"I can’t wait to meet you, Steph. I’ve even bought you a gift!"
As I minimised the WhatsApp conversation on my phone, I was filled with dread about what the next evening would bring. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas and I was going on my first date since the end of my last relationship, two years ago. To say I was extremely nervous was a severe understatement.
I’d been talking to Robert* for a couple of weeks via Bumble and then WhatsApp, and all seemed to be going well. Since the end of my last relationship, I’d been a bit wary of the opposite sex and had gone into every new dating app chat with a degree of scepticism (especially as I am plus-size – more on this later), however Robert seemed different. He was funny, very intelligent, open-minded and ambitious and more importantly, accepted and preferred the fact that I am plus-size.
It seems a bit silly to have to declare something as trivial as one's weight on an app, but due to how a large percentage of plus-size women are treated in the dating world, some of us choose to add a note about our weight to our profiles, almost as some kind of 'disclaimer'. It’s even worse when your weight intersects with something such as race or gender.
Date night with Robert finally came around and I was practically bursting into flames with excitement. We’d agreed to meet in Clapham in southwest London for a couple of drinks. I arrived at the venue early and tweeted a cute picture of myself, telling my followers that I was out on a first date. Robert arrived and the date began. We had a great time during the three or so hours we spent together – we laughed, we exchanged hilarious date-fail stories, we spoke about our families, likes and dislikes…just normal date stuff, you know? He’d even bought me a little ornament for my room as I’d told him I was still doing it up, which was sweet. At the end of the night, we kissed and he said he wanted to see me again.
A week later, and hours of speaking on the phone and texting throughout the night, we decided that he’d come over to my flat and we’d watch a few shows while I cooked (I know, I know, rookie mistake; like I said, I’m a dating newbie). Obviously, one thing led to another and we ended up sleeping together.
That was the last time I heard from him.
Cut to this week when I receive an email from a friend of his. Apparently, Robert had shown my blog to his friends for 'approval'. This friend tells me that in the interests of full transparency, he thought he should let me know that the reason I had not heard from Robert since our second date was because he had been dared to 'pull a fat chick' and – upon completing the dare – had won a sum of money his friends had pooled.
I felt sick. A wave of embarrassment and humiliation washed over me, and I went into my bathroom and cried. I had been terrified of meeting and talking to men for fear of them judging my appearance. As much as I know that I am an awesome person, I’m blindingly aware that the way I look is not what mainstream society considers to be 'beautiful', and that’s something I always have to think about and carry with me.
What should have been a lovely couple of dates – a bid to improve my confidence and self-esteem while tackling the shark-infested waters of dating – has turned into a teaching moment for me, and has definitely made me feel a lot more wary about dating in general and more importantly, trusting men.
Sadly, my story isn’t an isolated incident. We’ve all heard of sick pranks such as the 'pull a pig' game, which involves a group of men daring each other to hook up with the least attractive woman (in their eyes) in order to gain clout. There are tales as long as my arm from fellow plus-size women who have been duped or tricked in this way and frankly, a discussion needs to be had about it.
Dating as a plus-size woman, you see, is an exercise rooted more in patience and frustration than in romance. When you are not being ignored by prospective interests, you are either subjected to humiliation and abuse or you are fetishised for your weight. Either way, the abject failure to consider the feelings of the plus-size women in these situations is just another example of the ways in which we are not afforded the luxury of being treated as human beings. It highlights the lack of respect that some men have for women, particularly if they do not comply with social norms.
As plus-size women, we are not afforded the same humanity, care, love and respect as our thinner counterparts. This can force a monumental drop in confidence and either put us off dating for life or lead us to partake in more casual dating in an effort to prove our worth through sex.
Luckily (or maybe unluckily?) I had already deleted Robert’s number from my phone, after not hearing from him for a couple of weeks, so I have no way to contact and chastise him for what he did. I decided to ignore the friend’s email and used Twitter to tell my story, in the hope of opening up the conversation about the way plus-size women are treated. My aim was to raise awareness, and while I received some amazing, positive feedback, it also came with its share of trolling and horrible comments – almost all from men, who were either laughing at the situation or suggesting I change my appearance in order to be treated better next time.
I like to think that I’m confident enough and maybe numb enough to the whole experience and haven’t let it define me as a woman, but for those of us who are still on our journeys to finding self love and increasing our confidence, going through an experience where you are basically seen as an experiment can be battering.
Ultimately, what I’ve concluded is that men seem to undertake these 'pranks' as a way of gaining respect from their male friends at the expense of women’s feelings. Men, it’s time to stop being impressed by this toxic behaviour. It’s time to call it out, to hold each other accountable. Would you be as admiring if someone pulled a prank like this on a plus-size relative – on your sister, perhaps, or your cousin? Most of all, it’s time to start taking the emotions, perspectives and feelings of fat women seriously. Regardless of body shape, we all deserve to be treated with respect and basic common decency.
*Name has been changed