A couple of years ago, I decided I'd never date anyone else who was interested in me "despite" or "regardless of" my body. After years of humans who — no matter how kind or clever or fun they were otherwise — always seemed to have the kind of superiority complex that told them that, deep down, they were doing me a favor by dating a fat girl, I was over it.
I've been in a relationship with my current partner for over four years. But if anything ever happened, I'd want to be with another someone who actually loves my body. Ergo, someone who is turned on by it. This isn't to be confused with "someone who loves me for my body," and only that. But rather, someone who, like me, actually believes that fat can be beautiful and sexy and fuckable. Much like someone could believe that thinness can be beautiful and sexy and fuckable.
In an ideal world — one where equality was actualized and the notion of body shaming antiquated — we wouldn't need the new plus size dating app WooPlus. We wouldn't need an "app for plus size singles and admirers to find their matches," as noted on the app's iTunes landing page, or for "big beautiful women (BBW), big handsome men (BHM), fat admirers, chubby girl[s], Dadbod[s], curvy women, thick women, and everything in between," because the notion that fat bodies are as desirable as any other body type, in that some people find them desirable and some don't, would be understood — and not just by fat people themselves, but by all people. We unfortunately don't live in this world.
Someone first told me about WooPlus back in Nov. 2015, but the app has recently skyrocketed to the press' eye, and to its fair share of criticism. Refinery29's Liz Black took note of the app's "condescending ads," tweeting, "Like a plus size woman would be shocked a man thinks she's hot."
Blogger Callie Thorpe of From The Corners Of The Curve told ASOS, "It feels that instead of addressing the way plus size women are treated in society — and most certainly on the dating scene — we are having to further separate them."
In the same article, curve model Felicity Hayward said, "To then make a separate dating app for bigger girls is a completely backwards step. There are no apps for girls under a certain weight, so creating something for bigger girls is basically segregating them from the norm. What’s wrong with using Tinder?"
SLiNK Magazine Editor Rivkie Baum told Huffington Post that WooPlus' approach was "animalistic," adding, "I can’t help feeling that continuing to make bigger bodies into a fetish by segregating them continues to make falling in love with someone above a size 18 seem unusual."
I understand every single one of their points, and for the most part, I agree wholeheartedly. Some of WooPlus' advertising is questionable, at best — the ad that Black highlighted in her tweet being a prime example. It depicts fat women as being unaware of, if not entire disbelieving of, their physical attraction, while depicting men as coming in to save the day and teach them otherwise.
Plus, during interviews, creators Neil Raman and Michelle Li have suggested that WooPlus is predominantly meant to help women, rather than all plus size individuals as the app's "about page" claims. Li told The Daily Dot, "We're just trying to provide a comfortable environment for women who happen to be a little larger." And when you go to WooPlus' main website, the tagline, "Big girls, you’ve got more admirers than you think," will greet you. Condescending? Sure. A bit sexist? Yeah. Could they have gone about these things far, far better? Absolutely. But is the actual woman's feeling in the aforementioned ad unrealistic? Not so much. Because when, in this world, are fat women (and fat men, in all honesty) taught that they are just as sexually desirable as their thinner or toned counterparts? Most fat people are told their "hotness" is 100 percent impossible. And a lot of those people believe it.
Regarding the app's emphasis on plus size women, Li tells me via email, "WooPlus aims to provide a comfortable dating platform for all plus size singles and their admirers. However, plus size women tend to be more the focus of cruelty and body shaming as opposed to their male counterparts." While there's no stat to back that up, the inherent marginalization of women in our society is sort of evidence enough.
But the sentiment that Thorpe, Hayward, and Baum have all expressed with the app is one of dissatisfaction with perceived division. Not wanting divide is definitely reasonable, and it's a feeling that can also be heard through campaigns like #DropThePlus. If we don't want to be treated differently, why do we have to use different terms, or different dating sites? Why do we shop at different stores?
I personally don't think that the folks at WooPlus believe "falling in love with someone above a size 18 [is] unusual." If that were the case, they'd be setting themselves up for failure. But I do think that much of the rest of the world does. I think the reason I — and many fat women I know — have encountered a plethora of dudes ashamed of admitting their attraction to us is because they don't believe they are allowed to do so without being ridiculed. I think it's why some will describe dating as a plus size woman to be "more of an exercise in patience and frustration than it is one in romance." Li tells me, "Large people have the same needs and desires for positive attention and love [as] thin people," but to a lot of people, that doesn't seem obvious yet.
Dating a plus size person is hard because being a plus size person is hard. Size discrimination runs rampant, and it affects everything from healthcare to employment to media to the size of seats on public transportation to the self esteem of individuals. That it would also affect dating doesn't seem unreasonable. This means that fat people grow up thinking their bodies are wrong, broken, ugly, and totally-not-sexy, while those attracted to fat bodies (regardless of their own body type) grow up thinking they are broken for being attracted to them. And it means that those not attracted to them are very rarely shy about expressing as much via "no fatties allowed" disclaimers on their OKCupid or Tinder profiles.
We then arrive at the issue of over-sexualization. A lot of the discomfort around the app also seems to stem from its use of terms like BBW. As Thorpe told ASOS in the same interview, "Personally, I am also not a fan of the term BBW — it makes me feel like I am a fetish purely for men and I’m not comfortable with that." Her thoughts on "BBW" aren't uncommon, and they're certainly understandable and valid. For me, wanting to be with someone who loves my body isn't the same thing as wanting to be with someone who loves me for my body.
The term BBW is intrinsically linked to the world of fat porn and fat fetishism, but I've always believed that it's misunderstood. Critique around it often seems to stem from the notion that men are the only ones with "fetishes," (a word with negative connotations, but that I personally define as "preferences" or "sexuality"), and so women involved in fetishism of any kind must only be doing it for men. But perpetuating as much only removes the autonomy of the many women who feel empowered by self-describing as a BBW.
However, a site for plus size dating doesn't have to be about "fetishism," if that's a term one is uncomfortable with. In much the same way that apps for gay and lesbian individuals like Grindr or Pink Cupid can coexist with Tinder, so too should an app for fat individuals like WooPlus. There's nothing wrong with wanting to use an app that is, in theory, meant for everyone. But there's also nothing wrong with wanting to use an app like Grindr or WooPlus that's catered to your own sexuality. And so I cannot help but feel that the problem some folks are having isn't with the over-sexualization of fat people, and specifically fat women. But rather, with the sexualization of a group of people we're not used to being told are, in fact, sexual beings (unless they're being branded as "promiscuous" or "desperate," that is). So in a way, I like that the founders have said that WooPlus is "Tinder for BBW." Everyone knows Tinder is oft utilized for hooking up and nothing more. And there's no reason that such sexual agency shouldn't be granted to fat individuals, whether they identify as BBW, BHM, or simply "plus size."
In this equality-filled utopian future we so often like to imagine, maybe there'd be no need for Grindr because gay men could express their queerness openly, in all parts of the world, without concern or consequence. Maybe there'd be no need for WooPlus, because fat individuals interested in being with someone who appreciates their fat could take to any standard dating site and not risk being told, "Sorry, you're fatter than your pictures," at an IRL meetup. But as Schools Of Equality — a site dedicated to educating students about all facets of equality — highlights, equality isn't very feasible without equity.
According to Schools Of Equality, equality is basically "giving everyone the same thing." Most of us cannot deny that it's a principle we need more of. But equity is "access to the same opportunities." And the former cannot be achieved without the latter.
The reason we still have to have plus size-centric brands is because the "standard" ones still aren't catering to us nearly as much as they should (have you tried going to the mall as a fat person lately?). Part of the reason we still have to call ourselves "plus size bloggers" or "plus size models" is because being "plus size," fat, or super fat is still regarded as the antithesis of "desirable," and most of us are trying to reach all the people in all the world who believe their bodies are wrong to tell them differently. The reason we need to reclaim the word "fat" is because it's been used to hurt us for so long (hell, being fat has been equated to being diseased since 2013). Maybe the reason we need something like WooPlus is because dating a plus size person still comes with its shame and being a plus size person comes with even more of it. And maybe the only way any of these issues will cease to exist is if we carve out our own spaces to fill the voids society creates.
In one of the best pieces of fat sex literature that I've ever read, Msvaginascience of the blog Persephone Magazine tackles "Fat Sex: What Everyone Wants To Know But Is Afraid To Ask." The author self-describes as "a fat woman who has had lots and lots of awesome sex almost exclusively with partners much smaller than myself." The intro to her essay — which later includes tips and photos for how to make sexual positions as enjoyable as can be when one or more parties is fat — reads as such:
"I know many women who would love to have sex with smaller partners but feel that it wouldn’t work mechanically, that two drastically different bodies couldn’t come together in a pleasurable way. Additionally, many women who do have smaller partners tell me they don’t totally enjoy sex because they feel self-conscious, embarrassed, or unfulfilled because they can’t 'let go' during sex. This brings me to what I feel is one of the most important parts of enjoying sex as a fat woman:
You’ll need to overcome the idea that your partner doesn’t know how fat you are."
She's not the only one who knows fat people who feel self-conscious in the bedroom, whether because they're in there with a smaller partner or not. And it sucks. As plus size bloggers and proponents of body positivity — as fat people comfortable in our fatness — I'd argue that we often forget that the vast majority of fat people probably aren't there yet. But how could they be? Unless they've watched that one episode of Empire where Gabourey Sidibe gets it on with a dude who's half her size and conventionally attractive, and no mention is made of their differing body types, they've probably never come across any mainstream media claiming that fat sex is normal. They've probably never come across any mainstream media claiming that feeling sexy and sexual in a fat body is normal. Or that being attracted to the fat body of another person is normal.
It's OK to be a fat person and have no interest in a dating site like WooPlus. It's OK to be a fat person who'd prefer to find a partner on a site that might not run as much a risk of encountering those who only like them because of their fat (although the risk of running into dickheads is real on any dating site). But it's equally OK to be a fat person specifically interested in being with sexual partners who love every roll and wobbly bit. Like Msvaginascience in her blog post, acknowledging that fat sex is logistically different to thin sex at times, and wanting to be with sexual partners who delight in those differences, should be allowed, too. Not enough people in this world feel free to vocalize their attraction to fatness, be it in themselves or other people. But perhaps it's spaces like WooPlus that help us get to the point when such vocalizations can be met with acceptance.