About a month ago, one of my sisters tagged me in a video she recorded of Family Feud, a game show where two families compete for a cash prize by trying to find the most popular answers to a variety of questions. On the episode she recorded, host and comedian Steve Harvey asks the contestants to answer a rather loaded statement: “Name a reason a woman might decide to be with a chubby [or fat] man.”
The contestants’ answers end up providing a humorous round in the minds of the contestants, Steve Harvey, and presumably the audience.
But my sister didn’t share this video on her Facebook page to garner laughs from her friends and family. It was quite the opposite: my sister was angry at the round’s subject and the answers given. My sister wrote:
“This really bothers me! This is why people think you have to be skinny/fit to be beautiful, to be wanted, to be loved, and to deserve anything…this is NOT OKAY!”
My sister tagged me in this post knowing my background in fat studies and sexuality studies (and as a fat masculine person), knowing I would agree with her frustrations.
The one thing this particular round of Family Feud does correctly is summarize many of the unfortunate myths our society perpetuates about fat people — specifically, fat men — and relationships.
However, calling out fatphobic myths was obviously not the game’s aim. Instead it perpetuated body terrorism against fat bodies to score cheap laughs. Let’s go through each of the top six most popular answers in order to better understand how they’re inaccurate and harmful to men of size.
1. “Fatty Got Money!”: Fat Men Are Only Valuable For Their Money or Power
The myth: The fact that this myth is the most popular of the six given answers — 34 of the 100 people originally surveyed gave this or a similarly-worded answer — is troubling in itself. This myth is something we see throughout American culture, whether it’s in movies, politics, or popular culture.
If a classically attractive person of any gender is with a fat man, the general assumption is that this fat man has to have money or some sort of power. Why else would someone who could presumably get with anyone they wanted choose to be with a disgusting fat man, right?
This kind of thought is extremely damaging for a lot of fat men, placing all their value as people into the money or power they may or may not have.
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The truth: While there are, of course, some people who only seek relationships for money or power, the truth is that quite often, people will choose to be with a fat man because they actually want to be with him. This myth is much less often applied to skinny or “fit” men, unless of course that person is known to have money or power. But it’s much easier for people to understand two skinny or traditionally attractive people being together because they’re attracted to each other than when a skinny or traditionally attractive person chooses to be with a fat man for other less superficial reasons.
2. “She’s Fat/Digs Food”: Fat People Only Like Other Fat People
The myth: With this myth, we see how people attempt to take away fat people’s agency. It implies that fat people will only be able to have relationships with other fat people, whether it’s because they only find other fat people attractive or that’s all they can “get”, in the most brutal of terms.
Slipped into this myth is a related fatphobic myth: that all fat people love to eat a lot of food, and all people who love to eat food are fat.
The truth: Put plainly, the assumption that fat people will only seek relationships with other fat people is false. Humans — fat, skinny, and in between — can be and often are attracted to a wide variety of people of all shapes and sizes. To assume that fat people will only ever be with fat people is at the very least ignorant, if not completely fatphobic and sizeist.
And as for the idea that fatness is inherently correlated with (over)eating — that’s another myth too.
3. “She’ll Look Better”: Fat Men Are Unattractive
The myth: All fat men, according to this worldview, are inherently less attractive than any partner they could ever have. Such men’s partners would only use them to appear more attractive by comparison. This myth makes the assumption that, as mentioned above, no one could conceivably be in a relationship with a fat man because they’re actually attracted to him. Fat people are simply tools to make their (presumably non-fat) partners feel more desirable.
The truth: Just as some people might pursue a fat man for money or power, some people might only pursue fat men to seem more attractive to others. In reality, though, this seems to be less common than this answer would have us believe.
I’ll keep repeating the point, even if I sound like a broken record: many people actually find fat men attractive!
4. “She’s In Love”
This was the only truly mocking-free answer included in the top answers on the board. That in itself is illustrative of the entrenched fatphobia on display in the rest of the answers. It also comes in at 9/100, meaning that out of 100 people surveyed, “She’s in love” was the answer given by only nine people.
What are fat men watching supposed to think about their bodies and their worth as human beings?
5. “He’s Warm/Cuddly”: Fat Men Are Good For Cuddling But Not Sex
The myth: This is one of those “positive stereotypes” many folks try to use to buttress their blatant bigotry. It’s somewhat similar to statements like “all Asians are smart” or “all gay men are fashionable and confident.”
Fat men are stereotyped as being warm and cuddly, but not much else on the “positive” side of stereotyping. As evidence of this, one of the game show contestants gave an answer that ended up not being on the board: that a woman would date a fat man because he was good at sex. Steve Harvey, in his “comedic” fashion, responded as if this was the most outrageous answer in the world, with the other contestants and the audience laughing in agreement. In so doing, the show promoted the notion that while fat men can be warm and cuddly, they aren’t to be seen as sexual beings, let alone “good” at sex.
The truth: The issue with “positive stereotypes” is that they automatically alienate anyone who doesn’t fit in with those stereotypes. Even worse, they alienate anyone who wants to be seen as more than just the caricature of themsleves painted by society.
The only redeeming quality our culture allows fat men — if they aren’t rich or powerful, and not even 100% of the time — is that they’re like fluffy teddy bears. While many fat men are indeed “warm and cuddly,” it’s harmful for them to see this as their only positive trait.
Further, what someone perceives as being “good” or “bad” at sex is often completely subjective and based in personal preference. Ridiculing the notion that fat men could be “good” at sex further entrenches systemic fatphobia.
6. “He Won’t Cheat”: Fat Men Are Too Desperate For Love To Be Unfaithful
The myth: Fat men won’t ever cheat on their partners, the thinking goes, because they wouldn’t do anything to ruin the “only sure thing” they have in their current relationship. In other words, they know that no one else would want to be with them.
The truth: To put it bluntly, this is straight up wrong. This dehumanizing survey answer assumes that fatness is inherently correlated with desperation for sexual and romantic attention.
As damning as it may be to admit, fat men are just as likely as any other men to cheat on their partners. And even more crucially, this myth posits that fat men are so unattractive, no one would give them a chance to cheat on their partners, which, again, is also completely wrong to assume.
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The Ongoing Challenge of Fatphobia
As with all myths and stereotypes about a group of people, these five survey answers on Family Feud show the blatant body terrorism fat men are subjected to in our culture.
Despite what these myths will have you believe, fat men’s bodies are inherently worthy. They’re also desirable and attractive to many other people. This reality shouldn’t be so hard to imagine, but the fact that it was treated as such on a television show illustrates just how deeply fatphobia has pervaded society.
While watching this episode angered and disturbed me, it’s a reminder that we have extensive work to do to achieve any sort of across-the-board levels of respect for fat people. Only then will we be able to make these myths and any negative perceptions related to them obsoleted modes of thought instead of largely accepted norms.
[Feature image: Photo of an individual sitting indoors. They are wearing a white t-shirt and baseball cap as they stare into the camera with a slight grin on their face. They have dark skin, a low fade cut, and a beard.]