the study of marriage

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Skinny or smart?

I remember a very intense debate in my English class in high school (junior year, I think) over what we'd choose: to be stupid and beautiful, or smart and ugly. Personally, I was in the smart-ugly camp; but perhaps if I'd been beautiful rather than smart (you could have called me pretty, but I definitely wasn't beautiful), I would have chosen stupid-beautiful for my lot. I recall that the stupid-beautiful camp had a lot of folks in it, which somewhat mystified me.

Now a (probably unscientific) survey of women in the UK has "revealed" that "women would rather be slim than have a much higher IQ." Also, when given mutiple choices including being permanently free of money worries, women still (51%) responded that they'd choose to be slim.

(Snarky comment: Now, the survey participants couldn't have been that smart to start with, if they'd choose slimness over permanent financial security! If they'd been thinking, they'd realize that "no financial worries" also means "freedom to exercise as much as I need to, plus hire a gourmet light-cooking chef, to deal with my weight issues.")

Why are women so worried about their weight? We know it's not really about health, but about appearance. We want to appear physically attractive, primarily to men, and primarily to men to whom we're married or otherwise romantically committed.

This would all be complete silliness if it wasn't for the fact that an attractive spouse has been described as a legitimate emotional need in the field of marriage therapy, by Willard F. Harley Jr. (See Harley's book His Needs, Her Needs or this article at his website for an explanation of physical attractiveness as an emotional need.) Now, this is a fairly controversial issue, because people don't like or want to hear that their spouse needs them to look differently, because "looking better" can be really a heck of a lot of work to accomplish. When the subject of physical attractiveness comes up on marriage forums on the internet, whooboy it can sure provoke a firestorm of posting, on both sides of the issue.

Personally, I'm relieved that my husband chose me as a mate primarily because I'm smart, and that he chooses to ignore the fact that I'm overweight. Physical attractiveness isn't one of his top emotional needs. But if it was, what would I do about it? What would I be willing to do to meet that need? (As in, healthy things, not extreme diets or anything crazy.) Come to think of it, I'm not actually doing that well right now at meeting his needs for fun time together (recreational companionship) and good sex.


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