I am new to body acceptance, and really love the idea of being a radical fat girl. I have stopped obsessing about my body size and made strides in a few other areas. There’s one problem I keep having though. Whenever I think about my future boyfriend or the guys I’m attracted to, they are always thin in my head. It feel hypocritical to be working on loving my body, but exclusively thinking about being with thin partners. How do I deal with this?
It’s not unusual to be attracted to thin people, but being exclusively attracted to thin people is a sign that you’re probably dealing with some Internalized Fatphobia. Worry not, though. Many people experience this!
Internalization occurs when we have been exposed to an ideology for a really long time – like, the ideology of fatphobia, which positions thin people as inherently better, more desirable, smarter, and more interesting than fat people – and it makes its way into our thoughts, desires and outlook.
In your case, you are grappling with some really deep-seeded beliefs about your own body, and it sounds like you’re making headway there. And you are being introspective about the fact that this doesn’t entirely jive with your desire for potential partners.
So what can you do?
- Don’t panic!
You are not a horrible person, and this can be a pretty normal response for people who have spent a lot of their lives dealing with fat shame. Of course you associate romance with thin people. We get told EVERY SINGLE DAY through every imaginable medium that romance is intrinsically something that happens between two thin people. That’s, obvi, super fucked up, but just remember that your desire is part of a lifetime of fucked up education.
- Use your desire as a tool of education
Our attractions tell us a lot about what we feel about ourselves. Spend some time thinking critically about what exactly you feel is the benefit of dating thin people. Many times desire is very informative. It helps us see what we are holding onto, what matters to us, what we have learned about who we are, and what we feel about ourselves. It’s a super amazing tool, and rather than spending a bunch of time feeling like a hypocrite, take a second to take a step back, breathe and examine the desire. Imagine, for instance, that you are a researcher and your desire is something you are trying to learn from.
- Think intersectionally
Personal story: I was having a conversation with a friend I went to grad school with. We both have this kind of sexual thing for all-American white boys. And both of our lives are influenced by stories of immigration. He’s 1st generation and I’m kind of a mix between 2nd and 3rd (raised by 1st generation immigrants, but born to a second generation mom). So that all-American white boy represents The American Dream, something we’ve been taught to pursue by any means necessary. For him, all-American white boys represent the Western fantasy of gay liberation, as well. He grew up with explicit cultural expectations to be closeted his whole life, and saw the U.S. as a place where he could be out and proud. Likewise, fat people have spent our whole lives often being told that we are inferior, and so a thin partner represents something really deep to us – superiority, full humanity, social and sexual capital. But that’s all bullshit of the highest order. Size does not determine someone’s humanity or capacity for attractiveness.
- It’s OK to be confused. Just let it happen!
Yesterday I was talking with my therapist about my confusion (as per usual, girl) and she said “it’s OK if you don’t have all the answers.” I mean… this is pretty self-evident, but it was so liberating to hear. If you spend a lot of time thinking about how much you suck for wanting this thing right now, you can get obsessed with the obsession. Sometimes when we fixate on something in ourselves that feels complicated or confusing, it leads to us inadvertently deepening our relationship to it. Something that could be just a transitory desire all of a sudden becomes this obsession. So, it’s OK to have mixed feelings about your attraction. Just let it happen, boo!
- Remember: the culture teaches us what to be attracted to
I remember a moment that changed my outlook on attraction. I was attending a lecture by famed sexpert and porn star, Nina Hartley. She was talking about… well, sex, and one of the first thing she said was that “men are taught who is attractive.” MIND BLOWN, GIRL. Of course this statement applies to all people, not just men. But it was the first time anyone ever pointed out to me the idea that we learn who and what we find appealing.
- Diversify your media
Spend time looking at media that portrays fat people with dignity and sexuality. Two of my favorite places to look fat dude babes is Chubstr and Big Boy Vintage. You might also consider some of the issues of Original Plumbing and also QueerPornTV. April Flores makes really hot fat girl focused porn as well.
- As your relationship to your body heals, your attractions can change
I have to admit something to you. I used to feel the same way you did. I told myself a lot of lies about why I had this preference, but the truth was that being with a thin partner made me feel seen – and even more than that, if made me feel like women were jealous of me. As a fat girl this was a new – and supremely intoxicating – feeling. As intoxicating as it all felt, it was ultimately not nourishing to me and didn’t encourage me to heal myself. Unfortunately, EVERYthing in our culture encourages all of this – using our romantic partners to gain capital and social power, women competing with one another, and stigmatized people trying to stay away from other stigmatized people. I found that as I got further into my fat positive feels that my attraction began to shift a lot. As I began to really see my own body as worthy and hot, I found this whole new world of babes right in front of me. The less threatened I feel, the more options I have, right? Nowadays I find a massive range of bodies attractive, and it’s amazeballs.
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.