No matter what kind of body you have, dating can be hard. As a fat person, navigating the dating world can be a bit more difficult than it is for your thin counterparts. Between media depictions and Western beauty standards, we’ve been forced to believe that a slender, feminine physique with a small waist and low body fat percentage is ideal. We live in a culture that has defined fat bodies as many things they aren't, including unhealthy, ugly, and most of all, unworthy of love. But the reality is, fat bodies are just another preference, not a fetish—and fat folks can have good, healthy sex.
"People think that fat bodies aren’t desirable because they’re temporary," says Corissa Enneking, a blogger from Fat Girl Flow and fat activist. "But obviously most fatties know this isn’t true. Our bodies are here to stay."
Those of us who inhabit big, fat, bodies—and especially those that fall outside the norms of size, gender or race—know that it’s possible to be fat, happy and in love, and not just with other fat people. Claire Carter, assistant professor in women and gender studies at the University of Regina, says, “I think the larger media culture still lacks that awareness and still feels ignorant about it.”
For men, media messaging says that no matter what size you are, you deserve and should have access to women and their bodies. Dawn Serra, a sex coach and sex educator, explains that although fat men experience insecurity and stereotyping around their fat bodies, it's “not terribly uncommon to see fat, successful men in pop culture and media who are cheered on for having relationships with conventionally beautiful women.” Carter explains that mainstream media focuses intensely on cis-women and the body shaming that they endure without realizing that other bodies exist outside of traditional cis and hetero frameworks.
But for those who fall outside the norm, being ignored for their bodies is nothing new. Serra points out that women are often sexually objectified and experience misogyny that men don't have to face—on top of being judged for the way their body looks.
Bruce Sturgell, the founder and editor-in-chief of Chubstr, an online style destination for men of all sizes, says that part of his mission is to break down toxic masculinity standards for men. “When I think about being a bigger guy, you're more often either not seen, or kind of discarded, and you’re kind of thrown to the side because your body is not the mainstream ideal.” As his site has grown and adapted, he’s tried to showcase the fact that fat men have feelings beyond their bodies. “You want to be seen for all of the other facets of your personality, and who you are," says Sturgell. "And now more men are becoming part of that conversation.” Chubstr is a rare resource for plus-size men, and this change in the narrative could help them while exploring their dating lives and sexuality.
There is an element of internalized fatphobia that causes us to just kind of write off fat admirers and fat fetishists from the get-go, and believes it to be ridiculous that someone could actually really enjoy our bodies.
It’s hard for some to imagine fat people having sex, falling in love or being in love with thin or conventionally attractive people. Throughout his eight years of running Chubstr, Sturgell says that he has encountered people who could be considered fetishists and admirers, who enjoy the photos the site puts up—and to him, that’s not bothersome.
Enneking also says that she’s personally had positive experiences with people who prefer fat bodies, but she understands that it’s a complicated dynamic. The role of fat fetishists, or fat admirers, has been a huge discussion in the fat community. Fat fetishism is sexual attraction to "overweight" or "obese" people due to their weight/size. The fetish can take various forms, including feederism or gaining, where sexual gratification is obtained not from the fat itself, but from the process of gaining, or helping others gain, body fat.
Recently, an exclusive dating app called WooPlus was created for plus-size people and their admirers. Says co-founder Michelle Li, “We wanted to create a platform connecting big girls to their admirers, and we wanted to let big girls know they are as beautiful at any body size.” Touted as Tinder, but without the fat shaming, WooPlus's current membership is more than 61 percent men seeking out plus-size women.
Since the app's launch in 2016, it has had 1,000,000 members worldwide and has become popular for its zero-tolerance policy towards harassment. Anyone who is reported for trolling or harassment multiple times is automatically banned from the app. Li explains adding this feature into the app was vital for her and her team as they wanted the user experience for women interfacing with the app to be comfortable and safe. Since WooPlus launched, Li says the app has banned thousands of men—and will continue to do so.
From being fat-shamed online to men projecting their sexual desires and fantasies of fat sex via private message, dating can produce a lot of anxiety for fat women. But Serra thinks that dating apps like WooPlus are just marginalizing fat bodies further.
“Right now, we're using words like ‘fat acceptance’ and ‘fat stigma’ to acknowledge that this is still a problem and it's still a place of oppression," says Serra. "But [companies want] to profit off the movement and co-opt the word ‘fat’ for all kinds of different reasons other than what we want, and it doesn't in the end actually lead to any kind of shift in the suffering that fat people experience. It's kind of shitty.” Many who enter into these relationships do so as willing participants. But Serra explains that for some, the thought of being fetishized comes with an element of being dehumanized against your will.
“Something that's interesting, though," says Serra, "So many of us have so much shame around fat bodies being sexual and desirable and wanted, I think that there is an element of the internalized fatphobia that causes us to just kind of write off fat admirers and fat fetishists from the get-go, and believes it to be ridiculous that someone could actually really, really enjoy our bodies.”