Navigating body positivity and the fetishization of bigger bodies
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “fetish” as “a sexual interest in an object or a part of the body other than the sexual organs," or "an activity or object that you are so interested in that you spend an unreasonable amount of time thinking about it or doing it.” The fact is, though, that this somewhat subjective attempt at a definition doesn’t really cover it. Interestingly, good ol’ Urban Dictionary goes further to include “a sexual fixation(s) that usually differs from those of the standard population. In other words, something (sometimes totally unrelated to sex) that turns you on and that isn't enjoyed by the majority of people.” It may just be this last definition that gets a little closer to the heart of “fat fetishes” and what they mean for dating while fat.
Type vs. fetish
First thing’s first: what’s the difference between having a “type” and having a fetish? While it’s usually considered pretty normal to be attracted to people with certain attributes/qualities/world views/looks, how kosher/halal is it to get more specific with one’s preferences? For example, what do we make of people who are primarily/only attracted to a certain body type, race, or gender? While the latter two are each more than deserving of their own focused piece, let’s take a lil' look at the fat fetish, shall we?
Why do we congratulate men for being attracted to fat/curvy women?
In 2017, Robbie Tripp posted this Instagram tribute to his wife's "curvy body,” and it went viral.
Reactions were of course polarized, swinging between praise from news outlets dubbing him "Husband of the Year," to others criticized him for fetishizing fat women by focusing only on their physical attributes and decrying the way men are congratulated for not succumbing to every mainstream value. So who’s right? Is anyone right? Plus-Size Fashion Blogger Natalie Craig offers her two cents:"We prop up men who date differently-sized women as heroes, and they’ll pat themselves on the back. […] when I saw the post, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so great! I hope so many men see this.’ But then I started thinking, and I was like, ‘Wait. Wait. Just hold on.’ And I love them. But we should not be putting men on a pedestal for liking curvy bodies. It’s problematic, but we have that internal war within ourselves.”
Good attention vs. bad attention?
In discussing the possible problematic facets of a fetish, Sheila Addison– a couples' therapist specializing in size acceptance– points out that fetishes (as opposed to “types”) “become the centre of the sexual act or desire, rather than the person.” In other words, instead of being interested in a complex individual, one would only be interested in their so called “plus-sized” body. Of course, the potential for hurtful or damaging objectification is sorta kinda moot where there is mutual consent. And yet this is further complicated by the fact that mainstream beauty standards continue to wield their power on the self-esteem of people in general, and fat women in particular, creating a situation in which some such women might respond positively to attention that doesn’t necessarily make them feel valued or desired as a person. In cases where that’s what they’re after, that’s a problem. Internal war indeed.
While many plus-size women have had experiences being reduced to nothing more than a body, even encountering would-be sexual partners who want to control their body size through feeding (a kink wherein one partner gets off on feeding the other). Again, mutual consent = sure, why not? But if the would-be feedee in question doesn't want to be fed, it can be downright dehumanizing.
Fat activist Your Fat Friend, along with other fat activists, wish this wasn't so.
Body positive advocate Marie Southard Ospina makes a great point: “we call someone who has a preference toward plus size bodies a fetishist, but fat is only a fetish because society tells us that it's not normal to find it attractive…If your preference is something that isn’t conventionally attractive...it can still be deemed a fetish.” And having a fetish at all has its own associated stigma. I mean, just look in the dictionary.
Bottom line: having a fat fetish or dating/sleeping with someone who does isn't a “bad” thing, unless it feels bad to you. It all depends on what you personally are looking for, and how the other person makes you feel. Pretty revolutionary stuff, huh?
Love & sex for all who want it.