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We lived two states away from each other and on the weekends would meet in the middle in Boston, spending long days together. He wrote me letters nearly every day, and I responded like clockwork. His love letters landed like a blow, knocking the wind out of me.
I wrote back on thick paper, sometimes sprayed with perfume. He put the letters up around his bedroom mirror.
You say such nice things about me. Over time our Boston rendezvous turned into weekends at his apartment. We would lie together in his tiny bed and daydream of my postgraduation move to Boston. I started researching jobs, and he started looking for apartments. This beautiful life belonged to someone else, and he deserved someone better.
Someone easier, prettier, cooler, and, of course, someone thinner. Not chubby or fluffy or husky or curvy — fat. Three years ago, I weighed just over pounds and wore a size 30 or 32, depending on the cut of the clothing. For me, the size of my body is a simple fact. I do not struggle with self-esteem or negative body image. I do not lie awake at night, longing for a thinner body or some life that lies pounds out of reach. But I had never seen a fat woman in love — not in life, not in the media. I had never seen fat women who dated.
I had never seen fat women who asserted themselves, whose partners respected them. Because this was uncharted territory, I assumed it was also unexplored. My risk-taking resolution ebbed from my broad, soft body. How could he love me if it meant loving this? Everywhere I looked, bodies were openly critiqued and ranked, and mine steadily landed near the bottom of the scale — 2, 3, 4. His thinness alone earned him a much higher standing. I had learned that I was undesirable to almost everyone.
For years, my body took center stage in my dating life. Dates constantly commented on my size, a knee-jerk reaction to their discomfort with their own desire. Over time, I came to experience any attraction as untrustworthy, as if danger lurked nearby. In retrospect, I worried for my bodily safety, as if only violence could develop an appetite for a body as soft as mine. And I worried that I would become a sexual curio, more novel than loved. Desire for a body like mine meant my partners were irrational, stupid, or reed to settling for less than they wanted.
In the years since my first breakup, I had struggled to accept interest where I found it. I shrank from their touch, recoiling from their hands like hot iron, believing their interest to be impossible or pathological. Any intimacy required vulnerability, and vulnerability inevitably led back to humiliation. This is among the greatest triumphs of anti-fatness: It stops us before we start.
As these little fissures opened into wounds, I dressed them by retelling the story of our relationship. It had always been impossible, too beautiful and tender to be true. Maybe he had taken pity on me, doing a charitable deed by showing affection to a pitiable fat girl.
The face, not the body, attracts a mate
I told myself he was too gentle to do what he knew needed to be done and dump me. I told myself the best thing I could do for him was leave. So I did. So I broke both of our hearts. Later in my 20s, after briefly dating a friend of a friend, I decided to return to dating apps.
I was on Bumble for less than a day when I matched with someone. This was the informal first step of my screening process.
I said hello. He said: I love my women fat.
Big girl usually means a big mouth too. Usually bigger girls are better at pleasing their men though.
But I also faced messages like these, tinged with entitlement to my fat body — a body that they expected was theirs for the taking simply because of the size of it. No, I would go willingly, grateful for their conquest. It echoed the concerns from family and friends, dangling the promise of a loving, healthy relationship at a lower weight: I just want you to find someone. Then, on top of all that, messages like these. Messages that received my body like tissue: plentiful, accessible, disposable, trash.
10 s he just likes you for your body
Those messages also land hard with people who date us, love us, marry us, sleep with us. They get trapped, too. After all, in our cultural scripts, a fat partner is a failure at best, a shameful, pathological fetish at worst. Desiring fat people is something deviant to be hidden, to find shame in, to closet. But the data and research around sexuality paint a wholly different picture. They found that regardless of gender and sexual orientation, porn searches for fat bodies ificantly outpaced searches for thin bodies. Despite being surrounded by women of all sizes, viewers opted instead to drive their desire into safe, siloed, and one-sided experiences, away from the prying eyes of the world around them.
The findings in A Billion Wicked Thoughts point to the idea that fat bodies may be among the most widely desired, but that desire may be repressed, possibly due to pervasive stigma. Many men who are attracted to fat women find ways to express that desire while sheltering themselves from judgment and stigma including secret sexual relationships with fat women, too afraid or disgusted to elevate those encounters to full-fledged relationships.
I would go from being a charmingly eccentric bohemian to being a monstrously crass bother. When attraction to fat people is discussed, fetishism is never far behind.
But when fetishism is brought up with respect to fat attraction, it gathers like a storm cloud. To be clear, there are attractions to fatness that take such specific forms that they are undeniably fetishistic.
One-night stands explained: men prefer hot bods to pretty faces
Some fat people happily engage with these fetishes and find fulfillment or paid work in their role. Some do not.
But many fat people have felt fetishism thrust upon them without their consent. Fat fetishism has deep roots for many fat people, especially fat women. People who internalize anti-fat stereotypes — including the pervasive cultural belief that fat people are categorically unattractive or unlovable — are more likely to binge eat, as are survivors of sexual assault.
Such a pretty face
Fat acceptance spaces frequently include heartbreaking stories of people whose partners kept their relationships secret. Worse still, some tell stories about working up the courage to share their experiences of sexual assault only to be categorically disbelieved. Of course, not all fat people have lived these sex and relationship horror stories. But many of us have become so acculturated to them that we come to describe the vast majority of fat attraction as fat fetishism.