Last week, one Stephen J. Betchen wrote a column for his blog on the Psychology Today website, entitled “Female Obesity: It’s Not All Her Fault.”
In it, Betchen, who specializes in marriage and family therapy, describes that a recent early morning trip to his local grocery store has opened his eyes to the fact that obese women (most shockingly, who are not immediately dismissible as ugly and old) exist all around him, followed by his subsequent revelation that their relationships, sexual and otherwise, must necessarily be suffering as a result.
But there’s good news! Betchen explains:
Medical conditions aside, it’s pretty easy to blame some of these women for their poor eating habits and lack of self-discipline, but aren’t their male counterparts culpable as well. One of the most disturbing things I see in couples/sex therapy is men—especially married men-- who rarely, if ever, attempt to make their wives feel sexy. [...] Women do need to take responsibility for “letting themselves go.” And if I never see another loosely fitted, designer sweat suit again it’ll be too soon. But both men and women need to own giving up on themselves and on one another.
See, it’s not exclusively the women’s fault. It’s also their HUSBANDS’ fault. (Because, of course, all of these women were straight, monogamous and currently paired off.) The husbands are equally to blame for their fatass wives because they have failed to make said fatass wives feel sufficiently sexy, such that their fatassedness could be thwarted in the first place.
Sexiness, you see, is a natural weight-loss drug; if you feel sufficiently sexy, then you cannot possibly be fat.
FURTHERMORE, sexiness-feelings must be imparted by a husband. Or, I guess, a long-term boyfriend, maybe. Men are the bearers of the diet-sexy keys, and they bequeath their slimming properties -- according to Betchen -- by, like, complimenting you and stuff.
The reward for this will be a not only be a sexy relationship, but a sexual one in which both partners will see themselves and present themselves as sexy, sexual beings who take pride in their bodies and their attractiveness to others.
Because fat women are never, ever sexually attractive to anyone, and cannot possibly take pride in their bodies and their appearance to others. I suppose their feelings about how they look to themselves are irrelevant and inconsequential, especially if they defy conventional ideas of what kind of body is "allowed" to be sexy.
If Betchen is truly privileging the approval of a male partner over a woman’s individual feelings about her body and herself as a sexual being, then I’m genuinely concerned for his patients.
This comment is not meant to address large woman [sic], many of whom are very sexy. I believe there can be a distinction between large and obese.
Well thank god for this concession. Maybe if we ask nicely, Dr. Betchen will provide a specific set of visual standards by which we can conclusively and universally determine the difference between women who are merely “large” and those who are “obese.”
And then we can burn it and laugh, because no one person’s individual standards should get to be the arbiter of what is an acceptable body and what is not.
My point is that simply blaming women for their obesity might not be productive. If a man has an obese partner, he should take a close look at his potential contribution to enabling the obesity, and injuring the sex life of his relationship.
There are a few minor flaws to this argument, like the bleeding obvious fact that many fat women are fat when they get married, or long before, and that many fat women feel sexy and have fucking raucous and fulfilling sex lives even without a husband around to apply his magical slimming sexifying compliments.
Speaking personally, as a fat lady who was fat when I met my husband and has never ceased to be fat in the14 years since, literally every single problem my nearly 10-year marriage has ever faced has been a result of a lack of communication. Every. Single. One.
And every time we have had the occasional disconnect in terms of sex -- and y’all, for most couples who’ve only fucked each other for a significant number of years, this will happen with a fascinating, if sparse, regularity -- it has had nothing to do with our capacity for sex itself or even our feelings of respective sexiness, but has been a result of one or both of us failing to honestly communicate our feelings to each other.
Some women gain weight as an indirect result of an unhappy relationship. I won’t deny that. But the brazen gall of this man to go to his local grocery store and presume to know anything about the sex lives and self-esteem of every woman he sees is utterly indefensible. It simply reinforces the wrong thinking that fat people are a monolith of shared psychological issues, and that fatness is always a sign of illness, be it of the body or mind.
And then what happened?
That’s when I became very, very angry.
I understand that for some, the natural reaction to the deletion of an offensive piece of writing is a sense of triumph -- Betchen has been successfully shamed into removing (or having it removed -- I don’t pretend to know who made the decision to delete) his odious crap from the Internet. Like it never happened! Like it was never there.
But this is precisely the opposite of what I want to happen when someone publishes damaging and difficult opinions -- and I don’t care what they are -- online. When an author later realizes something was problematic or poorly worded, and then responds to that revelation by erasing the offending piece entirely, it removes the opportunity for a productive conversation about why it was wrong (or misguided or damaging), and we then lose the chance to unpack the real consequences of uncritically advocating these troubling and injurious assumptions.
It is not enough for me to simply tell people they’re not allowed to say certain things, and have then obey. I am not content to plug my ears and pretend these opinions do not exist; neither do I expect to be protected from them. I want them out there, in the light of day, where we can all discuss them and maybe learn something about the impact our ignorant assumptions have on the real lives of other people.
So you don't just delete bullshit like this. You own up to it, and if you regret publishing it, you talk about why. You REFLECT. You LEARN. No one learns when assumptions are driven underground, when people stop saying things out loud only because they’re afraid of a reaction, and not because they have gained even a vague understanding of why those assumptions were damaging in the first place.
People like Stephen Betchen see me every day. They see me in the grocery store, or at Target. They see me walking through parking lots. They see me holding hands with my husband while waiting to cross a city street. They see me at dinner, at the farmer’s market, in the bookstore. And they assume.
They see me and they assume things similar to what Dr. Betchen has written and subsequently retracted -- they assume that I cannot possibly have a positive self-image and a healthy marriage. That I must be riddled with self-loathing and self-doubt. That I must be sick, uncomfortable, unhappy and stupid. And I can’t tell them different, most of the time.
Dr. Betchen can delete his ill-considered post after a bit of criticism, but in this case that won’t stop me from telling it to him, and to anyone else who thinks he's right: Stop making assumptions about my life based on the size and shape of my body.
If you’re interested in what the lives and sexualities of fat women are really like, ASK THEM. And understand that for every woman you ask you’ll get a unique response shaped by a thousand varieties of experience, and odds are good you won’t be able to predict any of them with 100% accuracy.
Because the only thing that the lives and relationships of fat women have in common is that they are not all the same. Just like everybody else.
Lesley gets mouthy and profane on Twitter too: @52stations