I'm not shy about my big body. The way I see it, if you can't handle my stretch marks, then you don't deserve my cellulite. I wasn't always like this. I used to be the girl who insisted on sex with the lights off. I covered myself every time I got out of bed. I never wanted to be on top during sex, fearing how my stomach might look from that angle. God, I feel so sad for that version of me.
My confidence boosted the day I came to the simple realization that my fatness is not something I can hide, so why try? I never went into sex under the impression that my partners knew what they were in for, as if our entire time together before getting undressed was spent solely looking at each other's faces. Plus, most of the men I sleep with tell me they like my body. They'll say something like "I love curvy women," or "I like thicker girls." I always took these comments as them trying to do me a favor—like, I'll call her curvy, not fat. But I don't see fat as a bad word, and I don't see the point in avoiding it.
I mentioned this to a guy recently, after he called me "curvy" in bed. "Just call me fat," I said to him. "I don't mind—it's what I am."
His response to this took me surprise. "Trust me, you're not fat. I'm not attracted to fat girls."
That's when it all hit me: Oh, you're not doing this for my sake. You're doing it for yours. This guy, and probably a lot of the others, didn't want to come to terms with his attraction to a fat woman.
I get it. It's not just women who are raised to believe that there is only one type of body considered "hot." Openly liking a body type that strays from the socially-constructed norm brings about shame. Even those who are not ashamed of their desires sometimes feel the need to be secretive about it. In the heterosexual landscape, gender studies lecturer Hugo Schwyzer says men are "taught to find 'hot' what other men find 'hot.'" Basically, heterosexual attraction works on a societal level, and women are the building blocks for their male partner's self-esteem. Fat women are seen as a "downgrade," which forces many heterosexual men to deny that they're attracted to fat women at all.
This, of course, does not apply to all heterosexual men. There are communities of men known as "fat admirers." In 2011, the Village Voice profiled Dan Weiss, an outspoken fat admirer and creator of "Ask A Guy Who Likes Fat Chicks." In that profile, Weiss debunks the myths about why a man might prefer fat women: It's not because fat women are easier to get into bed, and it's not true that men who date fat women must have low self-confidence. The fact that these are common beliefs in the first place says something about how fat women are viewed in a sexual context.
A Fernando Botero painting in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City. Photo via Flickr user Enrique Vázquez
Author and fat activist Virgie Tovar brings up another misconception: "Men who desire fat women are considered sexual deviants or perverts because fat women do not conform to mainstream Western ideals of beauty," she told me. "The truth is that human desire—and yes, male desire—varies widely, and if we lived in a less proscriptive world we would all see how diverse our appetites are. Unfortunately, we don't live in that kind of world. In the West, it is thinness."
Perhaps this would be different if fat women were represented differently in mainstream media. Hollywood really could do better than casting Melissa McCarthy in a few funny but completely de-sexualized roles. In the music industry, we rarely hear about big women, other than in songs like Drake's verse in Nicki Minaj's "Only," where Drake says he likes BBW (big, beautiful women) because they're the type "to wanna suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you." The best thing we have to being seen in a positive light by a popular artist still found a way to make fun of us. Thanks, Drake.
I guess we'll have to take it considering people rarely even close to saying something like this. It's odd how taboo this all is, considering the fact that at one point in the Western World's cultural history, fat women were not in the slightest bit branded as repulsive.
Sociology researchers Samantha Kwan and Jennifer Fackler at the University of Houston created a brief history of how body ideals have changed over the centuries in a fact sheet titled " Women and Size." According to them, up until around the 19th century, women were depicted in paintings by artists such as Ruben and Renoir as "fleshy" and "voluptuous" (their words, not mine). Personally, both those descriptors make me want to hurl because they sound like something out of a horrific erotic romance novel (same reason I can't stand to hear the words "panties" and "throbbing"). Regardless, slim bodies only became desirable once mass-marketing in fashion began taking place as well as the marketing of diets.
It was around this time that dress sizes became standardized and the discovery of the calorie suddenly forced weight monitoring to enter public consciousness, according to gastronomist Sarah Lohman. In other words, diets turned into marketable, salable products. By the 1920s, "most American women were either on a diet or feeling guilty about not dieting. And the rest is history." Our whole perception of beauty in relation to thinness is essentially manifested by people throughout history looking to profit off of our self-esteem, and we fell for their gimmicks. We fell for them hard.
In Mauritania, obesity is viewed as a sign of wealth and prestige in a woman. To attain these standards of beauty, many Mauritanian women undergo the practice of gavage, or "fattening up."
"We are victims of horrible information," said Ken Page, psychotherapist and the author of the book Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy. "The learning we get around how attraction works, the way we're supposed to look and act, it's as if it was written by a group of anxious teenagers. It's dangerous, misguided, and mostly non-science based."
As it turns out, attraction has a lot less to do with looks than we think. According to science, a big part of sexual attraction boils down to how fertile we smell, personality traits like kindness and intelligence, and something Page calls "emotional attraction," which is basically how well you "click" with someone. "To think that because you're of a certain shape, or weight, that people are not going to be attracted to you is just not true."
If this is how attraction works, on a scientific level, then why don't I see this happening in my life? Why does my overbearing Jewish mother constantly pressure me to lose weight, so that she can marry me off to some Jewish dentist? Why do strangers on the internet repeatedly keep telling me that losing weight will finally help me find love?
I know this isn't true. I have plenty of friends who fit the "hot chick" stereotype (I live in Los Angeles, after all—there's practically a goddamn infestation of "hot chicks"). I've learned from my friendships with tall, thin, beauty-obsessed women that their romantic lives are just as shitty as mine. Fat or thin, we're in the same boat when it comes to getting cheated on, getting that awful text that says, "You're really cool, but the thing is..." The difference is, when that happens, my thin friends don't automatically blame it on their weight. So why am I constantly made to feel like my weight is the problem in my love life?
Feeling shame about fatness is something I know all about—but as Tovar explained, the way I processed my shame is different from how the men I slept with processed their shame. "When women feel shame we are taught to turn that shame inwards, toward ourselves," said Tovar. "Men are often able to maneuver some of the shame away from themselves. Whereas women are likelier to just absorb all of it—not just the shame they are likely already feeling for being fat, but also shame because they are causing discomfort to their partner."
This is best exemplified by women feeling uncomfortable in fully exposing their bodies during sex, even when our romantic partners have already expressed attraction to us by their eagerness to rip our clothes off. Sort of like saying, " I'm ashamed that you might be ashamed of my body."
In order to end the shame that occurs on this level, women—and not just fat women—need to accept our bodies as they are. Not just for our own sake, but for the sake of making our partners feel less shame, too. As Page explained, the parts of us we feel the most shameful towards just might be the very parts our partner is turned on by.
Of course, this is easier said than done. It's extremely difficult to not feel embarrassed by what we're consistently told are imperfections. To help end our easiness, men could be better at expressing their desire for us—not just privately, but outwardly as well. Try writing a rap lyric about us that doesn't bring up food. That would be nice.
To you heterosexual men out there who can't yet find it in you to outwardly admit that us fatties are capable of being just as attractive as thin women, ask yourself: Why exactly that is? What is it you really fear? The reaction of your friends? What kind of friends are those, if they so strongly want to stop you from being happy?
The bottom line is, fat women are sick of being treated like freaks, and those men who are attracted to us are sick of being treated like deviants. Attractiveness exists on a spectrum, and it's time that spectrum show all of itself—rolls and all.
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