In the latest episode of comedian Louis CK’s almost-eponymous half-hour Louie, titled “So Did the Fat Lady”, he touches a raw nerve on how overweight women are viewed by males, and society at large.
In the show, an overweight waitress called Vanessa asks Louie out, he knocks her back despite the fact they appear, from a personality stand-point, very well matched – they are equal physically too as she points out in a killer speech later in the show.
After some persistence he finally goes out on a kind of non-date with her but she points out that he would never really date her, that he is afraid of how it would make him look – that he would be “scared that maybe you should be with a girl like me”.
So what can we males learn from Louie’s takedown by Vanessa, being dubbed the most honest seven minutes on television?
First, and simply we men can be dicks.
I, as a male, am often privy to conversations that rate, rank and run down women.
I understand Louis CK wanting to make such a big mea culpa for all those men, because if you stand in enough urinals, attend enough boys’ nights out and talk to enough random strangers in bars you can get pretty bleak about the outlook of the male of the species.
We are judgmental, sexist and facile, to be sweeping. But I don’t agree that I would not date a larger woman for fear of losing face amongst my peers -- because a large swathe of my fellow men are, well, refer to the above point.
Never say, “You’re not fat” to someone who is
I know, we thought it was never say you ARE fat, but the opposite is also true. It’s not just that it’s a lie, it’s the assumption that it’s a bad thing. For those guys still confused imagine the conversation like this, “No, no, you’re penis ISN’T small”.
Being honest matters, saying to a fat person they are not fat suggests they are not only fat, but stupid.
Looks are more important to men than women
I’ll own up to the fact that we men are driven by visual stimulus, we need to like what we see on a date. (My wife on the other hand claims that looks are almost irrelevant which is refreshing if you are not a looker, or dispiriting if you are me.)
But what is often overlooked in this discussion is that does not mean men want the SAME visual stimulus, even supermodels are not universal in their appeal to us.
Many of the body image ills that befall women are put at the feet of men, but it is not all men nor is it always men that do the sniping over weight, or looks – the beauty industry and culture should also takes its fair share of blame.
Women see us for more than our bodies
Vanessa points out that her and Louis are aesthetically equivalent, but she fancies him. This is because women see other traits in men that make up for the fact they are not Brad Pitt. We see those traits too, but generally that’s after we fancy you.
Men punch above their weight in the dating game
My wife and I often joke about mis-matched couples we might see, such as “there’s a 7 going out with a 3” but on almost all such occasions we are talking about an older, less attractive man with a more attractive female partner.
This could be down to the influence of media, of regular images of Hollywood’s ageing stars with young girls on their arms, that society throws a less harsh glare on a rich old guy with a trophy wife than the predatory and dangerous sounding “cougar”. Or that more women think like my wife, that looks are not really a big part of the equation.
Louie addresses what we know is a double standard, that overweight sad-sack men are funny, but overweight maudlin women are scary. But it’s a double standard that suits us, so why must fat women keep rocking the boat? Right?
Men EXPECT to punch above their weight
Not always gonna happen. Deal. Sometimes a 5 should go out with a 5.
Being outside of society’s norms should not be a dirty secret
The key tenet of Vanessa’s speech is that she should be able to say it sucks to be fat, that she should be able to express her feelings of loneliness and despair without someone worrying she is going to commit suicide.
And she should be able to do just that, because Vanessa is not just talking about the fat people, that speech is about all the hang-ups that we have as human beings.
I was bald at the age of 21, well before Bruce Wills and Vin Diesel made it a lifestyle choice. I know what it feels like to watch any future happiness circling the drain hot on the heels of my mutinous follicles. My wife brazenly admits that she could never date someone shorter than her (yep, the same wife, apparently short doesn’t come under “looks”), and I have a friend for whom a woman’s elbows are the all-important (if slightly Seinfeldian) signifier of a potential mate.
As Vanessa puts it: "What is it about the basics of human happiness – feeling attractive, feeling loved, having a guy chase after us – that's just not in the cards for us? Why am I just supposed to accept it?"
The truth is you are not and should not. But neither should you lay the blame at an entire half of the planet for those feelings.
I am raising two boys, boys that I hope will not pick their partner by weight or by height or by cup size – boys I hope other boys will be happy to chat with at the urinal, or the bucks night or the pub without cringing. Boys, who I hope will not be rejected by a potential partner for whatever physical trait they may develop in the future (they are perfect now, just so we’re clear). I want them both to absolutely wallow in the basics of the human happiness to give it and to receive it in spades.
And discourse like Louie’s, that puts an honest and harsh spotlight on any and all of our prejudices, can’t help but make me feel that is just a little bit more possible.