I think this is where the title joke came from but please forgive me if I’m wrong. If you know who made the original quip, tell me and I’ll credit them.
Poor Robbie Tripp. Heard of him? The guy who thinks “finding one’s wife attractive” is a noteworthy, enlightened feminist act. You’ve probably seen his now-viral Instagram post – and indeed read at least four think-pieces on it – but hey, we all know I love a high horse, so allow me to mount one.
I first saw the nauseating post last Friday, and sent it to Drummer Boy with the message: “Want to feel queasy? Yeah, you do”. A couple of days later, we were talking about it again and I said the guy was on the receiving end of a pretty forceful backlash. DB made a pained face and said “I feel bad for him – it’s horrible when the whole internet gangs up on someone”. Which is a good point, especially when seemingly everyone on the internet is getting angry about something essentially well-meaning.
(Mind you, I do feel anyone who describes themselves as both a “wordsmith” and a “creative activist” in the same fucking sentence is probably a bit of a tosser. You can’t describe yourself as a wordsmith or an activist. Those are ascribed qualities, not self-declared ones.)
Anyway, shameless autobiographical notes aside, it’s obvious Mr Tripp had good intentions with his post. And quite frankly, if a man wanted to write a 265-word caption on a photo of me about how much he adored my acne/retired-rugby-player thighs/hamster-esque cheeks, I’d probably be flattered enough to let him. Once I’d stopped throwing up. And only if he’d asked me before he shared it with his followers.
Because that’s the first issue here: I really hope Sarah – for that is the name of his spouse – gave him permission to post the photo and its word-vomit caption. And while we’re here, Sarah has her own successful fashion and lifestyle blog and her Instagram‘s pretty sweet too. No matter how effusive you’re being in your praise of your other half’s “thick thighs” or “big booty” (oh God, I’m getting a migraine just typing his words), it’s wise to check before you share that praise with the internet.
The second thing that bugs me about the post is that for all its self-congratulating, it’s still reducing a woman to what she looks like. Saying you used to be teased for fancying girls your friends deemed “chubby” doesn’t make you a hero, it perpetuates the idea that bigger women are “other” somehow – but also that looks are the driving force in relationships. Women have enough opinions about their own bodies; we don’t have the headspace for any more thoughts about our flesh. And what’s more, I really don’t think you can call yourself a feminist man if you’ve ever written an Instagram post in which you try and define what a “real woman” is.
Obviously, physical attraction is important in maintaining a relationship – I’m not naive enough to think otherwise. Finding your partner hot, and being physically intimate and affectionate is crucial. Without that affection, without those touches, you’re just really good friends who have arguments in Waitrose. But we must try to remember that physical beauty is largely an accident, a fluke of genes, and it shifts and changes over the decades then fades gracefully like a treasured photograph.
Everyone has “weird” things they find hot – the whole reason I started this blog back in 2012 was because me and some friends had a conversation that lasted for hours about the more unusual things we find attractive. I started scribbling down what we came up with, and here we are. We’re constantly rejecting the look(s) that the fashion, beauty, fitness and porn industries tell us are the most desirable. Most of the straight women I know would take a man with a ‘dad-bod’ over a gym-honed Adonis any day. Tiny beer-bellies make the best pillows.
I’ve long been intrigued by how men who are in relationships with women feel about their partners’ bodies – especially the slightly more nitty-gritty stuff. Because let’s face it: it’s quite weird living in close proximity to a fellow human whose biology is so similar and yet so different to your own. Drummer Boy is never anything but complimentary about my un-supermodel physique, but I sometimes wonder: does he find periods a bit grim? Does he wish my face was less Cabbage Patch-y? Does he ever pity me my hormonal break-outs? But then I ask myself how I’d feel about those things if the roles were reversed, and I calm down. There’s a line in the novel Secrets Of A Family Album by Isla Dewar that’s stuck with me for years, and it’s possibly one of the wisest things I’ve ever read. It runs roughly thus: “you don’t love someone because they’re beautiful, they’re beautiful because you love them”.
And how true that is. The most handsome man in the world, chiselled of face, thick of hair and broad of both shoulder and smile, will instantly lose his appeal if his words or behaviour leave you confused or unsteady or feeling like an idiot. If I could give my younger self any advice, it would simply be this: notice how people make you feel, and stay with the ones who make you feel good. Pleasing looks may create a spark, but it’s the words and deeds behind those looks that start the fire.
It may be overly harsh, but if Robbie Tripp had the understanding of feminism that he claims to have, his Instagram post would have been about how much he loves his wife’s brain. Her wit, her jokes, her kindness, her ability to cheer him up on his bad days, her tenacity – not the packaging those things arrive in. Lust is skin-deep, but love? Love is weaved in shared laughter, shared secrets and shared dreams. A man praising a woman’s body is entirely unsurprising. A man praising a woman’s brain? That’s the thing we need more of.