The title of the book is “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?” and it claims to be “A Man’s Guide to the Loaded Questions Women Ask.” It is written by therapists and friends, David Thomas and Stephen James. In this guidebook to relationships, they hope to help men decipher and understand what women “really mean” (interesting, coming from two male authors) when they ask questions like: “Does this dress make me look fat?” and “Is there anything you don’t like about me?” Thomas & James are both young and it’s clear they want to help bring some humor to the conversation about relationships between men and women (and there are only discussions about men and women, nothing for same-gender relationships).
I read most of the “Man’s Guide” (“Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?”) and tried to get through the companion book, “Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.” – and just couldn’t. Thomas & James come from a very different perspective on what relationships should look like in a marriage; theirs being a version of complementarianism. Another blogging reviewer had the following to say:
“After reading Stephen James’ and David Thomas’s twin book excursion into popular complementarianism, “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?” and “Yup. Nope. Maybe,” I’m ready to say that complementarians at least write more interesting, entertaining and readable books than egalitarians.” ((via Internetmonk))
Internetmonk does make a good point: the authors do try to bring humor and relevance to their two books. Thomas & James fill the book with anecdotes from both their personal and professional lives, and readers will find themselves nodding along to at least one situation they’ve found themselves in before. If you have a more traditional, or conservative, notion of marriage and what that relationship should look like, these books may be helpful for you.
However, I did find the books quite humorous on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, probably not humorous for the ways the authors were hoping. In chapter one of “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?”, they examine what men should do when their wives/girlfriends do ask the dreaded question: “Does this dress make me look fat?” What follows is their advice:
“This is where a man can really bless a woman. This is the moment when he can help her grew in maturity, wisdom and love. This is a moment when he can help her see herself as God sees her. She asks, ‘Do I look fat in this dress?’ He answers, ‘No, and I really like the way the dress shows off your eyes. Do you want to know what I like more than that?’ …Dramatic pause… ‘How you are so generous with your friends. You care for them so well.’ This would surprise her. It would speak to her character. She would know that he really notices her.” ((Stephen James and David Thomas, “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?” (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2007), 16.))
I’m sorry – but my wife would not appreciate this. At the moment of her trying on a dress, I don’t think she cares what I think about how she treats her friends. But even better than this – is the answer they give if the woman really does look fat in the dress.
“So he says, ‘Yes.’ There is a blessing to be given here too. ‘Yes, you do look fat in that dress, and I wonder if you already thought that. If you really want my opinion, I like the blue dress you wore last week. You look great in that dress. But you know what I really see when you ask me that?’ …Dramatic pause… ‘I see a woman who hates her body, and it breaks my heart for you. I wish you could see yourself the way God sees you.’ It takes a good deal of courage to do this. It also takes equal measures of strength and tenderness…Any guy who can candidly tell a woman she looks fat with gentleness has credibility. He’s a man that tells the truth.” ((Ibid., 17))
I read this last night to Sarah and another female friend, and they both just laughed. Yah. Maybe this works for some women out there, but…not in my experience.
Thomas & James also just have some fundamental understandings of men and women that I disagree with. In the same chapter, they write: “Women are made to reveal beauty. Men are made to view it. This is how beauty can be redeemed. Men are made to delight in the beauty of a woman.” ((Ibid., 17)) Really? That’s my purpose in life? To delight in the beauty of a woman? I thought it was bigger than that – something about community, and kingdom of God. But…that’s cool. And apparently all Sarah has to do in life is to reveal her beauty – and then I can enjoy it – and then we’re doing what we were made to do? I think that all seems a bit simplistic…not to mention degrading to women.
All in all, I just couldn’t get behind their ideas in these books. Part of it is that both books continue to perpetuate the stereotypes of men and women. Trying to add some humor to a counseling vignette, Thomas discusses a couple he counseled and gives them the pseudonyms of Dude Can’t Talk and Girl Won’t Shut Up. ((Stephen James and David Thomas, “Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.” (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2007), X.)) They talk about why all men love sports, how women can tell color swatches apart while men don’t care what color a room gets painted, how women are the ones who always ask, “What are you thinking right now?” (just ask Sarah who asks that question in our marriage), how men are created to be warriors ((Ibid., 62-63)) and women desire to be pursued. There were just way too many stereotypes and generalizations for me to get past to enjoy these books.
While in “Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.”, Thomas & James do talk about some of the similarities of men and women – they claim that “things haven’t changed much since the days of Adam and Eve.” ((Ibid., 24))
“Men still want to feel important. Women still want to feel valued. Men still want to do something that matters. Women still want to be accepted. Men desire strength and respect. Women desire to be seen and loved. Men want to know where they are going…Women want to know who they are.” ((Ibid., 24))
I don’t think the complexities of men and women can be boiled down to such blanket statements. The conclude the book with a brief summary of their thoughts on men and women:
“He’s being a man: a big, stupid, brilliant, emotionally constipated, wonderfully complex, slightly arrogant, sex-crazed, courageous, strong, clueless, mind-boggling man…She’s being a woman: a beautiful, deep, wonderfully complex, emotionally layered, relationally driven, slightly critical, courageous, strong, clueless, mind-boggling woman.” ((Ibid., 144))
There are way too many stereotypes in that last quote that I’m really not interested in perpetuating: men as sex-crazed, men as emotionally absent (and in saying that women are emotionally layered, they imply that men are not), women as relationally-driven (as if there aren’t men who care about feeling connected and focused on relationships in their lives). Is there some truth to these? Sure. But to box in the sexes with these generalizations is not a helpful step in moving forward.
Overall, I think some may find these books humorous and helpful, but it took a lot for me to get through them, even though they’re both very short (and small) books. They just didn’t do it for me. However, I’m willing to let someone else have a shot at it. I dog-eared a couple pages, but other than that, they’re still pretty new. I will send them both to the first person who emails me with the graduate school that author Stephen James attended.