7 Things You Didn't Know About The Term BBW

I first came across the term BBW on Wordpress (where all my revelations in 2012 seemed to go down). Acronymous for "big, beautiful woman (or women)," it popped up in the post of a male blogger who was examining the history of the Rubenesque in the art world. I was puzzled that he prefaced his article with some kind of disclaimer about how he wasn't trying to fetishize fat women, just trying to analyze how perceptions of fatness have changed in art and in contemporary culture. Three years later, I've realized that there are few topics in the realm of body positivity so quick to incite debate and controversy than the world of the BBW. 

I spend a lot of my time thinking about and discussing body positivism and fat acceptance. Since delving into this movement as a college senior trying to find my place in this insane, body shame-inspiring world, I've had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about their feelings surrounding this term. I've attended BBW parties and dances and meet-ups (most major cities seem to have them, but you will have to research) and I've met humans who have no qualms with it at all or who feel it's solely responsible for the slow progress of size acceptance. 

There's a lot more to this term than meets the eye, though. It's not just an Instagram hashtag, nor is it simply used in sketchy ass corners of the Webosphere. Here are seven things you didn't know about the term BBW and its colorful existence.

1. It Likely Originated In Porn

Fat Girl BBW Nude Bookmark, $5, etsy.com

In my experience, haters of the term BBW will often resort to one prime reason for their distaste: Its origins in porn. Although you won't find much reliable literature on the subject online, Wikipedia will tell you that "big beautiful women are also on a number of pornographic websites." This is usually in the form of a sidebar or drop down category specifically dedicated to fat, naked ladies, and it's seemingly been around for as long as porn on the Internet has been a thing.

I'll be the first to admit that porn can be problematic AF. As Bustle's Amy McCarthy wrote in "Porn Is Lying To Us: The Unrealistic Ideas Perpetuated By Adult Films:"

"The increase in availability of porn [...] has manifested in a number of physical and psychological ways. More women shave their pubic hair than ever before, and procedures like labiaplasty didn’t become popular for cosmetic reasons until porn really hit its stride in the 1990s.

This isn’t to suggest that all porn is bad [...] What is bad, though, is allowing the unreasonable expectations presented in a fantasy sex scene to infiltrate the bedroom in a way that negatively impacts women."

And this isn't even taking the use of underage women, children, or abusive situations into account. Porn can be problematic, but it isn't always.

To claim that all porn is bad, and all women involved in porn are being manipulated into it, feels to me like an invalidation of some of those women's agency and autonomy. The reality is that there are plenty of vocal porn stars out there (including BBW porn stars) who seem to love their work — and whose work is tied to visibility and representation of fat, empowered, sexually liberated bodies. And there are plenty of women who enjoy watching porn themselves. That, my friend, is nothing to hate on.

2. It Isn't Just About Fetishism

Red Mermaid Print 5x7 BBW, $10, etsy.com

A lot of fat women grow up believing that the possibilities of finding love are very, very slim for them. And that if they do ever find someone to love their roll-some bods, it'll obviously be someone who specifically has a "fat fetish." This is where tag lines like, "My body is not a fetish," (easily observed on social media, and often on the profiles of vocal fat activists) likely come from. I get it. Being told that your body is unloveable by all with the exception of sexual deviants is a pretty fucked up thing to hear. 

I have two problems with the "BBW fetish" complex, though. One: Fetishism doesn't have to be a bad thing. These days, it feels like a word used to describe sexual preferences that people are uncomfortable with. From the non-heteronormative to the BDSM, we often apply this label to kinks and sexualities that we can't neatly categorize elsewhere.

I'd bet a whole paycheck that there are as many sexual preferences in this world as there are people. Our inability to understand or relate to certain ones doesn't automatically mean they are harmful. To demonize "fat fetishists" as all being interested in using a fat woman's body for its fatness and nothing more is generalizing an entire group of people, and creating victimization and demonization where they don't always apply. 

Problem No. 2: Not all people who use the #BBW label have sexual preferences that skew towards fatness. Some just feel like big, beautiful women and use the label in its most literal definition. Real talk: There's nothing wrong with showing pride in being a BBW.

3. But It Can Be About Fat Sexuality For Some

BBW Mermaid High Quality Print On Canvas, $29, etsy.com

Remember how I said that there are as many sexual preferences in this world as there are people? Yep, that means that for some humans, the term BBW will hold sexual connotations (it did originate in porn, y'all). It never ceases to amaze me how we welcome whipping and lashing with open arms when it's coming in the form of traditionally pretty characters, but bring out the torches as soon as someone talks fat sex.

There are many people in this world who identify with fat sexualities (of which there are many). From fat appreciators (people who see beauty in fatness, be it in themselves or others) to gainers (men, women, or anyone in between who find sexual satisfaction in gaining weight) to feeders (those who find sexual pleasure in having a partner who is actively gaining weight through eating) and feedees (those who find sexual pleasure in gaining weight themselves through eating, often with the help of a partner). 

If you do a quick Google search of any of the above, you'll be bombarded with a whole lot of negativity. You'll be told that all of these sexualities are run by abusive men who force women into gaining weight for their own twisted pleasure. You'll be told that no one who identifies with these sexualities can possibly give a shit about their health. You'll be told that it's all disgusting and corrupt and weird and awful.

An anonymous writer for xoJane put it best:

"Most public conversations about feedism frame it as though the feedee is some kind of helpless victim who is being bullied into eating. This is not the case with most feedism dynamics. It rings pretty misogynistic to me to assume that a woman (feedees are typically, though not always, women) who might be into eating a lot of food and getting fat must be being 'tricked' into it."

You can't really blame her for writing anonymously. As soon as humans (even some in fat acceptance bubbles) hear the words "feederism" or "feedism" (terms often used to describe sexualities revolving around feeder/feedee dynamics), they go squeamish. But she summed things up like so:

"I am a fat woman, and I derive real pleasure from feedism. My pleasure is no more or less valid than anyone else’s. I prefer to fuck men or women who don’t think I am sexy despite my fatness, but think I am sexy because I am smart and funny and yes, because I am fat and I am crazily turned on by the idea of getting fatter."

To reiterate: Not all people who use the term BBW use it for sexual reasons. But as for those who do because they are unapologetic about their sexualities, all the power to 'em. 

4. For Many, It Has Been Reclaimed In The Same Way As "Fat" 

Sandra 5x7 Print, $10, etsy.com

I'm all for empowering descriptors, especially as it pertains to fat, marginalized bodies. From "lardy lady" to "fat queen" to "proud fatass" to "jiggle princess," I think these words and phrases can serve as great reminders that there is beauty to be seen in all things wobbly. As Bustle's Courtney Mina wrote in a post about her positive use of the term BBW, "When I finally felt the freedom to feel sexyI was able to begin building my confidence up in all other aspects of my life as well. I felt stronger as a woman, more powerful, and certainly more sure of myself after embracing myself as a BBW." 

Even if BBW was a term solely reserved for dark corners of the Internet filled with shady shit and shadier people, its reclamation would still be a noble thing. Much like fat activists have taken back the word fat as their own, so too have many women done with BBW. We need more ways to talk about fat bodies safely. We need more phrases that make the notion that "fat can be beautiful" something heard the world over. We need to show fearlessness in being big, beautiful, women, so that hopefully one day other big, beautiful women will realize there is nothing wrong with their bodies. 

5. BBW Spaces On The Internet Can Be Pretty Rad

Cat Eye Glasses 5x7 Art Print Fat Girl BBW, $10, etsy.com

A lot of sites marketed as fat dating platforms (or feedism-related dating platforms) can also serve as great spaces in which to meet likeminded friends. Plus, those aforementioned BBW events and meet-ups will likely be advertised on them. As with any dating site, there will likely be some creepers, but there will also be some gems. 

Websites like Fantasy Feeder and Feabie — although largely focused on fat appreciation, fat dating, and fat sex — are also pretty safe platforms on which to meet people who are trying to de-stigmatize fatness in the world at large. Because there are users on these sites from all over the globe, you'll also have the opportunity to talk to people living in cultures and societies completely unlike your own. You'll get a feel for fat stigma and fat appreciation in different social structures than the one you're experiencing — and, for me, that's always been irrevocably important. And if you want to delve into fat dating or fat sex? You definitely won't be starved for literature (or opportunities) on that front.

6. BBW Models Are Badasses 

Cute BBW In Bikini, $10, etsy.com

A lot of BBW modeling on the Web is intrinsically linked to nudity. Be it "gainer models" who document their progress and the empowerment they feel through what they're doing, women who take beautifully shot photos of their fatness from every angle imaginable, or women in fat porn, a lot of these babes spend a lot of their time in their birthday suits. And I think it's fucking rad. 

If you live in the first world, chances are you're acutely aware of this idea that "thin is good and fat is bad." It permeates everything — from retail to media to body image. Not unlike the reasons for which partaking in a lingerie shoot can be totally body positive, so too can partaking in nude shoots or seeing fat women partaking in nude shoots be total sources of empowerment. 

In a world that tells us fat is ugly/undesirable, taking ownership of one's body and recognizing its beauty feels radical to me. Not only are these women adding some much-needed imagery of fat, naked bodies to the world, but they're dishing out massive eff you's to the beauty standards that tell them they don't deserve to feel sexy, wanted, visible, worthy, or even human. 

7. It's A Vehicle For Broadening The Mind

'70s Dream Girl Stickers, $4, etsy.com

I seriously hope that one day, things like "fat sex" or naked fat ladies won't scare the shit out of so many people. I hope that I can have a conversation with someone about the pleasure you can feel when you embrace your fat body in the bedroom without them blushing. I hope that ideas of "fetishism" and non-cookie cutter sex broaden to a point where we can be accepting of those whose kinks differ from our own. I hope that fat women who dare show off their rolls via utterly beautiful, important nudity aren't slut shamed for it. I hope that individuals who find empowerment, sexual gratification, and/or pride in gaining weight aren't deemed lepers and pariahs.

I don't know that these things will ever happen. I mean, in the States, especially, we live in a culture far more conservative and Puritanical than we often care to admit, and this undoubtedly translates to our perceptions of sex, sexuality, and diversity. When two friends of mine from the UK visited recently, one of them left thinking, "It's just so backwards," after two weeks here (two weeks!) and it's a sentiment I've heard expressed by almost every foreign friend I've discussed this with. 

So, yeah. I really don't know that these things will ever happen. But I do know that the term BBW and its many proponents are helping broaden minds. Even if someone stumbles upon a BBW model or forum, and leaves abruptly, thinking, "This is so gross," they'll likely still have some images implanted in their minds. They might think it's just an image of a weird fat person touching their rolls. But it's really an image of an empowered fat person daring to question social norms — daring to express difference in a world that doesn't often celebrate it. Images like that will always mean something.

Want more body positivity? Check out the video below, and be sure to subscribe to Bustle’s YouTube page for more self love inspo!

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Images: Marie Southard Ospina/My Boudoir UK; Courtesy Brands 

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