Quite a few people responded to my observation at the end of this post about “the admitted double-bind of that ancient question: ‘does this outfit make me look fat?’”
So I thought I’d expand (pun intended) a bit on that thought. Since I already have noted that the question is a double-bind, here’s the definition of that very useful term:
1. A psychological impasse created when contradictory demands are made of an individual, such as a child or an employee, so that no matter which directive is followed, the response will be construed as incorrect.
2. A situation in which a person must choose between equally unsatisfactory alternatives; a punishing and inescapable dilemma.
Meaning, of course, that the poor guy can’t win no matter what he says.
“Yes” is a widely recognized no-no, although the interests of honesty sometimes dictate it. Other seemingly safer responses such as “No, it doesn’t make you look fat,” open him up to the plaint, “So you think that some things do make me look fat?”, whereas a careful and cagey “I’m not sure” is asking for trouble of the “You just don’t notice or care anything about me!” variety.
“You always look good in everything” sounds good, but it smacks of flattering and untruthful copout. Perhaps the best response might be a simple “You look great in that” if it’s a thumbs-up, or “I think something else might be even better” if not.
But the entire exchange is fraught with peril and minefields, and if the woman knows what’s conducive to the health of the relationship, she won’t ask the question in the first place, but will save it for her female friends instead. The same is true of the equally dangerous, “Do I look like I lost weight?”
I once chuckled at a cartoon in the New Yorker that I wish I could find online, but I can’t seem to locate it at the moment. It featured a woman posing in her underwear, asking an onlooking man (presumably her hapless boyfriend or husband), “Does my body make me look fat?”
[NOTE: A related issue is whether women are more tolerant of significant overweight in their men than men are in their women. I must confess that in general, it's been my observation that women tend to be less focused on the looks of their men than men are on the looks of their women, although there are so many exceptions to that rule as to make it virtually meaningless. In particular, I've noticed that happily married couples take the physical changes that inevitably occur over time (weight gain in some, shriveling in others; wrinkles; sagging; and all that goes with the aging process) in stride, and accept them as the natural consequences of living. Others, less happy, hold the spouse to some impossible standard, and/or replace the old model with a newer shinier one.
And a French study indicates that, at least in France:
Obese women were 30 percent less likely than "normal" women to have had sex in the last year, but obese men were just as likely to have had one sexual partner in the last 12 months as average guys. Professor Kaye Wellings, one of the authors of the study, summed it up pretty effectively by saying, "Maybe women are more tolerant of tubby husbands than men are of tubby wives."
Your mileage may differ.]
[ADDENDUM: I have kindly been provided with the cartoon, and here it is (hat tip: Baklava):
[ADDENDUM II: In case you haven’t seen it, here’s Honest Abe dealing with the dilemma (hat tip: commenter “Ernie G.”):
[ADDENDUM III: Commenter “mousebert” has kindly created the following creative compendium: