Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I would love to get married, but finding guys willing to date a heavy-set woman has proven difficult. All the guys who get suggested to me, or who contact me through dating sites, are either fat, shlubby, or have some type of disability.

Though I try to lose weight, I believe that my future husband needs to accept me as I am now, not what I hope to be in a few months/years. Unfortunately, that isn't happening. I recently spoke online to a few nice guys, but when each of them saw my picture they immediately lost interest in continuing.

I have nothing against people who are fat or disabled, and I try to look past those issues. But I admit that, sometimes, I can also be shallow and tend to say yes or no based solely on looks. Still, I am frustrated by the fact that I don’t get considered by ordinary, nice guys.

What really bothers me is having to send a photo to online dating sites. A photo isn't the person – and for someone like myself who isn’t that photogenic, I make a much better impression face-to-face. I've had many experiences where a man and I hit it off online, and sometimes even go so far as to set up a date, but once he saw my photo he said, "Forget it, I don't think it will work."

I have a nice personality and many good qualities, but few men take the chance of getting to know me because they insist on a photo preview that doesn't capture who I really am. Especially with the ongoing "singles’ crisis," how can we convince people that it isn't fair to accept or reject someone solely on the basis of their looks?

Jenine

Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Rosie and Sherry's Answer:

Dear Jenine,

You've raised two questions that come up frequently – why do plus-sized men and women get rejected so often as potential dates, and why do so many daters make snap decisions about whether or not to date someone because they don't like what they see in a photograph.

We agree that too many dates get rejected solely on the basis of a two-dimensional photograph. It happens all the time – they check out each other's photos on Facebook or an online dating site, and one of them turns down the suggestion, insisting "Not my type". It doesn't matter if the subject of the photo is slender, heavy, plain, well-groomed, or unkempt – if he or she doesn't have “the look” the other person wants, there's not a chance for a date to happen.

Let go of the idealized image of what the “right person” looks like.

And yet, if the two of them were to meet at a friend's dinner table, a business conference, or even a genuine "blind date," they might enjoy the conversation, feel they're making a connection, and decide to continue dating to see if things develop. If they continue to relate well to each other, after a few dates they might start thinking, "He's really handsome," "She's really pretty," "I love her smile," or "His hair is thinning, but I still think he's cute."

Why the turnaround? Once two people feel comfortable with each other's personalities and get a sense that they have compatible values and outlooks, they're able to let go of their idealized image of what the right person should look like. Their preferences become less important, and the other person's looks can begin to "grow" on them.

There's a big qualifier here. We've seen this happen time and time again – but only when the daters are "okay" about each others’ appearance when they first meet. It never happens when one of them has a strong negative reaction to the other person's looks.

Professional Help

So what is the role of photographs in all this? We see them more as tools to get objective information about someone's height, build, coloring, features, and style of dress – on the day the picture was taken, but that's all.

Someone you might find attractive in "real life" may not look good in a photo, because it distorts his features and doesn't reflect his inner qualities. The "chemistry" that can develop in a face-to-face meeting is a product of how you connect to each other's personalities, sense of humor, mannerisms, self-expression, and thought processes. If you reject someone because his photo doesn't excite you, you may miss out on the opportunity to meet a great match.

So should you hold back on providing a photo? Unfortunately, if a prospective date doesn’t see your photo on a dating website, they'll look for one on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites. That's why it doesn't make sense to hold back your photo, to send out one you hate and tell the recipient "I'm not photogenic," or to post unflattering pictures.

Instead, make an investment in a professional, flattering photo. Someone who has broken teeth, a skin condition, or looks messy and unkempt can get help correct these problems. Hire a stylist to help you find a flattering hairstyle, clothing, and for women – make-up. (Most people feel better about themselves after a "makeover", and they project a sense of confidence and self-comfort that makes them appealing to others. Why shouldn't you feel this way more often?)

That may make the difference between a "yes" and a "no" from a prospective dater. (Think of the photos of the men you turned down and compare them to the photos of the men you agreed to date – which men looked neat, put-together, and confident?) The men who say "yes" to you are, invariably, going to be men who either prefer a fuller-figured woman or who are comfortable with your size.

Working Harder

To be blunt, a man who strongly prefers more slender women will not factor in your other qualities and decide to take a chance.

And we don't think he should, for a very practical reason. Remember how we talked about how attraction can develop when people start out feeling "okay" with each other's appearance? "Okay" is the operative word. Someone turned off by the way another person looks, whether it is weight, a feature he dislikes, or an easily addressed quality such as unkempt appearance or poor personal hygiene, will not become attracted to her even if she has an amazing personality and is a great match for him in other respects. It just won't happen.

We agree with you that a man should appreciate you for who you are. But, he also has to be physically attracted. Without that attraction, a man and a woman can have a friendship. But they can't have a romantic relationship. And they certainly can't have a healthy marriage.

At other times in history, a fuller figure was a sign of beauty.

Judaism recognizes how essential physical attraction is in dating and marriage. Even the laws of mourning for a close relative reflect this. During the seven days of shiva, when family members are not supposed to be concerned about their appearance, "marriageable" young women and new brides may wear make-up. If being attractive to a prospective or actual marriage partner is important even during mourning, think how important it must be all of the time.

Contemporary society has conditioned many of us to associate slimness with “beauty,” and many men today are not attracted to heavy-set women. At other times in history, a fuller figure was a sign of beauty. There isn't much you can do to change these preferences. Instead, it may help to understand that you don't have to appeal to dozens of men – you just have to appeal to the one who is right for you, among those men open to dating a heavy-set woman.

To find that man, you may need to work harder at networking than your slimmer friends. Don't only rely on Internet dating sites – ask your friends, co-workers, and relatives for suggestions. Don't hide the fact that you're a plus-size woman from potential dating partners. Instead, take good care of yourself and make the most of your appearance so you can be attractive to the one man who will count. You can do that by exercising regularly, eating healthily, and always wearing flattering clothes, a becoming hairstyle, and make-up.

We don't feel it is our place to tell overweight daters to diet. That's a very personal choice, and losing weight is no guarantee that you'll meet Mr. Right. Since people of all shapes and sizes get married, you may find the right person without losing an ounce. However, you have to be realistic. The heavier you are, the fewer men will find you attractive. A man who likes "pleasantly plump" women might be turned off by someone who is borderline obese.

Whether you decide to lose weight, or stay where you are, we hope that you will try to look and feel attractive, and that you will soon meet a man who can appreciate both your inner and outer beauty.

Wishing you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry