"No man will ever love you," proclaimed my grandmother in what she considered her infinite wisdom. I was nine or ten -- old enough to know exactly what she was talking about, and young enough that I believed her. Thirty-five years later, undergoing the kind of therapy usually prescribed for veterans of war, I understood that she wasn't entirely right. As anyone who has been in therapy knows, right or wrong, it was not about a man's love for me, but my love for myself. How helpful. In reality, which I have noticed is different from therapy, my grandmother wasn't entirely wrong, either.
Growing up overweight, forced to diet early and listen to forecasts of my own spinsterhood, it took me years -- years -- to say the word "fat." So you can imagine the complete shift in perspective it took for me to say the words "fat sex."
It's said that nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and we know that a large number of these fat folks feel shame and humiliation about their size. According to one survey, 25 percent of American women think about food every half hour. But you know what they think about almost as often as food (and, I would argue, fat)? Sex. Recent research shows men think about sex 10 times a day, and we know women think about sex almost as much as men. If there are two things humans have on their minds, it's fat and sex.
That's not to say that the two have an easy relationship. There is both subtle and overt hostility toward the idea of fat sexuality in our culture, but that's because there is both subtle and overt hostility toward fat in just about every arena of life. There is a war against it, after all. It's implied that if we lose that war, terrorists win. It is not clear who the terrorists are in this case, there seem to be many cells: the Happy Meal; high fructose corn syrup; school lunches; overwork; under-work; recess; television; the internet; video games; eating disorders; poverty; urban sprawl. And of course, the lazy fat slobs who won't just put down the chicken wings and get off their giant arses. Whoever they are.
And since fat is seen as so threatening and gross, another idea floating in the ether is that no fat person would -- or should -- feel good about exposing her body to another person in sex.
Have you noticed that on television and in the movies, any time a fat person gets into a sexual relationship, the primary storyline is about the emotional conflict of whether their partner actually finds them attractive and the angst around taking off their clothes? I recall vividly a scene in "The Practice" between Camryn Manheim's character and her would-be tall, thin, handsome lover, where she expressed her trepidation about sex with him because of her body, and his exclaiming "don't you think I find you attractive?" She broke down in tears -- or maybe she didn't, but in my storyline tears came next -- and he swept her off her feet -- figuratively (she was heavy). But on a show where she was otherwise portrayed as a strong, independent lawyer, with self-confidence to spare, when it came to getting naked and being touched, she was suddenly unsure of herself, uncertain that the man she had been dating found her sexually attractive. It's preposterous. It's also probably widely accurate. Sadly, I relate.
At around the age of fifteen, during a time in history in between girdles and Spanx, I wore a bathing suit under my dress. The first time I seriously made out with a boy, (park bench, East Village, way past curfew -- you know who you are), he asked me if I was going swimming. A perfectly reasonable question, considering. I heard, "You're fat." Two of us girls had a thing for him, and he had picked me, and it didn't occur to me that, fat or not, if he picked me, I was the one he wanted.
But really, how could I know?
Given how repellent Americans apparently believe fat people to be, it might come as a surprise that people living in America are, well, doing them. And it's not just innocent individuals who happen to marry someone who "lets him- or herself go" after the wedding and thus find themselves condemned to a life of sex with a fatso. Actually, secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, a lot of people desire sex with the not-so-svelte. The most powerful evidence of this is the sex industry. No one knows how many sexually related internet sites there are, (estimates range from one percent to 85 percent of the internet contains sexually explicit material), and no one knows how many sexually related internet sites there are that feature large woman BBWs (Big Beautiful Women) and SSBBWs (Super-Sized Big Beautiful Women), but based on the hundreds of results that came up in my several tests searches of several different sites, a safe estimate is a lot.
I assume (though I have no evidence for this) that the sex people have had with fat people has given rise to the urban legend that fat women are better in bed. As stereotypes about fat people go, it's one of the more flattering ones, so I choose to believe it. It's one of the things I tell myself in the process of un-brainwashing myself after the number my grandmother did on me. I still struggle with it every day. But humans are resilient, and sex is a powerful motivator.
So how is it going for me? Let's just say I never let my size get in the way of what I want to accomplish. I am dating someone now. He's smart, handsome, sexy, and he tells me I'm hot. I don't know if he thinks fat women are better in bed, but he doesn't seem to have any complaints about me.