July 27th, 2010

The “does it make me look fat?” question

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):

lookfat.jpg

[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:

107 Responses to “The “does it make me look fat?” question”

  1. Baklava Says:

    Does Peggy Noonan’s writings make her look irrelevant? :)

    I’ve answered the “Does this make me look fat question”.

    The answer was, “No. That’s very flattering actually”.

    And then I say, “yum”. :)

  2. Baklava Says:

    Neo,

    Found it.

    http://www.cartoonbank.com/2001/does-my-body-make-me-look-fat/invt/120446/

  3. Richard Johnston Says:

    It’s a question which has baffled better men than me.

    [Accidentally posted this on the other post; meant to have it here.]

  4. Sean Sorrentino Says:

    The proper response is, “I would say that it isn’t your best look.” It’s honest, but not mean.

  5. Adrian Day Says:

    Like the menaing of life, this question is unanswerable except in an Al Jaffee’s Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions Kind of Way.

    Personally I love big beautiful women. Iwouldn’t want a world without them. It has always bothered me that the word fat has a negative conotation. Unattractive is not the inevitable result of size. I could make a list of 10 fat women I’d rather be with than Angelina Jolie easy.

    In a better age they used to be more celebrated. Margaret Dumont. Ethel Merman. There was a looker!

  6. Baklava Says:

    Speaking of cartoons – I like “Day-by-Day” from time to time

    http://bigjournalism.com/cmuir/2010/07/27/journolist-food-for-plants/

  7. SteveH Says:

    Nahhh…The proper response is, “No more than me wearing an untucked hawaiian shirt makes me look skinny”.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    Adrian Day: Ethel Merman, fat??? Not really; it was her voice that was big. Perhaps you are confusing her with Kate Smith?

  9. Adrian Day Says:

    Yeah I thought that after I sent that comment. Maybe it was a dress I saw her in.

  10. SteddieH Says:

    Oh-my-gawd!

    I cannot even begin to express the countless minefields I’ve traversed, successfully and in woeful failure, over the past 30 years of marriage. It is absolutely formulaic…”Honey, does [insert fuse or ignition device] make me [insert explosive or fuel here]?” There are infinite varieties of the setup and hook and I’m half convinced it is a mechanism women use (sorry for the HUGE generalization…specifically, My woman uses) to check to see if we’re still paying attention to them.

    Another absolutely frustrating, and equally fraught with peril, question is “Well, do you notice any difference?” that often comes completely out of the blue. You’ve got roughly 5 seconds before her brow furrows and you have to desperately figure out where the shovel is so you don’t start digging yourself into a hole.

    What is so damned frustrating is that it is impossible to put the shoe on the other foot! There is no tact, no buffering or couching in “kinder” terms when the position is reversed. Were I to ask a similar question (’tis best to keep the mental eye closed for the following imagery) “Honey, does this Speedo make me look fat?” the answer would be plainly, and painfully expressed midst peals of hiccuping laughter….

    All kidding aside I’m more than happy to give my wife feedback when the questions arise…common sense (and years of experience) have tempered my answers to be constructive and caring. For those times where experience doesn’t give me a clear direction…I feign deafness (Okay…maybe not ALL kidding aside).

  11. neo-neocon Says:

    Adrian Day: she had a big vibe.

  12. Artfldgr Says:

    So did Mama Cass…

  13. strcpy Says:

    Amongst the myriad of reasons I’m still single (and not by far the most prominent, most are of my own choosing – no reason to list them but in the end I so far prefer single and that is the biggest reason why) is that I tend to be literal and simply answer questions like that.

    I used to try and “traverse” the mine field so to speak but just seemed to step on every mine. Mostly I answer it and if someone wants to argue then they want to argue. I decide if I want to or not, but even if I do then I am usually not arguing in the way they want.

    I’ve found the way you answer the question is more important than the answer. It is *known* to have no good answers and is simply an excuse to argue and force the male into role of “apologizing”, it is the female version of asserting control.

    I neither want to control or be controlled so it usually doesn’t end well at all. Indeed, when it really is such a thing I normally answer the question (which is almost always “no, it doesn’t” because women know how to pick clothes that do not make them look fat, though the question *can* be asked legitimately) following by “yes” if the response is “so I have clothes that make me look fat”. It usually ends the argument right there but not in a pleasant way.

    Not that I’m giving the advice to do just that in a marriage – see that whole “single with no interest in being married” thing.

  14. Ilíon Says:

    What is so damned frustrating is that it is impossible to put the shoe on the other foot!

    I don’t know.

    I once shaved off my beard … I don’t think the woman I was dating at the time (and had asked to marry me) had ever seen or kissed me without a beard. And, it took about a week before she noticed it was gone.

  15. Ilíon Says:

    I’ve found the way you answer the question is more important than the answer. It is *known* to have no good answers and is simply an excuse to argue and force the male into role of “apologizing”, it is the female version of asserting control.

    I totally agree.

    And, as I will not allow myself to be manipulated in that manner, I’ll answer it straight up.

  16. neo-neocon Says:

    strcpy: by no means does every woman who asks the question aim to win a power struggle in which the male apologizes. Sometimes she really is looking for an answer, and can accept a truthful one.

    Some women are indeed engaged in power struggles. But some are just looking for honest feedback. And some are looking for reassurance on a topic about which they are sensitive. Tact is never a bad idea, be the answerer man or woman.

  17. Barb the Evil Genius Says:

    I weigh much more than I should, a combination of improper eating, genetics and medication. Since I am so aware of this, I have no problem with my husband going to help me buy clothes, since he is good at telling me what looks better on me and what doesn’t. He’s stepped on a few minefields, though. Mostly early on.

    When my youngest daughter was four, she got a haircut and asked one of her male preschool friends, “Do you notice anything different about me?” Completely cracked me up.

  18. Sgt. Mom Says:

    I worked for a few months, back when I was newly retired from the military, at a Talbots’ in a very upscale mall, and I learned that the very best response – if the customer looked absolutely ghastly – was to say, “I think the other outfit/combination/this option is more flattering.
    I got to like the crusty elderly ladies very well, as customers. They knew what they wanted, what they liked, they could make up their minds in a hot second; if they found what they wanted, they bought like mad, if they didn’t – well, there was no time wasted. It was the indecisive, unconfident woman who tried on everything she saw, couldn’t make up her mind at all, and who walked out without a thing after spending forty minutes in the changing room who was the bane of salesladies…

  19. david foster Says:

    Technology to the rescue!

  20. Montie Says:

    Richard Johnston,

    Upon reading this post, the recent Geico ad featuring an example of the honesty of our 16th president came immediately to mind. Glad to see someone else thought so too.

  21. Montie Says:

    As an aside, to my previous comment, the actors portraying the President and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln look strikingly like the real things. Of course everybody knows how Lincoln should look, but how many would have caught it if the wife was not even close to Mary Todd’s appearance?

  22. neo-neocon Says:

    Sgt. Mom: well, I’m one of those people who tries on a lot of things and often walks out with nothing. But it’s not because I can’t make up my mind or don’t know what I like. It’s because I am very difficult to fit for some reason—mostly because I’m short-waisted and have relatively narrow shoulders. I’m a petite without really being a petite, if you know what I mean.

  23. strcpy Says:

    “by no means does every woman who asks the question aim to win a power struggle in which the male apologizes. ”

    It is VERY rare – most women have functioning eyeballs and can look in the mirror and see if it makes them look fat or not. It’s just not a good question. I have literally zero fashion sense at all but even I can tell if a piece of clothing makes me look fatter than I am.

    “Do you like the way I look in this?” can be just a loaded a question but can also tend to be a much more honest question. It is a personal question on how someone else perceives how they look (and some guys like fat women so a dress that makes them look fat may very well get a “Very Much” answer too).

    I will accept that some females don’t have great self esteem on the matter (in other words is sensitive about it) and wants reinforcement – there *is* a correct and appreciated answer there and society can certainly push that. There may be clothes that are border line and the female wants someone else opinion but again those are rare. It can even be a rhetorical question in that the female in question knows how good they look in that set of clothes and is wanting to draw attention (but then the answer doesn’t really matter either).

    The vast majority of times it is itching for a fight with the guy, otherwise it wouldn’t be one that men universally cringe at. As such tell the truth on the first answer and if it isn’t some passive aggressive power play then she will accept the answer and move on, if it is then I have no intention of playing that game and answer accordingly.

    It is a question where when the answer matters has almost no legitimate situations to ask it in.

    And don’t think I’m singling women out to beat on here either because I say I’m not interested in marriage. I know a great deal of women that do not suffer from this issue and there are no negative reasons why I wouldn’t want to date them (and all of them like me too but wouldn’t be interested in a romantic relationship either). I certainly know not all women do it, but those that do ask it almost always mean it that way.

  24. neo-neocon Says:

    strcpy: unless your experience is unusually vast, I don’t think you can say what the motivation of the majority of women who do ask the question is—just, perhaps, the majority of the ones who’ve asked it of you. And even then you’re guessing, aren’t you?—although one might call it an educated guess, if you know the person or people pretty well.

  25. anna Says:

    haha well I am 5’9″ and absolutely nothing in the world fits me at all. On the larger end of the fashion size scale, the clothes get more and more out of proportion because dressmakers use a sz 6 form and scale up or down from there. So those of us who passed a sz 6 at age 10 are pretty much out of luck, we get pants with huge gaping waists, shirts wide enough to sleep under, and dresses with the waist up to our armpits.

    My dad explained to me one Christmas that he never ever attempts to buy anything for me that even remotely resembles clothes. Probably a smart choice.

  26. Cappy Says:

    Boy, talk about yer nulear option!

  27. Sgt. Mom Says:

    Neo, dear – there are women who can’t get anything to fit, and then there are women who can – but cannot make up their minds, not even if you pointed a gun at them…
    The better sort of department store (I worked at one of those, too) used to have an alterations department, that would actually get stuff altered to fit correctly. Alas, you’re probably best off with a dressmaker, or someone who loves to sew.
    Another in my recollections from working retail at Talbots – the one gentleman I assisted, who dared to purchase items of clothing for his wife. (Courageous, no? Actually, just very well organized.) He had a little card in his wallet – he took it out and showed it to me – where he had written down her current measurements, her size in everything … and I mean everything – her preferred colors… everything.
    I took him up to the cash desk and introduced him to all the associate sales-ladies, as the man who was a pearl beyond price.
    You have no idea how many times we assisted men, shopping for something for their wives, who had no freaking clue what size they wore, even at Talbots, which stayed pretty consistent in that regard. The usual dodge was to ask the customer to look around the store for a customer or sales associate who looked about the same size (height, weight and build) as their wife – and then slink up to that person and quietly ask what size they wore.
    I had so much fun working retail … but it’s hard on the feet. All that standing, you know.

  28. Gray Says:

    No, baby…. That outfit does not make you look fat.

    YOUR BIG OL’ FAT ASS MAKES YOU LOOK FAT!

  29. strcpy Says:

    “I don’t think you can say what the motivation of the majority of women who do ask the question is”

    One certainly can for many things – for instance if a person follows you home uninvited, hides in the bushes around your house, and watches you through the window there are reasonable assumptions to be made.

    Do I *know* said person is up to no good? I suppose not, maybe they are a dermatologist and saw what they thought was a cancerous growth but wanted to discretely check it out first by watching you undress through the window – however I think it is pretty safe to say that they are “up to no good”.

    There are few good reasons for a female to put on a set of clothes, look in a mirror, turn to a male and say “does this make me look fat?”. There are more good reasons to do that than in the example I gave, yet they are still few nor are they in situations where that is common.

    It is why men have cringed over that question (or one similar for its time) for many many many many decades – indeed you can see the same complaints in translations of books centuries old (the Canterbury Tales certainly show how little has changed over the years as far as that attitude goes). They do not do so because it is usually innocuous, nor would you devote an entire post to it if it was only rarely meant in that way.

    I guess I can amend my reasons with “stupid” but I do not really believe that either nor would I think most consider that a step up.

    Further I have to note that it is near impossible to find a single case where once the “double-blind” part has begun there is no other path than for the male to grovel to end it.

    In the end if you know it is a hornets nest and stick your hand in it then I have to assume you wanted stung for some reason. Females obviously know what that type of question will lead too so when it is asked I can only assume that is the desired outcome or the person asking the question is too stupid to know what is going to happen.

    “And even then you’re guessing, aren’t you?—although one might call it an educated guess, if you know the person or people pretty well.”

    No more or less than we ascribe motivation to leftists, liberals, conservatives, hard right, and any of the other groups we talk about here. In both cases one couldn’t tell you what a specific individual means by it, it certainly takes knowing said person. But that doesn’t invalidate that idea that the majority of the time the motivation is correct – statistics can’t predict what any individual can do at all, only what the group as a whole will do.

  30. Occam's Beard Says:

    “Yes” is a widely recognized no-no, although the interests of honesty sometimes dictate it.

    So I’m guessing that “You bet your ass, and that’s a damned big bet!” might not be the way to go. /g

  31. Tatyana Says:

    strcpy,

    have you tried to laugh many of these double-bind situations , you might find you don’t need all this convoluted reasoning fr apriori resentment and suspicion towards women.

    he who makes us laugh – wins. he’s appreciated for making our life easier. even if a woman is, in fact, engaged in power game (which I don’t believe is a majority of cases; I agree with Neo) – one timely joke, delivered in friendly and NOT mocking tone of voice dissolves the tension immediately. she is reminded of the real scale – that some things are less important than others, and being fat might be one of unimportant ones.

    Also, try not to call women “females”, even in your mind. That manner might become a habit and one day you’d inadvertently say out loud, in her presence…let me assure you, no woman wants to be discussed by her lover in terms of “female and society” in her intimate moments.

  32. Occam's Beard Says:

    have you tried to laugh many of these double-bind situations

    Feigning a coughing fit is safer.

  33. Tatyana Says:

    OB: sorry for the mangled grammar (I just returned from a book presentation+reception…temporary loss of coordination, apologies)
    That’s supposed to be “laugh off.

    Coughing fit, applied with suspicious regularity in response to every double-bind question will lend you into “insincere” territory.
    Also, you might achieve the opposite to your intent, after a few repetitions even genuine cough will not be believed.

  34. J.H. Bowden Says:

    The ‘does this outfit make me look fat’ question is a classic example of what PUAs call a “shit test.”

    Men, of course, don’t unconsciously feel the need to do shit tests; there was no evolutionary reason for it to develop. Men can tell how many eggs are left in a female by looking at her face.

    But how do women size up men? By responding to primitive status cues. Often this involves the woman giving a man a bunch of shit, and then observing if he handles it by demonstrating higher value, or lower value. This also explains why physical appearance is less of a factor for men in the eyes of women, that is, why an old ugly runt like Dennis Kucinich can pull of marrying a young, beautiful 10.

    If a married man is getting shit tested, it means the woman wants the hubby to add a little more caveman, to be more aggressive, assertive, to pay more attention. So “no” as a response to whether the outfit looks fat is always the wrong answer, even if the woman is razor thin. “Yes” is a wrong answer too, since the woman isn’t looking for a quick, impersonal response. Ah, but don’t despair! There are an infinity of right answers, from “*I* think you look sexy,” to “SHUDDUP, BITCH!” A married woman who shit tests just wants the man to stop going on auto-pilot and wake up.

  35. John Says:

    ” “Yes” is a widely recognized no-no, ”

    ‘Compared to what?’ is also high on the no-no list.

  36. Donna B. Says:

    Tatyana hit the nail squarely on the head. Can a man make the woman laugh?

    My youngest son-in-law defused this question in gales of laughter several years before he married my daughter.

    They were dressed up to go out on New Year’s Eve and I was taking a picture of them. As I was fiddling with the focus, he turned to my daughter and said, “I really like that dress.” Halfway through her beam of pleasure at the compliment, he added, “It doesn’t make your butt look big.”

    That’s when I snapped the shutter and got one of the best shots ever of them as a couple — he with a coprophagous grin staring straight at the camera and she with arms on hips staring at him with her jaw dropped near the floor.

    At the tender age of 20, he assured that if she ever asked such a “double-bind” question it would result in gales of laughter from both of them.

  37. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Weds. morning links…

    City and County Government Associations: Obama Economy Will Create or Save, Eh, I Mean Destroy or Eliminate 500,000 Public Sector Jobs. Toon borrowed from that piece at Ross. 
    The “does it make me look fat?” question
    Caddell: Our Divisi…

  38. IgotBupkis Says:

    > “by no means does every woman who asks the question aim to win a power struggle in which the male apologizes. ”

    Use of the word “every” is the only think that makes that a true statement. For the vast majority, it’s a mechanism to make a man your whipping boy. It’s the first salvo of a rather heavy handed dominance game in far more than 99% of the women who ask it.

    I’m of the opinion that women as a group are masochists. They seem to like making blatantly bad decisions and senselessly add dramatic schrecklichkeit to their lives.

    It’s the only explanation I can conceive for how they manage to screw things up so much so relentlessly and never stop to figure out why.

    I suspect the best response to any minefield question is “Do I plan to stop beating you? No, not really” — make it clear you recognize it upfront as a null-value question, not one for which there is a vaguely possible “true” answer and refuse to take the question seriously. If THAT leads to a fight, well, she was looking for one in the first place. The only way to deal with inappropriate questions — ones aimed at making a fight — is to make them unacceptable from the very start of the relationship.

  39. Scottie Says:

    That question ranks right up there with “Have you quit beating your wife yet?”

    As a loving husband I can definitely say that there is NO way to answer the question posed in the title without finding yourself in even deeper poop.

  40. Tatyana Says:

    IGotBupkes: you are true to your name.
    You do indeed got bupkes – of understanding.

    No, not 99% of women (did you research 100% of women to make that conclusion?).
    No, not “looking for a fight”. Read the above comments by women…but what am I saying – anything women says is suspicious to you: it’s all a dominance play!

    Poor you – and even poorer is a woman who got a misfortune to pair up with you.

  41. Tatyana Says:

    Scottie – yes it is.
    A loving husband would know.

  42. John Says:

    Answers:

    “If you have to ask, the answer is yes.”

    “Only one thing makes you look fat: Being fat.”

  43. Sgt. Mom Says:

    “Only one thing makes you look fat: Being fat.”

    Well, that and broad horizontal stripes…

  44. Charles Says:

    Baklava said:

    “No. That’s very flattering actually”.

    I am so going to totally plagerize that response!

    Donna B. I loved that too, But, I don’t have the nerve to even think it, let alone try it.

  45. Baklava Says:

    Charles,

    You have to follow through with the “yum”.

    And then press against her to show her how yummy she looked…

    You’ll then be late for work.

  46. Tatyana Says:

    strcpy and IGotBupkes: learn from the
    master Baklava!

  47. Baklava Says:

    And with your nose in her hair – change the subject to “mmm. and you smell good too..” :)

  48. Thag Jones Says:

    Sometimes she really is looking for an answer, and can accept a truthful one.

    Totally! I wouldn’t ask if I looked fat, but I might like feedback as to whether something looks good on me or not. That said, I can usually tell for myself, it’s just that I like to dress in a way that my S.O. finds attractive (within reason, lol).

  49. JuliB Says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake. strcpy I would ask my fiance that question and not mean it as a trick. Sometimes we wear things in different combinations that may not be flattering or show us in a good light. I want a second opinion if I am wavering.

    Not everything is a power struggle.

  50. Ilíon Says:

    Tatyana,

    Please!

    Women, in general, are insane to greater and lesser degrees. All men know this, and all honest women admit it.

    And, in your recent posts you are demonstrating this general insanity … and demonstrating the “shittest” nature of the question posed in the title of this thread.

    For example:

    Scottie:As a loving husband I can definitely say that there is NO way to answer the question posed in the title without finding yourself in even deeper poop.

    Tatyana:Scottie – yes it is.
    A loving husband would know.

  51. Tatyana Says:

    ilion – go wash your mouth with saddle soap 3 times when talking to a lady.
    and clean under the nails, for good measure.

  52. Scottie Says:

    Tatyana,

    After being a “loving husband” for 18 years now to the same wonderful lady – I can definitely say I know her better than you do.

    I’m sticking with the camp that feels there is no correct response to this question.

  53. Tatyana Says:

    Scottie – did you try Baklava’s approach?

  54. Tatyana Says:

    An aside: for another example of double-bind, see Ilion’s statement:
    “Women, in general, are insane to greater and lesser degrees. All men know this, and all honest women admit it.”

  55. neo-neocon Says:

    Well, I guess I’m a dishonest woman then, because I reject Ilion’s statement.

    I would never make such a generalization about what all men are, either. And if I did, I would be rightly excoriated.

  56. Scottie Says:

    Tatyana,

    Oh, I do Baklava’s move all the time – just not necessarily in the context of a question from the wife…lol.

    But getting back to the discussion, let’s take this question and look at it from another perspective, shall we?

    Your position, if I’m not mistaken, is that there IS a correct way to answer the question being discussed.

    In other words, you are stating that you CAN say – yes that outfit makes you look fat, or no it does not make you look fat – without incurring a severe lack of domestic tranquility in the old home place as a result.

    Now, extrapolating from that particular conclusion that you have drawn, you are then – logically – taking the position that all men can use that same response to the question being posed by all women, and that all women will react in the same way to the response you suggest.

    At this point, I’m sure you can hear the uproarious laughter erupting across the blogosphere as men attempt to control their giggle reflex and pick themselves up off of the floor….

    :D

  57. Baklava Says:

    trying to type…

    I’m being attacked again…

    … i’ll be back later!

  58. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    The correct response is “Do I look suicidal?”

  59. Tatyana Says:

    Scottie,

    yes, I think there is a way to answer this question. Which I already described – in my first comment in this thread.

    No need for you to fantasize possible scenarios of what I could have had said.

  60. Baklava Says:

    Whew….

    I’m really late for work…

  61. Wm Lawrence Says:

    Try this one:

    “Of course not, the outfit has absolutely nothing to do with it.”

    Yeah, you try it. I’m not going to.

  62. Ilíon Says:

    Neo:Well, I guess I’m a dishonest woman then, because I reject Ilion’s statement.

    Well, you *are* ignoring the context, aren’t you?

  63. Ilíon Says:

    Tatyana,
    A lady doesn’t play passive-aggressive games.

  64. Deansdale Says:

    It’s mind-boggling that after many years of free seduction material circulating on the net, most men still don’t know what a shit test is and how to respond.
    The best response is agree&amplify, ie. take what the girl said and make a humorous remark out of it.
    http://www.fastseduction.com/cgi-bin/fswiki.cgi?Shit_Tests

  65. Tatyana Says:

    Ilion: you are ignoring the context

  66. Geoff Says:

    The correct answer to “Does this make me look fat?” is:

    “I don’t know. Take it off so I can see how you look without it.” Smile when you say it.

  67. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoff: that’s the best answer I’ve ever heard.

  68. Geoff Says:

    Thanks. Love your site.

  69. michael schrage Says:

    my experience has been that the best response is:

    ‘no, it makes you look enormous’

  70. twiceblessedmom Says:

    Men marry an ideal, women a potential. Also, an equally important “life truth”, is if you have to ask yourself, “Should I…..” fill in the blank, then you already have your answer. Example, should I contact my old flame on FB? Answer, no. If you’re asking yourself, you already know the answer. How many things a day do we accomplish without second thoughts? Lots. If you have to ask if something makes you look fat, you know the answer.

  71. Drapes of Roth Says:

    There is no bind, double or otherwise. You answer the question as honestly and constructively as possible and let the chips fall. It’s the height of selfishness to allow a spouse or significant other (a stranger who would ask that question should be avoided at all cost) to go out in an outfit that is unflattering, in order to avoid an uncomfortable reaction.

    Don’t ask my opinion if you want somebody else’s opinion.

  72. Jeff Weimer Says:

    I would give the smartass answer:

    “I don’t know. Does this tie make me look stupid?”

  73. DADvocate Says:

    Does this dress make me look fat?

    It’s not the dress.

    Could that be why I”m divorced?

  74. Chip Says:

    One of the ground rules that my wife and I figured out very early on in our relationship (like, a couple years before we got married) was that we weren’t going to play those kinds of games with each other (actually, the rule is “no demands for mind reading allowed”). I *always* treat a question like that as a literal request for information and try to answer it honestly and directly. So if the dress makes her look fat, then the answer is “yes”. If what she really needs is to feel reassured or validated (which, let’s face it, we all need from time to time), that’s readily available too and doesn’t need to be requested in code. Plus, she has somebody who she knows will give her an honest outside appraisal as to whether a dress makes her look fat or not, which turns out to be surprisingly useful. We’ve been happily married for 30 years with no end in sight.

  75. Lucchesi Says:

    my response:

    “Why am I clothes shopping with you again? Geez” *run away fast*

  76. Brian Says:

    I have to put in my 4 cents.

    Answer 1.
    If you are not looking at her when she asks the question, answer “No” without any pause or hesitation. If she is at all aware she’ll realize that you didn’t look at her or consider the answer, thereby pointing out the dilemma.

    If she wants an honest answer she’ll let you know.

    If she starts to give you lip about the “No” then move to answer two.

    Answer 2.
    Stand up and look at her.
    Have her turn around.
    Look some more.
    Walk around her.
    Furrow your brow.
    Move her limbs around to check different positions.
    After a good period of examination, take a step back and take a thoughtful position (Ex. 1 arm across stomach, other elbow on hand, chin in hand, brow furrowed).

    Now comes the moment of truth. Answer either “Yes” or “No”, depending on how she is responding and what you want to deal with. I recommend “Yes.”

    A good woman will probably be in almost hysterics by now. A bad woman is so pissed that it won;t matter what you say.

    Bonus points: While studying her for answer 2, use your hands to check the weight, size, heft and form of various parts of her body. This is either the last time that you’ll ever get to touch her there or she’ll love it (in a funny way).

    Brian
    Mappily Harried

  77. Paul A'Barge Says:

    Here is the correct and final way to resolve the double bind question scenario:
    (wife): “does this outfit make me look fat?”
    (husband): “shut up, bee-yotch.”

  78. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater Says:

    “No, but your butt does. You should know better than to subject me to s–t tests.”

  79. Ernie G Says:

    Even had that problem.

  80. Ernie G Says:

    Even Abraham Lincoln had that problem:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdy3orO6tQA

    Ignore previous comment.

  81. jhankey Says:

    I replied “dead men can’t answer” and ran.

  82. HasTheAnswer Says:

    There is but one correct answer to the Evil Qestion
    “Does This Make Me Look Fat” or any of its similars:

    The answer is:
    “Do I look stupid?”

  83. TallDave Says:

    I don’t want my wife to look fat, so I answer honestly.

    But, otoh, I’m married to what I’m pretty sure is the only reasonable woman in the hemisphere. YMMV.

  84. D Says:

    I always answered the question truthfully and forthrightly:
    “This is a trick question, and I am not going to answer it.”

    eventually my ex got the hint, though now that we’re divorced, I’d probably answer…

    On the question of if women aren’t as caring about looks? I have a theory. Perhaps they realize that if they have a real good lookin’ boy… there will be competition over him. Guys know that competition over a beautiful woman is a given, but I dunno that women are interested in that same issue.
    hmmm.

  85. flataffect Says:

    Actually the correct answer is, “Babe, if we we’re leaving I’d drag you to the bedroom and ravish you right now!”

    Among the wrong answers: “I LIKE you fat.”
    “No comment.”
    “I invoke the Fifth Amendment.”

    “It’s an irrelevant question. You are not fat, therefore how it makes you look is immaterial.”

  86. Johann Amadeus Metesky Says:

    Ladies, every time you say you want honesty from the man in your life, think about this question about your outfit making you look fat and whether you really want unvarnished honesty.

    It’s interesting that “No, your fat ass is what makes you look fat,” exactly what a man would say to a male friend, is completely out of the question.

  87. Semper Why Says:

    My response has always been “Are you kidding? Look at the way I dress. Why are you asking ME for fashion advice?”

  88. Locomotive Breath Says:

    When I’m asked one of those “no win” questions, my reply always is “Do you really want my opinion or are you looking for affirmation of something you’ve already decided”.

    While she’s processing that I flee the room. Then I don’t get asked so often.

    Guys are too literal. Never ever think that a question is a request for information. Always answer a question with another question.

  89. Jamie Says:

    Some of the men on this thread are drop-dead gorgeous, I can tell! And their wives know it too!

    I believe this question relies pretty much entirely on context. If I ask it of my husband when we’re going out with old friends, he answers honestly but tactfully (if it isn’t flattering, he usually says, “You know what I love to see you in? That [fill in the blank].” Then I know to change. If we’re going out with glamorous strangers, he knows I’m nervous (because I’m carrying a dividend that varies between about seven and fifteen pounds, and look good in some things but not everything), and same approach to an answer applies, but the stakes for me are, he knows, higher – so he ups his sensitivity to my appearance for my benefit.

    FWIW, he asks me the same question, in essence: “How’s this combination?” And I answer along the same lines.

    strcpy, you’re fortunate that your self-perception is so clear and accurate. I can attest that since I was a very small child, I’ve not been able to rely on my own eyes wrt my appearance. And I’ve discovered through looking at myself in a mirror and then later seeing myself in a picture that, sad to say, my self-perception makes me look BETTER in the mirror, WORSE, and sometimes MUCH worse, in reality. (I never “look fat” to myself, but some things just make me look stubby and/or chubby. Sigh.) So I ask the question of the man I love and who loves me, so I don’t make a fool of myself or embarrass him by association.

  90. Sebs Says:

    From a woman’s POV “honey, you make that (insert item here) look fantastic, and leave it at that

  91. gus3 Says:

    If she’s the type to ask that double-bind question, I immediately know at least two, maybe three things about her:

    1. She’s insecure about her ability to dress herself, or

    2. She’s insecure about her relationships.

    3. She’s not for me.

  92. TomTom Says:

    There’s always the Irish approach.

    “What do you think?”

    or

    “Why would you ask that?”

    or, as suggested above,

    “Do these trousers make me look stupid?”

  93. mousebert Says:
  94. mousebert Says:

    Sorry, first attempt didn’t work. Video clip of responses to the question.

    http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6850529

  95. MiddleAgedMax Says:

    I like my wife’s variants on this question.

    “This is / looks / feels too tight on me. Can you take it off me honey please?”

    Oh yeah. At times ALL SORTS OF CLOTHES have been too tight on her, she’s thought… I have helped her quickly and often as one should. Actually y’know – they seem to come off without too much effort. Not that much effort would be too much. Maximum effort would not be too much. Just sayin’.

    Been married 26 years.

    I am heavier than when we got married – she’s had three children and still fits in her wedding dress with no mods (of her or dress).

    Excuse me now, I need to go see if she’s trapped inside something tight again….

  96. neo-neocon Says:

    Bravo, mousebert! I will add that as “ADDENDUM III” to the main post.

  97. Tim Says:

    My answer to that question has always been “I don’t answer questions of that sort.” After a few renditions of that tune, I eventually stop hearing the dreaded no-win question. There is no answer which cannot be misinterpreted so it is best to beg off.

  98. dicentra Says:

    “You look fine,” is a good answer.

    But women really ought to stop asking those kinds of questions.

    “How do I look?” permits him to say, “Great!”

    The only time you should ask a man whether you look good in a particular item of clothing is if you’re deciding whether to buy it.

    Also?

    Women should stop dragging men along when they go clothes shopping. Don’t treat your man like a girlfriend with a deep voice.

  99. dicentra Says:

    Look, when a woman asks “does this make me look fat?” she’s not asking for your literal evaluation: she’s asking for reassurance about her appearance.

    strcpy, you might want to be evaluated for Asperger Syndrome. I’m just sayin :D

    Also, like Jaime, I see myself as thinner than I am (because I used to be way thin), then when I see myself in a photo or in a shop window, I’m startled by the fatty fat fatso.

    Fortunately for me, I have a slight case of Asperger’s myself (making me half-Asped) so I have no concept of how I’m perceived and don’t much care.

  100. Does this burkha make my nose look fat? « Absolute Moral Authority Says:

    [...] Neo-neocon, who is awesome, asked the “does this make me look fat” question, including the hilarious geico commercial, in her post.  And then [...]

  101. tatterdemalian Says:

    “From a woman’s POV “honey, you make that (insert item here) look fantastic, and leave it at that”

    To which the woman’s usual response is, “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.” Come on, you’re talking to people who get put through the “no-win question” every day. The idea is to use ANY response as an excuse to throw a temper tantrum, not to actually get a sympathetic reply.

  102. B Dubya Says:

    I am happily married to a woman who, over the 30 years of our marriage, has developed a generous back porch and a stunning veranda.

    I always say, “No honey. It doesn’t, dammit. Here, have a slice of pizza…”

  103. Kelley Says:

    The correct answer is, “No honey…does this shirt make me look bald?”

    It pulls the rug right out from under their feet.

  104. submandave Says:

    The correct answer depends entirely upon the cost of the outfit and who will be paying for it. A little fight just may be a reasonable price to avoid another $300 dress she’ll only wear once. 8^D

  105. submandave Says:

    On a more serious note, though, there are two dynamics at work in the phenomena you speak of not addressed.

    As a perpetually underweight man, I, too, have always noted that being an overweight man is not necessarilly a disadvantage with the ladies. I do not, however, feel that this is indicative of either a greater tollerance on behalf of females or a lesser one from males. I believe it has much more to do with the traditional and instictive roles of males and females as protector and protected. A large man is better suited to protect, therefore lending size itself a degree of attractiveness. Likewise, a smaller female looks more likely to require protection, heightening the masculine response.

    Specific to the dreaded question, I think it often is just serving the purpose that many women’s questions do: to initiate communication. I learned a long time ago that men and women often ask questions for entirely different reasons. More often than not, when a man asks a question he wants specific information. When a woman, however, asks “what should I wear today,” she usually isn’t looking for a checklist of clothing items. She is, rather, trying to initiate dialog that opens communication and furthers the relationship. I know it is a gross generalization, but I have found that men are more likely to just want an answer to a question while women often want to discuss the question, sometimes not even seeming to care about the answer.

  106. L Says:

    –Any woman over, say, 30 who can’t judge this for herself is lacking in judgment.
    –This lack of judgment may have caused her to marry someone who dislikes women and is secretly terrified he’s not an alpha male.
    –Yuck. Nothing you do will ever please this kind of man. He would bitch about free blowjobs.
    –But if you’re asking this question of a man, even a gay sales clerk in a foofy boutique, you’ve got to know that you’re unlikely to get what you’re seeking.

    Women ask other women this dread question, too, and can act just as pouty and manipulative when answered. The question isn’t whether it makes you look fat but whether it’s flattering. I am very stern with my girlfriends who ask this of me, so I can see why a dude would hate the question, but it’s not that hard to handle. I tell her that if she doesn’t want an honest answer than she needs to tell me or I will give her the truth with both barrels. The gals who can survive my bluntness appreciate that I’m always straight with them.

    My boyfriend has asked me the question, too, and I answered him straight. I think he was seeking reassurance that I still find him sexy even though he’s gained weight. I demonstrate how much I love and desire him nonverbally instead.

  107. Bill Says:

    The correct response: Oh honey, it doesn’t matter what you wear. I would love you wearing nothing.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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