harrowing roommate experience that involved (gasp!) living with two overweight women who (wait for it) kept a lot of food in the refrigerator! Something out of Kafka, truly.
No, but this question does. TREMENDOUSLY.
I considered the possibility that I just had terrible luck and had stumbled onto two jerks that thought fat jokes were just some first date funsies, but the pattern continued. They ranged from snide remarks to explicit jokes but all had the same mean-spirit that lives behind any joke made at the expense of others. The worst offender was someone I'll call Dick.
On a second date with Dick, he asked me about my online dating experience so far. Having some doozies and what I consider a gift for oral storytelling, I was happy to give him a few of the most entertainingly upsetting anecdotes from the growing archive.
There was the guy that made me cry on the first date by yelling at me for not living up to my full potential (something he determined by my graduate education and my failure to attend law school, despite a good LSAT score). For good measure, he called a lot of things "retarded" as well.
There was a man who I politely declined for a second date that followed up with 11 text messages demanding to know why, including one in which he said, "I know you're uncomfortable right now but I need to know exactly what I did wrong for my own edification!"
He, too, had made a fat joke.
Dick laughed at these and said, "My biggest problem so far has been with the stealth fatties." Chortle, chortle.
His reference, of course, was to women looking thinner in their picture than in real life. An injustice beyond measure, I would surely agree.
"That's not nice," I said, refusing to play it polite till the end of the date and just never see him again. Not only was his joke mean, the man was 35 years old and using the word "fattie."
"Well, it's not a nice thing to do to a person!" he said. He looked dead serious as he said that to look one way in a picture and show up looking different is genuinely unkind.
To recap, I had just told him about a date that had deeply hurt my feelings and another whose reaction to rejection had bordered on harassment. His idea of an equivalently mean act was someone showing up on a date at a size he deemed unacceptable.
He further defended himself by claiming that these women identified as "Thin" in their Body Type section which I must say is the biggest load of horseshit I've seen since I was on the set of "Seabiscuit. "
You never know where a stealth fattie might be lurking.
Overweight women are aware that they are not thin, they are reminded of it every day by "well-intentioned" co-workers and sinisterly intentioned advertisers. The potential for outright ridicule is way too high and I simply can't believe that any overweight woman has actually done this unless as part of some daring social experiment to see just how terribly things would go.
I felt like I was suddenly part of a club that I didn't know existed prior: People who were small enough to not get offended by fat jokes. Was this their roundabout, cruel way of assuring to me that they didn't think I was fat? Was it meant to be some sort of compliment to me, that I was part of an arbitrarily decided weight class that they had deemed acceptable for dating purposes?
I had seen "Mean Girls" and everything, but didn't actually know that losing weight was going to subject me to jokes that a few months prior I would have thought were directed at me.
For full disclosure, I have never been significantly overweight. I fully recognize that the experience of constantly feeling overweight and actually being overweight are completely different, as the latter can often come with a world of legitimate cruelty, particularly when one has the audacity to identify themselves as romantically viable. I can't and won't claim that as my experience.
But having sat close enough to the edge of having a real weight problem and being called fat by enough crushes and personal trainers has given me a lifetime of neuroses about it that I feel earns me at least a partial seat at the table.
Why is it that someone who would never dream of making an offensive joke in another category is so eager to make one about weight? How are they so confident that there is no one overweight in my life, past or present, that I love and care about and don't want to hear reduced to a punchline?
Spoiler alert to these fools: Bodies change. The body in front of you might not have always looked like it does now. Even bigger bummer: it might not always look like that in the future either. This is especially pertinent to those looking for long-term relationships. My body may have changed into something deemed more acceptable than it was in the past, but the sense that something remains of the kind of body that you're ridiculing is still very much alive.
The truth is, the real stealth fatties are not these women who look thinner online than they do in real life. The stealth fatties are women of every size, the ones who have been teased relentlessly for their weight or told by industries and idiots that they are not good enough because of how their bodies look.
They have internalized this message, sometimes forever, regardless of what they look like on the outside. And making a joke about fat people isn't going to make them feel any prettier. It's going to make them think that you're mean. Which you are.
We stealth fatties are lurking behind more sizes than you think. Make a joke about the goddamn weather.