Dating today is a tricky business — whether you're looking for love online or off. People ghost. They fetishize. Those who seemed nice in their profiles turn out to be total fuckboys after the first date. Regardless of who you are, the journey that is dating and relationships can make you feel like you're running around in circles.
But plus women often have an entirely different experience with dating than women who are considered straight-size. And to uncover just how different it can be to date as a plus-size person, we spoke to five women from across the country. Some date online, while others choose a more "traditional" route. A few enjoy more casual sexual experiences, while others are happy in their committed relationships. But all of them have dealt with one specific thing: their bodies being at the forefront of the dating conversation. And all of them are ready for that to change. Read their stories.
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A post shared by Natalie in the City (@nataliexcraig) on Oct 31, 2017 at 4:35am PDT
Natalie Craig, 25, Chicago
Plus-Size Fashion Blogger at Natalie in the City
Are you currently single?
"Yes! I’m actually newly single. It ended about two months ago. I was in that relationship for three years. We met on Tinder."
What have your experiences in the dating world been like?
"Before I got into this relationship, I’d just found the fat acceptance movement and body positivity. I haven’t been plus-size my whole life, but I’ve always been overweight. Back then, my mentality was like, ‘I will just be lucky for anyone to love me.’ And now that’s kind of changed to where I feel like, ‘I’m worthy of love, no matter what.’ That’s just sort of been aided by these movements and being able to have my blog and being able to speak to so many women about accepting themselves at the size that they are.
"With that being said, I felt like dating was a little bit harder for me three years ago because of that mentality. But it was always fun. I always had fun dating, and I’ve always been really happy being single. But I didn’t have the confidence to go up to guys at bars. And it was even hard to be on these apps. On the apps, I had people fat-shaming me. I’d have a guy text me and be like, ‘Do you want to meet up and have sex tonight?’ And when I’d say no, they’d turn around and go, ‘Oh, well, you’re fat anyway.’ It’s so terrible."
That’s so hard. And from speaking to other women, I know that that’s not a unique experience. As a straight-sized person, I sometimes get slut-shamed if I turn a guy down, but I don’t get body-shamed. Having a stranger attack you for your body shape has to be so disheartening.
"It is, and it was. Back then, it would really affect me, and I’d think, ‘Am all I good for is sex? What does that say about men?’ It felt like they thought they could say whatever they wanted to me because they didn’t see me as a person. They just saw me as fat."
Were the advances you got more sexual than romantic?
"Definitely. I don’t know if that was because I was so young, and that’s just what was on people’s minds. But now I’m in a different position. My blog has taken off. Now I’ve got guys DMing me on Instagram asking to take me out on a date. And back then, that was unheard of. Guys just wanted to have sex, and that was it. Well, aside from my ex-boyfriend, who I met on Tinder and who wound up being pretty great.
"I feel like, in the time since I’ve been off Tinder, I’ve really gotten to a place where I’m more confident in myself, and that comes from the blog and these movements."
How did you get to that place? Do you think that being in a relationship for three years helped or hindered that?
"Hm. I don’t know. I feel like this relationship that I was just in — he was the first boyfriend who never told me that I had to lose weight. Every other boyfriend would be like, ‘Damn, if you were to drop however much weight, you’d be a supermodel.’ Men have outwardly said that to me."
That’s ridiculous. That’s so infuriating.
"Exactly! And it’s really sad and tough, because you also have your parents at home who question what you’re eating or asking if you want to go to the gym. It’s very tough. This last boyfriend, I really do have to give him credit. Because he — wait. But isn’t that crazy?! I’m giving him credit! See! That mindframe. It’s bad. I’ve been fed this idea that I’m not good enough and that I have to give an ex-boyfriend credit for appreciating my body. But he was the first man to tell me that I didn’t have to lose weight, that I could gain weight. And I did gain weight while we were together, and he didn’t care…"
So he was the first man who acted right. He acted correctly, and because of the way we talk to plus women about their bodies, you feel like you need to give him credit. When in reality, he just acted the way a good person should act.
"We prop up men who date differently-sized women as heroes, and they’ll pat themselves on the back. It’s that Robbie Tripp thing. I follow Robbie and his wife Sarah, and I’ve loved them for a really long time. And when I saw the post, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so great! I hope so many men see this.’ But then I started thinking, and I was like, ‘Wait. Wait. Just hold on.’ And I love them. But we should not be putting men on a pedestal for liking curvy bodies. It’s problematic, but we have that internal war within ourselves.
"So when you asked me if it was the relationship that helped, my answer is no — it was myself. I’ve had to do a lot of work. And I’ve had to face some ugly truths in this relationship about how I view myself and my work and what kind of love I accept and think I deserve. Positive affirmations have helped. I look at myself in the mirror and I think, ‘You are beautiful. You are enough. Everything about you is perfectly perfect. It’s you.’ This is what I am. This is what I deserve. I don’t have to accept less than what I deserve because of my body."
Laura Delarato, 30, Brooklyn
Sex Educator & Branded Video Producer, Refinery29
Talk to me a little about your dating ethos, as a plus-size woman who also identifies as queer.
"I think for me, I’m hyper-aware of how language is used when it comes to talking about me and my body on dating sites, or when I’m at a bar, or wherever I meet another person. It’s very prevalent for plus-size women to constantly have their bodies be the forefront of the conversation for a lot of reasons. It could be that someone finds fat women sexy. There’s a fetishization of plus-size bodies. Most of the time, I’m someone’s try-out. I’m their first-time plus-size experience. They find plus women sexy, but they don’t want to say it out loud."
And they lead with this in their messages?
"Oh yeah. And I’m like, Why am I constantly talking about my body? I’m not super concerned with it on a day-to-day basis, unless I have to put on clothes. The rest of my day is filled with work or my interests. But the fetishization tends to come when people make assumptions about what plus-size women actually like. Like, I’ve gotten messages from men — it’s male-specific, biologic, cisgendered men — who want to feed me all the time. If that’s a thing you’re into, awesome. Go do your thing. But I’ve not specifically stated that. I’m not on a dating app geared towards that. I’m not on FetLife where I’m actively looking for that. And my profile, or how I present when I walk into a bar, doesn’t scream, ‘I’m looking for someone to feed me food.’ Which, P.S., do not do, because I have a lot of food allergies."
Aside from being plus, you also identify as queer. Do you feel like you’re more fetishized for one than the other?
"Oh yes, 100%. I feel like the BBW [Big Beautiful Woman] thing [gets more attention]. And I don’t categorize myself as BBW in any way, just because it is a category. And I’m not a category. But that gets brought up first — mainly because the queer thing only gets brought up if I mention it. If a woman swipes on me, she assumes I’m gay. If a man swipes on me, he tends to assume I’m straight. That’s just kind of how it’s been in my experience. But when it does get brought up by guys, they tend to be like, ‘Oh, you’re into women?’ Like kind of creepy about it. And I’m like yes — but I’m also into SciFi fiction and the conversation can go that way.
"But the amount of times I open up my OkCupid to messages that are like ‘BBW Yum’ or ‘I Heart BBW’ — it’s a lot."
The fact that they go right to the fetish thing has to be frustrating. I mean, in my experience, that kind of explicit sex and fetish talk doesn’t really happen until after we’ve slept together a few times. But for you, it seems like sex is on the table from the get-go.
"It’s funny to hear what men say when they think they’re being complimentary. I was doing a photo shoot the other day, and these guys were looking on and yelling ‘You’re beautiful!’ Which, whatever, is problematic in and of itself. But then I’m sitting down, trying to take my makeup off, and the guy comes up to me and goes, ‘You know, not everyone wants to see a stick up there. Good for you. I like the fact that you’ve got meat on your bones.’ And I was just like, excuse them?"
And that’s the line. You want men to be allies, and you want people to be accepting of all body types. But their delivery is just terrible sometimes.
"And they think I should be appreciative of harassment like that! And it’s like how many times have I dealt with that? People will yell, ‘Hey sexy,’ to me on the street, and I’ll ignore them or tell them to fuck off. And then they’ll whip around and say, ‘Well you’re fat anyway.’ So you first appreciated me, and then the moment I denied me, you lashed out.
"Women can be tough, too. I was at a party with a guy once, and this girl came up to him and started dancing. And my date said, ‘I’m with her.’ And the girl gave me the dirtiest look. People don’t always think I’m with the men or woman that I’m with. There’s the assumption that chubby bodies are devalued, so there’s no way that I could be with this other person. I’m currently dating two cisgendered men right now. One is a bigger guy — he looks like Action Bronson. But the other guy is societally attractive. He’s a fit guy. He’s tall. He’s got good cheekbones. He thinks I’m smart and never mentions anything about my size. But the amount of times I’m with Action Bronson and people are like, ‘You’re so cute together…’ It’s like we found each other. It’s so condescending. And I’ve never gotten that with the other guy.
"Plus-size people are the exact same as thin people. We don't need to have our bodies tethered to our entire existence. We just need to be there with you."
A post shared by Virgie Tovar (@virgietovar) on Oct 24, 2017 at 12:07pm PDT
Virgie Tovar, 35, San Francisco
Author & Body Image Activist
Let’s talk about your dating life.
"I mainly rely on online dating now. But before the internet was a thing, I was a fat girl who nobody wanted to date. I was going on phone chat lines and stuff at 17-years-old, which is kind of the predecessor of online dating in a lot of ways. For a fat girl who was told her entire life that she was undesirable or unloveable, the idea of meeting someone anonymously and having them fall for my personality, and then having the reveal — that’s the fat girl dream. [Laughs.] It was very intuitive to me. I was lying about being 18-years-old to use the service. And I didn’t realize at the time, but all the men [using this service] who worked had to pay. So they were all these white-collar businessmen. So I went to living in the suburbs with mostly immigrant families to dating white-collar businessmen at 17-years-old. And so many different parts of my life emerged from that one introduction to dating. My first dates should have been at McDonald’s, but instead they were at five-star restaurants."
And those were the types of guys that were mostly attracted to you?
"Yes! I’ve always been sort of the smart girl in the class. But being fat also made me want to be the smartest person, because I had to have all these compensatory personality traits. I had to be smart. I had to be bubbly. I had to be easy to talk to. I had to be funny. Since I was fat, these other parts of my personality had to be extra. So these guys wanted a young woman, of course, but I could talk like their colleagues. I didn’t have the life experience, but I was really bright, so it was a good combination for them."
How did those experiences frame your idea of yourself in the dating world?
"Oh, yeah. It’s still having residual reverberations in my life now. Like one of the things I’m living with right now — so I’m Latina. I grew up with all people of color. I grew up with boys who looked like me, but they all hated me because I was fat. So it’s wild, because I was getting introduced to white men, and they were so into me. I went from my whole world being brown to my dating world being white. All of the sudden, I was hanging out with white men exclusively in a romantic way, because the trickle-down effect of racism is that it’s mostly rich white guys who can afford to pay for this phone service. So it’s complicated and painful now as an adult having had those formative experiences with white men of a certain class.
"Now it’s very difficult for me to find a partner who can get down with me as a person of color, who is critical of racism and stuff. At 17, I didn’t have a racism critic. I wasn’t a feminist yet. So dating was so much easier. So now I’m woke, and I have life experience, and these same white businessmen who I’m still attracted to, because they were the only guys who would date a fat girl like me off this phone line, just aren’t cutting it ideologically anymore. And yet, I don’t have the dating skill set to be more versatile, because my formative experience is so singular."
You mentioned that you mostly rely on online dating. Do you ever feel fetishized on those platforms?
"It’s complicated. So I’m not of the weight or the body shape that typically gets fetishized. But what men do tend to do is fetishize my bust. And it’s like, I’m fat all over — I’m not just busty. But maybe because
they don’t want to confront their desires to fuck a fat girl, they project all of my fatness onto my bust. So that’s weird. There’s also the fact that even though I’m not Asian, I look Asian. So the idea of being a busty Asian person gets brought up a lot. I’m Mexican and Iranian, but I’ve been told I look Korean or Pacific Islander. And in these men’s minds, I’m transmogrified into a busty Asian woman. So I feel like I get fetishized by that ethnic misidentification than I do about my weight."
Does that categorization bother you?
"Not really. I’m not someone who will rule out a partner because of a fetish that they have — even if it’s size-related. I know that there are a lot of women for whom that is a big trigger, but it just isn’t for me. And there’s probably a lot of reasons why. I have a background in sexuality studies. I don’t have that same reflexive disgust around fetishism that maybe some others do. I’ve also dated and had sex with men who have fetishes for fat women, and it’s truly pleasurable for me. And it might be different for me because on the spectrum of plus bodies, I might be considered smaller. If I go to the suburbs, I’m average. So that might be why the fetishization of my body doesn’t bother me so much.
"I’m somebody who has casual sex and enjoys casual sex. Fat fetishism is much easier for me to appreciate in the casual sex arena, because it’s so much more physical and corporeal. I have to say, with men who have articulated a specific desire for my fatness, there’s a level of comfort that I just feel that is unbeatable. Thin people may not realize this, because it might just be intuitive to them, but for a fat person, it’s rare to have someone say, ‘I love every part of your body. I love your arm fat. I love your back fat. I love all of these things.’ So the fetishization doesn’t bother me all that much. But I understand that might be a unique experience."