Dear Virgie, I am a thin-ish, fat-positive woman dating a fat woman. She never says anything about her body. What do I do?

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Dear Virgie,
I am a thin-ish woman dating a fat woman. She never says anything about her body — positive or negative — in relationship to size or weight. I don’t think she has any kind of fat complex, but I’ve noticed that she rarely ever eats in front of me. Like, she’ll invite me to lunch but then she says she already ate. In three months of dating I’ve seen her eat maybe four times.
I consider myself to be fat-positive. I consciously challenge fatphobia and body shaming among my friends and my students. Maybe I am projecting something onto her or expecting her to feel a certain way. I just can’t imagine that she could move through such a fatphobic world without at least a few stories about what it’s like to be a fat woman.
Recently, with the holidays, I saw a t-shirt I wanted to buy for her but had no idea what size she would wear and I didn’t feel like I could just ask her. Maybe I’m the one with the issue. I don’t know. Help!

Dear Friend:

Hmmm. This is a little tricky. Like, on the one hand, it’s important that your girlfriend knows that you have her back, but also calling out her behavior (even though y’all are dating) as the thin partner in a mixed-size relationship could be really alienating and possibly super upsetting to her.

The truth is, she’s just doing what feels right for her, and maybe that’s because she is feeling self-conscious — and maybe that’s because this is just how is she is.

I think the key here is you showing up in your relationship as the fat-pos person you are, and letting her show up in whatever way feels right to her right now. Do you, without expectations about what things will look like on her end. This will give you more space to breathe, and lead to less speculation and more communication.  

I think it’s rad that you are checked-in enough to your relationship that you are noticing stuff that maybe strikes you as a little off. As a fat person, I know ALL about the strategic eating behavior stuff. It is vulnerable to be out in public as a fat person because of, duh, the stifling amount of fatphobia, especially in places like the Bay Area. Add the eating component and then the romance component, and you can end up with some really stifling outcomes.

It’s a new relationship and so you are still in the trust-building phase. The trust-building phase can often be longer for people who are acutely stigmatized (e.g., fat women).

Related: Dear Virgie: Are Fat Girls Romantically Disadvantaged?

I know for me, as a fat person who lives with the reality of stigma, like, every day, it is really hard for me to get comfortable at the beginning of a relationship. It takes a really long time, and I act hella weird for months on end. Like, especially if my partner’s physicality is really different from mine. Our culture has been socialized to see fat people’s bodies as comical or our physical movements as strange or strained. So, I often feel a sense that I am being constantly observed (even when I’m alone or with just one other person) and this leads to some of the weirdness I mentioned. Being in a new relationship is often awkward, but there’s this extra layer of complexity, I think, for a lot of fat people.

I don’t really know anything about your girlfriend, but my guess is that if you take the level of comfort you are accustomed to feeling as a thinnish person in new relationships and cut it in half, then you probably have around the level of comfort she’s feeling as a fat person in new relationships.

I think that there is room for you to show up authentically. I wouldn’t launch an intervention or anything, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your fat-positive views, express attraction to her body or get her a shirt. It sounds like maybe you are holding back things that feel important to you, and that’s just going to lead to alienation.

I wanted to offer some things that have been really helpful in making me feel more comfortable in new relationships as far as sex goes (for me, sex is often the place where I begin to let my guard down): depending on how you communicate around intimacy, I think affectionately touching (or affectionately asking if you can touch) her belly or the fattest parts of her can be very affirming. Adding “I love touching you” or “I love the way you feel” is always rad. Being vocal about your attraction is also important. These suggestions are in no way guaranteed to work in your relationship, but use your intuition, gauge her responses and maybe tweak them to suit what you know about her.

In short, don’t hide who you are in this relationship. You can affirm her and her body without over-processing her actions. Don’t be afraid to show up in your fat-positive authenticity.

Hope this helps!
xoxo,
Virgie
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Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help those who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight. Tovar edited the ground-breaking anthology Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012).

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