Dating is tricky when your body falls outside of the "normal" range of what is considered "beautiful". Whether you're too tall, too short, too pale, too dark, too big, or too small, there will always be those people who will dismiss you as automatically being unattractive because you don't fit "the standard". As a Black woman who has been 6'0" tall since I was 12, and who has weighed more than 350lbs most of my adult life, I know, all-too-well, what it is like to exist on the margins.
Image: Feminista Jones
My experiences with dating have been... interesting. I've done quite a bit of reflecting since losing weight and have come to at least a few conclusions about why I had the experiences I had. One of those conclusions is that I was often approached because men believed me to be a desperate fat woman. Men figured that since I was as big as I was, I would probably be an easy score, so they came at me to feed their own egos and would eventually discard me when they were done. I remarked to some friends that I am approached less, now, for sincere get-to-know-you invitations than I was then. I make that distinction because I have experienced "street harassment" for decades and continue to do so now. When it came to men actually trying to get to know me (or pretending to), I had a LOT more attention in the 350-400lb range than I do in a healthier, more fit low 200s range.
The attention wasn't always what was best for me, though, and I know that I accepted a lot of it because I didn't always believe I could do better. I would generally end things first, so as to not feel like I was being discarded, and I convinced myself that I was just focusing on everything but dating so I wouldn't have to deal with the pain of rejection. Having had some traumatic experiences earlier on in life, I was also scared to be vulnerable with anyone, so I engaged in those dalliances, those affairs, those quick romps; they were what worked best for me, at the time.
I was the desire of many a chubby chaser (men/women who specifically seek out larger people because their bigger size is essential to their attraction), so I did have sincere experiences dating and spending time with good people. Being taller and shapely, I found that even within "fat communities", there was a hierarchy of what was considered most attractive and I was it with my smaller upper body and larger butt and hips. I was just too young to be serious, I thought. Then, I met the man who would become my husband and father to my child, and that ended my life of dating as a morbidly obese, "super-sized BBW". I had the surgery shortly before my divorce was finalized.
I dated a little while in the process of rapidly losing weight and struggled with feeling secure in my changing body. I didn't want to be seen naked, honestly. It wasn't an issue for potential partners, I discovered, so I chucked those concerns out of the window. What did emerge was what I can only describe as resentment in the form of the question:
Would you have dated me when I weighed 400lbs?
I'm in a relationship now and I know that the question has come up. It's more than just about how I looked or what I weighed. It is about the circumstances that led to us meeting and dating. We met on Twitter, where I have a lot of followers and regularly interact with all kinds of people. I'm often heard on the radio, seen on TV and online media, and in pictures from various events. I have an Instagram account where I post pictures and receive positive comments. All of these things work together to make me a far more visible person than I've ever been. Being fat often renders one totally invisible in society and I know I've been overlooked for various opportunities because of how big I was.
Would he have even seen me? Would he have noticed me if I was still large? Would he have found me attractive? Would he have agreed to go on a date with me if I was 400lbs instead of 225lbs? I don't know. He doesn't know and I'm thankful that he was honest. We'd like to think that people are open to dating people of all sizes, but we know that isn't true. Most of us do still discriminate against larger people when it comes to dating because of our own ideas about how being fat represents aspects of one's personality. We think fat people are lazy, insecure, incapable of achieving goals, etc. We think they have no willpower or commitment and don't care about themselves. We're shocked when we see successful, confident fat people because we've been conditioned to believe such a thing is an oxymoron.
It's harder, now, to feel comfortable with the attention I get based on my looks knowing most of these people wouldn't look at me once, much less twice, when I was larger. They'd make fat jokes behind my back or even to my face. They'd use me as the "Fat Friend" who is invited along to make everyone else look better. They'd relegate me to being the maternal figure in the group who isn't expected to have any sexual desires or romantic longings. Or, if they are men, they'd likely just try to sneak and have sex with me without anyone knowing or "date" me in secret--only at night, never anyplace popular or crowded.
As I became smaller and fit, I admit I rejected a lot of advances from men because I watched them slander larger women and I know that they would have never treated me with respect when I was larger. A lot of the men who interact with me now have no idea I tipped the scales at 406lbs and can't even fathom it; their reactions tell me all I need to know. It's painful to experience certain privileges just because I've lost weight because it makes me realize just how poorly I'd been treated most of my life.
You have to become confident in who you are, now, and feel comfortable in your new body. That will shine more than anything and it will attract those who are drawn to confident people. Sure, there will be people who have certain physical preferences, but don't you? We're all entitled to some preferences, aren't we? Try not to dwell on it too much, but do take note of the comments people make about larger people; that's how you know where their hearts are. The last thing you want to do is become complicit in the shaming of people who still look like you used to, yanno?
Feminista Jones is the Love & Sex section editor at BlogHer. She blogs at FeministaJones.com.