I’m lying on a tiny couch in a tiny apartment with a friend of a friend who I’m beginning to like. More specifically, I’m lying under this friend of a friend. We’re kissing (and doing a pretty good job at it), and everything up until this point has been swell: the booze and some good conversation about the demonization of drugs in the United States have increased our physical proximity as the night ticks on.
Things are getting warmer, then hotter, then steamy enough that my dress comes off along with his band tee. He touches my breasts, I wrap my legs around his core, and then his hand drifts lower to my stomach.
It’s here that he pauses, unsure of how to proceed. He’s found my jiggliest section, and he doesn’t know what to do with it.
I sense his reservations as he discovers what my stomach and thighs actually feel like beneath their pretty clothes. I know his past few girlfriends have been thin, and I wonder if he’s ever bitten into fleshy rolls. Has he ever dug his fingers into a visible belly outline or grabbed onto thick love handles?
He’s not trying to be rude. It’s more like, as a thin man, he’s trying to figure out how to touch my body – questioning whether I’d want the same things done to it that another woman might.
His skepticism is one I’ve encountered before – and it’s one I’ll encounter again.
Even if he wasn’t trying to kill the mood, said mood grows more and more tortured for a few minutes until its imminent death. We physically separate, and the memory gets thrown into the vault of orgasms that could’ve been.
For many of my early dating years, hook-up scenes, regardless of the size of my partners, played out pretty similarly. Not all the time, of course, but enough that the “almosts” added up. For many people who’d never been with a fat partner – or never particularly felt attracted to fat bodies – my own figure was like a soft Rubik’s Cube: a series of rolls and wobbles and cellulite-y patches they just couldn’t navigate.
Whether this was because they were inexperienced in the department of sleeping-with-anyone-not-thin, unafraid of offending me by grabbing onto a “problem area,” or too conditioned to believe that fat is inherently bad that the sight of my semi-naked or naked body and their fluctuating attraction to it was a little too confusing to deal with, I’ll never know.
But I started to get pretty tired of it.
I started to crave the kind of intimacy and free-feeling, experimental sex so many early twenty-somethings around me were apparently having. I wanted someone to delight in my body – to enjoy it with me.
It was when I met my now-partner junior year of college that an alternative narrative started making itself clear to me: I didn’t have to limit myself to folks who were just-kind-of-okay with my body. I could explore relationships and experiences with those whose romantic and sexual preferences erred on the side of fatness.
Growing up a chunky kid and fat teen, I was often told that the only people ever interested in fatties were the peculiar “chubby chasers” – individuals who (whether fat or thin themselves) must intrinsically have something very wrong with them in order to perceive any kind of sex appeal in a larger body, individuals who couldn’t see beyond their attraction to fatness enough to value a partner for who they actually were.
As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve learned that there are all sorts of folks who dig having sex (or entering romantic relationships) with fat people.
Although not all of them would consider themselves “fat fetishists,” and you certainly don’t need to have a fetish to be attracted to a fat body, the most fulfilled physical and emotional experiences I’ve personally had in my adult life have been with humans of all sizes, but who actively prefer fat partners.
Fat fetishism – like any fetishism – can mean a lot of things, but discovering the myriad sexualities under its umbrella allowed me to experience the pleasure my body could give me (and others) in ways I hadn’t really known before.
Although connotations of fetishism within social justice often define it as the exotification of marginalized individuals by privileged ones – to the point where the marginalized person becomes a trophy or object – my perception of fetishism when it comes to sexuality is quite different. I would define it simply as a need, desire, or interest in the bedroom. There can be varying degrees to which the fulfillment of a fetish feels mandatory to any one person, and for some, it might not be mandatory at all.
Fat fetishists (the thin male ones, especially) get a bad rep amongst many plus size individuals, regularly reduced to misogynistic perverts interested in banging fatties, carving another notch in their belts, and calling it quits at that. In reality, I’ve found them to be nothing of the sort. They are as varied in their backgrounds, body types, personalities, and romantic interests as anyone else might be.
There are six assumptions about fat fetishism in particular that I’d love people to reconsider, or at least take a moment to think more critically about.
1. ‘It’s All About Controlling Men Exercising Dominance’
Whether we’re talking about BDSM, age-play, or fat fetishism, the truth is that a lot of people are very quick to assume that men are always in control. The idea that a woman could identify as a fetishist – let alone as a dominant fetishist – still seems shocking or taboo.
To assume that women’s sexualities and fetishes are not as varied, wild, and unique as those of their male counterparts feels misogynistic and antiquated to me. Similarly, to assume that a man or masculine individual must always be involved in a woman or feminine person’s sexuality in the first place is equally problematic.
In the world of fat fetishism, women (of all sizes) can assume any role they so choose. They can be the chubby chasers (or fat admirers), innately preferring being with fat individuals than thin ones, regardless of their own size. They can be the feeders (delighting in helping a partner maintain or gain weight because it turns them both on). They can be the feedees or gainers (delighting in gaining weight, whether with a partner or independently, because they feel sexiest and most fulfilled in a fatter body). Or they can be fat women who simply love boning those who are beyond turned on by their every wobbly bit.
In fact, after the Channel 4 documentary My Big Fat Fetish came out in 2012, vocal gainer model Stuffing Kit took to her platforms to make something very clear. The documentary had suggested that her then-boyfriend exercised total control of her meals and weight gain. The truth, she said, is that no one tells her what to do.
Like Kit, there are plenty of women and feminine people within fat fetishism who reign over their own sexualities – no male puppeteer required.
2. ‘All Fat Fetishists Want You to Gain More Weight’
Feedism (a relationship that typically consists of a feeder/feedee duet) is arguably the component of fat fetishism most criticized in feminist and body positive circles – and it’s not difficult to see why.
The few semi-mainstream depictions of it (like the 2005 film Feed) present it as an abusive man manipulating women, force-feeding them into immobility, and having power-play sex with them until the ladies die of heart attacks.
Maybe Feed was based on a truly bad egg within the fat fetishism community (bad eggs seem to exist in any sexuality, no?). Maybe it was totally made-up. Regardless, feedism IRL – from everything I’ve ever seen – is nothing of the sort.
The feeder (that is, the type of fat fetishist who would often delight in seeing a partner gain weight, and who can be a person of any a/gender) would typically never engage in feeding sessions without the consent of a partner who equally enjoys the practices.
Not all feeders want to fatten up their partners, though. Instead, they might just love incorporating food and the act of feeding into the bedroom when the mood strikes.
That said, not all fat fetishism is rooted in the feeder/feedee relationship. This is just one of many sexualities within a grander umbrella – some of which are as simple as seeing genuine beauty and sex appeal in one’s own fat body or those of others.
3. ‘BBW Modeling Is Reductive’
Funnily enough, the term “BBW” wasn’t born and bred of a Drake song. “Big, beautiful woman” is a tagline originating in porn, and that is often used to describe fetish models specifically participating in photo shoots or videos that touch upon fat sexuality.
Whether eating on camera, talking about gaining weight for pleasure, sensually playing with their rolls on screen, or simply photographing themselves in boudoir-esque garms and locations, there are many ways to be a BBW model. None of which are reductive or anti-feminist.
The shaming of BBW models is comparable to the shaming of sex workers at large: the assumption being that these women are participating in porn or semi-nude work that reduces them to little more than bodies existing to appease the male gaze.
She’s delighted in being a BBW model, in gaining weight, and in expressing her attraction to her fatness on air for herself. Although she enjoys a customer and fan-base that perceives her body as “goddess”-like, she finds her work empowering for reasons beyond that. In a still incredibly fatantagonistic society, she dares to express her sexuality and the glory of her fatness without apology.
Ultimately, this is what many women within BBW modeling are doing, and every day, their work is helping shatter tropes that dictate who is “worthy” enough – aspirationally “beautiful” enough – to experience really hot sex.
4. ‘Fat Fetishists Don’t Care About Their/Your Health’
This assumption unfortunately operates under a few premises: Fat is inherently unhealthy, and individuals who delight in fatness must simply not care about the potential “risks of obesity.”
Never mind that BMI – the scale that determines whether a person is “obese” – has been proven to be meaningless bullshit time and time again, never mind that illnesses like diabetes and heart disease are not fat-specific, never mind that mental health is just as important as physical health, and never mind that Health At Every Size has a ton of scientific merit to it.
In all honesty, folks I’ve met in the fat fetish community are more read up on health than many of my non-fetishist, straight size acquaintances.
Why? Because they can’t escape the health concern trolling. They can’t escape the fact that fat bodies have been demonized for decades, and that we (as a culture) have yet to fully explore the relationship between health and weight in ways that don’t feel totally biased.
For some people within the community who are actively gaining weight for pleasure, throwing caution to the wind is part of the appeal. But there are others who strive to maintain their higher weights alongside regular exercise, nutritional meals, and keeping tabs on their statistics through useful tools like visceral fat scales, which can determine and help keep in check the levels of visceral fat inside your body (meaning the fat with the potential to wrap itself around your organs, as opposed to the jiggly stuff on the outside).
But even if fat fetishists (regardless of where they fell under the umbrella) never cared about their health, we absolutely must move past the idea that health is an essential component of social tolerance. Whether someone is “healthy” should not be a requirement to treating them like a human being – otherwise we’re entering severely ableist modes of thinking.
5. ‘There’s Something Wrong with People Who Only Like You for Your Body’
This one’s an assumption a lot of fetishes seemingly get branded with: the notion that anyone who has a fetish (especially if they’re a man) will never see you beyond their sexuality. So if you are fat, and they like fat humans, you will never be more than a body to this person.
I know the idea of “preferences” is chastised in a lot of communities built on female empowerment. “Preferences” are often deemed excuses for men to dismiss potential partners based on skin color, weight, hair type, or any other aesthetic quality.
In actuality, most fat fetishists I’ve met have been open to dating individuals of all sizes. They’re not inherently intolerant of other characteristics or body types. They don’t believe that any other physique is “less than” or unattractive.
They simply believe that fat bodies are incredibly attractive, and see beauty in all the traits tied to fatness that are socially condemned: rolls, back boobs, cellulite, stretch marks, thighs that touch, and so on.
When it comes to many fat individuals themselves, myself included, the pleasure that can arise from exploring sexuality with someone who does not merely accept their bodies, but who revels in them, is no small turn-on, either.
6. ‘Being with a Fat Fetishist Will Make You Forget What You Like’
Almost every time I’ve tried to open up about choosing to be with partners who prefer fat bodies, I’m met with a lot of confusion, shock, and concern. One of the main sources of said concern is the fear that I will somehow lose sight of my own body and its needs by principally catering to those of the other person.
Ignoring, for a moment, that this kind of concern denies the fact that I’m a genuinely empowered, fat positive, free-thinking woman, I want to make something very clear: I love being fat, and I would continue to feel this way whether in a relationship or not. As a result, however, I’m not particular interested in exploring my sexuality with people who only think I’m kind of cute and are “okay” with the way my body looks.
It’s people who think every stretch mark and roll is a turn-on who subsequently turn me on; people who know that I want them to bite and suck and dig their fingers into every inch of my body, as anyone remotely kinky of a smaller size might want and expect of partners.
Things I don’t enjoy: timidity in the bedroom; feeling like my body is confusing someone enough that they then retreat into a shy, awkward bubble; feeling like my body is so taboo that someone doesn’t know whether I’ll be offended if they touch it.
But most importantly, perhaps, exploring fat fetishism has allowed me to further explore my body when I’m on my own. Masturbating, for example, now comes with delighting in the softness of my form. When my hands graze my VBO or tickle my thighs, I’m not ashamed of the fatness. Instead, I think it’s beautiful, sexy, and entirely my own.
And I don’t know if I ever would’ve gotten there without the help of a lot of fat positive rhetoric, including that to be found within fat fetisism.
As within any sexuality, I don’t doubt that there exist problematic individuals who push things too far, or take advantage, or are cause for the perpetuation of tired stereotypes.
That said, I’ve spent several years cultivating friendships, relationships, and experiences with folks who identify as fat fetishists, and have never encountered any such individual.
When it comes to fat fetishism, in particular, we should perhaps question what it is that makes many of us so uncomfortable. Is it the notion that people could yield genuine sexual gratification out of their fatness or the fatness of others? Or is it that fatness, in and of itself, still makes us squirm?
As humans, our sexualities are all complex. Not everyone will approve or make sense of our kinks, nor should we necessarily expect them to. But what I think we can expect is for people to make strides to open their minds a little more: to understand that branding an entire sexuality, preference, or fetish with a judgmental brush of myths invalidates the positive experiences so many people can have as a result of participating in these communities or acts.
Marie Southard Ospina is a freelance journalist and editor whose work can be found on Bustle, BuzzFeed, Refinery29, and her personal blog MiggMag. When she’s not mourning the death on Breaking Bad, she’s likely writing (or tweeting) about fat acceptance, being a gordita colombiana, her love of cream cheese, or pansexuality. Her biggest dream is for intergalactic space travel to become a reality.