Bette and Tina of the past?
Relationship advice is something I've been dabbling in since sex advice isn't as reliable of work. As it turns out, I'm actually pretty good at it. Apparently being successfully monogamous for several years can really make you something of an expert on monogamy. Or, at least, that's what I keep telling myself...
“My question involves defining "average" body type in on-line dating. Can you help define it for me? I am overweight, but I have been losing weight. At what point will I be "average"? I am interested in a profile that has average body type listed under attractions. I read conflicting articles on-line that define average as a size 12, or 14, or even a 16 being the average size for a woman in the United States. What are the measurements? (waist and hip) Thanks. I just want to be honest in how I describe myself.”
Average in the USA
I realize this isn’t a sex advice question and is more relationship/general info about the world, but I thought it was an interesting topic and I’ve been behaving so PG lately since I’ve started writing more relationship advice stuff. It seems less like an opportunity for sex advice and more like a chance for social commentary and we all know how much I love social commentary.
Firstly, let me praise you for trying online dating as a lesbian. We’re a teeny tiny portion of the total population (3% last census), and if you use the Seinfeld rules, only 5% of that is dateable. So really, you’re looking at a 0.15% dating pool in your given area. It’s probably why so many lesbians live in the Los Angeles area—0.15% of 10 million is a pretty good number. For everyone else, and even people living in a major metropolitan area, online dating expands your chances to meet people you wouldn’t normally meet, which is key for lesbians. I would also encourage you to expand the radius of your searches online; there are fantastic women all over the place, and you shouldn’t settle simply because of geography.
To address the actual question, I really don’t think it’s as simple as a dress size. Were you hoping I’d just say, “14!” and let you off the hook? I can’t even give a short answer to whether it’s raining or not and I lived most of my life in Southern California—little hope of a short answer to this. You said you’ve searched around for what qualifies as average in the U.S. and that might be a good start if we weren’t such damn liars about everything. There’s this enormous gap between what is literally the average in this country, and then there’s what we perceive the average to be. Our understanding of sizes and averages in this country isn’t so great. One of the jokes my girlfriend and I make all the time is how enormous Marilyn Monroe has become after death. Everyone always says she was a size…(usually one bigger than they currently wear). It turns out she was a size 12, and it turns out the 1950s version of a size 12 is actually closer to a size 8 or even 6 (in vanity size—clothing manufacturers artificially lower sizes on some clothes to makeyou buy them even though that 6 is an 8) in modern sizes. Back in the 1950s, they didn’t have as many sizes as we have now—they didn’t need them. The whole range could be contained by about 20 and the largest sizes weren’t as commonly worn, so a size 12 could describe about average back then when the same woman would be considered fairly small by modern standards. According to the CDC, twenty-something women in 2006 were 30 lbs heavier than the same age range in 1960. As a society, we have gotten a lot bigger (taller too for some reason), but our models and actresses haven’t, they’ve even got a little skinnier.
Can we please stop pretending she wasn't this thin?
And that is precisely the problem. Physically the average in the United States, is fairly large, but that’s not true across the developed world and it’s not true of what we think is average. In reality, you may be well under the national average, which is about a 10-14 taking the national average height of 5’5” and the national average weight of 165 (Marilyn was 5’5” and 140lbs at her very heaviest, also at the national average for 1960, although her acting weight was much closer to 118, putting her at a modern size 6 or 8—see what I mean about the fudging of sizes that goes on with her?). She looks bigger to our modern eyes not because she actually was, but because she isn’t the 5’9” 120lb Heidi Klum we’re used to even though, in reality, Marilyn Monroe, by today’s standards would be 25lbs under the national average. Yes, she was a size 12 by 1960s standards, but a 5'5" 118 lb Marilyn would be positively swimming in a modern size 12.
Compare Heidi's picture to Marilyn's:
Starting to see what I mean about perception of size being our problem?
All of these CDC reports and vanity sizing and lying about how big Marilyn really was to make ourselves feel better is really pretty irrelevant though because it’s not a matter of what is statistically average, it’s a matter of what you feel is average and more important, what she thinks is average. This is something you’ll run into again and again—other people’s perceptions of your weight are going to be varied, they’re going to be unfair at times, and they’re all completely out of your control, so the best option is to get to the weight you’re happy with and understand people are just going to see you how they see you. There are a few things working in your favor here when it comes to dating other women: we tend to be cooler about weight issues since we usually have our own body things we’re trying to hide and lesbians do tend to weigh a little more than our straight counterparts so average in the lesbian community isn’t the same number as elsewhere.
If Eddie Izzard can do it, so can you!
BUT! All of this is negated by something else entirely! Here’s what you do… (I usually do come to an answer after making people listen to me for a long time). You need to take an honest, not cropped, not top down, not hidden beneath baggy clothing, full-body picture of yourself for your dating profile and send it out with pride to the women you’re interested in. Nobody will feel cheated, nobody will feel lied to, and if she’s attracted to you, then congratulations, you’ve hit what she considers “average” weight. This is, of course, easier said than done. Ladies, seriously, we need to stop doctoring our photos online (I do it too by the way). The top down one drives me nuts…you know the one, where you hold the camera over your head, point it down, and give your best sultry eye look up while forced perspective gives you the waist, hips, and feet of a Barbie Doll. Or the waist up crop, where you put on your best pushup bra and cut the picture off just above your navel—boobs for miles, but who knows what else is going on with the rest of you. Then there’s the “duck face” where you purse your lips and suck in your cheeks which gives the impression of cheek bones and full lips where neither actually exists (this is the one I’m guiltiest of).
Take an honest, full-body photo of yourself for your online dating profile, one that will not be a lie or marketing job you have to make up for when you show up for the first date. And let the women you’re interested decide whether or not you’re average based on full disclosure of what you really look like. Now if you’ll excuse me, I should probably go delete all my Facebook pictures where I’m making the duck face…