Lowered Expectations: The Experience of Dating While Fat

This piece was originally posted on the “Stretch for Something Beautiful” website

Years ago, Mad TV used to have a skit called “Lowered Expectations”. It made fun of video dating ads, and usually had someone who was considered “weird” or “undesirable” creating an unintentionally funny video to place on a dating website or program. I used to laugh a lot at this, because at the time, it seemed funny. Now, in my 30s, I realize that dating really is like an episode of “Lowered Expectations” – because when you don’t look like a poster child for society’s idea of beauty, it’s like trying to hit a dartboard blindfolded.

I’ve never been a pretty girl, and I’m not a pretty woman. I’m not thin, for starters. I don’t have perfect bouncy hair and I don’t have even features or a beautiful face. I’m pretty average, and being fat, I’ve been told some pretty unbelievable things when it comes to dating. It’s insinuated that if you’re not perfect, you should get ready to settle for whoever pays attention to you. Street harassment is supposed to be seen as a compliment. You’re supposed to be happy if someone leans creepily over you in a bar and tries to chat you up, and if that attention is unwanted, you’re looked upon as strange or ungrateful. “What more do you want?” I’ve been told. “Someone’s paying attention to you, shouldn’t you be happy?”

Conversely, you’re expected to grin and bear it when prettier friends grab the attention of someone you’re interested in. Feeling jealous or upset is considered stupid, since you would have never had a chance with that person, anyway. You’re expected to simply shrug off when you start talking to someone at a bar and they look at you with thinly-veiled disgust or do their best to move away from you to get to better-looking people. It’s as if living with a less-than-perfect face and body means that you’re some kind of social pariah. I’ve gotten so used to being looked upon with indifference, at best, and disgust, at worst, that hanging out at bars means that I just stick with my friends. If I do get any attention, it’s generally unwanted, because the person is giving me a bad or creepy vibe. Generally, this is proven to me later when they won’t leave me alone, demand unwanted contact, or want to buy me a drink and expect to go home with me. I don’t generally look for that sort of experience, and I think it’s kind of gross that I’m expected to “suck it up” because “that’s what people do at bars” and “you’re not in any position to pick and choose.”

From frugivoremag.com

From frugivoremag.com

I do like talking to people and meeting people at bars, and I don’t go in thinking that I’m going to be looked upon as the uglier accessory to make my pretty friend look better, someone to overlook and snub like I’m a guard dog to “protect” her. By the end of the night, however, that’s how I feel. And if I don’t pay attention to the people making me feel uncomfortable, I’m looked upon as too picky and ungrateful, when really, I just want to be respected and treated like a human being.

In short, I feel like I can’t win when it comes to dating, and I’ve become a little bitter and jaded about it.

I’m told to “go on dating websites”. I did that, and met someone that I thought I could start a relationship with. When the first date turned sour and I experienced some unwanted touching and kissing which didn’t stop when I said no, I was told that I’m too much of a prude, and I should take what I can get. I wasn’t told this by the person I went on the date with – I was told this by friends whom I thought would listen and provide commiseration. So my question is, why do I have to settle because I’m fat? Why do I have to accept a less-than-stellar dating experience because of the way I look?

I don’t feel like I have to lower my standards and expectations because I don’t look like that girl over by the bar. I feel like I can meet someone that will respect me and that will connect with me, no matter how I look. However, I don’t feel that society feels like that’s an option for me. I’m expected to shut up and take what I can get. Lowered expectations.

It bothers me that fat and ugly people dating is considered funny. Even if you don’t find a certain person attractive, why is it hilarious to think that they might want to find love and companionship? Converse to what some people seem to think, fat folks have feelings. They are often struggling with knowing that they’re undesirable in the world. Some have self-confidence issues that are proven over and over when they’re laughed at for trying to date or told that being whistled at on the street is the best they’re going to get. And the worst is being told that we could have a relationship if only we improved ourselves. Lost weight, put on more makeup, tried to do something with our hair. Wore different clothes. Acted more confident. As if we, ourselves, are just not enough.

I guess most of the time, according to society, we’re not.

I have found lasting relationships with people who looked past the way I look and into my heart and mind. I’ve connected with people on deeper levels and enjoyed being loved. I know it can happen. I just wish it wasn’t so hard. I also wish there weren’t so many roadblocks being thrown up. Look better. Act better. Take what you can get. Accept most of the world finds you ugly and disgusting. Accept most people think of you dating and laugh at the idea. Accept you’re not going to find love, and if you do, it’s probably a fluke.

I refuse to accept that.

Finding love and companionship isn’t just for pretty people. They struggle with self-esteem issues, too. And if they can find love, so can less-than-gorgeous people. We’re not jokes, disgusting, ugly, or anything else, and anyone who wants to make us feel that way isn’t worth our time.

We don’t have to lower our expectations and standards. We can look past the way people look, how awkward they might feel, and into their hearts. We don’t have to accept unwanted attention because we’ll never get anything else. We deserve respect. We are human beings, just like everyone else in society.

We are enough, just the way we are.

Elizabeth Hawksworth is a Canadian poet, blogger and short story writer. A busy marketing professional and nanny in Toronto, Ontario, she enjoys taking in the sights and sounds of her city, writing historical fiction, and herding her two cats, Athena and Ophelia. Elizabeth blogs about feminism, body positivity, fatphobia, writing, nannying and social justice at http://www.elizabethahawksworth.com

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  • Winchester

    Interesting. I think I understand where you’re coming from. To play devil’s advocate though, I’m fit and pretty good looking, but dating still sucks. I honestly think “lowering our expectations” is just part of dating. There’s a reason that less and less people are getting married, and I don’t think it’s due to our waistlines.

  • Biff

    “I refuse to accept that.”–That is the crux of the author’s problem: she refuses to accept reality and instead dwells in ShouldBeLand where her physical flaws ShouldBe overlooked by men acting in accord with their primary biological imperative of preferring and choosing the more fit and aesthetically attractive women over the less so. This is not to say that that is their *only* interest but it is their strongest initial one.

    “I don’t feel like I have to lower my standards and expectations because I don’t look like that girl over by the bar.” – Yet she expects guys to lower theirs to satisfy her self-delusion.

    After viewing the author’s photograph, I would rank her a 3 on the 10-Point Scale of Physical Attractiveness. Should she take control of what she puts in her mouth and/or increase her physical activity level in order to drop 50-70lb (depending on her height which I don’t know), she could rise to a 4, maybe 4.5. Her intelligence, her wittiness, her literary skill, the possibility that she volunteers at the homeless shelter and takes in stray animals – NONE of that matters to PHYSICAL attractiveness.

    So her exposition on what men SHOULD find attractive or the qualities they SHOULD weigh more heavily in their estimation is just pointless whining from ShouldBeLand. It is exactly the same as men complaining about how women SHOULD be more logical and less emotional; how they SHOULD talk less instead of being chatterboxes at every given opportunity; how they SHOULD be less concerned over a man’s socioeconomic status.

    Railing against differences in the sexes’ respective neural hard-wiring wrought by millions of years of evolution isn’t going to change it. The author’s time would be better spent on working towards achieving her physical best as well as learning and practicing the 3 tenets of the Serenity Prayer: change what you cannot accept; accept what you cannot change; learn the difference.

  • Peter Gregg

    If your friends wont commiserate with you when something bad happens you need new friends. I’ve generated that disgusted look in other peoples faces when I asked for a date. I’ve had friends completely dismiss me when they were looking for love. It sucks. I’ve had people I was going out with completely freak out when they found out I thought we were dating. That really sucks.

    I used to be a file clerk. I’ve come to think of dating as a sorting problem. There are too many files. They are in no order. Finding the right file is a matter of knowing it is out there and keep looking.

  • Chrispea17

    Hello Elizabeth,

    I don’t want you to feel like a little bit more to love is a bad thing. I’ve been thin and “pretty” my whole life, and let me tell you, the guys that do get our (thin pretty girls, although I view you and I no differently) attention and not yours are usually not the keepers. Some are, as I’m sure you have seen when your friends are married to husbands that gave them attention initially because they were visually appealing, but I’ve met more creeps than good ones in that category. The men(or partners) with beautiful souls and eyes that look deeper than the layer beneath our skin are so hard to find, and then the ones we do find who are “nice enough” or “a good catch” are not our good catch. However, we’re still expected by our friends to date them (almost feel guilty not dating them) because they are better than the last four or five creeps we dated. You’re beautiful because you speak your mind, and there is someone out there wondering why all the women he dates (despite the way they look) don’t appreciate him… and he’ll come get you, in due time. Hopefully mine is out there too. Stay snobby in the bars, the only ones who are saying that you are such, are the ones who aren’t worth your time anyway. Be free, be honest, and be loud with the truth and laugh in the face of those who don’t like it. He will see it glowing out of you. Good luck, and if you find any “nice enoughs” that aren’t your type. Send them my way.

  • WTF


    Seriously? You’re using a 10 point scale and talking in absolutes and evolutionary biology bullshit. Speak only for yourself and no one else. Not all guys are the same, not by a long shot.