Sex and the Fat Girl: The Femme Mystique

Tasha Fierce
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Tasha Fierce is a writer living in the occupied Tongva territory known as Los Angeles. You can follow them on Twitter at @tashajfierce and read more of their work on their website.

I talk a lot about lingerie, perfume, makeup etc. as ways for fat girls to feel sexy/enhance sensual feelings. These are all fine and good ways to do so—but what if your particular groove doesn’t mesh with the more “femme” style of sexiness? Not every fat girl feels hot in skimpy nightclothes or red lipstick, and that’s not necessarily because they don’t feel good about how they look. Some fat women might find the pinnacle of sexiness in wearing boxers and a tank top. In a culture in which gender conformity is expected of not just fat women but all women, how does society treat fat girls who don’t conform to gender stereotypes or engage in traditionally feminine behaviors?

Social norms tend to demand that fat women be hyperfeminine to be considered attractive. We’re supposed to wear clothes that are form-fitting to show off our “curves”, make sure we pay attention to hair and makeup and wear something frilly underneath it all to enhance our femininity—all to offset the fact that we’re fat. That’s not to say that fat girls who love makeup and clothes, etc. are slaves to gender conformity, just that we tend to have it somewhat easier based on our personal preferences. Fat women aren’t often considered attractive in yoga pants and a loose-fitting shirt; they’re more likely to be desexualized and labeled “manly.” Not “androgynous” or “tomboyish,” which are terms of endearment usually reserved for those thin women who have “boyish” figures and short hair, and are not necessarily indicative of the woman being viewed as unattractive. The truth is, if you’re a fat girl and you’re not dolled up, you can be virtually invisible. Your sexuality is erased so potential partners often ignore you, which basically means they see past you. Yes, there are men and women who find less feminine fat women incredibly hot, but unfortunately a large part of society is still conditioned to see less feminine fat women as a “mother figures,” or “good friends,” or “dowdy,” or any number of less-than-sexually-appealing terms/phrases.

The good news for less femme fat women out there is, you (hopefully) know you’re hot. The fat/size acceptance movement is trying to change how society portrays attractiveness, so hopefully one day the whole world will know you’re hot. Knowing you’re hot means you’re confident, which, as I always say, is the most important component to sexiness. Those people who would ignore you or desexualize you or simply not appreciate how awesome you are aren’t really the kind of people you want to be with anyway because clearly they’re not interested in fighting societal beauty standards. And you have your own standards because you’re not putting up with someone who doesn’t find you attractive as you are, and you’re not interested in trying to fit the mold of what someone else says a fat girl should be.

I’m not trying to put down more femme fat girls to lift up less femme fat girls. We’re all in this together, and it takes courage to go out there and do your thing no matter if you’re wearing a tight strapless dress and heels or some purple Adidas, a pair of slacks and a button-down. But I feel it’s important that we acknowledge that not every fat girl is “femme,” and recognize the particular problems a less feminine fat girl faces in this rigidly gender-divided society.

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15 Comments Have Been Posted

thank you!

I believe it wasn't until I attended my first NOLOSE conference that I realized not being femme was not a big deal. I am rather gender queer or soft butch and happy and ok with it.

Actually, you ARE putting down hyper-feminized femmes.

I see you're on a rant about all sorts of forms of self identification and fat-identity being potentially sexy, but you ARE putting down those of us who choose to present as hyper-feminized or old-school "high femme". Signifiers are in society to indicate that one is receptive to the idea of being sexualized. Even in queer society. I won't flirt with a woman in pajamas in a bar, fat, skinny, genderqueer or whatever, because I think her self esteem is too low for her to bother presenting herself in a favorable light. Birds and bees do it (present fluff and color), so why shouldn't a person consider herself sexy when she chooses to PRESENT herself sexy? You've actually given a bizarre turn that you expect us to objectify ourselves in all roles and forms at all times to challenge gender diversity. Sorry, but I know lots of skinny, androgynous, "boyish" bodies women out there who'd just like to go through their day unmolested sometimes, and the loose tee shirt and yoga pants is just as much of a hiding mechanism for them as us fat femmes.

And yes, I wear mascara to the gym, because my glasses make me look squinty and stern. My ass is what makes my ass look fat, and my giant boobs and belly are what make me look (ahem) curvy.

How so?


I'm not sure where you see Tasha putting down women who choose to present as feminine; that is not how I read this piece at all. She is just saying that women who choose not to present as feminine might face more pushback from society at large, especially if they are fat. Also, there is more than one way for a woman (or man) to be sexy, and for some people, pajamas or yoga pants might do the trick. Just because that's not what gets your attention certainly doesn't mean the person in question has "self esteem too low to bother presenting herself in a favorable light."

I also disagree with you that Tasha expects fat people (or any people) "to objectify [them]selves in all roles and forms at all times to challenge gender diversity." I certainly didn't get that sense at all from reading this article. In fact, she seems to be saying just the opposite: We should do what makes us feel good about ourselves and challenge societal beauty norms that might tell us otherwise.

"I won't flirt with a woman

"I won't flirt with a woman in pajamas in a bar, fat, skinny, genderqueer or whatever, because I think her self esteem is too low for her to bother presenting herself in a favorable light."

As a woman who has been known to run around in pajama pants in public, all I wanted to say is that sometimes it's indicative of extremely high in, "I don't need you to approve of how I look because I approve of how I look." I mean, I think feeling like one HAS to put on makeup and cute clothes to leave the house could also be indicative of low self-esteem. Or it might not it it's, ya known, done in the name of fun and feeling good. If wearing pajama pants is done in the same vein--in the name of fun and feeling good--then it's not indicative of low self-esteem. Self-esteem can't be judged by its cover. You don't have to be attracted to that look, but I wouldn't make the judgment that it's about self-esteem.

Thank you

I agree. I don't wear makeup and have gotten similar comments. "Oh, you don't wear makeup because you have low self-esteem and don't want to be presentable." That's not at all the case. I don't wear makeup because I hate the way it feels on my face and I like the way I look without it. I think I look better bare-faced, so that's what I do. Just because someone does something that falls outside traditional ideas of pretty femininity doesn't mean they have low self-esteem. Maybe labeling everyone who doesn't fit your beauty ideals as lazy and self-loathing is a sign of low self-esteem on your part?

Thank you so much for this.

Thank you so much for this. I am very uncomfortable in makeup, femmy clothes &c, and shopping with girlfriends is a nightmare because it seems like they are always pushing "cute" clothes at me. I know it would make me look more attractive by society's standards, but the "OH GOD GET THIS FRILLY SHIT OFF OF ME" reaction is just too strong. I don't begrudge other people wearing it; I often see people rocking outfits that I would chew my foot off to get out of no matter how pretty it made me look. idk...

Great article

I had never ever really thought about <i>why</i> I feel the pressure to femme it up. I kinda figured, like most women, I had just been indoctrinated to <i>want</i> to look that way. As a feminist, I always felt very weak in that area, still shackled to society's expectations of me and my "womaness." I've tried, over the years, to be comfortable both without the frills and with the frills, and to make it a choice depending on my mood and circumstances. But, again, I never connected my desire to be super-socially-constructed-feminine with my fatness. My god, do these lines hit home:

<blockquote>"Social norms tend to demand that fat women be hyperfeminine to be considered attractive. We're supposed to wear clothes that are form-fitting to show off our "curves", make sure we pay attention to hair and makeup and wear something frilly underneath it all to enhance our femininity—all to offset the fact that we're fat."</blockquote>"
<blockquote>""The truth is, if you're a fat girl and you're not dolled up, you can be virtually invisible. Your sexuality is erased so potential partners often ignore you, which basically means they see past you."</blockquote>"

That says it. That's why I've been investing so much time, energy, money and emotion for the past 16 years in hair, makeup, "shaping" undergarments, clothes, etc.

Thank you Tasha! Now, what to do with this understanding . . .

I appreciate that you reinforce that there's nothing wrong with "choosing" either as a way to be fat and present ourselves, but the feminist in me can't help but be more outraged that society wants/expects me to be ultra-"feminine" to "make up" for being fat on top of society wanting every woman to be "feminine." And of course, I mostly give in . . .

Does anyone else struggle with this? Do any of you other fat "ultra-femme" girls know this pressure is why you doll up and how do you reconcile your feminism and self-confidence and sense of self?

-"feminine" and its cousins are in quotes, because of course what it is to society is so narrow, limiting, non-inclusive, often-damaging and arbitrary.-

Hm. I've actually experienced

Hm. I've actually experienced the reverse. I've had people mock and shame me because I dress femme and I'm fat. Because fat women don't deserve to look pretty; how dare they show their bodies off when they're so fat and disgusting?? ZOMG.

Women can't win no matter what they wear or look like. There's always some asshole out there ready to judge.

Yeah, I have pretty much

Yeah, I have pretty much figured out whatever I do I will always get shit for it. I take this a sign to just do my own thing. .

Ignored or...confronted/yelled at/insulted

Great piece, though I don't find it's a choice between femming it up and getting by as attractive, or not femming it up and being ignored. I find it's a choice between conforming as much as possible to avoid being stigmatized and confronted as much as possible, and plain old being stigmatized and confronted. Not news to anyone here, but it's remarkable how free people feel to insult/shame/yell at/etc fat people. From the total stranger who yelled out "fucking fat bitch" at me on the street last month, to the jerks who shouted "hey fattie, pedal harder" as they drove by me on my bike, to the snitty bitches talking in half-hushed voices in the change room at the pool, to the co-worker who talks constantly about this fat guy and that fat chick...Sometimes it feels like an act of defiance not to bother trying to fit in. Other times I don't have the energy to fight off feeling humiliated or ashamed.

I agree. We should have the

I agree. We should have the option to be ourselves and sexy without being super dolled up all the time. I am fairly low maintenance. Okay, maybe mid-range.

I am most comfortable in

I am most comfortable in jeans, flip flops and a concert tee. I go to a lot of heavy metal concerts and have a huge collection of tees. When I wear this, I notice I get weird looks from other girls, and the guys just smile at the band on the shirt. I often get ignored at stores. When I wear my "girly" clothes, and designer bag, I get treated so well at stores, mostly by girls. What does this say about how we girls are toward each other and how we judge others so much by their appearance? It's not just an issue for fat girls, but girls of all sizes.

This. I don't wear

This. I don't wear flip-flops AT ALL, but I do wear jeans and flats with a nice shirt most of the time. I notice that people, especially other women, tend to look at me with disdain because I don't fit their idea of what a "pretty" girl is.

My purse is not designer and I don't wear much jewelry, only my wedding ring...although I bought some cute earrings recently.

When I was in school, I noticed that the superficial girls tended to be more friendly toward girls that they deemed attractive and acceptable, as if their looks and clothes made them more worthy of being treated with respect. I have experienced situations where I would talk to somebody and the person would respond with a dirty look or a snobby attitude like, "eww...why are you talking to me?"

I know that if I were considered beautiful or stylish, it would be very different. I agree with you that it isn't only fat girls who experience this. I'm not fat and I deal with this constantly.

I'm biracial, black and white. People stereotype me and discriminate against me all the time.

Finally, I don't have to be femme!

Thank you for writing this piece. All of the fat-positive features I've seen on the internet have been very concerned with high-femme and fashion. As in, using femininity and fashion to "take back" the fat stigma. Which is great, in my opinion, but it's just not my thing. I tried it for a while, and I don't like it. I'm much more comfortable with myself when I don't worry about fashion or clothes or any of that. So thanks for writing about it; it's always comforting to have one's choices be validated.

Attitude is everything

I think Tasha's bottom line here is that sexy comes in a lot of different packages, and women should feel comfortable demonstrating their sexuality in whatever way they choose to present themselves. I'm glad that our world is slowly adjusting to a belief that women's sexuality is not ONLY expressed by femme style, because sex appeal can and should be expressed through whatever style makes a woman love the way she looks and feels. I find that the women I find sexiest are those who have no consciousness of their own appeal - whether a woman is sitting at the bar in pajama pants or a black dress, if she owns it, she's hot. It's like Nan said - high self-esteem is incredibly attractive, and it comes from being totally comfortable. One of the very few good pieces of advice that my d-bag father gave me when I was whining through my awkward middle school phase is that attitude is everything - people don't notice what you're wearing as much as they are drawn to the "vibe" you're giving off. We as woman should dress for our own kind of sexy, not anyone else's.

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