It’s a common assumption that women like their men with chiselled cheekbones and a taut stomach.
Studies of male physical attractiveness tend to support this idea, with research by University College London finding that women like their men muscular (we’re talking athletic, not Arnie) and with a narrow waist and wide shoulders.
Of course, there are always exceptions. David Beckham’s rippled torso might make most girls go weak at the knees but, for some, fleshy wobbles are a huge turn-on. Take 29-year-old Heidi – her ideal man would weigh 158kg (25st). ‘Ideally, he would have some muscle and plenty of soft fat covering his body,’ she explains. ‘He’d have to have good facial features, particularly nice eyes and, to seal the deal, a wide bum and thick legs to carry him around.’
Heidi says it is the dichotomy of soft and strong she finds so titillating. ‘Fat men are big compared to me and yet there’s a vulnerability to them because they’re not falling in line with societal standards. I’m very turned on by the contrast in our bodies and find the “giving in to temptation” element – to food and sex – to be exciting. And I simply like the look of a fat, round, soft belly.’
Grace, 35, is a retired plus-size model and, like Heidi, she also admits to being a chubby chaser. ‘On a purely sexual level, I don’t find slender bodies very inviting. As a little girl I always found fat people attractive and always had a compulsion to want to hug them.’
Tough and cuddly
Dr Viren Swami, co-author of The Psychology Of Physical Attraction, has researched admirers of fat people. ‘We know about men who like fat women but we haven’t done any research into women who like bigger men simply because they’re not as common – but we do know they are out there. The non-scientific research we have done found fat men are described as “bears” because they are both tough and cuddly.’
In other circles, namely online dating websites and in the fat acceptance movement, these men are also referred to as Big Handsome Men. But, according to Grace, there is a big difference between a fat man and a big, handsome one. ‘I’ve only ever dated big men who were happy with themselves but that’s getting harder to find nowadays. If I suspect a man has a “woe is me, I’m fat” attitude, I wouldn’t get involved. But if he considered himself a Big Handsome Man, then I would be interested. Nobody wants to date someone who hates their body.’
Heidi says her problem is getting men to take her seriously.’I've had to work pretty hard to get guys to ask me out. There’s no playing hard to get with many fat guys – they just don’t chase women the way athletic types are prone to.’
Both women have had to justify their taste in the opposite sex. ‘I often get asked the age-old “Don’t you worry about their health?” question,’ says Grace. ‘I tell them eating a healthy, balanced diet and being active should be to achieve health and not weight loss. I do not advocate a man being sedentary and eating junk food.’
Feeding a fetish
But, aside from simply enjoying the company of an upbeat, overweight, yet active, fruit-scoffing man, Dr Swami says it’s likely female fat admirers may have dominance issues.
‘In developed countries, fat is associated with laziness and bigger people are often denigrated in society. This makes these women the stronger, more accepted ones and challenges typical gender assumptions. When men date fat women, they are called “feeders” and get pleasure from feeding her and being dominant. This could also be the case here. Another explanation could be they have a fetish for fat flaps or “pannus”, which are hanging flaps of adipose tissue.’
Whatever the explanation, these women are at least challenging the idea that thin is the epitome of attraction (although most men admit a fleshy, imperfect handful is far sexier than a boney, veiny limb).
Dr Swami says we’re told women should be slim yet busty and that men should look like Brad Pitt. ‘In many cases, most people disagree about what is sexy and what isn’t. Lots of women fancy Brad but some don’t.’ It’s nice to know that while most of us fear the flab, there are some who embrace, hug and hold the bulge.
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It seems Eminem has had too many M&Ms – he has reportedly ballooned in weight and is now a recluse. The Gladiator days are long gone for Russell Crowe, while Leonardo DiCaprio has recently been sporting an unsightly muffin top on Californian beaches.