As a fat person, coming to terms with my own physical and sexual attractiveness may well be one of the hardest bits of self-work I’ve had to do.

In college, the first time my first boyfriend mentioned the idea of sex, I remember standing in the doorway of my room looking confusedly at him and feeling surprised. I mean, yes, we were dating, and I vaguely understood that sex was oftentimes a part of that kind of relationship, but I still felt genuinely taken aback that anyone would want to have sex with me. I had so deeply internalized the message that fat bodies were not sexy that it literally hadn’t occurred to me that not everyone would agree.

I’ve come a long way since that day, and now I feel much more confident in my body’s own sexual attractiveness and my own sexuality. I also recognize that there is shame and stigma towards folks who find fat bodies attractive, and so I feel grateful for the body positive folks in my own life and for the infrequency with which I have had to confront people who subscribe to cultural norms and pressure around beauty standards.

So last week, when an article from Jezebel entitled, “I Fuck Fat People“, was making the rounds, I decided I should read it. I cringed at the title and the accompanying photo, which depicted a hand with neatly lacquered fingernails digging into an amorphous pink blob that I believe was supposed to be a fat person’s body, but enough of my friends shared it that I felt the need to give it a chance. I figured at best it was some incredible manifesto about fat people, sexuality, and normative beauty standards, and at worst it was a trite piece on being open-minded enough to be sexually attracted to fat folks.

So I was surprised when I read the article and felt angry. And not a little angry. A lot angry. Like, seeing red kind of angry.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

To Fat or Not Too Fat?

At the very beginning of the piece, the author self-identifies as fat and attempts to drop her “fat creds” by listing out her height, current weight, and former maximum weight. I didn’t read the comments (never, ever read the comments) but one of my friends reported that in the comments it was quickly decided that the author is not, in fact, fat, and this criticism of the author’s self-identification is the one I’ve heard most often as I’ve discussed the article with people.

There are a ton of difficulties and nuances here, and I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether the author’s size qualifies her to describe the world from the perspective of a fat person because it actually doesn’t matter. It is impossible to tell what the author looks like from her height/weight, and more importantly, it is not my place to question how she identifies.

However, it is quite possible that the author walks through the world with some amount of body privilege, which her “fat kid brain” does not excuse her from having to acknowledge.

She may be fat, but she is not the same kind of fat as the 400 pound men she is objectifying, and her attempts to lump herself in with them were an immediate red flag.

Yes, we are all affected by patriarchal standards of beauty. Yes, people of all sizes are affected psychologically and emotionally by the war on fat people. Yes, her body dysmorphia makes loving her body difficult and radical. And none of this means that she can’t also address the ways in which she does experience body privilege and how that affects both her own perceptions of her appearance and desirability as well as other people’s perceptions of her.

For me, as a fat person, it’s important that I consider what it means to be an ally to other fat people. As someone who is white, has an hour-glass-ish shape, can buy clothes in the plus size departments of regular stores, and generally passes as a cis woman, I have to remember that my experience of being fat is also colored by the body privilege I do experience.

This article, which takes the guise of a work of allyship, ignores this important aspect of what it means to be a good ally. Awareness of one’s own privilege shouldn’t really be too much to ask.

And still, this wasn’t the part that made me so mad.

Fetish Says What?

The second most common complaint I’ve heard is that the article starts with a statement about how the author’s appreciation for fat bodies is not fetishization because she also fucks thin people.

This is not how fetishes work.

A fetish, according to Merriam Webster, is simply “a need or desire for an object, body part, or activity for sexual excitement.” If someone has a foot fetish, but also like breasts, it doesn’t mean their foot fetish is not a fetish.

After reading the way the author describes “the feel of soft skin and flesh you can dig your nails into,” I have trouble believing is not indicative of this kind of objectification of fat bodies. She waxes lyrical about Reuben Stoddard’s “heavy embrace” and how she’d like to have him lying next to her and feel the weight of his large body on her “like a down comforter mixed with a hot bath” and, well… let me just say that it doesn’t sound like she’s also interested in his personality.

I will admit it’s challenging to describe the ways in which fetishization differs from purely sexual attraction, but I will argue that it does differ. Even though she has sex with people of all sizes, she is discussing fat bodies, including Reuben’s, as objects that exist for her sexual pleasure. There is no sense that she sees these bodies as belonging to real, actual people, and this is where we start to plumb the rage-inducing depths of this article.

The People Part of Fat People

If the author’s self-identification and her refusal to call a fetish a fetish were my only gripes with the article, I would roll my eyes, let the author go her own way, and remind myself that reading things on Jezebel is rarely a good idea.

But unfortunately, it goes much further than this.

Let’s take apart a few more pieces of the article.

As I mentioned early on, reclaiming one’s sexuality and sexual attractiveness as a fat person is hard. But this is only one facet of the myriad of complex ways in which society attempts to remove our humanity from us on a day to day basis.

The answer to this problem is not to reduce us to sexual objects, made suddenly desirable by the softness of our flesh and the roundness of our curves. Stripping away our personalities, intellects, and experiences, reducing us down to the most stereotypical aspects of ourselves, and then rebuilding us in her narrative as sex toys does nothing to further the cause of fat folks.

Furthermore, the author spends a substantial part of the article discussing how she chooses which fat people are worthy of her fucking. For example, she says she is not “attracted to people who are drowning in a sea of self-loathing.” And this, apparently, makes finding fatties to fuck quite difficult for her because mostly we’re sad pathetic saps who are incapable of viewing ourselves in a positive light.

In other words, she takes the effects of societal oppression and makes them sound like they are the fault of the people in the affected group.  And then, she turns this around and says that while she is willing to have sex with fat people, she is absolutely not willing to have sex with any who haven’t done the work of sloughing off a lifetime of learned behaviors.

Instead of trying to be a helpful partner to people she cares about, she insists that she needs someone who is “confident enough to read [her] blatantly encouraging signals and act on their desire for [her].” So not only do we have to rout all sense of shame about our bodies from our self-conscious before we are eligible for her consideration, but we also have to win an elaborate game of unclear communication, which, of course, is in and of itself a sex-negative side effect of the patriarchal suppression of sexuality. Sounds like fun, huh?

When the article took this turn, it became very apparent to me that this article was not written to support fat people in reclaiming our own sexuality. Instead, it simply aims to depict us as tools, here to appeal the author’s ego. And of course, in turn, we should be so grateful that she is willing to risk public shame and stigma to tell the world about her interest.

What All Fat Allies Should Know

It is one thing for the average human to be fairly ignorant of the day-to-day realities of fat oppression and body politics in our society. If this ignorance were spouted off by someone else on some other website, I probably would have breezed by it. But the idea that this person sees herself as a fat person and, as far as I can surmise from her penning of this article, as an ally to fat people makes this all much more heinous.

As allies, it is our job to educate ourselves about the realities of the people we’re trying to be in allyship to. It is our job to listen to their experiences and not try to tell them how they need to respond to the oppression they are experiencing. It is our job to be questioning of our own behaviors and to think critically about our positions before airing them in front of the world.

And it is abundantly clear from the article that none of this is the case here.

Far from helping break down the shame and stigma associated with fat sexuality, this piece actually further contributes to the idea that fat people, our bodies, and our identities are simply clay for others to mold to satisfy their own desires. And to be honest, we get enough of that from every other aspect of society. We don’t need it from our sexual partners as well.

As a fellow writer on the internet, I can attest to the fact that none of us are perfect all the time. And I don’t think the author should be punished or shamed or chased away from the internet because of this piece. But I do think she has a lot to learn about how to be a good ally to people of all sizes.

When we live in a culture that strips our dignity away from us on a daily basis, her sexual interest is at best a bone and at worst an expression of her complete disregard for the societal oppression that fat folks face on a daily basis.

By reducing us to sexual objects and creating a list of demands about how we need to behave in order to be worthy of her bestowing sex on us, and by doing it all from within a framework, however false, of allyship and cameraderie,  the author prevents us from being able to reclaim our humanity in our own way. She is enforcing a different set of normative values around the sexual behavior of fat people, but they are still normative values. And the carrot at the end of the stick that awaits us for jumping through her normative hoops is the promised land of sex, where we can be happily fetishized forever after.

No thank you.

Maybe the author needs to reconsider her intentions, read a bit more about what fat oppression looks like, or take a page out of someone else’s book on this one. But all I know is that, as far as this fatty is concerned, she can keep her fucks to herself.


For the past few years, I’ve been questioning the idea of romance and whether or not it’s a thing that actually exists. This may sound weird to some, but it has never been entirely clear to me that it isn’t just a cultural fabrication.

I know what friendship is, I know what partnership is, I know what sex is, I understand emotional intimacy, I understand sensual attraction, and I experience plenty of non-sexual physical affection, and still I have absolutely no clue what this mythical other thing that makes for romantic relationships is. And as a result, I’ve spent a lot of time asking lots of different people if they’re able to put words to it.

When asked, folks sometimes reference some of the “trappings of romance”, such as candlelit dinners, flowers, certain kinds of travel, etc. This idea of romance, I feel fairly confident, is largely socially constructed, patriarchal, gendered, and problematic in a lot of ways, and also a topic for a post of its own.

Sometimes folks cite it as some particular combination of the things I mentioned above: a special blend of friendship, partnership compatibility, and sexual attraction that add up to something greater than the sum of its parts.

More often though, folks say something like, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I feel it.”

As a result, I often though of this as some kind of weird, culturally conditioned mass delusion which has resulted in quite a bit of strife for me, a lot of hard conversations and hurt feelings, and the general sense that I’m on the outside of something that everyone else is in on.

Aro Time

The has persisted on various levels for most of my adult life until this week, when suddenly, through a confluence of random occurrences, I stumbled across some information on aromantics for the first time.

An aromantic is a person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others. Where romantic people have an emotional need to be with another person in a romantic relationship, aromantics are often satisfied with friendships and other non-romantic relationships. –AVENwiki

And unsurprisingly, a lot of aspects of aromanticism or the aromantic/romantic spectrum have suddenly made a lot of things make sense in my brain that didn’t previously add up.

As I was telling a friend about this the other night, I suggested that it might be like if all of my friends have been telling me they have purple elephants at home, but for some reason, I lack the necessary faculties to see the purple elephants. I can go to their houses and watch them feed their elephants, watch the food disappear from the plate, see where my friend’s hand runs along the side of the elephant, but I actually just am missing whatever ocular device I would need to be able to make out the elephant’s form.

Previously, I had assumed that they were all pretty much delusional. Purple elephants? You must be kidding me. But now, I’m wondering if the problem is, in fact, me.

This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a new lens through which I can look at the subject and which enables me to draw some different conclusions than I had previously.

The difference between “I don’t understand this thing so everyone must be making it up/buying into the cultural narrative too deeply” vs. “I am built differently and just don’t have the capacity to feel this thing that actually exists” seems to be a huge one in terms of how it makes me feel and how it enables me to respond to folks who do have purple elephants, even if the changes don’t seem major on the surface.

First and most importantly, one of the things we learn in social justice culture is that it’s important to believe people’s experiences as they report them. The particular experiences we’re interested in are those of folks in marginalized groups, whose experiences are often gaslighted by the larger culture, but nonetheless, there is an strong argument for adopting a position of believing people when they are telling you about their own experiences as a good jumping off point for any kind of dialogue. Lumping the idea of romantic attraction in with patriarchal ideals about romance meant telling everyone that their experiences were clearly wrong and bad and often behaving dismissively towards those feelings I couldn’t comprehend.

Secondly, even if the idea of romantic attraction is fully the result of the patriarchal society we live in, it’s still real for a lot of people. Social constructs are also real and have far reaching effects on people’s lives. In understanding the lived experiences of my friends and believing them when they say they have purple elephants at home, it’s easier for me to engage in a deeper conversation about what this means and what effects those elephants are having on the other parts of their lives.

Finally, this helps me feel like I’m not broken, which is also a critical part of being able to engage in meaningful conversation. I’ve always known that convincing everyone to write the whole romance thing off was going to take more social change than is feasible within my lifetime. But if I can start from a place of acknowledging that there is this thing which some people experience and some people don’t, we can then have a better conversation about which parts of it are informed by a bunch of societal bullshit and maybe how we all, culturally, can do a better job with it.

Amatonormativity: My New Favorite Word

In other words, understanding aromantic vs. romantic lets me have a more nuanced conversation around amatonormativity, which is my absolute favorite new word from my research.

According to the Aromantic Aardvark, amatonormativity is “the assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types.”

This has always been a major problem, from my perspective, so little has changed there, but now I have more capacity to talk about why it is a problem for me personally and for other folks who identify as on the aromantic spectrum and why the romantic narrative as a central narrative of our culture is highly problematic and results in the erasure of a wide swath of human experience.

I suppose that would be true anyway, as I’ve certainly already been talking about it even without the word, but somehow the idea that it’s a Thing feels empowering.

Why My Last Post was NBD

Which leads me to the part about why I’ve been struggling since my last post to understand peoples’ reactions to it.

Two days ago, my little brother called to tell me he was really happy for me, and a number of my other friends did the same through various channels. The friends who did were noticeably straight people in monogamous relationships, and as a result, I felt somewhat squicked by this despite recognizing their best intents.

When my brother encouraged me strongly to sit down and tell my parents about my queerness, I couldn’t really understand why. What did it matter? “I’m not going to start bringing people home for the holidays or anything like that,” I kept saying. “All I’d be asking them to do is think about my sexuality in ways that they don’t care to think about,” I thought.

And that’s when it hit me that there was some underlying assumption that feeling sexually or sensually attracted to people of a variety of genders meant that I was also going to be romantically attracted to those people as well and that sharing information about my romantic life with my family seemed like it was important to my brother.

But in truth, there is nothing to share because I don’t have a romantic life, I don’t think I want a romantic life, and I’m questioning whether I even have this elusive romantic capacity that everyone seems to assume I possess.

My family hears all about my friends of all genders because my friends are important to me and I love and care about them a lot. Sex isn’t an issue for discussion in my family, and in my case, there is no third thing. I’m single, I have a lot of friends, and I don’t really “date” in any traditional sense of the word.

So basically, my post felt like no big deal because it’s not. This isn’t some kind of “coming out” thing where I’m now going to feel okay introducing my horde of secret romantic partners to my family because they don’t exist and won’t exist. The folks who were congratulating me were potentially operating out of this “coming out” narrative where people first tell their families/friends/communities about their sexuality and then feel more able to be open about their partners, bring them to Thanksgiving dinner or work events, etc. etc. And in my case, this just isn’t a thing.

There are other parts of the “coming out” narrative that I’d like to question in a future post, so I recognize this as an oversimplified view, but it’s the part that’s most relevant here and was feeling most weirdly confusing to me in responding to peoples’ reactions.

So That Romance Thing?

So getting back to the subject at hand, I’m not sure there is ever going to be a clear definition of romance. I’m interested in trying to define it as a feeling, in figuring out the ways in which it’s socially constructed, and in understanding its implications for things like female sexuality, but I’m not sure that having a conclusive definition matters really or is the most important end goal here.

I’ll keep you posted as I figure it out.

Thankfully, I have some fantastically articulate friends right now, who when asked about what it feels like to experience romantic attraction, were able to put some kinds of words to this thing.

When asked what romantic attraction feels like, they referenced a different kind of tenderness than they feel towards friends, the desire to touch the person more, a different flavor of emotional attentiveness, wanting to do nice things for the other person, a desire for partnership, a perception of future compatibility, an orientation towards the Romantic Relationship itself, feeling more alive around the other person in a deeper way than with friends, and feeling a lack in one’s life without it – a purple elephant-shaped hole, if you will.

This is not the be all and end all definition of what makes something romantic, but this is some of what I see when people try to show me their purple elephants.

And while I get some of those things on various levels and feel many of them towards my friends, and I don’t experience any real distinction between friend-love and… anything else.

And so I’m drawing the conclusion that I’m at least somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, and that I don’t experience romantic attraction in the way other people do. I can’t see the purple elephants, but I am willing to bet the conversations I can have about them if I believe they’re there are going to be much more interesting than the ones I was having where I just kept shouting, “You’re making it all up!” (Okay, I don’t shout, but that’s basically what happens inside my head.)

I’m sure I’ll have a ton more to say about this in the coming weeks, but at the moment, it feels truly freeing to have a word to use to describe my experiences and to know that there are people out there who share them.

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