Leslie Cannold: Writer, Commentator, Ethicist, Researcher
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The Fat And Skinny Of Desiring Your Spouse

My Fat Spouse is the brainchild of an American body-builder named Chris. As the title suggests, the MFS website is a space where presumably slim spouses can bitch and worry about fat ones, as well as trade practical tips for “coping”.

Since the site’s launch in 2004, the blogosphere has been alive with boos and hisses. At the centre of the word-storm is the central moral claim made by MFS: that spouses owe it to one another to at least try to remain attractive.

Pro-MFS arguments look something like this. Sexual attractiveness is an undeniable part of a successful marriage. While for some spouses a normal body weight is not part of the complex alchemy that drives desire, for others it is a base ingredient. I keep myself nice for you, the argument goes, and you are obliged to keep yourself nice for me. If you don’t and I respond by divorcing you or seeking comfort in the arms of another, then you only have yourself to blame.

“Bollocks!” reply the feminist and anti-eating-disorders bloggers for whom the mere existence of the MFS site is an outrage.

In a piece called My Fat Spouse Is Awesome And I Adore Him Just The Way He Is, one woman said: “A lot of women didn’t choose to marry a bald guy but that is who they end up with. And if I am a red-head when I get married, does that mean I have to stay a red-head through my marriage? PEOPLE CHANGE.”

MFSers who fail to recognise this and to unconditionally commit to desiring and remaining with their spouse are not just callow whingers but stupid, too. This is because tactically, the only way to motivate a fat spouse to make fundamental life changes is through nurturing their self-esteem, not telling them their extra weight is a turn-off.

Such arguments are correct but only to a point. Yes, time changes everyone and from a practical point of view trying to get someone to make any major lifestyle change – including losing weight – for anyone but themselves is doomed to fail.

But the moral superiority of the anti-MFS bloggers is misplaced. The truth is that while slim spouses have no right to demand that fat ones lose weight, fat spouses have no moral claim – in the wake of their weight gain – to their slim partner’s desire (and where the presence of desire is seen as a must for a viable relationship, to their ongoing devotion).

If and when we have children, how long we battle on when faced with a critical illness and how we care for our health – including how we manage our body weight – are all decisions that express the individual’s view of a meaningful life. Decisions that the anti-MFS brigade rightly say belong to the individual, not their spouse.

But the flip-side to this is that we cannot dictate the emotional responses others have to our choices because such responses are not subject to reason. Rather they are feelings and so impervious to rational control.

Calling MFSers “shallow” or “superficial” may feel good, but it misses the point. Like hunger, desire is a primal human response: another person either triggers it or they don’t.

The upshot? You don’t owe it to your spouse to lose weight or try to remain attractive. But if you let yourself go and their desire wanes, this response is not something for which they can be morally blamed. leslie@cannold.com

Publication History

The Fat and Skinny of Loving Your Partner , The Sunday Sun-Herald (Sydney)
10 Aug 2008
http://cannold.com/articles/article/the-fat-and-skinny-of-desiring-your-spouse/

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Email: leslie@cannold.com Mobile: 0417 114 859 Fax: +61 3 9348 2015 - PO Box 1337, St Kilda South VIC 3182 Australia