By now, the whole “Honey, do I look fat in this?” scene has been fully unmasked as the farce it is, useful today only as a reference to stand-up comic hacks. But be aware that the sentiment behind it lives on in more modern variations, including:

  • “I look fat in this,” (a subtly aggressive form, making it a supposed statement of fact rather than asking a question), and;
  • “I know I’m not fat...” (likely to be heard within seconds of above phrase).

The inevitable answer for guys—“No babe, you look gorgeous”—simply hangs in the air, the product of a make-believe time that exists in every woman’s mind, one of limitless chivalry and 24-hour elegance.

But even after the words leave our mouths, for many women, it still isn’t enough. They question how they look, we in return flatter them, and they in return continue to question how they look.

The thing women need to understand is that when we tell them they don’t look fat, we actually mean it. Our response is based in reality rather than fantasy, because guys don’t think in terms of pounds or “target” weights (we hate math). We think of simple contentment alongside a girl we’ve already decided is attractive.

For proof, see the 1985 University of Pennsylvania study wherein two psychologists studied the way 500 male and female students perceived their own and each other’s bodies. They found that women see themselves as not only fatter than their actual weight, but too fat to be found attractive by men, and much, much fatter than what they consider an “ideal” female figure.

Not surprisingly, the guys saw their own weight, the weight they thought women would find attractive and their ideal weight as pretty much the same, revealing that the male participants probably spent most of the test time doodling the names of rock bands on the desk with their No. 2 pencils. It’s not that guys were disinterested in the study; it’s just that body image—as complex and study-worthy as it is for women—is a nonissue for men.