Feeling sexy — if we define the word as "sexually attractive" to both ourselves and others — isn't always simple. When you're trying to feel sexy as a plus size woman or femme, for example, you can't usually go a day without seeing an advertisement for "how to lose the bum flab now" followed by a before and after picture. In such an image, the "before" human often appears sad and disheveled. The "after" rocks an ear-to-ear smile, and can fit into all the latest styles. She, we are meant to believe, is the core definition of sexy. As for the fatties, they are nothing more than tragic accumulations of rolls who will never, ever get laid.
Even when some folks begin to embrace body positive (and especially fat positive) rhetoric, it's often easier for them to feel beautiful over sexy. Beauty, we begin to learn, is subjective and undefinable. It's "in the eye of the beholder." It's diverse and complicated and individualized. Sexiness, on the other hand, seems to be more mysterious. When you go so long hearing that only a certain type of body, or aesthetic, is worthy of sexual gratification, internalizing the notion that sex and sexuality are off limits to you isn't usually far behind.
That in mind, these seven plus size individuals have a few things to say. They have each found ways to embrace the sexiness and sexuality of their fat bodies. The below are their personal tips and tricks for how to do the same.
1. Substantia Jones
Substantia Jones, the photographer behind The Adipositivity Project, wants folks to know that "feeling sexy is far more vital for happy hot monkey love than looking sexy. And the two are too often conflated. Or [...] ignored."
"Looking hot to others is of no consequence in the getting it on department," she tells Bustle. "But looking sexy to yourself is what can turn a yawn into a yowl [...] If the reflection in your mirror isn’t giving you sexual pleasure, that, too, is fixable. Though it’s not your body that needs fixing. It’s your interpretation of it. Look at it ‘til ya love it. I promise you it works."
Sometimes feeling sexy is as simple as spending some one-on-one time with your body. Take in its curves and angles. Feel its softness. But above all, do so on your own terms. Jones adds that feeling sexy is part of her general "fuckyouism practice," because there's no greater eff-you to fatphobia than embracing the very thing you've been told could never possibly be sexy or sexual.
2. Amy Pence-Brown
Body image activist and artist Amy Pence-Brown has been having sex for 25 years, "which I think makes me a bit of an expert — on my own sexuality, at least," she jokes. Through it all, her weight has fluctuated by over 100 pounds.
"I've had sex with men who relished my fat body, men who secretly enjoyed it but were publicly embarrassed by it, and with those who couldn't care less about my exterior appearance," she tells Bustle. "All of them, though, would probably tell you that my confidence and comfort in my own skin was the sexiest thing about me."
Her confidence and comfort in her own skin come down to one thing: Refusing to apologize for being a sexual person. Pence-Brown notes that being openly sexual is "a subject that becomes more taboo the older, grayer, more married, more motherly, and fatter we get," particularly as women.
"So many things have helped along the way," Pence-Brown adds, "including supportive and kind partners and following other fierce, fat, feminist, sexy folks on social media and reading their stories. Taking more selfies of my body or my voluptuous jiggly body parts nude has also helped make me feel sexier, as have donning some really badass plus size sexy-things from places like Curvy Girl Lingerie."
3. Stephanie D. Penn
"For me, sexy is an attitude, it's my attitude," Daily Venus Diva's Editor-in-Chief Stephanie D. Penn tells Bustle. "It's the way that I look at myself in the mirror as I play [with] my hair after getting a brand new hairstyle. It's the faces I make after putting on my favorite shade of lipstick and the way I hold my head up high as I walk into a room with authority."
For Penn, feeling sexy is about making time for the small actions that you know make you feel good — whether your choices align with images of aspirational or conventional beauty is irrelevant.
"Recognizing my sexy doesn't mean I'm narcissistic," Penn says. "I'm simply being honest about what I bring to the table." Part of what she personally brings to the table is also her "ability to compliment my plus size sisters when I see them glow. Sexy recognizes sexy."
4. Melissa Mazza
For plus size babe Melissa Mazza, discovering her sexiness has been a "difficult concept." "Long before I entered the world of fat acceptance, I shut and locked the door on the idea of my body being desirable and sexy," she tells Bustle. "Until it was thin, of course."
Mazza adds that, to her, "fat and sexy were antonyms. Sex was always more about darkness, covers, and ‘good’ angles than pleasure and intimacy [...] But as someone in a new relationship for the first time in many years, I’m being led to examine my views on desire and sexuality, and push through those deep-seeded feelings of shame and fear."
She's gone about pushing through those feelings with the felp of fellow fat women, first and foremost. "Seeing the beauty in other fat bodies has done wonders for making me more comfortable with my own fat body," Mazza says. "Also, empathizing with the body acceptance struggles of peers brings validity and healing to my own." One way to go about this is to simply follow other plus size babes who you personally find sexy on social media.
Mazza also believes that it's crucial to "stop overthinking." So "buy the lingerie and sexy underwear, do the things that make you feel sexy — apply body lotions and perfumes, take steamy candlelit baths, [have some] oil massages — and include your partner[s] so you can both enjoy the sensations and experience."
Most importantly, however, it's important to remember that both feeling sexy and expressing that sexuality with other people don't have to be big, scary, serious concepts. In actuality, all things sex can sometimes be kind of awkward, kind of weird, and definitely silly. As Mazza says, "Laughing and being my true self with my partner makes me feel comfortable, and in turn allows me to be vulnerable and sexy."
5. Emma Medeiros
Emma Medeiros, who runs the first public relations firm in the U.S. to specialize in plus size fashion, has a more practical tip for feeling sexy. If you know your partner[s] happens to get quite turned on by a certain style of clothing, consider incorporating it into your wardrobe from time to time (provided it's a style that you're comfortable with, of course). This isn't about positioning your self-worth as something that's dependent on the perceptions of others. Rather, it's about seeing yourself through the lens of someone who already thinks you're sexy AF.
Medeiros tells Bustle that her husband has a weak spot for tank tops. "It makes me feel very sexy knowing that I have such power over him," she adds. "I wore [a tank top] when we went out on our anniversary and he kept rushing me to go home, so I made him stay out even longer just to torture him [...] We were [...] looking for new sheets and I kept changing my mind, saying, 'Do you like this one?' He was just like, 'Yes, I love it. Just buy the damn thing so we can go home!'"
At the end of the day, it's OK to let your partner[s] help you feel sexy.
6. Ratna Manokaran
Ratna Manokaran, founder of Adevi Clothing and blogger at Sapphire Splendour, tells Bustle that growing up in Malaysia, many of the things she wore were considered vulgar, and subsequently, she viewed herself as being too sexy.
Although expressing one's sexiness can still come with a lot of assumptions about one's sex life, Manokaran believes it's crucial to embrace your sexiness regardless. "It's only in the recent years I truly embraced [mine]," she adds. "And not for the clothes I wore, but how I felt inside about my body and sexuality [...] Sexiness [...] comes from the things I enjoy doing and feel passionate about."
7. Kitty Morris
For photographer and blogger Kitty Morris of Kitty Rambles A Lot, feeling sexy is directly correlated to learning to embrace her body exactly as it is in any given moment, rather than waiting for it to look any different. This is especially true of her breasts.
"Instead of forcing myself into bras that were uncomfortable to push them up and together, I've swapped to bralettes," she tells Bustle. "It's made such a difference to my self-esteem. Small boobs, particularly in plus women, aren't seen as desirable, but it's really made me look at them in a whole new way."
Although it's a more conceptual tip, finding the sexiness of your body as it is now — rather than as you hope it'll someday be, or as you've been taught to believe it should be — is a necessary ingredient to feeling sexy and expressing that sex appeal in the right ways for you. But it's also critical to remember that "sexy," like "beautiful," is not particularly definable.
For some, feeling sexy may look like a whole lot of red lipstick and fishnet tights. For another, it might mean feeling their warm bod in a bubble bath. For others still, sexy may be the special feeling that comes from being in a room with someone (or several someone's) who you know beyond a doubt want to ravage you. Any incarnation of sexiness is a valid one. What all of these plus size babes have in common is that they've found the methods that work for them. They've found their sexy, by their own terms.