Gabriela was making a feast. She had hand-shaped mounds of hamburger patties with crispy bits of bacon, whipped up a homemade sauce to drape over the burgers, baked her signature coconut cherry muffins, and made homemade ice cream for dessert. There would only be one guest joining Gabriela at dinner, and feeding him would be her foreplay.
At 5'2" and 130 pounds, Gabriela is a far cry from the women who often represent feederism, a fetish that eroticizes feeding, eating, and weight gain. There has been relatively little in the mainstream media about feederism, but what does exist is often framed with sensational images of women with ballooning bellies, stuffed so large that they cannot move after consuming meals fit for entire families. Gabriela is not one of those women. She doesn't want to be fed—she wants to feed.
But Gabriela's story, like other female feeders, is not the one represented in the academic research, the media, or even in the mainstream feederism community that exists online. There is hardly a trace of the female feeder in anything written about the fetish; if you weren't entrenched in the subculture, you'd hardly know that female feeders exist.
The role of women in the feederism community caught the eye of Dr. Kathy Charles, a psychologist at Edinburgh Napier University, who is co-authoring the first academic book about feederism, to be published later this year.
"There were a couple of documentaries about feederism—specifically, about women being fed until they were immobile—showing feederism as something dangerous," Charles tells me. She saw stories of women like Donna Simpson, who grew famous in the mid 2000s for wanting to be the fattest woman in the world. In 2007, Simpson launched a website where fans could watch her eat in real time; at her heaviest, she tipped the scale to 602 pounds.
Charles was intrigued. "We wanted to see why people would do this, and why they would get involved in this kind of relationship."
So Charles and Michael Palkowski—her colleague and co-author—started looking at the academic research. What they found was a startlingly narrow, gendered view of the feederism community. Again and again, studies coded gaining as a feminine activity and feeding as masculine; a sexuality textbook from 2006 went so far as to suggest that the subculture was appealing because for women, eating is "as sensual as having an orgasm."
The same themes and reinforced gender constructs appeared in most, if not all, of the media discussing feederism. The subculture appeared separately in episodes of TLC's Strange Sex and National Geographic's Taboo, both of which showed women trying to gain weight (Strange Sex featured Donna Simpson, who appeared in numerous documentaries at the time). When Bitch magazine wrote about the subculture in 2009, it defined the fetish as "a 'feeder' (usually male) encourages the 'feedee' (usually female) to gain weight." A year later, the Guardian wrote a piece on "the women who want to be obese," explaining: "There are lots of men on [feederism sites], but it is the images of female gainers that catch the eye. In our present landscape of body blandness, they stand out as controversial, bold, and visually political." Nowhere, seemingly, was there any mention of women who liked to feed.
Tanya can remember hearing the story of the old woman who swallowed a fly as a child and feeling immediately stirred. "Something clicked in me. I would have dreams about it."
In 2011, the narrative around the fetish shifted—slightly. A team of researchers at the University of Lethbridge stumbled upon what they called "the curious case of female feederism." The resulting study, called "Feederism in a Woman," detailed the experience of a subject named Lisa who fantasized about weight gain and feeding. Lisa herself wasn't overweight, and she was in a monogamous, non-feeding relationship, but the thought of feeding her partner was extremely arousing. Still, Lisa never engaged in a real feeding relationship. This, the researchers concluded, was strange enough to be considered a "unique paraphilia."
Charles and Palkowski believed there was more to this world than men feeding women, and so they began interviewing people within the community. They ended up speaking to what they say is the largest sample of feeders and gainers to have ever been collected in academic literature. "And we certainly haven't kind of found that its dominated by male feeders and female feedees," says Charles.
Instead, Charles and Palkowski tell me, nearly all of the mainstream conceptions of feederism are wrong—or at the very least, fail to represent the diversity of the community and the role of women within it.
One of those women is Tanya, who tells me she's been fascinated with weight gain her whole life. She can remember hearing the story of the old woman who swallowed a fly as a child and feeling immediately stirred. "Something clicked in me. I would have dreams about it. I was only six, so I wasn't exactly aroused, but I couldn't get it off my brain."
Now, Tanya scrolls through feederism websites on a daily basis—sites like Dimensions, which catalogues fan fiction and erotica about weight gain, and another called Curvage, which chronicles women who are gaining weight. Although she's visited these sites for years and relishes the sight of others swelling in size, Tanya never participates in the online discussions or engages in conversations with the other members.
"It's almost all men who are feeders [on these sites]," she tells me, adding that she feels "out of place" on most of these forums as a woman who is not interested in gaining weight. "The way they talk about the women in there—it's almost like a boy's club."
There are ample spaces on the internet for women to share their stories of weight gain—like Fantasy Feeder, the all-encompassing feedersim dating site, which is mostly populated by big women and their admirers. There are also sites like Grommr, which cater to gay male gainers and feeders. But according to Gabriela, "there are close to zero websites that focus on straight male gainers and female feeders."
"It makes for sensationalist documentaries where you have this very, very large woman who cannot move and who is totally helpless. That's more entertaining for people than seeing a man as the feedee." – Kathy Charles
When she first started meeting people in the community, Gabriela tried Fantasy Feeder, which is billed as the most popular feederism site. But she grew fed up with the swaths of messages she received from men assuming she was a gainer. "There are a ton of male feeders on there who assume all women are into gaining weight," she says, "and even if you put it in your profile [that you're a feeder], they keep asking."
Myriam, who identifies both as a feeder and a mutual-gainer, echoed the sentiment, saying she "never really felt at home" on Fantasy Feeder. "The website really is dominated by female gainers and male feeders," she says. "Nothing wrong with that, of course—it's just not what I am looking for."
Instead, Myriam often scrolls through Tumblr, where she can quietly watch gainers share their progressively growing bellies. "I get so excited on 'tummy Tuesdays,' where a lot of bears post updates on their bellies," she tells me.
Both Myriam and Gabriela also have memberships on Grommr, where strangely, they both say they've had some of their best experiences. Although it was designed for gay men, women aren't explicitly banned from the site, and Gabriela says she's found several bisexual male gainers there—some of who are delighted, if surprised, to find a female feeder.
Still, Gabriela lamented that there aren't any sites specifically for women who are feeders, and there aren't enough women participating in online feederism sites in general—not because women aren't into it, but "because women connect to the community aspect of it," and that's lacking in many of the sites. She's recently founded a magazine, called HORNGRY, to share the experiences of feedresses like herself, which she hopes will bring more female feeders into light.
The misconception that feederism is inherently gendered echoes other concepts about gender and sexuality. Feeding is considered dominant, even controlling, while being fed is considered passive and submissive.
"It fits with the typical story of heterosexual sexuality, where the man is more dominant and the woman is more submissive," explains Charles. Plus, she adds, "it makes for sensationalist documentaries where you have this very, very large woman who cannot move and who is totally helpless. That's more entertaining for people than seeing two women who feed together, or a man as the feedee."
Still, characterizing the feederism community as one where feeders are dominating or force-feeding their partners into subservience is damaging, and it's also not true. (Both Gabriela and Myriam also disagreed with the characterization of feeding as "dominant," since they feel that a feedee is in the position of control when he or she asks for more food.)
"From the feeders and feedees we've spoken to, none have expressed a wish to force anybody," Charles tells me. "Part of the excitement comes from the feedee wanting to eat the food and wanting to gain weight. We haven't spoken to anyone that supports this idea that it's about forcing." The same goes for the concept of immobility. It may have been what Donna Simpson was after, but Charles and Palkowski have yet to meet someone in their research for whom that is a goal.
Tanya, who scrolls through feeding inspiration online every day, is just beginning to explore the ways that the fetish can play out in her real life relationships, and she tells me she's nervous. She's never brought it up to her romantic partners in the past, she says, because doesn't want her intentions to be misconstrued.
She has a boyfriend, who she recently told about her interest in watching women's weight gain videos on the internet. He took it well. She's also interested in feeding him—slowly—and seeing if he could be into the idea. At the time that we talked, he had been traveling and hadn't seen her in a month. When he returns, she just might cook him a feast. "I can't help thinking about if he's gained weight since I've been away," she told me. "I can't wait to rub his belly."
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