I’ve absorbed society’s harmful and false suggestion that “guys like that” only like a certain type, and “girls like me” aren’t it.
So a few months ago, at rush hour in a downtown train station, this handsome guy starts chatting me up. He was cologne-model good looking, with weirdly perfect sandpaper stubble on a square jaw and a fitted suit partially hidden by a classy overcoat. Not a parka, or peacoat, or a ragged but endearing arrangement of flannel and wool, an actual overcoat.
I’ve never in my life been hit on by a man in an overcoat. As a matter of fact, I’ve never been hit on by a man in a suit, or a man wearing shined shoes, or a man with a briefcase. Men who flirt with me don’t carefully part their hair or monitor the millimeters of their beards. They aren’t “chiseled.”
Men who hit on me are usually creatively under-employed, with duct-taped boots, healthy and unchecked scruff, and several mostly-useless graduate degrees. They look all kinds of ways, from lumberjack to semi-starving artist, but they definitely don’t look like this guy at the train station. In fact, the typical flirter-with-Emily looks so much unlike this guy, that I assumed my train station beau wasn’t hitting on me at all and must be truly confused by the rail map.
Guys like that don’t go for girls like me.
Guys “like that” don’t go for girls “like me.” I don’t mean smart girls, or feminist girls, or writerly types who rant on the Internet. I mean big girls. Thick girls, chunky girls, fat girls. I mean girls with jean sizes in the double digits, with thighs that rub together, who weigh enough that Plan B isn’t designed for them. Trim guys with defined abs, designer stubble, and movie star cheekbones want girls with flat stomachs and twiggy thighs.
Remember that Girls episode when Hannah enjoyed a two-day affair with a man played by Patrick Wilson and the Internet exploded with outrage at the impossibility of such an attraction? How could someone like him—all American dreamboat—be attracted, on any level, to her soft, pale, wide-hipped, small-breasted body? It must be a joke, or a dream sequence! When Wilson’s real wife got wind of the hysteria, she jumped in with a well-timed tweet: “funny, his wife is a size 10, muffin top & all, & he does her just fine.”
A few years ago I caught myself applying the very flawed Patrick Wilson logic to a family of strangers at a water park. I noticed them while I waited for a leisurely float down the lazy river. The dad, graying at the temples, was thin and fit and still boyishly handsome at 40-something. The mom, laughing and squeegeeing wet hair onto the hands of her delighted kids, was thick around the middle and sporting an unflattering one-piece. Her hair was graying and lank. She looked 40-something too, and yet, to my judgmentally trained eye, they didn’t seem to match. I started running through scenarios about their union, spinning stories to myself to justify their togetherness. It never crossed my mind that maybe he just liked her that way.
How phenomenally arrogant can we get to assume that because we know what we like we could ever presume to know what drives the attractions of others? Why would I presume to know that the hot guy at the station doesn’t fantasize about women of exactly my shape? Why would I assume that, if he were in fact hitting on me, he was making some kind of body-compromise? In exchange for pretty eyes I’ll put up with a soft tummy. In exchange for a nice smile I’ll deal with thick thighs. What kind of self-loathing is that to think that my body—the one that I spend all my time with and rely on and enjoy—would be the kind of thing someone would have to tolerate?
I have a friend who runs a pornographic tumblr [NSFW] with images from art, pop-culture, old comic books, personal galleries of exhibitionists, and straight-up pornography in one big heap o’ lady: a fully-dressed, androgynous black woman in suspenders, a gray-haired, 60-ish, tattooed yogi, a giant painting of glittered lips, a close-up of a fat girl’s belly button, the pulpy cover of a trashy dime store novel. The images of beauty here, and sex, too, are so varied that I can’t help but feel my brain start to rewire. Seeing row upon row of true variety, all through the lens of desirability, pushes me to expand beyond the very narrow, very specific wedge of humanity I’ve been taught is worthy.
Because the truth is, the man at the train station found me lovely, he told me so when we met for coffee the next day. Although it didn’t work out, it reminded me how much I’ve absorbed the harmful and false suggestion that “guys like that” only like a certain type, and “girls like me” aren’t it.
The Patrick Wilsons of the world are many. As hard as it is for all of us to wrap our brains around, bombarded as we are with imagery telling us otherwise, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and beholders like all kinds of things.
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.