Dear Fat Women: Mediocre Men
I totally, completely, 100% understand why fat women sometimes fall all over ourselves and/or compete for the attentions of men who attend plus-sized events, comment positively on the images of women like Tess Holliday, join "bbw" groups, and openly proclaim their attraction to large women. I've done it myself countless times.
Literally every time I click on an image of Tess on her facebook page, there are - obviously - countless comments from appreciative men. She's incredibly beautiful, it isn't surprising. When one of those men is even remotely attractive (or sometimes not - and I'm talking in the conventional sense), and says anything from "ur so hot" to "I want to have your babies" or "omg that ass" to "mmmm I love big women" there is always, without fail, a chorus of women heaping praise and adoration on him. Here's a pretty tame example I found earlier today (there are often way more swooning comments on way more problematic statements, e.g. where a guy is blatantly fetishizing her body, shaming thin women, and/or being overtly sexual):
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Women outside of the "beauty ideal" (thin to curvy, white or light-skinned) are sometimes starved for positive attention, in addition to being bombarded with a constant stream of negative attention. Despite my own feminist beliefs that one can be happy without the validation of men, or society, I think that a lot of us want that. Myself included. And that's OK. It's why I - and many women I know - have a more complicated relationship with catcalling than other women.
When you're someone who's done the standard things that a lot of Western teens do - had crushes, dates, sex, relationships, etc. during those years - it's easy to judge women (and men) who constantly seek those things out in adulthood, when it's arguably more attainable. A lot of us never had those experiences, which some would call rights of passage, and for me personally, it has always made me feel abnormal.
So when we fat (or those otherwise deemed undesirable) women find a dude who finds us attractive, sometimes we do this quasi-worship thing and ignore any negative qualities or behaviours that person may display: controlling behaviour and/or feederism, fetishization, hyper entitlement, sexualizing and objectifying behaviour, deceptively dating/fucking many different women within these communities, and on and on. This kind of behaviour - gushing over someone who gives us even a hint of "positive" attention - isn't exclusive to fat women and fat acceptance communities, but it's a dynamic I've observed at every "plus-sized" event I've ever attended, and in any such group I was ever a part of.
In one group in particular, I once posted a comment asking the women in that group if I was the only one who felt fetishized in the space (I'd noticed that the men in the group almost never interacted with women unless it was in a sexually charged manner). I was publicly attacked by several women, and some men, and a small handful agreed with me. It went on for almost a week, while five different women sent me private messages thanking me for speaking up, but also stating they didn't feel safe offering any public support. I ended up leaving the group and stopped attending their events. It was painful - and also comforting - to know I wasn't the only one feeling this way.
And so... what is the point of this? It's not to shame these women or myself, because I've participated in this too. As stated, I completely understand how wonderful it feels to find that outside validation, especially from men (or whomever it is you happen to fancy). I've done some modelling in a past life, and the barrage of adoration that brought me did wonders for my self-esteem (it also made me hyper-aware of fetishization and how de-humanizing it is). I've got the privilege of being very confident: in my looks, my talents, my work, my social circles, almost every aspect of my life. But it took 30+ years to get here, and I know that self-love is not easy for anyone in our society, especially fat women who occupy the bottom rungs in the social hierarchy. I also have Pretty Femme privilege: I physically perform gender in the socially accepted way (mostly), and am constantly told by countless people how beautiful I am. I hear it so often that it's become annoying. That is a sort of privilege.
Men are already imbued with this sense of entitlement to women and our bodies, and this behaviour seems to breed MORE entitlement in the guys who frequent these groups/events/spaces. It makes me sad that these guys get a pass just because they find fat women attractive. Like, that's great, but that's the bar? If they're fetishizing us, using us to get off, being controlling or abusive, deceptively flitting from one to the next, this is OK? Because we're fat women and should be happy with what we can get? It makes me sad to see amazing, beautiful, kick-ass, intelligent women playing into this game: A reflection of the patriarchal world at large, where women compete with each other, and blame each other for MEN's shitty behaviour, where we're taught that our worth is based on how hot we're perceived to be and by who wants to date us.
I'm not here to say don't do it. Or to just love yourselves more. Or to have higher standards. Those are all privileged and assumptive things for me to say, and women have enough people telling us who/how to be.
We didn't create this system. And no, this isn't some ridiculous anti sex work type argument about how we're "harming collective liberation" - we're entitled to our own choices about our own lives. I just want to say that if you want more than a mediocre guy who sees you as nothing more than a fat body to fuck or use, then you deserve that. You deserve the world, fat women, and that includes men whose interest in you doesn't start and stop with your looks or body! I know that awesome guys who openly date big women are incredibly difficult to find, and there's no shame in settling for mediocrity that also brings you some joy. I've done it, and will do it again the next time my ex is in town. But you, individually, and we, as fat acceptance warriors, as glorious human beings, CAN demand more from the men who share our circles and our beds. No one is obligated to do so, but those of us who want more than just being found desirable CAN challenge men to be better. We can demand respect, romance, dates, elaborate marriage proposals, mutual growth, weekends away, meeting the friends, PDA, hand-holding, great sex, or whatever happens to float our boats and hearts.