Big and lonely

My sister, who is quite heavy, comes to me for romantic advice, but I don't know how to help her.


Cary Tennis
May 4, 2004 11:09PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

My big sister is a 45-year-old single mom who's struggled with obesity for many years. She's also trying to find her way in the world of dating. I often get asked for the male perspective and for general romantic advice. I've coached her as to how a man might respond to various advances, how to create conditions where a genuine date can occur, how to tell whether things are going OK.

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But any advice I can offer will always come from the realm of romance between those of near-average weight. My sis weighs 350 to 400 pounds, and a healthy love life continues to avoid her.

Are the rules different for very heavy people? Am I doing more harm than good?

Seeking Solace for Super-sized Sis

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Dear Seeking Solace,

I saw Gwyneth Paltrow on TV talking about wearing a fat suit for her role in "Shallow Hal," and one thing she said stopped me cold. Here is what she told interviewer Prairie Miller in New York about the experience: "Well, I put on the suit and I went outside and walked around. It was actually very interesting, because I was really nervous about being found out. But when I walked around, nobody would even make eye contact with me. Like nobody would even look in my direction. Because I think when you get a sense of someone being slightly outside what we all consider normal, you think, Oh, it's polite not to look. But actually, it's incredibly isolating. And it really upset me."

In other words, when you're fat you disappear. Gwyneth Paltrow had never been invisible before, and it obviously shook her up. It made me realize how much those of us who are lucky enough to have body types that fall within "normal" limits depend on what we consider normal daily contact with other people. Not so much our friends, necessarily, but strangers: We at least know that people see us on the street and basically approve of our existence. We are not habitually ignored. That must be incredibly painful and disturbing. So if I were you, I would suggest that she look into the psychology of her particular group. There are bound to be subtleties and nuances that other overweight people can make sense of. And there are groups that fight prejudice against overweight people. It can be empowering to belong to groups of people with similar experiences.

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And I might be naive, but I persist in believing there is somebody for everyone. The majority of Americans seem to prefer slender women, but there is a minority that likes larger sizes, and like everyone else in the universe, they can be found on the Internet.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked directory.

Dear Readers,

If you are interested in telling your story onstage, please see last Monday's column. I will soon be on vacation, so if I don't get back to you right away, I will read your letters with great interest upon my return. Cheers. --CT

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Cary Tennis

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