Dr. Pattie Thomas wrote a book called Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life that is just really awesome. If you haven’t read it, it’s well worth investing in.
The first chapter of the book has 10 fat myths. As I read them, I had so many ideas and thoughts and things I wanted to say about each one. I contacted Dr. Thomas and she said that it would be okay for me to use her list to talk about each of the myths here. So–welcome to a 10-week series.
Myth number five on Dr. Thomas’ list: Fat is asexual.
Asexuality refers to a person’s lack of interest in sex. Someone who is labeled as or who identifies as asexual feels no sexual attraction to any person of any gender. Asexuality is a sexual orientation. It is different from celibacy, which is a chosen behavior. (A celibate person, unless they are also asexual, feels sexual attraction and chooses not to indulge it.)
I think that this myth refers to a less clinical description of asexuality, perhaps. In fact, I think it may actually be entirely backward. Not: fat people are not sexually attracted to anyone, but: fat people are not sexually attractive to anyone.
In other words, the real myth here is that fat people aren’t sexy.
Maybe this comes from a strange kind of herd mentality. Human beings are as a group fairly self-centric. We tend to believe that we are right and everyone should agree with us. Or, everyone else does agree with us, if the belief in question is wide ranging enough.
So, if enough people believe that fat people aren’t sexy, than it just becomes sort of a given. So a fat person can fall into the trap of believing that no one could ever want them. Conversely, someone who is attracted to a fat person may struggle with feeling like there is something wrong with them, especially if they aren’t also fat.
This is another myth that I really had to dig deep with. Because I am a fat woman and asexuality hasn’t been my experience. Not in the true clinical sense, and not in the reverse non-clinical sense either.
I could, of course, just be the exception that proves the rule. But I don’t think so.
I saw a news clip lots of years ago that has stuck with me. It was an interview with the owner of a dating service in Las Vegas. She said that ninety percent of her male clients indicated on their surveys that they did not want to be matched with women who were more than ten pounds over weight. The gall of that kind of seared itself into my psyche.
Are these men reacting to some cultural myth of feminine beauty–deciding that, since they are paying for matchmaking, they might as well have the ideal?
Do they even know what ten pounds “over weight” looks like? Over what weight? What if the weight was distributed five pounds in each breast or two and a half in each breast and over each hip?
As with just about every generalization possible, it is ridiculous to suggest that as a rule fat people are not sexually attracted to anyone. It’s equally ridiculous to suggest that all fat people are not sexually attractive to anyone.
Here is something that I think might be closer to the truth: it can be very, very difficult to relax enough to enjoy sex or to feel sexy when you are deeply engaged in self-loathing and body hatred. If a person is told often enough, even abstractly as just part of the fat whole, that being fat is disgusting and wrong and not sexy–it makes sense that the message might follow them into their sexual relationships.
I would go so far as to say that for some people the experience of being fat in Western culture can become almost a sexual trauma.
Rejection automatically becomes a symptom of being fat, even if it isn’t.
If you don’t match the beauty myth, it can be difficult to turn off the (sometimes screaming) voice that insists that there is something wrong with you. You’re ugly. You’re disgusting. Who in their right mind would want to see you naked?
If you’ve ever had a partner who shames you for gaining weight or for being fat, then you know how devastating that can be.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that my experiences with having a hard time enjoying sex when I feel like my body is the enemy are pretty universal.
Fat does not rob a person of sexuality. But hating your body, feeling like everyone else hates your body, can dampen it.
I think for some people, including me, letting go of the body hatred is sexually liberating. It comes with a few pretty awesome lessons.
People are allowed to be sexually attracted to you, whatever your size, without it being a fetish.
You may be someone’s fetish-filled-fantasy, which doesn’t make your body disgusting. It actually makes it perfect, in some way, to someone. (Which isn’t to say that you are obligated to indulge their fantasy–just that it is there.)
You are allowed to believe that some people find you sexually attractive in the body you own right now.
You are allowed to be physically attracted to whoever you damned well please.
You are allowed to feel good in your skin, even when someone else can see a whole lot of it. You’re even allowed to leave the lights on. In fact, I encourage it.
You are allowed to say no. Your body, your choice.
Some fat people are asexual. Some thin people are, too. But, it is not their bodies that make them so.
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Shaunta Grimes blogs about body acceptance and athleticism at Live Once, Juicy.