Should wives stay thin for their husbands?


A friend was telling me of her new diet and plans to lose 20 lbs. “I told Jack (her husband of 10 years), ‘I’m so sorry I got fat since we married!'” From everything I can tell, their relationship is thriving, but my friend has a deep-rooted sense that she has an obligation to make efforts in her appearance and weight.

This is no 50s housewife. This is a progressive, fabulous professional woman who enjoyed an adventurous love life for years before marrying a wonderful (also progressive and fabulous) man. I admit I was a bit taken aback by her commitment to maintaining her figure for her husband. The partyline liberal and feminist (is that redundant?) stance is that it doesn’t matter what you look like! He should love you/be committed no matter what! Conforming appearances for your partner’s sexual desire is degrading! It’s what’s inside that matters.

Like many liberal and feminist issues, this one does not take into account the very human nature of dudes and chicks. There is no arguing with the fact that men are more visually inclined. Sure, there have been a couple of recent studies that challenge this stereotype, but suffice it to say that an MSNBC poll a few years ago revealed that half of men would dump his female partner if she got fat (just 20 percent of women said the same of their husbands and boyfriends). According to my own scientific research (dating a bunch of divorced guys), I can tell you that if his wife got fat, it bugged him. Even the really progressive and feminist guys. And, I might add, especially the professionally successful ones.

Admit it, you are like me. When I see a handsome man accompanied by a heavy wife (no matter how pretty or wonderful or professionally accomplished), I wonder: Is he faithful? Do they still have sex? Does her weight bug him? Why did she let herself go? The more successful he is, the more questions arise. Yes, the same questions are evoked when a gorgeous, brilliant woman is partnered with an overweight and unattractive man. But that is just different, and you know it. It is that old, old supposedly anthropologically based social norm that a man’s value in the mating marketplace is dictated by his professional and financial success, and a woman’s value by her physical beauty and ability to charm at the company holiday party. But we can make our own money now. That is both awesome and the source of much grief in our personal lives, including that balancing work and family leaves less time to exercise, which makes us fat and more vulnerable to being dumped for it.

I get this, and I respect it.

I’ve also lived it.

I’ve written here about one post-divorce affair in which my boyfriend went out of his way to let me know I was not attractive enough for him – including being too fat. This was particularly devastating because he was not better looking or more successful than l was. WTF?  I’d think time and again as I nursed my self esteem. But I did date a very handsome and successful man when I was in my early 20s (about 20 lbs ago) and as the relationship went on and his career exploded, my physical appearance came into question in subtle but painful ways. Eventually he left me for his very pretty and petite co-anchor on the national evening news, where he was a rising star in his Eastern European country. I google him every now and again and he is just as good-looking as I remember and is incredibly successful — and according to the gossip sites in that country, he has consistently upgraded to increasingly, devastatingly beautiful (and thin) women as his career skyrockets. On the one hand, what can you do? On the other: Ouch!

fat wife divorceHere is my female anecdote: My husband was mostly fit, though he put on a few pounds after we married, which bothered him, and made him worry it bothered me. It didn’t (though his self-consciousness did). I have always taken care of myself, though I could stand to lose a good 10-15 lbs. People often remark that I always look nice and wear makeup every day, even though I almost always work from home. During one marriage counseling session, in a plea for more appreciation, I mentioned that I freshened up my makeup before my husband came home. “Wow, that is really something — women hardly ever do that,” the therapist said (cue gloating).

On the other hand, my current boyfriend has a really killer body. Seriously, I cannot get enough of his broad shoulders and muscular ass. We recently went to the theater and I spent the whole two hours clawing at his huge arms. His back is so rock-solid I sometimes wonder if I’m not sleeping with David, looted from Florence. His physique is not the main attraction, but it is an important one. As our relationship develops — and our bodies deteriorate as bodies are prone to do — I would hope that our intellectual and emotional rapport would deepen, and replace to a degree my focus on being ravished by his man-body. But, of course, if in years to come, the socks-on-the-floor and other minor and major grievances mushroom into serious relationship friction, I can imagine piling onto the list a flabby tummy or swinging triceps. In other words: If the relationship is solid, bodies matter less. But when things go south — drooping boobs and a sagging ass seem that much more egregious — especially if we’re talking about something within the person’s control, like weight gain.

But this all comes down to expectations from the very beginning. I can imagine my boyfriend’s inevitable physical decline bugging me more than my ex-husband’s because his is better to start with. His bod plays a larger role in our story, and — should things head that way — the expectations for the long-term. Marriage, after all, is an agreement and a business deal based on current expectations. You expect going forward what you sign up for today. It’s not reasonable for a man to be be surprised his wife doesn’t acquire a string-bikini-worthy body 20 years into their relationship if she was plump when they met.

So, what is the answer? We can’t beat out of men their desire for physically attractive women, and I don’t want to. I crave being adored for my physical traits, among many other things. None the less, it seems that the pressure is increasingly off: a number of studies find that as earning power between the sexes balances out, men care less about our youth and looks, and women care less about men’s earning power. As we sort out the finer details of those equations, the answer comes down to a maxim of relationship success: Sometimes you make compromises and do things you’d rather not (or don’t even understand) because they’re important to your partner. Which, for women, may just mean heading to the gym.


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Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

15 thoughts on “Should wives stay thin for their husbands?

  1. As a big time feminist who is an equal partner in my relationship, I see no problem with staying thin for my man. That said, I think it goes both ways – I appreciate him staying fit for me. It’s staying healthy and looking good not only for yourself but for your partner, so that you keep that attraction and excitement going (it’s hard to feel sexy when you’re 30 lbs overweight).

  2. I used to care about staying in shape to attract a guy. And it worked, to a degree … but then these men (one flabby and overcoming a drinking problem, one way too old and bitter) would find other flaws and talk about women they liked (e.g., X can really work a room, Y is a go-getter, etc.) It was never enough. Recently, Iwas turned down by a hot dude … who had Isues. Really, hot dude? I’m better educated and I’m emotionally healthy. You’re turning ME down? What annoys me is these men, for whom I’ve overlooked physical or emotional flaws, think that I should be physically perfect for them. Fucking assholes.
    I’ve gained about 25 lbs and I don’t exactly care. I still lift some weights and stay active for my child’s sake. But my eating habits are horrible. But I feel no urgency to change them. Hamburgers have brought me more pleasant experiences than men have.

    1. But what about staying fit for the sake of feeling great, energetic and healthy for the long-term — for your sake, the sake of your family and for attracting the right guy who will find you at your best self?

      1. Some women have health issues that are the reason for weight gain. Estrogen problems and other conditions that require medications that cause you to gain weight. Does that mean my husband will leave me if I gain 20lbs from a medical condition or drugs? He damn well better live me more then that or what is the point of marrying your best friend? Don’t be so friggin shallow folks!

  3. “His physique is not the main attraction, but it is an important one”, I appreciate this statement. No matter how we try to convince ourselves of the “inside matters most” stance out of political correctness we’re humans after all, and most of us would prefer that our partner make an effort to stay fit, healthy and attractive. That’s not to say that everyone wants the same, but I urge couples to have these somewhat uncomfortable conversations. Talking and being honest about his or her ideal physical traits in a partner may be scary at first but it can also prevent long term resentment in a relationship. Not being honest is often seen as an act of acceptance and love but in the end it just might be a disservice to your partner as resentment about he or she not making and effort affects both.

    And, having these conversations may also surprise you and challenge your preconceptions about your partners desires. My wife and I did this and we were both surprised as we learned about our preferences; I prefer a woman with a few pounds extra and she likes her guy super fit, which in turn change how we exercise and diet. Of course, staying fit is also due to health reasons, so we both work out and eat healthy but with or newfound knowledge about each other it was a small sacrifice for her to slow down in the gym a bit and for me to increase my efforts to get “ripped”. While this may seem a bit extreme for some, it’s been great for us. Respecting each others desires has improved our marriage.

  4. Getting fat is not an option; much as we all want to believe in love that lasts forever, we also need to be realistic. Sometimes it doesn’t.

    Being in shape and exercising releases adrenalin and happy endorphins to help us feel good and energised. It helps us get over a split more easily than if we were to mope around all day at home and eating.

  5. I honestly have to say, I find this whole post to be incredibly shallow. This is not what life and love is all about. I am overweight, very well put together, very successful in my own right, married to a very wealthy man. I know that some women look at us, look at my diamond and wonder how a heavier woman landed a guy like this. I can tell you how. We fell in love with the people we are inside. I support him and he supports me. He consults on every big business decision with me and is proud to introduce me at galas, business functions and on the golf course. No one worth knowing in these situations ever looks down at us. I can make people laugh and even though I’m overweight, it doesn’t mean that socially, people don’t find me engaging. I exercise daily, get my facials, get my hair and nails done every week; but my thyroid problems force me to hold onto extra weight I cannot get rid of, even with medication, nutritionists and the best personal trainers money can buy. The kind of guy who you are describing above, who wonders why his wife “got fat” is not my man. He would never be my man. I’ve gone out with my fair share of guys who told me they would marry me if I lost 30 lbs. I lost them in a hurry. It’s called being who you are and finding someone who loves you for it. It’s called building a life together doing things that make you both happy, not trying to be something to someone that isn’t you. And to add insult to injury, I haven’t been able to give this incredible man children, unfortunately due to some health issues that were insurmountable. He has stuck with me through it all, even when I “gave him permission to leave and start a family with someone else” during my darkest hour. So, I think it’s safe to say, when you stop targeting men for their money and their muscles and start looking for character, you won’t need to worry about staying “perfect”. My husband and I are perfect for one another and that’s all that matters. Because someday, God willing, when we’re all 80, none of us are going to have bulging biceps. Marry for character and everything else will follow.

    1. There is nothing to argue about here … except your marriage is based on love, a concept that is an advent of the last 150 years, and has largely been a failure (high divorce rates, etc.) … marriage has always been an economic construct, in which physical beauty/health and financial stability are the commodities … hard to undo millennia of human behavior in a such a short time. Ignoring those forces is, in fact, shallow.

  6. I am about 15lbs overweight in my marriage. My husband is thin but not a fitness fanatic. I think each of us has their issues. My husband is a gamer and I feel his gaming is a bit excessive. But I don’t say anything because he is very responsible and a great dad. He probably thinks my overeating is excessive. He has never said anything like I need to lose weight. I see all kinds of married couples, the wife is thin and the husband watches every bite of food his wife eats with a watchful eye. That seems like prison! Another couple I know the wife is huge and the husband showers her with love and affection. honestly it feels like a prison to have to worry my husband will not love me if I gain 10lbs. Luckily my husband is not the type to nag about weight. I don’t think I could handle that type of man. Weight loss can be an utter nightmare and struggle for some people. The self loathing and shame of weight gain is hard enough. You have your spouse reminding you that you are unlovable because you gained some weight is very painful.

    1. this happened to me. my ex ridiculed me about weight gain. I was about 10-12 kilos overweight. a combo of pregnancy weight gain, depression, overeating due to being at home with baby/toddler, stress and pressure of all sorts and probably thryroid issues (not diagnosed then but since diagnosed). I understand from his point of view (he was slim and handsome) that I let him down but he never understood nor tried to understand what was going on from my point of view. I wanted to lose weight (and since have) but it would’ve helped so much more if he’d been kind about it rather than contemptuous.

  7. I prefer heavier women and secretly hoped that my thin bride would get fat as soon as we got married. That didn’t happen until after our twins were born almost ten years into our marriage. She finally put on about 100 pounds and I was delighted. But unfortunately, she developed diabetes ten years ago and has had to lose half the weight she had put on. I feel a bit guilty for having contributed to her diabetes, so I encouraged her to lose that weight (for her health and I didn’t want to be a widower!) and her diabetes is now under control.
    My wife had her own secret wish for me. She prefers bald men, so when in my early 50s my hair began to rapidly recede she was thrilled and begged me to just let myself go bald. I did, to please her, and in just a few short years I lost all my hair on top. It was your typical male pattern baldness sequence, except it happened very fast, as if to make up for lost time. We both got our wishes: she is still plump, which I love and I am bald, which she loves. She loves kissing me on top of my bald head. What a turn on! Surprisingly, the more bald I became, the more I enjoyed the change and now I really love being bald and don’t regret having lost my hair. I must have wanted to go bald all along, only I didn’t know it, or was afraid to admit it to myself.
    As we grow older some changes are unavoidable. In our case, those changes were very welcome. We are both happy that she is fat and that I am bald. I think full figure girls are sexy and she believes bald men are sexy. Can’t get any better than that!

  8. I put on weight and became angry and bitter anytime my husband brought it up. I would sometimes with old sex out of anger.

    Sadly, he began to no longer care physically. Said he wanted a woman he was attracted to and connected with physically. The nerve of men. Relationships have nothing to do with physical connections.

    He left me. Put everything into Bitcoin so a judge couldn’t give me a consultation prize for disrespecting my body so much my man left.

    I’m bitter.

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