I am fat. The kind of fat with a visible belly outline, double chin, flabby arms, thick thighs, and stretch marks. I have been fat for most of my life, and I may remain fat for the rest of it, but I don’t really care. It has taken me a long time to accept my body for what it is, and it is an ongoing battle. Living as a fat person in our society, we are told that we are damaged goods for not having flat stomachs and toned limbs. Most fat people, especially women, are never presented with the idea that fatness can be a neutral fact about our bodies, let alone a positive one. We are forced into diets and our math lessons start early with calorie counting. I personally do not know one fat woman who has not struggled with her body image. However, the idea that fat people will never find love or be able to have a “successful relationship” seems to have permeated through the collective consciousness of the western world. I have personally experienced shock over how people actually want to be with me, as well as the astonished looks on people’s faces when I tell them that I have a boyfriend. “Good for you!” says a nosy neighbor named Jan, with her eyebrows so far up her face, they might as well be her new hairline. “Wow, that’s so great!” says a well-meaning family member.
Today, I have experienced love. I’ve had sex, which I never thought would happen unless I was thin. I’ve participated in the hookup culture. I have been in a serious relationship for almost a year and half. I’ve learned that the romantic world has hidden obstacles set up for us fat girls, and they’re not always easy to overcome. It’s important to talk about the challenges we face when it comes to love, sex, and relationships in order to pepper some humanity and validation onto us fat girls who are so often deprived of both. Of the many lessons I’ve learned while dating as a fat person, here are the top nine:
- Learn to trust yourself and your partner(s). It can be very hard to trust people to actually care about you, especially since we’ve been taught that, since we are fat, we don’t deserve that care. However, in order to experience love, intimacy, and sex, you need to have faith in the other person(s) you are involved with. You need to trust yourself to make those decisions.
- Unlearn the “fat = undesirable” lesson. “Fat” is most frequently used as a synonym for “flawed,” “ugly,” “unattractive,” or “unhealthy.” Newsflash, everyone is flawed. You may not like parts of your body, you may even hate the whole thing, but it's the only one you have. The sooner you accept yourself as you are, the sooner you will feel deserving of self-love. Live your life to the fullest without waiting for the “skinny girl within” to escape.
- Don’t feel the need to “put out more.” The first time I had sex was consensual, but I remember thinking “If I don’t do this now, who knows when my next opportunity will be.” That’s bullshit. You do not need to have sex at every opportunity unless you want to. You do not need to “put out” because you don’t owe anyone anything.
- Ask for what you want (in bed and in life). You should not be afraid to communicate and be honest with your sexual and romantic partners. Clear communication is key. If you are not being yourself, you’re not going to feel your best, and you certainly won’t have an empowering experience. This is one of those situations that is easier said than done, especially if you are at a point in life where you are just getting to know yourself.
- Don’t date people who treat you poorly. This is a hard and fast rule that should be a given, but often is not. If you take anything from this, do not concede on this one. Even if you feel like you don’t deserve or won’t find anyone better. Even if you love them. You should not spend time with people who do not value you. If they’re not proud to hold your hand in public, it’s time to say goodbye.
- Share your food struggles with your partner. It’s hard, but if you have a complicated relationship with food, take the time and effort to talk to your partner about it. Plus size individuals’ relationships with food will always be overanalyzed. So much so, that many fat people refuse to eat in public out of fear of being shamed. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “At least 30 million people of all ages and genders in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder.” In my experience, it is best to clue your partner in on what may trigger you or make you uncomfortable, keeping that line of communication open and honest.
- Stop trying to physically hide yourself. Here’s the thing: after a certain point your partner knows what you look like, and they don’t care. Get completely naked. Have sex with the lights on. Embrace the sexy selfies! Don’t feel the need to shy away from certain positions. I used to refuse to be on top because I was afraid that I would literally crush the person underneath me. Ridiculous. Your body is awesome and beautiful from every angle, in all different shapes and colors of clothing, in every lighting, because it is your body.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. I constantly hear people of all sizes and gender identities comparing their bodies to others. I especially hear this from other fat women. I see us poking and prodding ourselves in mirrors, trying to squish in Spanx, and make ourselves look like the photoshopped images we’re constantly bombarded with. Here’s the thing, your body is never going to look like someone else’s body, because you will never be someone else. You are you and your body is your own. Own it and celebrate it, regardless of your size.
- Stop apologizing for your body. Amy Poehler once said, "It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you've been taught to feel sorry for." There are so many things to apologize for in life, but your body and the way it looks is not one of them. The sooner you stop apologizing for your body, the sooner you will be able to embrace it.
Art by: Taylor Roberts