In light of yesterday’s controversial piece by Maura Kelly, I’m posting a story by Jennifer Abramowitz (as told to me), an amazing plus-size woman who recently spoke openly to me about her experience dating in New York City. This piece was bought by a national women’s magazine, then killed, and I think now is the time to post it.
I was on a date recently and a woman sat down at the next table, catty-corner to me. I was embarrassed and annoyed, already contemplating how I was going to get out at the end. I looked for other routes. A regular-size person wouldn’t think about that.
But I’m a plus-size girl. I’m also a publicist, an extrovert, a bargain-shopper extraordinaire and an unbelievably good friend. But what’s most visible about me, what defines me before I even open my mouth, is my size. I’ve dieted my whole life and can’t remember a time when I wasn’t concerned about my weight.
I grew up with a mother who told me I was amazing, who said I could accomplish whatever I wanted to. She was supportive and loving. But when I was a teenager, she also started saying, “You need to lose weight. It will be harder when you get older to find your partner.”
I went to weight-loss camp when I was young and was introduced to boys and the bases. It was a different world there: Size wasn’t so much of an issue, though there was a hierarchy, with the skinnier girls at the top. I had a few boyfriends every summer, and when I got really thin, I suddenly had a boyfriend back at school, too. That lasted for maybe a year. After that it was back to the old way, and I didn’t have a boyfriend anymore.
I didn’t date at all in college. I was always overweight, but when I got to Vassar I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. I didn’t gain a freshman 15, I gained a freshman 50. Then my dad died when I was 22 and I wasn’t interested in anything anymore. I was lost.
It wasn’t until I was 28 that I decided I wanted to date again, after I got back in touch with people from camp. Some of them were very heavy, but they were married and successful in relationships. I was like, Why am I not dating?
I started out on Jdate but worried that maybe people didn’t fully see my body type, even though I never lied or showed a picture that wasn’t me. Some jerk once IMed and asked, “Are there really guys out there who are attracted to you?”
Friends of mine were setting one another up on dates but not me. It makes such an obvious statement—that no one would ever find me attractive because of my weight. I guess it’s hard to say to somebody, “I have a great girl for you, but she’s fat—are you okay with that?” That makes me extremely uncomfortable and angry. People are image-conscious, and it takes a very secure man to advertise his preference for a woman of size. No matter how many magazines start featuring plus-size women, in mainstream white culture, a woman who’s heavy isn’t considered as attractive as a woman who’s not. Ultimately everybody’s looking to get to the next level, and for many men in New York, a larger woman is the bottom level, regardless of what she’s like.
There’s a misconception that plus-size girls are insecure in their bodies. Yes, there have been times I’ve felt uncomfortable at bars because guys talk to my friends and not me, and if I notice a group of men snickering at me, that always makes me upset. But my size has never stopped me.
When I started on BBW (Big Beautiful Women) dating sites, I got crazy amounts of e-mails. Before that, I didn’t understand that there were people out there who preferred a round body with curves and boobs and a butt and lots of fat. Now I know that the skinny white girl is not the ideal to everyone. There are cultures and races that prefer plus-size women. I’ve had really in-shape guys, bodybuilders even, contact me. I think they like the juxtaposition of hard and soft. They like the feeling of being with someone who’s bigger than they are and the voluptuousness of another body.
A man approached me on the subway when I was 24 and wanted my phone number desperately. He kept saying over and over, “I think you’re beautiful.” My first instinct was, This is a joke, someone put him up to it—which says a lot about where I was at that point. It’s not where I am now. Experience, age and understanding that a lot of people are attracted to me because of (or in spite of) my size takes away some of the nervousness I used to feel on dates.
There can be challenges, though, being bigger. Sex isn’t always a physically easy encounter. I was once fooling around with someone I’d been out with a few times. I was trying to move over him, and he said, “Your weight is hurting me.” That brought me back to reality. I thought I looked great that night. I was wearing a new outfit and these really hot tights, and in one fell swoop, he brought me down a little bit. I was surprised because we’d never talked about my size being an issue. And a lot of men who are attracted to plus-size women love the feeling of weight.
There’s the whole dominant-submissive side of fetishizing a plus-size woman, wanting her to be in control, to be physically bigger. And I’ve been contacted by men on BBW sites who ask me if I’m open to a feeding relationship, which I’m not. It means they want to be with somebody who likes to eat, who they can feed and would consider gaining a lot of weight. They get off on the visual of a fat woman eating.
But I think there’s a fine line between someone who’s a fetishist and someone who’s not. I grapple with the term because what’s the difference between a fetish and a preference? I once went out with a guy I met on Nerve, then didn’t hear from him again. I e-mailed and he wrote back, “I had fun making out with you—if you’re ever up for some more fun, let me know.” So then I knew that’s all he really wanted. He wasn’t like, “Hi, I’m a fetishist,” he just wants to have sex with random plus-size women. Guys are always attracted for some reason. Everybody is. So what’s the difference between hooking up with a fetishist and just hooking up with someone casually? Is someone who likes plus-size girls a fetishist just because his preference isn’t mainstream?
I’ve been seeing someone now who’s given me a newfound perspective. He definitely cares about me and likes spending time with me, but if he could stare at my ass all day long, he would. He’s opened my eyes to the fact that there are a lot of men out there who prefer plus-size women and that the pool isn’t as small as I thought it was. And I feel very secure and confident when I’m with him.