I am 21, and I have learned something important over the past couple of years: most men my age don’t understand what I’m really offering them when I offer them myself.
There’s no way to articulate years of being a punchline, being a punching bag, being invisible. There is not a single sentence I can think of that encapsulates the huge act of bravery it takes to even ask if I am wanted, in this world of Photoshopped images of “perfect” beauty that look nothing like me (or anyone else I know). I’m good with words, but all the words I have aren’t enough to describe the kind of courage it takes to even vocalize a wish — because being wanted has always been a joke.
It’s funny, because I’ve often been asked, “Can’t you take a joke?” Of course I can. I’ve never had a choice. Because if it wasn’t “How do you fuck a fat girl?” it was beer goggles, it was “taking one for the team,” it was “fat chicks need love too,” it was a million different versions of the same thing: pity. Sometimes, often, that pity has been mixed with disgust. And it was all supposed to be so funny, the idea of loving a fat girl, such a ludicrous stretch of what the reality is supposed to be.
Of course, we who write about these things and who read about these things and who bother criticizing our media at all know that the ludicrous stretch is actually this friggin’ fantasy girl, who doesn’t exist and who has screwed us all over more times than we can count.
I don’t know who first created her. She’s thin and white and has balloon boobs and her pelvis might be smaller than her head, and she’s the kind of girl who revolves everything about her sex life around her (male) partner (because she’s always straight), and she’s into the kinky stuff but not TOO kinky, and she’s only slept with like, two dudes, ever. I’m going to guess that women did not create her, but women — specifically women’s magazines — are really gung-ho about making sure she doesn’t die or get replaced with an image of a woman who might (GASP!) actually be born and live her life in the real world with the rest of us.
Why isn’t this ridiculous, nonsensical image of femininity the real punchline? Why is it my body that’s the joke?
I once wrote about my own struggles with dating while fat. I didn’t think that post would go anywhere; I didn’t think that experience was necessarily a shared one. I was wrong — that post remains my most popular, and I get responses to it every day from women who tell me how much they identify, how hard it’s been, how badly they needed to hear it. On the one hand I am so glad that my voice is one that has helped, and on the other hand I am so furious that anything like that has needed to be said.
Our media is ruining us. It’s destroying our self-worth and our love for each other, and it’s making us believe that we don’t have value if we’re not constantly striving to be Boobs McTinypelvis. Worse, it’s making other people believe that, too.
Fat is one of the only things that it is acceptable in almost every group to mock and deride openly. It happens all the time across every platform of media, on every website, and in every corner of my life. This is not to say that fat hatred is worse than racism or ableism or misogyny — I’m not interested in playing oppression Olympics or erasing intersectionality in the interests of one-upping each other. I am, however, saying that fat hatred is something that exists across all spectrums and is encouraged without impunity. I’m saying that magazines that photoshop every female body on their glossy, glossy pages are telling every female body that they’re not good enough, that they don’t have value, and that no one will ever or should ever love them. I’m saying that message is an insidious one that has wormed its way into every facet of our culture and made everyone believe that “thin” is the only important thing to be.
Think about it this way: 81% of ten-year-old girls say that their number one fear is to be fatter. And the biggest wish for girls 11-17 is to be thinner. Not President of the United States. Not a best-selling author, or a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, or a world traveler, or an award-winning photographer, or a world-famous athlete.
Some of us will never be thinner. We are no less deserving of love. We should be able to see ourselves in all of our belly-rolled, stretch-marked, extra-inched glory in our media.
And what I mean when I say that men in particular don’t tend to understand is that cis men’s bodies aren’t subject to this kind of bullshit, not nearly to the extent that women’s bodies are, and so they do not understand that when I finally take that leap of faith and put myself out there I’m jumping over a massive fucking canyon full of bullying, self-loathing, at times suicidal depression, and years and years and years of looking at glossy full-page spreads of women who did not look anything like me, at all. There’s no bridge. It is, every time, a superhuman feat.
Therefore I cannot compromise. The amount of effort and energy I put into not hating myself, then being neutral about myself, then loving myself, does not allow me to settle for anything less than rabid desire. I cannot allow anyone near me who does not quite want me, well maybe, I’ll do — I cannot. Despite everything the media has told me to the contrary, these are the things I know: I am passionate, and I deserve someone who is passionate about me. I have the heart of a lion. I am so fucking strong. I have to be, because some days are still so fucking hard.
I should not have to convince anyone. Nobody should.
The #KeepItReal campaign is asking magazines to publish just one un-Photoshopped image per month. Just one. It’s not that much to ask. It’s a baby step, but social change happens slowly, and a baby step forward is so much better than standing right here where we all hate ourselves and money is made off of us hating ourselves. We can make this happen. Together, we can create a culture of media that supports and empowers us. We can start today.