This is something that happens to so many women I know; it’s not a fat-exclusive issue. It’s an unfortunate reality that nearly every female bodied person I know has had to deal with these issues in some form or fashion, and it’s downright depressing that so many of them don’t even think of it as a big deal. That it’s so normalized most of the women who’ve been the victims of this sort of behavior don’t even realize that what’s happened to them violates a boundary. As a fat person I can only speak to it from my perspective and experiences, but please be aware that this is an experience for so many women no matter what their size, shape, color, lifestyle, age or geographic location.
Please note that this post has heavy content warnings for sexual assault, rape, harassment and various other forms of unwanted sexual contact that ensures we ladies know who our bodies belong to.
As a fat person, I am accustomed to the fact that my body is not considered conventionally attractive. For a long time, this was a pretty large source of shame for me. Like all women, I was supposed to be attractive. Our jobs are to be pretty so men notice us, whistle as we walk down the street and catcall us. Every aspect of our lives should revolve around looking good enough to fit in a bikini so people can admire our bodies.
I did not have this body. No amount of light yogurt was going to get me this body. I would see magazine articles about how to lose ten pounds fast and go “Only ten pounds? I’d have to lose over a hundred to look like you.” The goal never had anything to do with health, really. It had to do with boys finding me attractive. Even when I wasn’t attracted to boys, I knew it was important that they find my body acceptable if not attractive. Their approval was key to my esteem, because it was a sure sign that I fit in and was normal.
So as a fat person, any time anyone found me remotely attractive I felt obligated to cater to them. This person found me attractive, and no one else ever would. I was lucky to find someone that found my body, my body that was so conventionally unattractive, valuable– I couldn’t lose them. And if I ever did it was devastating. I was going to be alone forever because who else would love a hideous beast of my size?
This led me to not only normalize having my body objectified but actually hold it in reverence. If someone found my body attractive enough to hoot at from the street, to grab at my ass, then by sweet Cheesus I was attractive and a worthwhile person. I wanted men to want to have sex with me, even though I had zero interest in having sex with men. I wanted to know I was attractive.
I flirted with a man. I only sort of knew him, he was a friend of a friend and I mostly found him skeevy as hell. But he was a man, and if he approved of my body then I was acceptable. I didn’t live in the same city at him at the time, so it was harmless self validation. Then I moved to that city. My friends threw a party for me, and there was lots of alcohol. It was at my friend’s house, I felt safe. The man I’d flirted with was there, but I didn’t think anything of it. It’d been once and it’d been months prior. After I had a gratuitous amount to drink, I was escorted into the bedroom by people I don’t even remember. That man put his hands down my shirt. I told him no. I told him I didn’t want it. He didn’t care. He thought it was a joke. He laughed, and he kept on pushing. He pushed himself and his body on me and my body and I was too drunk to make him to do anything differently. The only thing that saved me from being raped that night was that I had so much to drink that I got sick and threw up before he could get much farther.
In my mind, he was entitled to my body. His sexual desires trumped mine. It didn’t matter if I was consenting then, what mattered was that months prior we’d passively flirted and this had therefore given him a free, all-access pass to my body. My body was his property. And, as he’d told me prior, I wasn’t the kind of girl most people found attractive. Wasn’t it nice to find someone I could boost my self esteem with?
Thus began my slow awakening to the concept that my body wasn’t mine. And that I wasn’t alone. And that this was all so normal that no one cared or talked about it ever. It was accepted as a part of reality. Simple things that I’d never thought of as unwanted sexual advances but actually were complete violations. I reacted like they were, I always did, but I always blamed myself for reacting poorly. “Oh, he was just trying to pay me a compliment. He didn’t mean it.”
This article does a fantastic job of explaining what the day to day life of a woman can be like. How constantly on-edge you are about the fact that if you aren’t diligent you might be assaulted and flawlessly highlights the reality that even if you are diligent, even if you do everything right (don’t wear that short skirt in a dark alley alone at night, that’s “asking for it”) you might get assaulted anyway. If not assaulted, your body will most certainly be used against you. You will be made well aware that your body isn’t yours; that it exists to be on display for men whenever they’d like to partake and in whatever fashion they choose. Your personal space will not be respected. Your consent is not necessary. I will force my body and my words and my power on you and your opinion and your want and your need is not important. Only mine is. I will sit on this subway and I will talk at you whether you want to hear it or not. If you don’t want to listen, I will move to sit beside you, and I will touch your shoulder. I will put my hand on your arm and look down your chest, smiling appreciatively at your cleavage. Why else would you be showing it off if you didn’t want me to admire and notice it? Any inch of exposed skin is, naturally, a display. A show. You shouldn’t be such a tease if you don’t want to give out a free taste.
This world is not for you. That’s what it tells me and my body on a regular basis. No, in this world you exist to please me. If I see what I like, I’ll reach out and grab. If you don’t like me, I’ll force myself on you until you do. We see this all the time and it’s even romanticized. Everything from romance novels to sitcoms we see women who aren’t interested in a man and we see those men determined to catch her. To pursue her, to convince her that she’ll like me eventually. If I try hard enough, if I harass her long enough, if I change things about me to suit what I interpret to be her tastes she’s sure to cave in eventually. She can’t say no. And if she does I’ll just assume it’s code for “try harder.”
All I can do is make sure I keep these people at arm’s length. Communicate clearly to them that their behavior isn’t acceptable. Shrug off their affronted expressions and incredulity that their “compliments” weren’t properly appreciated. Fight the urge to blame myself for being mean, rude. For not just smiling them and thanking them and moving on, because really, what does it cost to boost a man’s ego? That’s what I should be doing, right? I ought to be looking out for his feelings. All it costs me is a little piece of my self worth. Nothing of real value.
I eventually learned to love my fat body. To learn that I don’t have to settle for someone just because they’re one of the rare creatures on this earth to find mine attractive. That yes, I can wait for someone I’m interested in as well and I don’t have to take whatever bones are thrown at me. But sadly this doesn’t keep my body from being treated like stranger’s property on a regular basis. Whether it’s someone heckling me on the streets for having thunder thighs or having a man stop me on the stairs to say he likes my ass, and by the way am I married? I get daily reminders that my body isn’t mine. That my body exists for the pleasure of other people.
It makes me want to scream.