When I worked in morning radio back in 2013, we filmed a weekly YouTube segment to promote the show called “Torture Tuesday,” where we chose some cruel and unusual punishment to enact on our intern. One week, we decided I'd give him a "massage,” which entailed me — all 350 pounds of me — walking on his back. Get it? It’s funny because I’m fat. This was before “A Fat Girl Dancing”(a YouTube video of me and my friend Keith dancing to Jason Derulo's "Wiggle") went viral, and way before I found my way to fully loving my body the way it is — and these kinds of jokes were a large part of my life at the time. It was pretty much my job to perform bizarre stunts, and to allow myself (and my weight) to be the butt of the joke on-air. But it wasn’t until that "massage" video that my life in radio got um, a little weird — so weird, in fact, that I can now say I owe that video for setting me on the course to body-positive nirvana. Let me explain. Soon after the massage video went up, I started getting friend requests and emails from strange men about how much they would just love a massage like that. Naturally, this made great material for the show. We weren’t sure how they were finding the video (our YouTube channel had a very small following), but nonetheless, we milked it. We interviewed an Italian guy named Manuel who said I had the most beautiful body he'd ever seen. There was also the guy who called in to tell us about a "bash" that was being held exclusively for fat women and their admirers. (Their admirers? I thought at the time.) Despite enjoying the radio fodder, I felt confused and turned off by this attention. At this point, it was still hard for me to believe that there were men out there who actually preferred fat women. But then I heard from a man named Matt. At over six feet, with a perfectly muscled body and smooth, dark skin, he was not the typical man who messaged me online asking me out. He made no mention of sex or other inappropriate suggestions; he seemed smart, and our conversation flowed easily. After some back-and-forth, I asked him how he found the video. At first, he didn’t want to tell me out of fear of “creeping me out,” but with some nudging he sent me a link to…wait for it…a fat fetishism forum. Soon, I found myself on a thread devoted entirely to me. All the videos I’d helped with at the radio station were there. There were multiple photos of me, and the comments were littered with notes about my physical perfection and users’ wishes for me to gain more, as well as details about what they would do during a night alone with me. Their fantasies ranged from regular sex to me "squashing" them to them feeding me.
After a decade of being hated, humiliated, and ostracized because of my body, having it appreciated and viewed as sexy was disarming and somehow felt safe.
At first, I just felt utter surprise and disgust. It reminded me of high school, when I was small enough to be conventionally pretty. Stoplights were filled with catcalls and suggestive flicks of the tongue above car windows rolled halfway down. The weight I had gained since then had afforded me a certain amount of protection from this kind of harassment; instead, I was used to being harassed for being fat. Yet there was also an element of flattery, if I’m being honest. One Saturday night around this time, my best friend Donna and I got home from a wedding, and we were starving; neither of us had eaten at the wedding, so upon discovering some leftovers in the fridge we were giddy. When Matt texted me and asked what I was eating, I sent him a picture of the mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and broccoli casserole we were devouring. “Mmm. I bet you love to eat that Southern cooking,” he replied. I responded honestly and without thinking. “Actually, I rarely eat food like this. I’m sure I eat waaaaay healthier than my figure would cause you to believe.” This was true, but it was also intended to make sure he knew I wasn’t that awful caricature of a fat person who stuffs her face and sits on her ass all day. Once I hit send, I realized Matt wasn’t “Mmming” over my meat loaf. He was turned on! Whoa. Against all my better judgment and my instinct to shut all of this down, I was...also turned on? No, I couldn’t be. This was weird. But then why did it kind of feel good? It’s easy for me to see why now. After a decade of being hated, humiliated, and ostracized because of my body, having it appreciated and viewed as sexy was disarming and somehow felt safe. I had been, for 10 years at that point, the stereotypical girl eating only a salad on the first date, afraid that eating normally would only make me seem fatter. With Matt, it was completely the opposite.
Matt would later call in to the radio to explain his attraction to me. He described my bouncing belly, my jiggling thighs, the overall vastness of my body, and how there were unlimited areas to explore. When Matt said I was soft, it took on a different meaning. There was no connotation of weakness. He eroticized every part of my body; each fold of fat multiplied pleasure, and he was as excited by love handles as he was by breasts. As weird as this was for me at first, it showed me that feeling beautiful is important. Beauty is subjective and always will be, but when we feel attractive, it impacts the way we go about our lives. The men I dated previously had always told me: “I’ve never liked a big girl, but...” But what? Was it my personality that drew them in? Was it my pretty face that made me attractive enough? I didn’t want to be someone’s exception or experiment anymore. Ultimately, Matt and I stopped talking because he lived too far away, but I went on to dabble in the fat fetish community a little longer. I even signed up for a dating website for fat admirers. I’d hoped to find some decent guys who were there more because they’d find fat women there, and less because they had a fetish. But I was sorely disappointed. I would start talking to a guy who seemed cool, only to have him skip straight from his favorite color to his desire to strap me to a bed and force-feed me ice cream. In the end, I realized a relationship with a self-identified fat fetishizer was not the solution. I couldn't get down with a man's desire to control me or manipulate my body for his pleasure. Having a man say he was mostly interested in my belly was no different than when I was thin and knowing a man was mostly interested in my body. Still, what’s stuck with me about this experience is that even though I had spent my whole life fighting against the notion that fat could be attractive, I had somehow arrived at that very conclusion. It was almost as if all I’d had to do was really consider it, and then — once I knew it was possible — I could believe it was true. Adapted from I Do It With The Lights On: And 10 More Discoveries on the Road to a Blissfully Shame-Free Life by Whitney Way Thore. Buy the book here.