I’m 29 years old, and I have had my share of boyfriends. Strangely enough, I’ve never opened up dialogue about my life’s story as a plus size woman with any of them. Sometimes having a specific conversation isn’t necessary : a lot of men will be vocal about liking your curvy body from the get-go, especially if you meet your special somebody online. My ex’s Tinder profile read “Curves are a plus” – which, in retrospect, is a pretty clever tag line.
When I was younger, I feared that my partners would be unhappily surprised when they would unwrap my body in the privacy of their darkened dorm rooms. I wish I had the good sense to realize that the opposite sex generally has a decent idea of what they’re getting into when they take you back to their place.
I’m in a relationship right now where the subject of my body type simply never came into conversation. Perhaps it’s because we met organically at a theater in which we both haunt and perform. Perhaps it’s because I’m dating a staunch feminist who listens to female fronted bands and suggests we walk out of a movie theater if the film objectifies women too grotesquely. If I’m going to pay respect to any specific characteristic we both noticed about one another early on – it was probably sartorial as opposed to carnal.
“You were the best dressed person I’ve seen at that theater” he said almost smugly like a talent scout describing their newest discovery.
Even more telling, the night before our first date (sushi, a burlesque show, vintage cocktails – I was down for the count) we spoke on the phone and gushed about our pre-selected outfits. Which consisted of saturated, patterned kimonos – respectively.
“Oh, we should look like 1960’s satanists!”
“But they would listen to tiki lounge music and love AstroTurf”
Months of spending time together walking through department stores gazing at Gucci bags as if we were at the Louvre looking at paintings eventually gave way to a very important romantic milestone : binge watching Project Runway on a laptop.
This season of Project Runway has been touted as being some sort of revolutionary opportunity to be more inclusive of women of all shapes and sizes. Their models ranged in sizes all the way up to size 22 (still unsure which model this is, to be honest). I was genuinely excited to watch this season and also prepared to see it as a very obvious self-congratulatory move on PR’s side. But, exposure is exposure. I’m ultimately happy these changes are being made, even if they do happen at a tortoise’s pace with sloppy execution.
Not too long into the episode, a designer was complaining about his model’s size and his inability to design for her. He’s a tall white cis-dude with a man bun, so he’s an obvious villain. We both yelled at the laptop during his talking head interviews (side bar: this guy has since grown to be my favorite contestant and his complaints about curvy models were limited to the first ten minutes of the season. He learned his lesson). As the episodes progressed, we witnessed a ton of other designers (who I thought would be tons more -cringe – woke) severely complain about designing for women with plus sized bodies.
It was an interesting perspective, how fearful these designers were. I finally saw aversion to fat bodies in a way that truly stood out as a phobia. I became very talkative and irate and shared personal experiences as we continued to watch. And I noticed that for the first time in my life, I was sharing my fat perspective – not my fat body with a partner.
I feel like fat women date archetypes. I’ve tried them all. In high school I dated the sweet nerdy guy who was president of the DDR club and drew cute manga style illustrations of me as a smiling plump, amply-chested school girl. In college I danced between a best friend who told me he could never talk to any girl the way he could talk to me and sexlessly slept in my bed while my hormones were satisfied by a crust punk drummer with “Hail Satan” tattooed on his inner lip. When I moved to California, I synched up with a vegan photographer who took me to roller derby matches and violently made me perform oral sex on him to a point where I left in the middle of the night in tears. A young comedy geek who spent nearly every night with me but still only referred to me as a writing partner when we were seen at dinner by our peers. A drummer (tbh, there are a few more drummers in the mix) who put his hand on my face and refused to kiss me during our intimate activities. When I moved home to Texas, I fell in love with a partner who used food and many other tactics to control me.
Relationships seemed destructive, painful and for people with a gym pass. (That’s dumb metaphor because I DO have a gym pass). When I wasn’t being treated as a non-sexual entity, I was being highly fetishized. That’s a bizarre space to work from and has probably had some cringe-y long lasting effects on how I utilize sex.
I remember a conversation that impacted me as a child. In seventh grade, a “best friend” of mine told me that I would just have to find a man who could see through my fat deep enough until he saw my personality.
It’s difficult to have a conversation about your body’s journey with a person who only sees you as a body.
After we spent a few days in the blue glow of the laptop, we ventured out to go shopping. (Did I mention we love to shop? We love to shop. Not always buy stuff, but definitely shop).
Up until this point, I had mostly accompanied him to look for apparel and we both love going to sniff cologne and perfume and try on hats – which neither of us look that great in. I always thought of taking friends to stores that suit my specific needs was a nuisance and selfish of me… I mainly shop by myself and find it to be meditative.
We went to an outdoor shopping mall that housed the fatshion mall-store trifecta: Forever 21+, Torrid and Lane Bryant. I wanted to grab and go, not waste our time and keep him away from the quicksand of the “man couch” .
I’ve never been shopping with a boyfriend for my clothes. I was scared of adverse reactions to seeing how othered my shopping experiences were, or I was afraid that their predilection toward women of a specific body type (IE: FETISHRY) would cause wandering eyes. My ex-boyfriend told me he used to “hang out” at Torrid to pick up women. So duhcourse, he was never invited to shop with me.
Without hesitation, current boyfriend was inexplicably patient, participatory and kind throughout my whole afternoon. I have no idea why I would expect otherwise. He got my bra size and was digging through lingerie drawers to help me find my specific fit and style choice, and then coming into the fitting room to give me actual feedback to help style me.
I had an emotional moment because I’ve had a breast reduction, and small-chested plus size women are not often catered to. The scarring has healed strangely on one breast and an ex had told me multiple times that I mangled and ruined my body. When I shop, it’s probably the most difficult part of the afternoon. I wear padded bras and pushup bras to accommodate the two-size difference between my upper and lower body. When I see hourglassy figures and ample chested big girl bombshells, I sometimes wonder if I made a mistake. Then I put on a jumpsuit with a plunging v-neckline and prance around in public braless and am happy once more. Ah, disco tits.
I almost cried.
He took my face in his hands and said “You’re perfect”. We carried on.
We returned home, watched more Project Runway, the I’m No Angel campaign from Lane Bryant and I got dressed.
I popped a button on the new top I bought from Lane Bryant (which deserves its own post because DAMN Lane Bryant is stepping up their game). He pulled a lovely brooch from his collection (MY BOYFRIEND HAS A BROOCH COLLECTION, ARE YOU JEALOUS OF HOW MUCH BROOCH ACCESS I HAVE NOW? WE SHARE JEWELRY AND SOMETIMES A PURSE, SUCK IT) and fastened it over my popped button.
It’s sort of a sickly sweet metaphor, isn’t it? I’ll let you piece it together because no matter how I write it, I won’t get it right.
I’m happy to have conversations about my body with other people of size. They get it. They understand how very much my day-to-day life has been shaped, how my personality has been coded, how my subconscious actions are all a reaction to how society has perceived and treated me.
To open someone else’s eyes to that has been frightening. I don’t think my parents even know how much even my tiniest movements (I reach for throw pillows when I sit on a sofa to hide my belly – something I began doing as a third grader and have been trying to stop doing as an adult) have come from a place of shame.
I am grateful that watching reality television on a laptop with a very wonderful person helped me grow exponentially in the last seven days. I never thought it would.