I’m a thin man who’s attracted pretty much exclusively to women who are bigger than me. Even when I was a little boy, I remember having crushes on plus size women on TV. Even though I knew my friends liked thin women, I never really thought anything was wrong with my preference. Recently I read some articles written by curvy women about feeling fetishized by thin guys in the dating scene. As I was reading them, I started to worry that I was doing the things that they were writing about, and I don’t want to be ‘that guy.’ It doesn’t feel right trying to date women I’m not attracted to just because I’m afraid I’m being a fetishizer, but I don’t know if I’m part of the problem for curvy women.
Hey Lover of Curvy Babes,
Thanks for thinking critically about your romantic engagement with ladies, dude!
Ok, so I don’t know you well enough to assess whether or not the way you’re operating romantically is problematic, but I can give you some insights into dating women (of all sizes) with integrity. The thing I’m going to keep coming back to is this: women of all sizes are legitimately special snowflakes who want different things, and seeing all women of all sizes as individuals is the only way you can begin to create meaningful relationships with anyone.
Here are some things to think about:
- Check in with your desires
Having a preference doesn’t necessarily have to be problematic.
Preferring bigger bodies because a double chin makes you weak in the knees, because you like the look of a plump body, or because you enjoy the striking silhouettes and complex landscapes of fatness – those are physical and aesthetic preferences. And I for one really LOVE when the person I’m dating is all about my double chin and my arm chub and my belly. I know lots of my friends feel the same way.
However, preferring bigger bodies because of cultural ideas of what fat women represent is a different kind of preference that I think is actually exploitative.
So it’s important to ask yourself: why do I prefer fat women?
The truth about dating is that women have it real rough out there out in the wilderness of patriarchy. And women who are marginalized by the culture – e.g., fat women, disabled women, low-income women, transgender women – get the even shorter end of the sexismo stick. One of the things that is super difficult about being a fat woman who’s dating in a super fatphobic culture is that we have to deal with a lot of the realities of being on the margins. Our unique characteristics, idiosyncrasies, and complexities get subsumed within uni-dimensional cultural fictions. This is a byproduct of sexism generally, but this doubly affects women who don’t fit the very narrow notion of ideal feminine beauty.
Because the culture constructs our bodies and existences as disposable, this message gets internalized by men and then it plays out in the dating scene.
Sometimes men pursue fat women because they feel that fat women are likelier to make fewer demands. These men know we have been relegated to this marginalized status, and they want to take advantage of this position.
Sometimes men pursue fat women because they have really specific sexual desires that they want to play out in secret (these “secret” spaces become metaphors for the ways that society pushes fat women into hiding).
Sometimes men pursue fat women because they have this idea that we are super nurturing maternal figures because some of us have soft bodies and big boobs or wide hips.
Pursuing women for these types of reasons is fetishistic and dehumanizing behavior. So when you ask yourself “am I part of the problem?” walk through these things I just mentioned.
- Our culture pathologizes men who prefer fat women, but no one is talking about the far more rampant reality of thin fetishism.
In its most basic form, fetishism is about endowing something with a meaning it does not intrinsically possess.
In truth, before fatphobia and racism and sexism hijack our natural ability to see beauty in all people, humans are naturally drawn to a variety of bodies. It is our culture that has created a taboo around desiring fuller bodies. What gets lost in the process is the very real way that it’s not just fat bodies that are capable of being fetishized. Yes, thin bodies get fetishized all the time.
Thinness isn’t inherently more valuable than fatness or vice versa. In fact, there are places in other parts of the world right now where fat rolls and stretch marks are feminine beauty ideals. Women spend a lot of energy trying to gain weight there, in the same way, women spend a lot of energy trying to lose weight here.
All this to say, if you were a dude who preferred thin bodies you wouldn’t even think twice about your desires because the culture completely normalizes those desires, and, therefore, it’s not seen as problematic behavior when it in fact is. So weight bias cuts both ways – but the culture is only invested in seeing fat women as the object of fetishism when in fact I think it’s thin women who are more often the targets of fetishism.
- Be transparent & get consent
Once you’ve checked in about your desires, it’s worth noting that there are probably a lot of fat women who like the idea that you prefer their body. Likewise, there are probably a lot of fat women who might feel uncomfortable with your preference. As long as you are transparent about your preference and it works for the individual you’re dating then I think you’re being as responsible as you can be. The culture does a lot of work to paint fat women as a monolithic group with singular preferences. Obviously, that’s a totally ridiculous thing. We don’t all share the same belief. We don’t all want the same thing.
- Prioritize authentic connection
Regardless of size, a meaningful relationship has the best chances when you pursue someone you feel a connection with. To me, this means you find your partner to be hot and interesting, and you guys share mutual interests. I don’t want to speak for all women, so I will just speak for myself when it comes to what matters to me about someone I date. I want to be genuinely seen. I want to be cherished. I want to be worshiped. I want a partner who supports my career and who inspires me to become more critically engaged with my world.
5. Even if you’ve got problematic views right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t de-asshole-ify yourself
Yes, even if you finish this article and are like “I got 10 out of 10 on the problematic quiz” that doesn’t mean you are hopeless. You can take the time to interrogate your desires and really usher in a new era of integrity in your next relationship or even on your next date. Find out what your partner really wants and who she is. Be committed to amplifying her. Keep asking questions. SEE HER – possessing a body you desire, but who is so much more. I have faith that you can be an amazing partner.
Hope this helps!
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.