I am a dating app professional. Tinder? On it. OkCupid? Got a profile. Lex? I’ve posted many an ad. But using a lot of dating apps doesn’t always translate to finding a partner. In fact, success on dating apps can vary due to a number of factors. Location, of course — my circles of real-life and online lesbian friends often commiserate about the lack of exciting, available singles in our area. But studies also show that Black women don’t fare as well on dating apps as their white or Latinx counterparts. These studies tend to be limited to heterosexual dating, but, from personal experience, I can say that race definitely factors into how dateable you are perceived to be, even as a lesbian. For me, dating apps are further complicated by another of my identities: I’m fat.
When I say I’m fat, I’m not fishing for anyone to negate the statement and shower me with compliments. I am fat; I’ve made my peace with that. I actually find myself and women with my body type quite attractive. The problem, however, is how other women perceive me and treat me.
I grew up fat. I’ve always been a bigger girl, with the exception of about six years of my life — from sophomore year of high school to senior year of college — when I struggled with an eating disorder. During that time, I noticed how well people responded to me as compared to when I was fat. Teachers who had known me as fat began to listen to what I had to say more. Even though I lost weight rapidly and dangerously, my gym and health teachers told me they were proud of me — all the while teaching units on the threat of anorexia and bulimia. I got attention from both boys and girls, men and women. What I came to learn from my experiences was that my weight was directly tied to my worth.
I struggled with the eating disorder for years without help because many people don’t believe that Black girls can have eating disorders. Problems like that are deemed “white girl problems” and dismissed with the flip of a hand and a reprimand to get yourself together. There was also the fact that I was a fat Black girl, and when you’re a fat Black girl, people don’t want to look at you. They are disgusted by you. They’d prefer that you shrink. So I did. The only person that said anything untowardly about my weight was one of my older brothers, who, concerned, asked my mother if I had cancer.
During my senior year of college, I started eating again. I gained weight, stagnated for a few years, then gained more after I quit smoking and started working mostly at home. Now, I’m what everyone would consider fat.
Back then, my feelings about my size were further complicated by my lesbian identity. I came out as bisexual at 12 years old, after years of sweating when beautiful Black women would come on screen in music videos. The first lesbians I saw had been the lovely, iconic, mostly white, and all thin cast of Showtime’s The L Word. Watching this show, all I could think was: That can’t be me. I don’t look like these women.
What I didn’t know then was that this invention of the lesbian as white and thin — and often rich too — was quite new. There are many archival libraries and projects dedicated to preserving lesbian life from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and earlier, where pictures of Black and brown lesbians abound. To some degree, however, our modern understanding of what a lesbian is still has not evolved beyond the stereotype The L Word amplified in 2004. When you close your eyes and envision a lesbian, if you think of a thin, white woman wearing a flannel shirt and a beanie and driving a Subaru, you’re not alone — it’s what you’ve been force fed by mass media for the last couple of decades.
This still-ubiquitous stereotype often dictates what other lesbians are attracted to. The belief that straight women tend to dress more feminine and gay women dress more masculine, for instance, might lead a young lesbian to describe, and even internalize, their “type” as butch-lite. The idea that all lesbians are white and thin permeates a lot of pop culture, which further distances lesbians who do not fit into those categories. When the lesbians we see in the media look like Ellen Degeneres or Kristen Stewart, that becomes the coveted type. I won’t argue that all young lesbians fall for this trap, but many do — and where does this leave Black and Brown lesbians? The easiest answer is that we love one another. The city I live in is heavily segregated, however, so my dating options are mostly white and mostly thin, making it hard to connect with women who do look like me.
While I’ve accepted the way my body looks, and I know there are people that find me attractive, on dating apps, being fat and Black comes with the extra work of having to convince someone to be attracted to me. I do get dates from the apps, but I often have to spend a lot of time taking full body pictures that show just how fat I am so that, when I meet a date in person, they don’t feel duped or tricked. Sometimes I even have to add a note that I am fat to my profile as an extra layer of precaution.
The pandemic has made it even more stressful to date as a fat person. Being single right now is rough. I crave the intimacy and closeness of a partner, even just a casual sexual partner, but finding one safely takes a lot of time and energy. What’s more, thanks to every article about the importance of staying in shape during a devastating pandemic, weight gain has been a source of lots of anxiety for thin and average-weight people during this time. It’s become more socially acceptable than ever for them to say they’re afraid to look like me. Having people be openly disgusted by your body type on a mass scale makes dating especially fraught, but there are also the more everyday concerns: During the pandemic, most dates I’ve gone on have included masked walks. Living in a very hilly city, that comes with lots of heavy breathing and sweating on my end, which can be...not sexy, to say the least.
Fatphobia is still rampant and prevalent, and I would be naive to think that it doesn’t affect my dating life; I know it does. No matter how confident I am in my body, there will always be someone waiting to make me feel small. Luckily for me, I have a community of fat babes that I can turn to and talk to about these issues. When I have felt insecure about having a date with someone smaller, these women swoop in to reassure me that I’m worthy of love, and that if anyone shows or tells me otherwise, they are not worth my time. We can talk to each other about food, sex, dating, and the discrimination we face on intersecting levels. We champion each others’ bodies and show each other we are loved and attractive. Despite a world that bombards us with images of thin bodies and weight loss ads, we can feel protected and secure in each other.
I love being single, but I’ll continue to date as I do everything else: voraciously. Slowing down now would mean letting fatphobic people dictate my dating life, which I have no interest in doing. I love the excitement of getting to know someone new, the anticipation of a kiss, all the rising tension of uncovering shared desire. But for my next date? I’ve got something more chill — and less sweaty — in mind than than a steep walk up a hill. And that's okay, too.
Welcome to The Single Files. Each installment of Refinery29's bi-monthly column will feature a personal essay that explores the unique joys and challenges of being single right now. Have your own idea you'd like to submit? Email email@example.com.