Trust me, I know from experience…
I happen to live in Los Angeles — where being over a size 8 is a felony. This can be depressing when I am searching for a cute bathing suit or a stylish pair of jeans in a city that considers the ‘norm’ a size 2.
At those times I like to remind myself that the average dress size for women across America and the UK is a size 14 and that a size 2 is more an aberration than the norm. However, it’s disappointing to note that at size 14, those average women are also considered “plus size,” labeling them in a category that, in this media ridden age, might send a woman’s ego to the back of the proverbial bus.
This size stereotyping (especially in metropolitan cities like Los Angeles and New York City) can compound the list of reasons why single “plus size” women are intimidated by dating and sex.
I have found that a lot of my single friends complain they can’t find a nice guy or even a good lover.
When I suggest online dating, taking a class or going to events to meet a guy, I almost universally hear “maybe when I lose some weight” as the first excuse not to engage. It seems that no matter what we look like, women are always first to dissuade themselves from dating by knocking their perceived physical shortcomings. This kind of dysmorphic thinking doesn’t discriminate it seems. Women of all shapes and sizes do it.
Though being a “plus sized” woman has its challenges, dating shouldn’t be one of them.
In fact, as a plus sized woman myself, I had to get past my own mental lambasting and take a leap of faith, even though at the time I still hated my body. It’s not easy to do but it IS possible.
Photo: Nick Holmes
When I made the decision to start dating again after my divorce, I had to examine my history with my body image.
My whole teen and adult life I was lead to believe, through society, other women and some really immature boys, that my body was “less than” because it had more lumps, bumps and curves than the women portrayed in television, film, advertising, fashion magazines (including Seventeen magazine which can be horribly destructive to a young woman’s ego) and the like.
Add to that the unconscious conditioning I received from my well-meaning mother and I was set up to fail.
I thought about all the women this kind of conditioning effects, as most women do not have “perfect” bodies and have even less perfect body images. It was interesting to me that regardless of size, all the women I knew loathed portions, if not all of their bodies.
Not only does this affect quality of life in general, it substantially affects a healthy sex life.
So what can we, as women, do to begin to accept the parts of us that we have heretofore shamed ourselves into hating?
Rebecca Jane Weinstein, lawyer, social worker and author, was told by her grandmother at nine years old that no man would ever love her because she was fat. So started Ms. Weinstein on her journey of figuring out her womanhood on her own. She relates her pilgrimage to satisfying sex in her book Fat Sex: The Naked Truth.
I asked Ms. Weinstein what her advice would be to plus-sized women who are trying to feel more confident sexually. Here is her answer:
“In interviewing the many large sized women I have about body image and sexuality, I have found a common thread. When a woman feels sexy, she projects sexy, and men (or other women) find her sexy. This seems almost simplistic, and it is, in a sense. Perception is everything, particularly self-perception. What is not simplistic is coming to that realization and then internalizing those feelings.
Women seem to find that place in themselves two ways.
First is personality. Some of us are just lucky to have an inner core of confidence that has no clear genesis. It just exists. But even women who aren’t so lucky to be somehow born with the “I feel sexy” gene, seem to be able to learn to feel sexy. The key is listening and believing when you are told you are attractive and that someone is attracted to you. So often we are told such a thing, and every available evidence supports it (like there is a person lying next to us in a bed), and yet we don’t believe it.
We must overcome that disbelief. It is not easy when all the societal messages tell us fat is not sexy. But those messages come from disreputable sources — mostly people trying to sell us stuff. They want us to feel badly about ourselves so we will buy diets and cosmetics and clothing and medical procedures. Those people are liars.
The ones telling us the truth are sharing our beds and our hearts. It is them we must believe. And the truth is, even if there is no one giving those positive messages, telling ourselves works too. When you feel sexy, you project sexy, and others find you sexy. It’s not so important how you get there, but that you get there.”
I had a lover once with whom I had some of the most erotic, connected, exciting and sensual sex of my life — and I was considered plus-sized at the time.
Though I felt confident that he wanted me, I still didn’t feel comfortable in my body. Before our first tryst, I panicked about how he would react to actually seeing me naked. Would he still want me when he saw my overflowing stomach and flabby thighs? I was terrified.
When we first got together I was so ashamed of my physique that I kept my nightie on thinking “maybe he won’t notice my fat.”
But in contrast to what the little devil on my shoulder was whispering in my ear — things like, “You’re disgusting” and “You should be ashamed to think he wants you” — my lover couldn’t have been more effusive and complimentary about how seduced he was by my body. He continued to sincerely voice how attracted to me he was, yet I kept that nightie on for two months until I “believed” he was really yearning for me.
What in the world did he have to do to get me to believe him? The answer is “nothing.”
The issue was with me and my own narrative about my body. I used the shame and the humiliation I took on from others’ opinions about body size during my childhood and young womanhood to inform my ability to receive full pleasure in the moment.
What a shame.
Later on in our relationship, figuring a bigger gal was his bag, I brought up the subject of a woman’s body type and asked him if he had always been attracted to plus-sized women. For me, his answer was revolutionary.
My lover explained that body shape or size had nothing at all to do with his attraction to a woman.
To him, a woman’s physical appeal (among other things like chemistry, personality, intelligence, etc.) was based on how sexual/sensual the woman was. He said that when a woman felt she was a sensual being and was confident about her sexuality, it drove him wild.
“I could be lying in bed with a supermodel but if she didn’t own her own sexuality I would be completely limp,” he said.
Furthermore, the men he knew in his life felt the same way. He told me that these men were often frustrated with the fact that women, in general, don’t own their bodies and often let it get in the way of “letting go and enjoying the moment.” Again, revolutionary to me.
I thought back to when I was praying he wouldn’t notice my fat and thought, “Wow. If I were just able to let go and take in that he was having sex with me because he WANTED to and was ATTRACTED to me, I would have enjoyed myself so much more!”
The change needed to start with me. I needed to give myself a break. If it was true that he found me physically attractive, then it was equally true that other men would as well.
It was clear, I needed to start accepting my body as is or I would be living a lonely existence waiting for the day I would be happy with my body … and that day will never come.
Photo: Nick Holmes
This was evidenced by my smaller framed friends who had a litany of complaints about why men wouldn’t find them attractive. Again, the unrealistic body dysmorphia rears its ugly head no matter WHAT you look like.
Pamela Madsen, who wrote the book Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner, says, “If you work on embracing who you are — every single day just like a religious practice — things will change in your world.”
I completely agree. No more negative self-talk … ever.
So here’s the deal … I’m not going to tell you to look in the mirror and say affirmations that you’re beautiful and sexy or tell yourself, “I love you the way you are.”
That’s too big a jump.
What I AM telling you is that if you can’t muster up something nice to think about yourself, at least say something factual and neutral like, “This is the way I look and that’s that.”
It’s accurate and at the same time makes you accept yourself the way you are. Once you have that under your belt, move on up to, “I look pretty good today,” etc., but wait until you believe it. The point being, you are never to put yourself down.
And if you can’t compliment yourself, at least say something objective — something you can believe.
The next step would be to start to become more comfortable in your body sexually … as it is RIGHT NOW.
Whether you’re plus-sized or not, I highly recommend you read the aforementioned book by Rebecca Jane Weinstein. She’s plus sized, smart and has the experience to back up what she preaches. Her book will feed you stories of women (and men) who feel the same or worse about their bodies and will inspire you. Reading the stories of how others achieved their positive body image and started enjoying sex will help you get used to the notion that there are other people out there (perhaps even larger than you are) who have found their inner sex gods and goddesses.
There are also a plethora of body image and sex-positive websites at your fingertips.
One of my favorites is Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross’ website that has a wonderful DVD called Bodysex Workshop. This DVD teaches women not only how to feel good about their sexuality and shows REAL women with ALL body types “taking care of business,” if you know what I mean…
Other validating websites to check out include:
I Feel Myself, which features women from all over the world masturbating to orgasm. It’s liberating watching women of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds enjoying the sexual pleasure that is their right.
Pamela Madsen’s blog, Being Shameless, offers Pamela’s words of wisdom on the spiritually based “sacred sexuality movement” and body image.
If you are feeling frisky, even the porn world has something to offer.
The multitude of amateur porn online also affords us the opportunity to watch women who look like us engaging in hot sex. There are even porn sites dedicated to plus sized nude models like (my favorite) London Andrews and very popular plus sized porn star April Flores.
There’s also “feminist porn” (also known as women’s porn or couples porn) brought to us by pioneers in the field like Candida Royalle, Erika Lust, Tristan Taormino and my own LadyCheeky.
This type of porn is made by women for women (and men) who enjoy a more sensual story and a focus on the woman’s pleasure as well as the man’s. Checking out this kind of porn might make you feel more a part of “the club” than traditional porn where the focus is mainly on the man’s gratification while they screw thin women with fake boobs (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that).
Poor body image doesn’t have to be debilitating.
Your sexuality is part of who you are as a woman and human being and the plus sized woman should take steps to start empowering herself as an erotic, sexual being … every woman should, really.
If we can divorce our self-loathing (while we work on it, of course) from our sensual selves, then dating or sexual expression doesn’t have to be tied into body image, and, as a result, we can work on accepting ourselves while at the same time experiencing sexual pleasure.
Since I have accepted my body “as is,” not only have I had no problem finding men that find my me and my body sexy, but I’ve been allowing myself to have some of the best sex of my life.
I have come to understand and believe that sexual pleasure is not just meant for the “beautiful” and the “hard-bodied.” It’s a natural enjoyment that is your right as a human being.
So take back that right.
Ignore the messages from the people, agencies and corporations trying to make you feel “less than” and take back control of what is inherently yours.
A singular voice in the sexual health community and a body acceptance thought-leader, Elle Chase is a sought after sex education/sexuality expert for such outlets as TODAY SHOW on NBC, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Men’s Health and Buzzfeed. Chase is also the creator of the award-winning feminist sensual images blog LadyCheeky (warning: NSFW). Her much anticipated first book, “Curvy Girl Sex: 101 Body-Positive Positions to Empower Your Sex Life,” is available now.