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February 13, 2012

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Fat girls scorned as girlfriends

ANGELA Zhang's New Year's resolution is to lose 30 kilograms this year and make sure she doesn't lose her boyfriend whose family calls her Little Fat Girl or xiao pang mei to her face.

Now weighing 100 kilograms and standing 162 centimeters high, she plans to wear a pretty dress for her Valentine's Day date. She lost 15 kilos last year, 2 this year and regained 5 over Spring Festival.

The Little Fat Girl is fortunate in a cruel marriage market where women's looks are paramount.

"They say I'm very lucky to find an okay boyfriend since I'm 'so, so, so fat'," Zhang says. "They tell me not to be complacent and to lose more weight if I want to keep him."

Li Meihua, a popular aunty matchmaker in Shanghai's Jiading District, considers Zhang "extremely lucky" and calls her case "ultimately rare."

"The single most important condition for a woman in the marriage market is to be pretty or at least presentable. If she is very fat, I suggest she lower her standards," Li tells Shanghai Daily. Fat or overweight men face far fewer problems, she says.

Marred prospects

In the past, various physical "defects" marred marriage prospects, such as very dark skin, crooked or protruding teeth and some facial features. Many are correctable with cosmetic dentistry, surgery and cosmetics.

There's an old saying that there's no such thing as an ugly woman, only a lazy woman. Some people believe that.

But there's no easy way to get rid of fat except the hard way - proper diet, exercise and self-discipline.

"Fat women and short men are usually the difficult cases, and it is 10 times more difficult for fat women, all other things being equal," says matchmaker Li. "You can still match very short women with short men, but even very fat men won't like fat girls."

A fat man with money, a good job and property seldom has problems finding a pretty mate.

Usually, women over 70 kilos are considered too fat and men shorter than 170cm are considered too short. The real problem cases are women over 80 kilos and men under 160cm.

Other common problems are women who are "too tall," usually above 170cm, and people who are extremely nearsighted. Some nearsightedness is genetic and people worry that extreme cases can be passed on.

Shanghai Daily interviewed seven overweight women, aged 20-34 and weighing from 65-100 kilos. Angela Zhang is the only one who currently has a boyfriend. Two women had relationships that ended, largely because of weight, and four others have never been on a date.

Five men, standing 162-169cm and aged 24-30 years, were also interviewed. Two are single, one never had a girlfriend and two others are on date.

They all say being fat is the most unacceptable feature for a girlfriend, followed by inability to get pregnant (three) and a deep or husky "unfeminine" voice (one).

"Being fat is very unhealthy and may make it very difficult to give birth, but basically, I just don't like fat girls," 162cm Jerry Liu says.

Liu was once rejected by a classmate in university. They liked each other but the girl's mother worried that their children might be short - she forced her daughter to break up.

"That was when I got a complex about being so short," Liu recalls.

His current girlfriend is his height and sometimes complains he's too short, but it's not a deal-breaker.

Liu shares the same thoughts about fat women as Jessica Jin's former boyfriend, who broke up two years ago when Jin gained 25 kilos, a side effect of medication for endocrine disorder. The man told Jin, "It's better we break up, because it will be difficult for you to have a baby, and also because your character has changed since you gained weight." He said she became insecure and more easily excited.

Personality change

"Liar," Jin says. "I did change but that's because he treated me badly after I gained weight. He could have just told the truth - he didn't love me anymore because I'm fat."

Jin has not dated since then. She went to one speed-dating event, in which men and women chat for five minutes, then move on to the next prospect. Later they decide on dating.

"I can see that look in those guys' eyes - they are not interested and they just want to move," she remembers.

"They don't care if I like music or hate painting. Appearance is crucial."

Jin's experience is similar to that of Niu Niu from a popular TV dating program. Known as the Fat Girl, she rarely gets attention from men who appear on the show to find a girlfriend. She gets applause for her good sense of humor and for being "cute."

This is why Angela Zhang, the Little Fat Girl, is considered fortunate by her friends and relatives. She met her boyfriend online and they told her not to sending photos or having a video chat.

Ten months later, after she was certain of his feelings for her, Zhang told him she was overweight. When they first met in person, she wore her prettiest dress and feared she would be dumped on the spot. She was surprised and thrilled when he didn't run away.

The boyfriend, who weighs 90 kilos, is also overweight. He doesn't earn as much as Zhang who manages a clothing shop. The store was a gift from her parents after Zhang failed all her job interviews, largely due to appearance.

Her boyfriend's parents suggested to Zhang's parents that they buy an apartment and a car for the couple, if they were to be married.

"My mom thinks it's fair to lower standards and expectations for my husband, since I'm quite fat. It's okay for us to prepare the apartment and the car, though that's usually done by the bridegroom's family," Zhang says.

Though her boyfriend is nice and they date like other couples, Zhang constantly worries he will dump her due to pressure from his relatives. Her own mother is worried and that's another source of pressure.

"I can feel they think I'm too fat. Some don't even remember my name, but just call me the Little Fat Girl to my face. And I can't even be visibly upset with them," she says.

She hates it that at dinner with her boyfriend's family and friends, his mother asks her to stay seated and not to get up and walk around, toasting guests at other tables, as is the custom.

Whether or not they have boyfriends, overweight girls and young women tend to worry about prospects in a society where marriage is expected.

Diana Chen, 29 years old and weighing 75 kilos, has never dated and doesn't plan to do so even though her mother always pushes her to lose weight and get a boyfriend.

"It's clear that guys won't really like me since I'm so fat, and I don't really want to give up great food to get a boyfriend," she says. "So I just don't mind staying single and having fun."


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