I just wrapped the podcast on why fat men are a feminist issue with Everyday Feminism's Sandra Kim. At the end of the interview I began discussing ways that we could culturally and individually combat the fat shaming that men experience. And I found myself (kind of totally unexpectedly) discussing attraction.
Attraction, in so many ways, feels like the final frontier of my own feminism.
I think I became a sexuality scholar because I felt that sexuality holds so many of our greatest secrets. Desire and attraction are like a map or a document that we can use to excavate our culture and ourselves. Interrogating my own attractions and desires was work I had avoided for a very, very long time (and, hell, I'll be honest, I've just started doing it and am a total newbie).
It was convenient to avoid the ways that my politics and my attractions didn't add up.
I - like many - had been taught that thin, fit bodies are superior. I didn't question that belief for a long time, but once I did begin to question it I found that my investment stopped at exactly the point of attraction. I was willing to begin resisting cultural narratives about my body, but when it came to the bodies of my sexual/romantic partners I didn't feel so resistant.
As I became fat positive, I began to really think about the words that came out of my mouth, the media I consumed, the clothes I wore, the beliefs I held about myself. I didn't really question the size of my partners, though. I didn't want to think about what their size indicated about my deepdeepdeep beliefs about my size, my rolls, my jiggle.
Time after time I was dating thin and/or fit men. It felt almost like it was "just happening." I convinced myself that it was "just happening." I told myself that my coincidentally thin partners just happened to be more aggressive than others, that the cost of living in San Francisco created a cadre of uniformly thin men because thinness was part of that "upwardly mobile aesthetic," that they just happened to show up at my doorstep through some miracle of alchemy. I had not chosen them; they had chosen me. And I was simply being polite and saying yes. Yes, coincidentally thin guy who's probably fetishizing me right now, yes, I will go have drinks with you because you asked and I am polite and it is a total coincidence that your body looks like an exact replica of the last 3 dudes I had drinks with obviously.
It was a practice in swapping dehumanizations.
All the while I managed to pretend that this wasn't part of an exercise in self-loathing, a manifestation of all the unresolved feelings I couldn't entirely reconcile, wasn't ready to address. I gave myself every imaginable excuse, but the truth was always there.
My singular attraction to thin men was my way of dealing with the enormously stifling and damaging fatphobia I had learned and internalized. And every time I engaged in that singular attraction I was re-opening and confirming that wound, keeping it fresh, punishing and disciplining myself through the momentary pleasures of false passing. In the moments those men were holding me or loving me, I was good enough because their thinness - their ability to be normal - was a stand-in for the culture's approval, was an atonement for my failure.
Back to the podcast (because, yeah, I still haven't worked all this shit out, ghurl!). I talked about how important it was for me to date fat men, but I think I meant that I like that I've begun to find all kinds of bodies super foxy. It doesn't feel like a forced practice. It feels like something that's just happening along the way to my own healing and my own sense of humanity and beauty.
The podcast, which will be live on Saturday, November 9, delves more deeply into my recent post on the ways that fat men are portrayed online.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.