'More to Love' Feeds Weight Debate

Does reality show depict real women or reinforce "poor fat girl" stereotypes?

Sept. 15, 2009— -- "More to Love" has everything you'd expect in a reality show: group dates, multiple make-out sessions, cat fights ... even a marriage proposal.

But what sets "More to Love" apart is all in the title. On this show, which airs on Fox, size-2 women need not apply -- try size 22. Eligible bachelor Luke Conley is looking for a full-figured wife, and the show even reveals the exact poundage of the women vying for his affection.

Conley, a 26-year-old former college football player who works as a real estate investor, is no exception. He's 6 feet 3 inches tall and tips the scale at 330 pounds.

But not everyone is loving "More to Love." Juanita Sanford, founder of Big Connections CT, a social networking group, is offended by the display of the women's specific weights and the heavy emphasis on food.

"A lot of big women don't eat that much food and for them to emphasize the food because it is big women is ridiculous," Sanford said.

Her biggest complaint is the crying by contestants bemoaning that they have yet to find love.

"I want someone who will not be embarrassed to be with me," one contestant said tearfully.

Such comments play into the stereotypes, Sanford said. "The fact that these girls are constantly crying, 'No one ever pays attention to me,' it's not realistic," she said. "Big women are out there dating all over the place. I'm just tired of the perception all the time [of] the poor fat girl."

But contestant Kristian Allbright said the show is not only real, it helped her deal with issues she has struggled with since childhood.

"I was the heaviest girl in my class," Allbright, 26, said. "I couldn't fit the desks so I would have to sit at the teacher's desk and I would get made fun of. Kids are cruel."

As an adult, one ex-boyfriend bought the Wallington, N.J., substitute teacher a gym membership for her birthday, even after she'd lost more than a 100 pounds with gastric bypass surgery.

"He started complaining about how I looked: 'You're not losing any weight, look what you're eating, I am embarrassed to be seen with you,'" she recalled. "I think men should look past the physical and really get to know a person."

A University of Missouri study confirms that overweight women do have a greater challenge when it comes to dating. When average-size men and women were given a choice between dating thin or overweight subjects, the women said the men's weights didn't matter but the men chose the thin women.

Being overweight also negatively affected the quantity and quality of women's relationships but had little effect on the men.

"Sometimes, skinny women can be nasty and mean and guys love it," Allbright said. "I don't get it."

Allbright said she hopes the show will shatter old perceptions, starting with that three-digit number on the bottom of the screen.

"Women are going to see that and they're going to be able to relate better," she said. "Women really look at us and say, 'Wow they're beautiful, I must be beautiful.'"

Allbright, who, at one point on the show, referred to Conley as a piece of meat -- "I want to pour barbecue sauce all over him and eat him like a pork chop," she said -- doesn't think there are too many references to food on the show.

"We need to eat," she said. "Do the girls on 'The Bachelor' not eat? I don't think it was anything bad."

And, now, the great weight debate is playing out online.

Fans of the show say it's a much-needed representation of real women, as opposed to Hollywood's portrayal of women like Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Simpson as "curvy." But others counter that "More to Love" portrays plus-size women as pathetic and desperate.

Full-Figured Women Feeling Beautiful

Peggy Howell of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance said that with 60 million obese Americans, it's encouraging to see more shows representing overweight people, shows like "Drop Dead Diva" and "Dance Your Ass Off." But whether they're changing the way the nation views overweight people or simply exploiting them for entertainment is a matter of debate.

"We're being blamed for driving up the cost of health care, we're being blamed constantly for things, so I don't know that I would say the perception of fat people is getting any better," Howell said. "Hopefully, shows like 'More to Love' and 'Drop Dead Diva' will help people understand that we are people just like all the rest of them."

And while show contestant Allbright won't be walking down the aisle with Conley -- she was sent home on a recent episode -- she hopes her story inspires viewers to understand that size doesn't have to matter in finding love.

Until Conley came along, she said, "I never had a man in my life who made me feel beautiful."

ABCNews.com's Katie Escherich contributed to this report.