Dating today is a tricky business — whether you’re looking for love online or off. People ghost. They fetishize. Those who seemed nice in their profiles turn out to be total fuckboys after the first date. Regardless of who you are, the journey that is dating and relationships can make you feel like you’re running around in circles.
But plus women often have an entirely different experience with dating than women who are considered straight-size. And to uncover just how different it can be to date as a plus-size person, we spoke to five women from across the country. Some date online, while others choose a more “traditional” route. A few enjoy more casual sexual experiences, while others are happy in their committed relationships. But all of them have dealt with one specific thing: their bodies being at the forefront of the dating conversation. And all of them are ready for that to change. Read their stories ahead.
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Natalie Craig, 25, Chicago
Plus-Size Fashion Blogger at Natalie in the City
Are you currently single?
“Yes! I’m actually newly single. It ended about two months ago. I was in that relationship for three years. We met on Tinder.”
What have your experiences in the dating world been like?
“Before I got into this relationship, I’d just found the fat acceptance movement and body positivity. I haven’t been plus-size my whole life, but I’ve always been overweight. Back then, my mentality was like, ‘I will just be lucky for anyone to love me.’ And now that’s kind of changed to where I feel like, ‘I’m worthy of love, no matter what.’ That’s just sort of been aided by these movements and being able to have my blog and being able to speak to so many women about accepting themselves at the size that they are.
That’s so hard. And from speaking to other women, I know that that’s not a unique experience. As a straight-sized person, I sometimes get slut-shamed if I turn a guy down, but I don’t get body-shamed. Having a stranger attack you for your body shape has to be so disheartening.
“It is, and it was. Back then, it would really affect me, and I’d think, ‘Am all I good for is sex? What does that say about men?’ It felt like they thought they could say whatever they wanted to me because they didn’t see me as a person. They just saw me as fat.”
Were the advances you got more sexual than romantic?
“Definitely. I don’t know if that was because I was so young, and that’s just what was on people’s minds. But now I’m in a different position. My blog has taken off. Now I’ve got guys DMing me on Instagram asking to take me out on a date. And back then, that was unheard of. Guys just wanted to have sex, and that was it. Well, aside from my ex-boyfriend, who I met on Tinder and who wound up being pretty great.
“I feel like, in the time since I’ve been off Tinder, I’ve really gotten to a place where I’m more confident in myself, and that comes from the blog and these movements.”
How did you get to that place? Do you think that being in a relationship for three years helped or hindered that?
“Hm. I don’t know. I feel like this relationship that I was just in — he was the first boyfriend who never told me that I had to lose weight. Every other boyfriend would be like, ‘Damn, if you were to drop however much weight, you’d be a supermodel.’ Men have outwardly said that to me.”
That’s ridiculous. That’s so infuriating.
“Exactly! And it’s really sad and tough, because you also have your parents at home who question what you’re eating, or asking if you want to go to the gym. It’s very tough. This last boyfriend, I really do have to give him credit. Because he — wait. But isn’t that crazy?! I’m giving him credit! See! That mindframe. It’s bad. I’ve been fed this idea that I’m not good enough, and that I have to give an ex-boyfriend credit for appreciating my body. But he was the first man to tell me that I didn’t have to lose weight, that I could gain weight. And I did gain weight while we were together, and he didn’t care…”
So he was the first man who acted right. He acted correctly, and because of the way we talk to plus women about their bodies, you feel like you need to give him credit. When in reality, he just acted the way a good person should act.
“We prop up men who date differently-sized women as heroes, and they’ll pat themselves on the back. It’s that Robbie Tripp thing. I follow Robbie and his wife Sarah, and I’ve loved them for a really long time. And 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.
“So when you asked me if it was the relationship that helped, my answer is no — it was myself. I’ve had to do a lot of work. And I’ve had to face some ugly truths in this relationship about how I view myself and my work and what kind of love I accept and think I deserve. Positive affirmations have helped. I look at myself in the mirror and I think, ‘You are beautiful. You are enough. Everything about you is perfectly perfect. It’s you.’ This is what I am. This is what I deserve. I don’t have to accept less than what I deserve because of my body.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Laura Delarato, 30, Brooklyn
Sex Educator & Branded Video Producer, Refinery29
“I think for me, I’m hyper-aware of how language is used when it comes to talking about me and my body on dating sites, or when I’m at a bar, or wherever I meet another person. It’s very prevalent for plus-size women to constantly have their bodies be the forefront of the conversation for a lot of reasons. It could be that someone finds fat women sexy. There’s a fetishization of plus-size bodies. Most of the time, I’m someone’s try-out. I’m their first-time plus-size experience. They find plus women sexy, but they don’t want to say it out loud.”
And they lead with this in their messages?
“Oh yeah. And I’m like, Why am I constantly talking about my body? I’m not super concerned with it on a day-to-day basis, unless I have to put on clothes. The rest of my day is filled with work or my interests. But the fetishization tends to come when people make assumptions about what plus-size women actually like. Like, I’ve gotten messages from men — it’s male-specific, biologic, cisgendered men — who want to feed me all the time. If that’s a thing you’re into, awesome. Go do your thing. But I’ve not specifically stated that. I’m not on a dating app geared towards that. I’m not on FetLife where I’m actively looking for that. And my profile, or how I present when I walk into a bar, doesn’t scream, ‘I’m looking for someone to feed me food.’ Which, P.S., do not do, because I have a lot of food allergies.”
Aside from being plus, you also identify as queer. Do you feel like you’re more fetishized for one than the other?
“Oh yes, 100%. I feel like the BBW [Big Beautiful Woman] thing [gets more attention]. And I don’t categorize myself as BBW in any way, just because it is a category. And I’m not a category. But that gets brought up first — mainly because the queer thing only gets brought up if I mention it. If a woman swipes on me, she assumes I’m gay. If a man swipes on me, he tends to assume I’m straight. That’s just kind of how it’s been in my experience. But when it does get brought up by guys, they tend to be like, ‘Oh, you’re into women?’ Like kind of creepy about it. And I’m like yes — but I’m also into SciFi fiction and the conversation can go that way.
“But the amount of times I open up my OkCupid to messages that are like ‘BBW Yum’ or ‘I Heart BBW’ — it’s a lot.”
The fact that they go right to the fetish thing has to be frustrating. I mean, in my experience, that kind of explicit sex and fetish talk doesn’t really happen until after we’ve slept together a few times. But for you, it seems like sex is on the table from the get-go.
“It’s funny to hear what men say when they think they’re being complimentary. I was doing a photo shoot the other day, and these guys were looking on and yelling ‘You’re beautiful!’ Which, whatever, is problematic in and of itself. But then I’m sitting down, trying to take my makeup off, and the guy comes up to me and goes, ‘You know, not everyone wants to see a stick up there. Good for you. I like the fact that you’ve got meat on your bones.’ And I was just like, excuse them?”
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And that’s the line. You want men to be allies, and you want people to be accepting of all body types. But their delivery is just terrible sometimes.
“And they think I should be appreciative of harassment like that! And it’s like how many times have I dealt with that? People will yell, ‘Hey sexy,’ to me on the street, and I’ll ignore them or tell them to fuck off. And then they’ll whip around and say, ‘Well you’re fat anyway.’ So you first appreciated me, and then the moment I denied me, you lashed out.
“Women can be tough, too. I was at a party with a guy once, and this girl came up to him and started dancing. And my date said, ‘I’m with her.’ And the girl gave me the dirtiest look. People don’t always think I’m with the men or woman that I’m with. There’s the assumption that chubby bodies are devalued, so there’s no way that I could be with this other person. I’m currently dating two cisgendered men right now. One is a bigger guy — he looks like Action Bronson. But the other guy is societally attractive. He’s a fit guy. He’s tall. He’s got good cheekbones. He thinks I’m smart and never mentions anything about my size. But the amount of times I’m with Action Bronson and people are like, ‘You’re so cute together…’ It’s like we found each other. It’s so condescending. And I’ve never gotten that with the other guy.
“Plus-size people are the exact same as thin people. We don’t need to have our bodies tethered to our entire existence. We just need to be there with you.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Virgie Tovar, 35, San Francisco
Author & Body Image Activist
Let’s talk about your dating life.
And those were the types of guys that were mostly attracted to you?
“Yes! I’ve always been sort of the smart girl in the class. But being fat also made me want to be the smartest person, because I had to have all these compensatory personality traits. I had to be smart. I had to be bubbly. I had to be easy to talk to. I had to be funny. Since I was fat, these other parts of my personality had to be extra. So these guys wanted a young woman, of course, but I could talk like their colleagues. I didn’t have the life experience, but I was really bright, so it was a good combination for them.”
How did those experiences frame your idea of yourself in the dating world?
“Oh, yeah. It’s still having residual reverberations in my life now. Like one of the things I’m living with right now — so I’m Latina. I grew up with all people of color. I grew up with boys who looked like me, but they all hated me because I was fat. So it’s wild, because I was getting introduced to white men, and they were so into me. I went from my whole world being brown to my dating world being white. All of the sudden, I was hanging out with white men exclusively in a romantic way, because the trickle-down effect of racism is that it’s mostly rich white guys who can afford to pay for this phone service. So it’s complicated and painful now as an adult having had those formative experiences with white men of a certain class.
“Now it’s very difficult for me to find a partner who can get down with me as a person of color, who is critical of racism and stuff. At 17, I didn’t have a racism critic. I wasn’t a feminist yet. So dating was so much easier. So now I’m woke, and I have life experience, and these same white businessmen who I’m still attracted to, because they were the only guys who would date a fat girl like me off this phone line, just aren’t cutting it ideologically anymore. And yet, I don’t have the dating skill set to be more versatile, because my formative experience is so singular.”
You mentioned that you mostly rely on online dating. Do you ever feel fetishized on those platforms?
“It’s complicated. So I’m not of the weight or the body shape that typically gets fetishized. But what men do tend to do is fetishize my bust. And it’s like, I’m fat all over — I’m not just busty. But maybe because they don’t want to confront their desires to fuck a fat girl, they project all of my fatness onto my bust. So that’s weird. There’s also the fact that even though I’m not Asian, I look Asian. So the idea of being a busty Asian person gets brought up a lot. I’m Mexican and Iranian, but I’ve been told I look Korean or Pacific Islander. And in these men’s minds, I’m transmogrified into a busty Asian woman. So I feel like I get fetishized by that ethnic misidentification than I do about my weight.”
Does that categorization bother you?
“Not really. I’m not someone who will rule out a partner because of a fetish that they have — even if it’s size-related. I know that there are a lot of women for whom that is a big trigger, but it just isn’t for me. And there’s probably a lot of reasons why. I have a background in sexuality studies. I don’t have that same reflexive disgust around fetishism that maybe some others do. I’ve also dated and had sex with men who have fetishes for fat women, and it’s truly pleasurable for me. And it might be different for me because on the spectrum of plus bodies, I might be considered smaller. If I go to the suburbs, I’m average. So that might be why the fetishization of my body doesn’t bother me so much.
“I’m somebody who has casual sex and enjoys casual sex. Fat fetishism is much easier for me to appreciate in the casual sex arena, because it’s so much more physical and corporeal. I have to say, with men who have articulated a specific desire for my fatness, there’s a level of comfort that I just feel that is unbeatable. Thin people may not realize this, because it might just be intuitive to them, but for a fat person, it’s rare to have someone say, ‘I love every part of your body. I love your arm fat. I love your back fat. I love all of these things.’ So the fetishization doesn’t bother me all that much. But I understand that might be a unique experience.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Emily Ho, 36, Louisville
Social Media Strategist & Body-Positive Fitness Blogger
“We’ve been together a little over a year and a half at this point. We met on Tinder — the last place I thought that I would meet somebody. I was married for seven years, and we were together for 14 years. [My ex and I] met when I was 20, and then we had an unexpected divorce because he cheated on me. So now that I was opening myself up to be viewed through the lens of another man, it really threw me for a loop. I usually want to take up space, but in this situation I didn’t, because I didn’t want to turn people off. Dating was ridiculously challenging from a body perspective.”
I mean, not only did you change as a person during your marriage, but the entire dating scene went through this seismic shift. How was your experience dating in your 30s, as opposed to your 20s when you met your husband?
“I grew up knowing I was fat, and society told me that was bad. But when I was in my 20s, I feel like I was still so young and naive that it didn’t really occur to me as much. So in my 20s, I wasn’t like, ‘Oh I’m dating while fat!’ I was just dating. My body was what it was. But the more that the internet and the haters on the internet grew around me, it changed completely. You could’t hide behind a veil of anonymity back then. We didn’t have Tinder or Bumble where there’s a seemingly endless possibility of women or men. It feels very disposable now. It feels like there’s just a catalogue and you swipe through. So I realized I could choose to present myself differently online than I would if I were just out at a bar with friends.”
As a plus woman, do you feel you’re more subjected to that feeling of being another face in the catalogue?
“If you look at certain dating sites, like OkCupid and eHarmony, they have these match questions that are like, ‘Would you ever date an obese woman?’ or, ‘Do you think fat people are lazy?’ [Ed note: The answers to match questions are used by certain sites to tally up compatibility between potential matches.] They’re these very pointed questions about body size or body type. At one point, I was screenshotting these questions, because I thought they were so fucking ridiculous. That was one of the things that shocked me, because when you’re looking at these sites — you can see someone has sent you a message on OkCupid, and they’re really nice. But then you go dig into their questions, and they think obese people are disgusting.
“So then you start to think, Do I really belong here? And then it brings up all these other questions: Do you show your body in photos or do you not show your body in photos? Do you angle your face a certain way to make it look slimmer? And I was like, ‘Hey! I’m fat!’ So I decided to embrace myself, and put up the photos of myself in a fatkini in Mexico. But it really has you questioning things. You don’t feel welcome.”
It’s objectifying! It’s reducing you to your body, which is gross. And I know the argument is that everyone is objectified on these sites, but straight-size women are objectified in a different way.
“Exactly. And then you’re also looking at, on some of these sites, they ask you to define your body type. And there are six words to say ‘slim’ and one word to say ‘fat.’ And you’re like, how am I supposed to put myself in a category? My curvy may be someone else’s fat. So then that’s another thing to think about. What box do I fit in? And it might not be any of these. And I also want to be like, ‘None of your damn business.’ But in this disposable society, that probably won’t happen.”
How did you meet your current partner?
“We met on Tinder. And I did have some good dates on Tinder, but it ended up being a game, which was the feeling I got from a lot of apps. But he had a profile that wasn’t like other people. He had multiple photos uploaded, none holding dead animals, none of him holding guns. His job title was on there and he said something about himself. Plus I thought he was cute. We went out, and he took me out on a real date — we had dinner. And then this past weekend, we moved in together. [Ed note: Since our chat, Emily has gotten engaged!] He was also divorced, and I caught him at the very early stage of getting on the apps, so he wasn’t tainted. [Laughs]”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Caroline Davis, 38, NYC
Sexual Health Educator & Director of Patient Engagement, SBH Health System
Tell me a little about yourself.
“So before my current position at SBH Health System, I was the director of teen services for six year s. I talked to teenagers about sex and ways to be healthy in making their decisions about sex and relationships. A lot of times I wind up preaching to myself. [Laughs.] I’m not currently in a relationship, but I am dating. And it’s been an interesting journey. I never really thought of it as a challenge as a plus-size woman. But there have been different expectations from men, and there have been a lot of different personalities.”
How do you typically meet people?
“I’m an old-fashioned type of girl. I have not been online. I have friends who do it, but it’s just not for me. I’m a people person. I’ve done a lot of community work, and that’s typically how I meet people. In many cases, I’ve met someone through work that turns into a friendship, which eventually turns into us dating. For me, I like that. I like the idea of building a friendship that naturally turns. It’s also easier to meet people through work because, given the type of work I do, a lot of the things I talk about have to do with sex. So men will hear that, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, she’s talking about sex all the time? She must be a freak!’ So that’s the way I have my guard up. On dates and stuff, once a guy knows what I do, he’ll ask me questions like, ‘Oh are you going to teach me all about sex?’ Because I have to be this leader in talking to these young people, I have to practice what I preach.”
It’s interesting, because you’re actually the first person I’ve spoken to for this story who hasn’t even tried online dating. One of the things I hear from plus women who do date online is that they deal with a lot of harassment because of their body type. Do you feel like you experience that in real life?
“Well I feel hyper-sexualized because of my job. But I’m also very curvaceous, and most of my weight is in my hips and my thighs. So I often hear sexual things about my thighs, especially if I’m out in an environment where there are drinks or whatever. But for the most part, I’ve heard that frequently, and I don’t know why every guy thinks they’re the first one to use that line. They think it’s going to rock my world and they’re going to get some, but it’s so frequent. [Laughs.]
“Men also seem to like the fact that I am bigger and I am taller. They’ll say things like, ‘Oh, you’re a big, tall, strong girl.’ And I’m just like, okay, you’ve totally disgusted me. I’m totally not attracted, because we can’t have a conversation without you implying something about my body part and what you’re going to do to it.”
So that’s something that really turns you off?
“It depends on the setting. Because if I already have a foundation of where we’re at with a guy, and we’re grooving, and we have chemistry, then I’m kind of attracted to it. But if I’m walking down the street, it’s a turn off. Especially if men yell at me on the street.
“And that’s something that I actually talk to my students about, because a lot of them are plus-size, but they’re also 14-years-old. So they have the body of a 25-year-old, but their mentality is a teenager. And in that situation, it makes me uncomfortable, because I think of the kids.”
“Oh yeah. Wow. This is the heart of me. And one of the things that gets brought up is that a lot of young women don’t necessarily feel comfortable enough in their bodies to consider having sex yet. So one of the things I say to young women is, ‘If you aren’t comfortable enough to walk around butt naked in front of someone, you probably shouldn’t have sex with them.’ And it’s a way of saying that your comfort is so important when it comes to having sex. So if you’re not feeling comfortable with a person, why are you having sex with them?
“And having those hard conversations with these young people really makes me wonder whether or not I’m having these conversations with myself. So as much as I help them out, they help me out. And in families of color, I’ve found that these things really aren’t talked about as much as they should be, which is hard. The idea of body image and how it relates to sex isn’t always spoken about.”
That brings up a good point, because there’s always the argument that plus women aren’t always represented as being sexy or being the romantic interest. In your community, do you feel like that representation exists?
“I feel like there’s great representation in my community. But there’s definitely a lack of representation like that overall. There’s still a way to go. There are different types of bodies for a plus-size woman. Like me, I’m small on top, but I’m big on the bottom. And a lot of people don’t realize that there are all these different kinds of plus bodies. And I feel like the more we see these different kinds of bodies, and the more young people can see these different types of bodies, then the more people will accept them and be more comfortable with them. And I’m proud to be that example for the girls who I speak to in the center — someone who is curvy and sex-positive and a kid at heart.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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