When I joined Tinder this summer, more guys approached me in the first week than had approached me my whole life. I’m heavy. Dating has never been easy for me, and now add to that the fact that I’m 31 years old — I’m not going out like I used to in my 20s, so there are even fewer opportunities to meet people. Of course, I’d been hesitant about Tinder, since it’s obviously very looks-based. It’s not like other online dating sites, where you get to write a profile, and people might be interested in me because I seem funny, and we’re both Jewish, and it turns out we’re both from New Jersey and went to University of Michigan. Also, I always thought Tinder was all about sex. But then suddenly I had multiple friends finding relationships on it. So I gave it a try.
Right from the beginning, almost every guy I matched with went very quickly from “What are you up to?” to super-sexual comments, mostly about my size: “I like em thick and you look THICK”; “Your chest makes me so hard right now”; “Can’t wait till we meet so we can titty-fuck.” I got lots of requests for the motorboat. After that first week, I was like, Huh. People fall in love this way? So does everyone have to weed through this many messages to find people that aren’t just looking for sex? None of the meet-cute Tinder stories I’d heard started with messages like, “Love those thick thighs, want to feel them wrapped around me.”
I started asking my friends, co-workers, pretty much everyone I knew on Tinder if they’d had to deal with similarly graphic messages, and the consensus was: Umm, no. Sure, they may have encountered the occasional creepster, but those certainly weren’t the majority of the people contacting them like they were me. I even looked through one of my friend’s Tinder accounts; none of the messages were as vulgar as mine.
For me, it wasn’t necessarily what these guys were saying but how quickly they were saying it. It wasn’t like I’d been messaging them for weeks or days or even 20 minutes — it was literally the first conversation:
“What are you up to?”
“Nothing much, just hanging out, what are you up to?”
“Nothing much. Love those titties in the blue dress.”
And it wasn’t just happening during late-night hookup hours. Once it was 10 a.m. on a Saturday, when I was sitting at the hair salon. It went from a short introduction to:
Him: “I don’t want to get out of bed.”
Me: “You don’t have to! It’s supposed to rain anyway so no guilt.”
Him: “Come join me.”
Me: “Lol yeah I’m kind of out and about today.”
Him: “I’m sooo hard right now.”
At first I tried to think if I was maybe sending the wrong message with my profile photos. I’m certainly not covered up in them. I mean, you want to put your best foot forward, so they’re shots of me when I was dressed up — like when I’m at my friend’s wedding, in a blue Vera Wang bridesmaid dress with sheer straps and a small V-neck that showed a little cleavage. And in general, I don’t hide my body. I work in fashion and I’ve had the benefit of some of the best stylists in the industry teaching me what does and doesn’t work for my shape — a turtleneck widens me; a pencil skirt slims me. A big girl working at, say, a law firm may be more inclined to wear all non-fitted clothing, which only makes you look bigger, but she doesn’t have colleagues like mine to tell her that upfront. So, yes, my profile pictures show my curves. But they’re certainly not provocative. At least not according to anyone but my mother. She saw my Tinder pictures and said they were “very dramatic” — she’s learned to use euphemisms like that when she’s talking about the way I look — but that’s just my mother.
Probably a month or so in, I started to realize why these guys were so obsessed with talking about my body and so categorically un-interested in any other kind of conversation: They had a big-girl fetish. They weren’t interested in getting to know me; they just wanted to have sex with a fat girl.
I had never thought of myself as someone with a so-called fetish body, which sounds kind of naïve now that I say it, because I’ve looked like this pretty much my whole life. I’m 5’2", my bra size is 36J — yes, there are bras that go all the way to J — my pants are around a 14. People have said I remind them of Kat Dennings; I’m bigger than her but we have the same kind of pale complexion and big brown eyes and long eyelashes, and I’m like her in the way that I’m not afraid to show cleavage. I don’t know how to define “fetish body,” exactly, but I think — because of the size of my boobs and the fact that I have a waist and the fact that I accentuate those things — certain guys, a lot more guys than I thought, are turned on by the novelty of it. Thinking about it now, I’m sure I’ve been hit on in the past by people who deep down had that kind of fetish; they just weren’t being so blatant about it like these Tinder guys, who can hide behind their phones.
The realization brought out a lot of my insecurities about my body. I know people have all kinds of fetishes — blonde fetishes, Asian fetishes — and I know I’m not the first person to be treated like a sex toy. But it was hard to stop my mind from running: Oh, they think they can go right into the sex stuff because they assume bigger women are starved for sex. They think they can talk to me however they want because I must be desperate. One guy wrote to me: “You’re really hot for a chubby girl.” I wrote back: “I don’t know how to take that.” Because I didn’t know how to take it. Why would you want to contact me to insult me? Part of me wanted to write, “You’re really hot for an Indian” — because what does that even mean? Finally he responded: “No, I mean you’re really hot. I’m into thick girls.”
The thing is, a lot of bigger women do put up with a lot of treatment that they shouldn’t and settle for any little attention they can get. We think, If you ask for too much from them, they’ll go away. You need them more than they need you. There are so many gorgeous women in this city. When I’m talking to a guy, I feel like I have to try extra hard to be smart and sweet and funny and go-with-the-flow, so he’ll like me in spite of being curvy. I recently had a Skype date with someone I met on OKCupid. Early on in the conversation I said something about the fact that I didn’t know where to put my hands — just meaning that, talking over the computer, I felt oddly more aware of my hands for some reason — and he said, “Well, you could touch yourself.” Even though it was totally inappropriate — in my mind, this was supposed to be a little bit of a date — my big-girl complex was telling me to laugh it off, which I did, at first. Then he said, “See, that’s how I know a girl is cool, if she laughs when I say something like that.” I had to work up the nerve to respond: “Maybe you should be trying to impress me rather than trying to give me ‘tests.’”
Honestly, I can’t say all the attention I’ve gotten from online dating, fetishistic or not, hasn’t been flattering. Normally, being fat kind of makes you invisible. That’s why — even though I was always a loud and funny person who wanted to be liked, even as a child — as I got heavier my personality got louder. I really related to that episode of Louie, where the waitress Louis C.K. is on a date with talks about how “It sucks to be a fat girl” and “Feeling attractive. Having guys chase after us. That’s just not in the cards for us.” There have been a lot of times that I’ve thought, Maybe I should stop putting all this effort into my hair and makeup and manicure-of-the-week — stuff I really enjoy — and just spend all that time at the gym. Because I’d have more options for guys if I were thinner. I look in the mirror a lot, mostly at just my face, and sometimes I think I’m pretty vain for someone who shouldn’t be. So now, suddenly getting attention for my body is, to some extent, nice.
Ultimately, I’ve found something refreshing about the fact that you have less than a second to make an impression on Tinder. It’s: This is what I’m working with — yay or nay? In the past I’ve had to wonder whether someone has been interested in me in spite of my size. I’m learning how to edit my responses. In the beginning, I would engage these guys that were fetishizing me. I’d respond to their comment: “That’s gross.” And then they’d write: “Why is that gross?” I’ve had that conversation numerous times. But now, if a lewd remark comes too quick into the conversation — again, I’m not a prude, and I don’t mind some sexual talk, but at least put in 20 minutes of getting to know me first! — I just stop responding altogether. In some cases, I do feel like these guys are actually trying to be complimentary. If they say something like, “I love your curves,” and it’s not the very first comment they make and my instinct is that they’re coming from the right place, I try to feel flattered.
I still haven’t had any Tinder dates yet, but I have had a couple of sexual encounters since I made this “body fetish” discovery, and it has slightly changed the way I feel in bed, the way I feel being naked around somebody. In the past, I used to cringe when guys I’ve been hooking up with — whether we were dating or we met that night in a bar — have been really vocal about my body: “There’s so much to grab, I love it!”; “Love those big titties”; “What a juicy ass.” A couple of times I’ve even stopped the hookup because I was so uncomfortable. I’ve tended to put those encounters out of my head, but on Tinder there’s been at least a dozen separate instances of that kind of talk, all in one summer, so it’s harder to ignore. It’s forced me to take a long hard look in the mirror. This is what I’m working with.
The last guy I was hooking up with, at one point he looked at me and said: “It’s okay to enjoy this. I’m into it, I’m into you. It’s okay to come.” And I was like, You know what, it is okay to come. I wouldn’t say Tinder has been a confidence booster, exactly. I certainly don’t want people to be attracted to me because they’re fetishizing me. And I don’t want to be this weight; I know if I were thinner I would feel better and probably get promoted more at work and be able to pull off skinny jeans and other clothes I dream about. But Tinder has made me realize that even though I may not be so into the fact that I’m plus-size, some guys really, truly are. And I should enjoy it.