In 2017 I have had 4 lovers; two whom have been in my life a long time and two new additions to my heart and bed. Before this year it had been a long time since I had chosen to sleep with anyone new and a big part of that was because of my poor body self image. Plainly put, I felt too fat to be accepted or celebrated by someone new so meeting anyone for potential love or play seemed out of reach. Let me also add that my body image negative talk is self inflicted only. I frequently see women my shape and size and think they are exquisite. I can see beauty and sexiness in all body shapes and sizes, all genders, etc. but when it comes to my own, all I see is an unlovable lump. My two long term polya-partners are both body positive but are also bigger guys themselves, both who carry some extra weight and empathize with my body dysmorphia. With them, I have learned to be comfortable; they’ve seen me from every angle and know every roll and stretch mark intimately but it’s taken years for that comfort, decades of fear on my part and patience on theirs. I’m endlessly grateful for this, but it alone does not stop that voice in my mind that says I’m too fat for love and sex to be simple.
Imagine my crippling fear when finally Skyping with Lover #3; I spent an hour finding the best angle to mask my double chin. I tried not to smile too much so my cheeks weren’t so round. I made sure that the slope of my shoulder and the fat of my upper arms was concealed. Tight headshots only, no full body pics. He was tall and slim and perfectly fit; like a hipster-y underwear model. His abs appeared to have abs. His body was gorgeous, an endless landscape of olive skin over taut muscles, plus a beautiful mind and a heart of gold. When we first hugged I bit my lip to shreds trying not to cry as his hands lovingly touched my back and sides, every contour and roll and bit of “extra”, so sure was I that we’d never even kiss, let alone fuck, let alone stay together because how could he want to be with someone so physically unlike him? I literally waited for his repulsion and rejection. It never came. We kissed and he touched my double chin, later he undressed me slowly, reverently, kissing the very fat and back rolls I was afraid he’d discover. The lovemaking was sensational and effortless; his attraction was clear and I had what felt like an epiphany: a sexy, fit guy could want me. My lifelong hatred of my body began to diminish or at least fade to the background.
Shallow, right? Maybe, but it was a huge step, a turning point for me. Or so I thought. The validation of someone who physically seemed so “out of my league” simply fed my dysmorphia and body confusion, but temporarily and in a good way. He was smart and kind and beautifully built; the whole package, literally the kind of guy that fat girls are told in both blatant and subversive ways that they will never experience. Some months passed and the relationship didn’t survive for reasons unrelated to physical attraction. It ended and I was reminded that break ups are hard; they can make you question everything. One of the first and most painful questions was “Will anyone else be into me? What if I’m just too fat to attract anyone?” And there I was, right back where I’d been so many months before.
Then, enter Lover #4. We met on FetLife, a place where I had been remarkably candid with (faceless) photos and described myself as “lusciously plus sized” in an attempt to exude a body confidence that I was unsure I really had or could achieve again. His pictures, also faceless, were of a tanned, fit fellow with confident posture, sporty and preppy. He looked like he’d just walked out of an American Eagle or GAP ad campaign. I didn’t expect anything to come of it because my internal fat shaming self said, “Oh yes, he’s hot but he’s eight years younger, and clearly wouldn’t be into you, just look at him!” Contrary to that inner monologue we connected. Bodies and fitness didn’t come up. He didn’t ask for more images nor did he suggest in any way that he was unsure or judgmental. We met in person and the chemistry was undeniably electric. He freely shared on our first date, between long, soft kisses, that he was delighted that I was “even more beautiful in person”. I should have been bolstered by that. I should have taken the compliment and believed him. Instead, all I could think of was how it must just be the outfit, or the lighting, or the fact that I’d skipped lunch and soon he’d come to his senses. Soon the jig would be up. We began dating and with that came the usual pace of physically connecting and learning each other. I really liked him so I suspended enough faith that I kept seeing him and we got more and more intimate but each date felt like it could be the one where I would feel the cataclysmic rejection I feared, a fear so abstract that I couldn’t really name it because it’s never actually happened. That’s right: my fear of fat rejection isn’t rooted in truth or history. I’m not healing an old wound. This is purely irrational, based on my own views, not how I’ve ever been treated by men.
Date night at my place, we were feverishly making out on my couch and I felt his hand move from my breast to my side to, (brace yourself!) … my stomach. He gently caressed it as he might have my hip or shoulder. There was no hesitation, no tentativeness, no presumption that I’d be uncomfortable. Just confident affection, just a hand on a belly while his lips roamed my neck. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. With Lovers #1 and #2 it had taken years for me to be comfortable with my “problem areas” being seen or touched. With #3 he had been sensitive to my sensitivity and avoided making me uncomfortable by avoiding those spots. But here was this boldly affectionate man touching my stomach, touching my fat, on our fourth date. I didn’t know if I should stop him or call it a night. Breaking up with him even crossed my mind – talk about irrational. It was all too much. Outwardly I appeared unflustered, internally I was a mess. He left for the night shortly after and I was in tears as soon as the door closed behind him. The fear I felt was real, but this time it wasn’t that he’d do it again, it was that if I couldn’t get off this self loathing roller coaster, he may never have the chance because I would self sabotage the relationship. That night I talked to Lover #2 (aww the joys of polyamory!) and shared my revelation. He took my hand and simply said “He’s into you. Let him be.”
Fast forward to this week, laying naked with Lover #4, feeling his fingers idly touching my side, skimming over unseen stretch marks in the low light. I took a deep breath and spoke.
“You know what I love about this … about us?”
He smiled and nuzzled closer, ready to listen, hand on my hip, cuddled close.
I explained everything, how afraid I’d been, how I was still a bit afraid, how in the past it had taken so much to get past those issues to be confident with myself. He listened, his eyes never leaving mine, until I was done, until I had told him how it was different with him because he hadn’t hesitated; he hadn’t presumed I was afraid. He wasn’t careful and he didn’t treat me like I was broken or like I should feel that way just because I was fat.
“That,” he said, smiling, “is the greatest compliment you could give me. I’m so happy you feel that way. I’m proud to help you see how beautiful you are.”
I wish that I could say I’m cured. I wish that I could say that his touch and gentle words, or that the care and acceptance of others over time is enough to eradicate my fear and body anxiety permanently. I’d like to crush it into a ball and throw it away forever. I’d like to stop getting in my own way. I’d like to say that their gaze, their hands, the way that I feel for those fleeting moments is how I will always feel. I want to say that it all came from within, but I can’t. For now, I need the help. I need to slowly trust that a lover’s hand on my belly or lips on my thighs aren’t mockeries, they aren’t make or break moments, they are just the interaction of one body with another and that just as I know they are more than their bodies, they know the same of me. It feels risky and radical to trust them, to not wince and pull away, to just be and let go and not hide or strategize; to not try to plan and control the way I’m seen by them. I can only control how I see myself and as long as I’m making small steps forward, I’m moving in the right direction.