On my recent wedding anniversary, I posted photos of us dressed up for a night on the town. I have a terrible crush on this man I call my husband, and when I saw him in a fedora for the first time, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Devastating. If he’d worn a hat like that the day we met, I would have been too nervous to talk to him. I felt the same way the day he came home with reading glasses for the first time. He kept catching me staring at him and got really embarrassed. Hey, it’s my prerogative to find my mate attractive. I’m proud he’s mine and I like showing the world what I see in him.
One of my friends commented on my photo about my being the anniversary gift for my husband. That was a very thoughtful compliment. It got me thinking, though, about how many layers there are underpinning that idea. I agree completely; I do see my fit physique as a gift to my mate, among many other things, and it’s something we’ve discussed for years. I also fully realize that this concept is anathema to most women, and it deserves some explanation.
Let me begin by spelling out that there are some very unsavory connotations behind the idea of the body as gift. Slavery, women as chattel, and the ancient tribal-level virginity fetish – oogy, icky stuff. It’s not a gift if it’s not yours to give. It’s not a gift if it’s compelled or if it’s felt as an obligation. I get this.
Nobody owns me. I’m a free elf. My body belongs to me, or rather, I don’t see my body as a separate entity from my personality or spirit or mind or what-have-you. I’ve lived so many different physical manifestations, and felt their effects on my mood and mental state, that to me the two are inextricably intertwined. I hear a great deal of commentary expressing that “my body wants” this or that (usually involving frosting), and it seems surreal and weird to me that people think of their bodies as some kind of hostile, enemy force preventing them from doing what they want.
When I’m happy and thriving, my external appearance is muscular and vigorous, with pink cheeks, bright eyes, and good posture. When I’m not doing well, my external appearance includes dark circles under the eyes, slouching, and trudging. Which causes which? It doesn’t really matter. The key factor is to recognize when I’m off track and starting to spiral into negativity, both physical and spiritual. One gift I can offer is to practice basic self-care and emotional hygiene. Being healthy and feeling great is good for me, and it also makes it easier to be around me. My attitude is always fully within my control, and it has everything to do with getting along and being a good partner.
There is a prevailing attitude among a certain segment of the female population that anyone who finds slender women more attractive is a terrible human being. Everything about falling in love, dating, and forming a lasting partnership is boiled down to appearance and body fat level. This is patronizing. It’s also wrong. At least three of the men I’ve dated made it clear that they preferred my appearance when I was seven clothing sizes bigger. I would estimate that about 80% of straight men love the women in their lives regardless of size. They just like being around us and smelling our hair and having someone to keep them warm at night. They truly don’t care what shoes or clothes we wear, or whether we wear makeup or shave our legs; whatever makes us happy is fine with them. Ask around. Guys are pretty open about this stuff, and they’ll generally give an honest answer to a sincere question. A man wants a woman who likes him, who wants to be with him, who smiles and laughs a lot and shows her happiness. That’s the perfect woman.
The other problem with the “I’d rather be alone than be with a man who thinks I need to lose weight” attitude is that it diverts focus from other factors that might repel even those who prefer a curvy, queen-sized physique. What if the body looks great to him, but he is put off by the defensiveness, resentment, bitterness, and fixation on sniffing out body-shaming under every rock and stone? Fully two-thirds of American women are overweight or obese now, and it’s 72% for men. Overweight is normal now. It’s fairly common for men to actively shy away from what they perceive to be “high maintenance” women, the signifiers of whom are thinness, fashionable clothing, and high-gloss hair, makeup, and manicures. The older a man becomes over age 30, the more likely he is to seek frugality in a mate, and test for whether a potential partner is in debt or is a recreational shopper. Another factor that is a common dealbreaker is the desire to have children immediately, or refusal to allow a new mate to assert parental authority over her pre-existing children. None of these things have anything to do with weight or body type. They have to do with personal autonomy and independence, which are perfectly fine for a single person, but are qualities that might be better traded for flexibility and generosity in loving relationships.
My husband and I were both fat when we met. We became close friends, which we still are, but we didn’t start feeling physically attracted to each other until we had both lost about 30 pounds. Losing weight was something I did for myself. I like it better. I like being fit, and I LOVE not having migraines or night terrors or fibromyalgia symptoms. I also see my commitment to self-care as a gift to him. I know he thought I was pretty when I was heavier, and I know he finds me more attractive as a marathon runner. Sometimes this makes me a little sad for Past Self, that we didn’t get our act together sooner. Mostly, I like that my transition to athleticism has brought us closer together. We have more in common now. He’s excited by my accomplishments and quite interested in my running routes and training schedules. Some of my gifts to him include working on my character flaws, developing my talents and interests, and becoming my better self. These are gifts because I choose them freely and offer them with my whole heart.
This is the man I love. I’d donate my kidney or my bone marrow or my blood plasma to him, if the need ever came, and I’d be glad to do it. Why then wouldn’t I give of my physical essence? Why would I not offer up my sweat and effort and self-discipline? I share my body with him in the same way I share my heart, my thoughts, and all the days of my life.