On alert, vigilant citizens: Hiding in plain sight are romantically involved couples who challenge our most cherished notions of coupledom by refusing to weigh the same amount as each other. What’s more, it’s often the woman who outweighs the man, thumbing their noses at proper masculine and feminine proportions. How should we feel? What is to be done? Who will think of the children?
Called a “mixed-weight relationship,” the term has popped up on social media again after a woman named Jenna Kutcher wrote on Instagram that someone wondered how she landed a guy as hot as her husband, given that she looks like this and he looks like this:
The main thing to note about this couple is that there is literally nothing to note here. They are good looking and married to each other. Nonetheless, Kutcher was forced to straddle the perfect blend of self-scrutiny and self-love all women must when found guilty of having a body. Yes, she knows she has big arms, a bumpy bum, and thighs that kiss. But “Mr. Six Pack” happens to love her anyway. Just another mixed-weight couple, making the best of it in spite of their crime against humanity.
You wouldn’t think we’d even need a term like this. After all, we don’t call it a mixed-hair relationship when a bald person dates someone with a full head of hair. Or a mixed-attractiveness relationship when someone super symmetrical pairs off with someone less so. We also don’t really call it mixed-weight if the man is bigger than the woman. That’s just “normal.” Which is why The Independent’s Olivia Petter called the term a “new form of bodyshaming,” and explores the strange prejudice that some couples of different sizes face.
“The term ‘mixed-weight relationship’ is essentially another way of labeling people based on the differences in their appearance,” the head of body-positivity campaign Be Real, Liam Preston, told Petter. “It only seeks to highlight the differences in a couple’s shape and size. It would seem to suggest that the couple, due to their physical differences, do not belong together, and that is simply ridiculous!”
Blogger Gloria Shuri Henry told Petter that as the bigger member of her couple, it’s often assumed that he has a size fetish and forces her to maintain her weight, which she says is insulting. (This is the only one of many awful questions such couples say they are routinely asked by “curious” assholes.)
The people in such relationships also debate the term’s usefulness. Kutcher doesn’t use the term “mixed-weight relationship,” but writing at Refinery 29 about being in such a relationship, Kasandra Brabaw says that as a plus-size woman who has dated multiple thin women, she takes no issue with the term:
Yet there’s sometimes power in labels. For me, categorizing my relationship as mixed-weight was one way to acknowledge that the differences between my ex and me informed how each of us experienced our relationship. It also gave me something to google when I felt that my ex was subtly fat shaming me, and I didn’t know if other people felt the same way.
But other people argue that the labelling reinforces that it’s somehow abnormal. “I get that for some people, being a lot bigger than their partner is something that they think about a lot, and it does change things for them,” plus-model Georgina told Metro U.K. of her own relationship. “And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel self conscious and unworthy at times. But personally, I find that the more you draw attention to these things, the more it’s made into some big deal, some strange event.”
A 2016 series of studies on the issue figured out the problem: Some people really don’t like couples who don’t weigh the same amount, or rather, they like them less, Psychology Today reported. (Some people are also really, really awful.) The research asked 230 people to rate how they felt toward a variety of fictional couples. People ranked the mixed-weight couples least favorably, regardless of whether the man or woman was the higher BMI avatar.
In a second part of the same study, participants played matchmaker for a series of couples with a variety of BMIs. They not only matched couples together with the same BMI, but they also then ranked them as more pleasingly paired. A third experiment in this study looked at the sort of advice people would give mixed-weight couples versus similar-weight couples, and found that people often advised mixed-weight couples to not take their dates out in public.
The researchers here theorize a few possibilities for what’s at the root of this: People don’t like differentness of any kind, whether it’s too much of an age gap or class or race. Two, the participants may have felt it was unfair that one person was getting a bad deal by being with someone less attractive. In the end, researchers concluded that people are just bothered by mixed-status coupling in general. In other words, no matter how progressive we fancy ourselves, we still cling to fairly traditional notions of what coupling should be visually: We think the man should be a few years older, a few inches taller, and, clearly, a few pounds heavier. We even still largely marry within our race, religion and socioeconomic background. Even though in 2015 one in six newly married folks were interracial — that’s five times what it was in 1967 — in total, only 10 percent of married people today are interracial couples.
It’s not that it’s a problem-free experience to marry someone who is different, including in weight, but it appears to depend entirely on whether the couple is happy with or able to navigate their respective differences. Anna Almendrala notes in a piece at Huffington Post from 2013 that, as part of a mixed-faith, mixed-race, and mixed-weight couple, it was, for them, the weight difference that caused the most conflict. But Almendrala admits she struggled with her weight her entire life, and even gained more while married. (Weight gain or loss can present an entirely different set of issues in a relationship.) Some research has found that couples with mixed weights have more arguments, but again, this appears to be in cases where one or both partners are unhappy with the weight difference. Perhaps in couples where both people are happy with their respective weights, it’s less of an issue. That guy who broke the internet because he loved his curvy wife was really annoying, but clearly he’s satisfied.
And a 2011 study of newlywed couples found that couples were “happier” when the man’s BMI was higher than the woman’s at the beginning of the marriage and stayed that way four years later. As retrograde as that sounds, study author Andrea Melzer told The Daily Mail that the takeaway was not that women have to be tiny. It was actually that “women of any size can be happy in their relationships with the right partner. It’s relative weight that matters, not absolute weight. It’s not that they have to be small.”
Sure, but the key here is that these people do still have to be smaller than the man. Melzer stresses that the findings only represent an average — that “just because a wife is thinner than her husband doesn’t necessarily mean that the couple will be satisfied, and they won’t necessarily be dissatisfied if a wife is bigger than her husband.”
Well, no shit. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to matter much to the people judging these relationships from the outside. Luckily, it doesn’t matter to the people judging them from the inside — also known as the couples themselves — either. And last we checked, that’s the only opinion that matters.