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.”
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.