Fat, big, large, plus-size; whatever you want to call it, we are a group of humans that society still can’t seem to handle. Which is strange because at least 1/4 of the population in the USA, Mexico, and Canada qualify as obese people. And yet, we are one of the last “acceptable” punching bags for society at large. We’re the butt of many jokes in movies and TV shows, and we are often treated as invisible or, worse, actively singled out for bullying and mistreatment. The stereotypes about big men are often unnecessary and hurtful. We’re often characterized as lazy, sloppy, gross, gluttonous, and lacking in self-discipline and self-worth. When online, we’re only ever a few clicks away from the fat-haters mantra: If we do not respect our bodies enough to be thin, why do we deserve respect from others?
The truth is that you deserve respect at any and every size. We can’t stop others from harboring these unkind thoughts, but we can refrain from entertaining them in our own minds. We can do something to ensure that these stereotypes about ourselves aren’t internalized. Together, we can reject the jokes and laughter at our expense. We can be valuable, attractive, and loved people with bodies that deserve the opportunity to dress and groom well. It’s a battle that is won one step at a time, as we come out from behind the camera and stand in front of it. It’s a cultural shift toward acceptance of bigger bodies in magazines (swimsuit issues), in movies, and in music. Let’s tackle some of these myths and explain how they came to be and how we dismantle them for ourselves.
Myth 1: Big men dress badly.
Fact: most men dress badly. The evidence is all around us. And most big men dress in what’s available locally for cheap. This tends to be clothes that are utilitarian, i.e., made without regard to style but are large enough to fit. And while big and tall stores are becoming increasingly popular, big men (like most people) tend only to think about what is most convenient and what is easily within their budget.
Battling this myth is simple: find clothes that are in your size, are stylish, and wear them with pride. It will take you longer and cost more to find something that looks good than it would a straight-size person. We recognize that, but spending more on decent plus-size clothing is important. It shows clothing companies that there is a market for plus-size mens clothing. The result of this being that more clothing companies will expand their sizing, or create a plus-size label, and plus-size men will have more options available in the future.
Myth 2: Big men don’t smell good.
Big men are sweaty, big men may have limited mobility when bathing or grooming, big men don’t care about how they smell; all of the previous statements can be applied to humans of all body sizes.
Big Men Are Sweaty
All people sweat; yes, big men (speaking from experience) tend to sweat more frequently because it takes more energy to move big bodies. But deodorant and soap work the same for large bodies as they do for small bodies. Sweat is a byproduct of moving around, it’s your natural cooling system. How else can you tell if you’ve gotten a good workout? Big men are no more likely to have body odor issues caused by sweating than straight-size men, provided adequate hygiene is practiced.
That being said, due to an increase in the frequency of sweating, big men may need an extra change of clothes, a swipe of deodorant, a spritz of body spray, or a shower between the day’s activities and the evening’s festivities, especially when intimacy is a possibility. But, and I must reiterate, I really recommend this for all men, regardless of body size.
The “Big Men Can’t Clean Themselves” Stereotype
Plus-size men may have limited mobility when bathing or grooming, just as straight-sized people may have those same limitations due to injury, arthritis, or a myriad of other chronic or temporary bodily conditions. Plus size and straight size people alike may be born with or develop body, limb, and flexibility differences that make them unable to clean themselves properly without special bathing tools or help. A lot of the men I know have difficulty touching their toes with their legs straight, and yet they are never accused of not washing their feet or their pubic areas. So it’s ridiculous that this myth seems anchored to big men in particular.
If you find that you are unable to properly clean yourself, there are a variety of tools at your disposal: a loofa on a stick, a bathing wand, or a bidet, to name a few. Or, if the issue is flexibility in general, may I recommend daily yoga? If you’ve got qualms about it being “for women”, first remind yourself what year it is. Then learn about how combat veterans are using yoga to heal their wounds, both internal and external.
Big Men Don’t Care About How They Smell
File this one under the stereotype about plus-size people being lazy; the truth is that most people are unaware of how they smell. The human nose acclimates quickly to the body’s own scent so that it can still pick out the scent of food or danger, even when baths or showers have been skipped for days or weeks.
Most parents have had a conversation with their teenagers regarding the importance of bathing and it is no different for plus-size teenage boys. Big (young) men care about their smell when they realize that they will be spending much of their young adulthood trying to get close to their preferred sex, and that preferred sex typically loves when they smell good.
Most men can use a quick primer on how to choose a fragrance that works for them, and how to apply a fragrance without overwhelming those in the surrounding area with their newfound smell.
Myth 3: Big men shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes.
Oh, okay, uh-huh…
If a pattern is obnoxious, it’s going to be extra obnoxious on a big man because there’s just more real estate there. Some stripe patterns fit this category, so make sure that you break up these kinds of stripes with an over-shirt or jacket. Or if the item in question is a sport-shirt or dress-shirt, wear the shirt unbuttoned. If the striped shirt is a particularly extreme contrast (e.g., a black and white “sailor” stripe), elect to wear a more subtle stripe instead. Pay attention to the hug/drape of the clothing, in particular. If the stripes are bending around your anatomy, it will emphasize the curve of that anatomy; it’s up to you if this is the desired effect.
Fashion tips aside, if you put on a striped item of clothing and you look at yourself in the mirror and like what you see? Then get out there and start living your life, because that’s what really counts.
Myth 4: Big men should only wear black.
We all have bad days when it comes to body image. The urge to hide yourself as a big man is strong. Sometimes all it takes is a single comment to shatter the self-esteem we’ve been building up for weeks; sometimes it just takes a bad angle from a store camera. There are billion-dollar industries that thrive on making us feel ugly, gross, smelly, or otherwise less-than. It’s no wonder we sometimes have the urge to hide in plain site by wearing oversized clothes, too many layers (even on hot days), or, that old standby, black clothing.
Once you’ve accepted your size and shape, the next thing to recognize, and I mean this with all the love and grace in the world, is that you’re not fooling anyone. You are the size and shape that you are. You are seen as that size by other people. No amount of layers or oversized clothes or dark colors can hide that… nor should they. You are a worthwhile person who should be seen for what you are: a big man with qualities that make you worthy of respect, just like all other people on this planet.
Hiding is Not Thriving
Dressing well as a big man is about presenting your body in the way that works best for you. It’s about wearing what makes you feel good and shows the world a reflection of who you are on the inside. Hiding is not a part of your presentation. It can’t be, because it’s the opposite of presentation. No part of your body belongs in the shadows, draped in black like a mirror after a death in the family. Your outfit is a celebration of your living body, and it deserves more than to exist outside the spotlight.
So wear black because it’s a great way to highlight other areas of your outfit; wear black because it goes well with everything; wear black because it’s classy and photographs well. Choose black because you’re goth AF, or you’re going to a punk rock show. Or choose it because it’s the best color in a lot of circumstances. Just don’t wear it to hide yourself.
Myth 5: Big Men Aren’t Attractive
There’s so much evidence to the contrary regarding this particular myth that this hardly bears addressing, but one thing that I did want to say is this: Stop Conflating Fat With Ugly, both out loud (yes, even jokingly), and inside your own head. The two things are not, in any objective way, mutually exclusive, and they never will be.
Plus-Size Can Be A Big Plus
There are attractive fat people, and there are attractive skinny people. There are unattractive fat people, and there are unattractive skinny people. Fit, muscled and toned people can be quirky and cute; out-of-shape, soft, and fluffy people can be distinctive and striking. Attractiveness is as subjective as preferences for pizza toppings. There are large sections of the human race who think that a person who is plus-size, chubby, overweight, fat, obese, super-obese, etc., is just the most attractive and sexy thing ever put on the planet. I’ve met people of all shapes and sizes who want to climb ALL OVER a big man, it’s crazy to me that this myth is even a thing.
You never hear someone talk about an ugly cloud, do you? No, because every cloud is perfect. It’s exactly shaped like that cloud and is beautiful in its uniqueness.Anonymous, Reddit
Fight For Big Men
We’re not here to shame anyone except those who would try to shame us for being who we are. The human race comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and we would do well to remember that everyone is fighting their own battle, and everyone is worthy of love and respect. But if you’ve read this far and you’re not sure where to start when it comes to tackling body shaming, here are a few ideas you can start working on today.
Stop the Stereotype Against Big Bodies
- Refuse to laugh politely at a fat joke. Refuse to let fat bodies be a punchline.
- Do not be polite or friendly toward people who talk negatively about your body. This includes your friends and family. Make things uncomfortable if need be; that’s on them. Body-shaming deserves to shrivel and die in the harsh light of day (and it usually does).
- Refuse to watch movies or TV shows that mock fat people. You know the one where the overweight friend is an on-screen mockery of plus-size people? Or the one where they call the girl a “stick” or “flat as a board”? Those.
- Listen to the lyrics of songs you like and identify problematic body-shaming parts, especially if it is a mocking or shaming of body types that aren’t your own. This includes skinny-shaming, white-shaming, shape-shaming (for example, when it’s acceptable for women to have an hourglass shape but not an apple shape), etc.
- Reject body shaming in all of its forms. This includes mocking men for having small genitals, which is startlingly prevalent in songs and TV shows.
It is only with small steps of mental fortitude that we as big men can reject the internalization of negative thinking regarding our appearance. We can reject stereotypes about big men. We can shape the narrative in our minds and stop propagating negative stereotypes about fat people. We’re surrounded by poisonous negativity about big bodies every day; don’t let it inside.
[Cover/Article Photo by Aryo Lahap on Unsplash]