Body Beauitful: Is it love or a fat fetish?


“What did you like about me?” I asked point-blank.
“I have a thing for plus-sized women,” he texted back. Ah, now if only I had a coin for each time a guy had told me this, or something to that effect, I thought.
“And then, I liked the social cause you cared about,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

A and I have been seeing each other for a while now and we have a lot in common – love for history, zero nostalgia for school, anxiety, insomnia… Each time we talk, we find another thing in common between us. Like clockwork. He tells me he is proud of me, of the fact that he is dating a journalist. And every little thing I do for him is met with a sigh: “Why are you so nice?” It is a union of two hearts and minds, alright. But we would not be where we are if he did not “have a thing for plus-sized woman”, or, plainly put, a “fat fetish”.

As someone who has been fat all her life, I never thought I had any chance with any guy ever. Fat bodies are not desirable; they are to be made fun of as pop culture would have you believe. And thus, for the longest time, I never dared to imagine that my body was made for love. Even my teenage fantasies, involving my crushes, had me as a thin person. “Maybe I won’t eat for a year and become thin and then maybe he will look in my direction and fall in love,” I would imagine, while wolfing down my third aloo patties of the day.

That clearly didn’t happen and my teenage years were spent being boyfriend-less. Twenties changed that a little in the sense that I finally did have a boyfriend, actually two though not at the same time. Both men couldn’t have been more different, both relationships poles apart. But there was one thing in common – the knowledge that I was being “loved” and accepted despite my body and not because of it.

After a few years of staying away from men and armed with the devil-may-care attitude that only your 30s can give you, there came a time I became more accepting of my body. Not that I started deluding myself into believing that it was desirable, just that it didn’t matter anymore.

So, with this newfound body neutrality, I decided to put myself “out there” some three years ago. I told each of my online dating matches the same thing right off the bat: “Look, as may be clear from my pictures, I am fat. I want you to know that and proceed, if at all, with this knowledge.” To my surprise, I was told that they were aware of it and they liked me regardless. Or rather… because of it? What sorcery is this, I wondered as I repeated the same disclaimer to all the men that I matched with. I got the same answer, or different versions of the same.

Appreciative words started being thrown my way and I just didn’t know what to do with all that. My tummy rolls became “curves”, stretch marks “my tiger stripes” as I discovered “there is more of you to love” is not just a sweet consolation that people gave their fat friends. The constant validation did its trick and before I realised, I started liking myself too. Not only for the kind of person I was but also, what I looked like. I had a new-found spring in my step and a visible glow on my face.

But then, a realization that threatened to rain on my parade: Fat fetish. That explains it, I thought. “No need to feel so great about yourself, Deepika. They are all chubby chasers,” a voice inside me tried to tell me.

Simply put, fat fetishism is a feeling of getting sexually attracted towards obese people. Google the term and you will be greeted with a plethora of write-ups that warn you about “red flags that he is into you only for your weight”, “is it love or just a fat fetish?” and “I am fat but I am not your fetish”. The internet was swarming with seething fat folks: angry, very angry that their bodies were being “fetishised”. I got their point but failed to understand why I was not feeling all that upset on being found attractive. Why was being an object of fetish for someone who I liked back was not a point of trigger for me? Was something really wrong with me?

I reflected and tried to make a list of qualities that would instantly attract me to men. And the first thing that came to my mind was: A beard. Almost every guy that I had dated, crushed on, fantasised about (Vivek Oberoi in Company, Abhay Deol in Dev D and Vijay Deverakonda in Arjun Reddy) had a beard. My dream man, strictly looks-wise, remained one with an unkempt beard. But did that mean I had a beard fetish? No one accused anyone of liking beards, not one bearded man was upset that people liked them for their facial hair and not for the person they were. Another friend is a sucker for voice. “Good voice and half the battle won for the guy,” she tells me. But that does not mean she has a voice fetish. So, why should I worry that people were being drawn towards me for my not-that-unusual-now body type?

I am aware that there is more to fat than any other physical attribute and that there is a lot of politics, health issues and trauma involved but surely one is allowed to loosen up and enjoy the long overdue attention for once?
The fact that he matched with me because of my size should not matter; wasn’t his beard a factor in my reciprocating his gesture? Considering how the word has been misconstrued, I would have liked if people used the term “fat preference” instead of “fat fetish” but that’s alright. I am so busy enjoying the attention and validation that it really does not matter at all.

Coming back to A, I am glad to have met him. I like how easy he makes it for me to be myself around him, I like how he likes to show me off to anyone who would listen, I like how his ego does not come in the way of an apology, I like how he can tell both my cats apart, I like that he is not a Johnny Depp fan… and I like that he has a beard. Also, that he has a fat fetish — a simple, harmless preference which led to it all.

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