Let’s face it: beauty is in fact skin deep.
Nobody wants to be judged solely on how they look. So we tell ourselves and each other that we must dig deeper, find what makes us special, unique, radiant — you know, beautiful on the inside. We pretend that beauty should be based on who we are, not how we look.
But we also know, deep down, that that isn’t true. Instead of looking beyond physical beauty, then, we should take a long, hard look at it. I do this all the time, because I see beauty so differently than most people.
I am attracted to fat men.
Not just that — the fat men I am attracted to are, without a doubt, the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. They are to me more beautiful than any sunset, landscape or work of art. I am in awe of their beauty, which moves me and inspires me in ways I never knew possible. But that, of course, is not “normal” — we aren’t supposed to find fat people beautiful, never mind sexy.
Even the word “fat” itself has strongly negative connotations; it’s one of our go-to insults, a favorite self-criticism. So much so that I fear that it will get in the way of any point I could ever hope to make. Therefore, for the rest of this piece, I will use the term “grand” when describing the kind of man I see as beautiful. I don’t say this to shy away from the fact that, to me, “grand” = “fat.” I say this to help reshape people’s perceptions, in the hope that the beauty of the word “grand” somehow makes “fat” a little less ugly.
Most Americans see grand people as unappealing, even disgusting. Many go so far as to make rude faces, poke fun, give unprompted advice on diet and exercise. I see it happen every single day. I stand next to the man I love, my grand husband, as people look through him or, worse, chastise him with their eyes. I hear them snicker when he walks by, or as he carefully bends over to pick something up. I see them point and giggle among themselves, assessing their value as greater than his simply because of his size.
The problem is that this awful behavior is learned behavior, culturally acquired, and culturally sanctioned.
Every day I interact with thin people, fit people, muscular people, men and women, young and old. I am not physically or sexually attracted to any of them. Still, at no point in my interactions with them do I find them disgusting. In fact, quite the opposite — I find them beautiful. My perception of their beauty has nothing to do with my sexual desire. It has to do with training: I have been taught to view them as beautiful, to identify and appreciate the aspects of their faces and bodies that earn them the designation “beautiful.”
Every single day — and hundreds, if not thousands, of times each day — I am presented with our socially acceptable idea of beauty. It is inescapable. It is on television, billboards, magazines, and social media. It hovers over every street, on every bus stop, in every CVS, Rite Aid, Safeway and Starbucks, not to mention every single Facebook, Instagram or web ad delivered right into my pocket. To live in America is to be relentlessly inundated with the equation that thin + fit = sexy. Period.
I’ve been trained well; I see thin and fit people as beautiful. Why wouldn’t I? I have seen them photographed in the most flattering light. I have grown to appreciate the v-shaped torso of an athlete, the angular lines of an androgynous supermodel, the hourglass shape of a woman, and even the disaffected stare of models pretending not to be selling me something.
I have not been conned. These people are, without a doubt, beautiful. But so are grand people... they just aren’t being showcased in the same positive light.
To my knowledge, there are no grand men (or women) who are celebrated for their beauty alone. There are no grand leading actors outside of comedy. (We’ve also been trained that “fat = funny.”) You don’t see beautiful, grand men and women falling in love in a way that’s believable, honest and real. Billboards aren’t accentuating what to me are the irresistible curves of a grand person. Every beautiful, luscious, sweet, enticing curve that makes me smile and ignites my longing when the beauty of a grand man crosses my path.
Years ago my husband took me to a “date night” movie he knew I would love: the
bumbling comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop. (I must have mentioned Kevin James’s new and intoxicating mustache.) In the theater, I watched as Paul Blart stumbled over his words, tripped over his own feet, fell from ceilings and generally was a complete idiot. He wanted to get the girl, but he just didn’t have the nerve or the confidence — after all, he was grand. Still, even through all the idiocy, I thought he was beautiful.
Then the most amazing thing happened: Paul Blart saved the day and did a sexy slo-mo walk across the parking lot to get the girl. For that 10 seconds, everyone in the theatre saw a sexy and virile grand man. His confidence was palpable, his beauty undeniable — we all knew that he was, in fact, going to get the girl. The whole mood of the theatre shifted. Everyone stopped laughing and sat transfixed — completely and utterly objectifying a grand man. For the first and only time in my life, I felt that others saw the world as I did. It was breathtaking. It was honest. It was real.
Then Paul Blart walked into two police officers. Everyone laughed. Order was restored.
You see, our culture can’t objectify grand men without also poking fun at them. They can be beautiful and funny, beautiful and campy, beautiful and quirky — but never simply beautiful. They are comedians and foils, villains and sidekicks, but never beautiful and sexy in an honest and serious light. I believe that If we started seeing grand men and women in that light, we would begin to see how physically beautiful they are. We would have to acknowledge that maybe beauty isn’t confined to a few types of bodies. We might begin to judge less, appreciate more, and — maybe most importantly — stop judging our own physical imperfections so harshly.
This might seem like a fantasy. But there is no doubt in my mind that it’s possible.
If I’m being honest, at times I’ve perpetuated the fat = funny stereotype. In 2013, I released “Bears,” a fun dance single extolling the virtues of grand men. But I knew, and followed, the rules of music videos. Sure, there were lots of sexy grand men on screen, but they were all engaged in silly behaviors (slip and slide, water balloon fights, etc.). The real sex symbol in that video looked — and was treated — very differently. It was me, as myself, with a body more lean and muscular than at any other point in my life. I wasn’t clowning around; I was laying in a kiddie pool, in skimpy swim trunks, staring intensely to camera. I was singing a song about how much I loved grand men, yet was somehow blind to the fact that I was perpetuating the very ideals of beauty I abhorred.
And it worked. Of course it worked. The press loved it, grand men and their admirers loved it, I loved it. I still do. I’ve heard from hundreds of men who say the video helped them feel more attractive, less ashamed about their attraction to grand men, or simply helped them see grand men in a new and more positive light. And I’m proud of that.
Still, I can do better.
The truth is, we all can do better. Let’s face it, nothing is going to change without people demanding change. Furthermore, people can’t demand change they haven’t demanded of themselves. So my challenge is this: next time you see a grand man or woman, take a moment to really see what makes them beautiful. Not on the inside — on the outside.
Believe me, there is far more there than you realize.
TOM GOSS is a singer and songwriter. Watch his new music video, "Round in All the Right Places," below.