A new poll co-sponsored by AskMen.com and Cosmopolitan (so you know it’s reliable) came to the disturbing conclusion that half of the 70,000 men surveyed would break up with girlfriends who gained weight. Women, on the other hand, were more forgiving — only 20% said that they would dump a heavier partner.
It’s important to remember that this is not a scientific study and that what people say they would do in an online poll and what they would actually do when faced with a real-life situation are entirely different beasts. But the results point, once again, to the reasons why women in this country have severe body image problems.
The survey asked its respondents, bluntly: “Would you dump your girlfriend/boyfriend if s/he became fat?” There are a number of problems with this question, beginning with the fact that it excludes all non-heterosexual relationships. But the definition of “fat” is also relative. What constitutes “fat” may also have much to do a variety of other factors, including the health of the relationship, and women’s definition of “fat” may vary greatly from her male partner’s. In that sense, the question is useless because there are far too many variables for this question to usefully measure any larger social trend.
But what it does signal is the fact that it is far less socially acceptable for women to be seen as “fat,” at least in romantic partnerships. While men were more concerned about their penis size than women, signaling that male body anxieties do exist, the fact that “fatness” was more relevant to men than women says something about the way that men view their female partners. It could, on the other hand, simply reflect the biases of the people who put together the survey. After all, anyone who thinks that asking about “masculine” and “feminine” cocktails is appropriate may have fairly traditional assumptions about gender roles, which are in turn reflected in the questions.
There have been many surveys which show that being overweight does have tangible negative impacts on women. Girls as young as three years old worry that they’re fat, and studies suggest that weight influences women’s earning power. Overweight women are less likely to apply to college. Women are inhibited by their anxieties about their weight. The list goes on and on.
These are all serious issues — but are they being documented by the AskMen/Cosmo poll, or created by them? Is it possible that women worry about being “fat” because of unscientific polls like these? And that men think it’s acceptable to consider breaking up with a partner because of weight because so many other men seem to be doing the same? Maybe instead of polling to see what men and women “think,” these powerful media outlets should step back and consider their role in shaping the responses.
Photo from Pink Sherbet Photography via flickr.