image credit: Virgie Tovar via Instagram
My perspective on fat fetishism is probably impacted by a few things. First, I am an inbetweenie or mid-size fat person who has other access points around things like education, gender, and where I live. And — in case you hadn’t guessed it — I’m also quite aggressive romantically and sexually. I think my relative access allows me to feel like I have enough romantic and sexual options that if I ended up dating a fat fetishist and it wasn’t working for me I wouldn’t hesitate (much) to end it and presume I would find another relationship that I did enjoy (to be fair, I think fat people regardless of size actually have more romantic and sexual options than we are culturally told we do, but the scarcity mentality that sometimes leads to fat people staying in unsatisfying relationships is part of fatphobia).
Second, I’m a woman of color who grew up with working class values and aesthetics. This feels important to this discussion because, to me, some of the reflexive distaste and disgust of fat fetishists that I’ve witnessed smacks of a particular brand of elite white femininity — one that demands a wholesomeness that feels really foreign to me. In a racist and classist culture like ours, poor white women and most women of color simply are not allowed a claim to that wholesomeness because of the dehumanization that is already always embedded in racism and classism.
Third, I’ve had super enjoyable, loving and hot experiences with men who, by some people’s definitions, would be classified as fat fetishists. I’ve have had one lover who has a singular desire for fat women, one lover who was more aroused by my belly than any other part of me, and two long-term partners who prefer fat women romantically and sexually. All four of them created sexual (and, in most cases, emotional) environments that were very disinhibiting – and often healing - for me.
The first person was (unbeknownst to me) closeted about his desire and told me on Steamy Hook-up # 3 that he couldn’t handle the amount of “shit” he’d get from his male friends if he openly dated me. I dated the second dude briefly. He worked at a coffee shop, owned a pet tarantula, was in a death metal band and always got me free iced mochas, but he was a dramatic intimacy saboteur; that ended not so amicably when I got tired of his brooding. The first partner was a really great human, and I just wasn’t ready to get married (which we would have had to do because he lived in another country). The second partner was an upstanding citizen, but we weren’t compatible.
Though I think I’ve had many positive, but it has taken many painful (and even humiliating) moments - like the time I got left at a movie theatre alone after my date excused himself to go to the bathroom and never came back because I wouldn’t let him grope me or like the time I went on a date from OkCupid and the minute he saw me he told me was sick and had to leave - to get to them.
I guess I’m kind of a cynic (or maybe just a grounded feminist?), but I see dehumanization as part of what it means to be a woman in this culture. Yes my fatness amplifies the overtly dark aspects of misogyny, but I’m very aware that a man being “nice” to me because he wants to date me so other men can think he’s awesome isn’t actually better, it’s just a different flavor of slime ballery. In short, dehumanizing behavior is what I have come to expect from men in general. I have no desire to be utterly debased and controlled, but to me it’s sexism that creates the possibility of that reality more than my fatness does. I don’t see fat fetishism (as defined by most of the women on my Facebook feed) as a particularly insidious or interesting new brand of dehumanization. It’s part of the continuum of regular ol’ sexism to me.
Back when I was “average sized” and busting my ass to calorie count, my sexual and romantic woes manifested differently but left me with a sense of deflation and emptiness.
I think I was worse off because my diet brain relied upon a sense of my own inferiority, which made me more pliable and susceptible to manipulation than I am now. I also got the distinct sense that they wanted the world to see me by their side more than they wanted to actually see who I was. Of course fatphobia in romantic relationships/dating is real but we fundamentally see and understand fatphobia. Like we know that a fat woman is being treated differently or poorly because she’s fat. With a thin woman, she is being dehumanized by the same ideology that creates the stigmatizing reality that fat women face, but there are cultural mechanisms in place that make her dehumanization invisible and that, in fact, tell her that she is being treated well.
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Thin women are living under the threat that they could face romantic rejection if they gain weight, but because fat stigma is not part of their daily lives they can imagine that they are not subject to it. Fat women make the deniable truth visible. We render the threat of ostracization real. Rather than see it as a possibility for their life they see it as a personal failure of fat women, but it’s actually a natural extension of the very rules under which they are also living. The social punishment of fatphobia is meted out by the very people they love and see as good.
I spent some time processing with my friend Juliana about this article. We started talking about “chasers” or “fetishists” — what people who desire non-normative bodies are always called. We both agreed that sometimes those words are used to police desire. And we agreed on something else - sometimes what was really at the core of the attraction was what marginalization had done to the person being chased. Though I like dating people who prefer fat people, I would not like it if my partner was eroticizing the fact that fatphobia has really fucked me up. It’s not ok to seek fat women out because you like that fatphobia has made us “easier to deal with” or “more grateful” or because you can “get” an amazing babe who doesn’t know she’s an amazing babe because society has tried to break her spirit.
When I was new to dating I had been emotionally terrorized for nearly fifteen years because of my fatness. I know now that some of the men I dated at the time benefited immensely from and enjoyed my naiveté and low self-esteem. I think in some cases they targeted me because they liked that I felt I had no options and was incredibly grateful for their attention. I think they liked that I didn’t ask for much, that I put up with a lot, that I blamed myself for not being thin or “pretty” enough and compensated in other ways by being more emotionally and sexually available. These are the realities of what fatphobia does to women. We know that the bigger that our body is the further we are pushed to the margins. We know that marginalized people are treated more poorly and have fewer opportunities for meaningful participation in society - including romance, career and friendships. Likewise, I think fatphobia sometimes makes it hard for us to see another person’s attraction to our body as genuine and not perverse.
So, to (finally!) answer the question:
Would I date someone who strongly prefers or exclusively dates fat people?
Would I date someone who dehumanizes me and eroticizes my marginalized status?
No, but to me that’s just most straight men. And, yeah, most straight men don’t qualify to date Virgie Tovar.
At the end of the day, I want fat people to date and fuck whoever they want without shame or fear. If you like the idea of being with a fat fetishist, I think you should do it. If you hate the idea, then don’t. If you want to experiment with it, then try it. If you only want to sleep with fat fetishists but not date them, then go on ahead, girl.
I want to end with the thoughtful words of my friend Maria Southard Ospina: “Fat is beautiful. Soft. Cuddly. Warm. Glorious to squeeze and snuggle against. Bouncy and fun. BoPo spends so much time trying to reframe people’s opinions on fatness except when it comes to the ways we handle our bodies sexually.”