12.15.2010

Fat Admirer or Fat Fetishist

I was listening to the latest episode of the Two Whole Cakes Fatcast and Marianne and Lesley were discussing fat admirers and fat fetishists. Its a discussion that comes up a lot when discussing fat sexuality and specifically fat admirers. It struck me, though, that this common distinction is one I'm not convinced there is a justification for.

I know I didn't always think so. Indeed, fat admirers commonly talk about fat fetishists. Thing is, that's always something someone else is. The distinction is usually drawn as one group being good and the other bad. Now, to be fair, the Fatcast rejected that understanding, but I still think that's how most people view it. Fat admirers are fine, but fat fetishists are a problem. I know I've endorsed that idea in the past, though I've never been totally comfortable with it.

The problem is, I don't know what would usefully differentiate these two groups. Having been exposed to a lot of communities focused around attraction to fat partners, I just don't see any real camps of "admirers" and "fetishists". As to how both might respond to fatness, I don't think there is a meaningful distinction. I may not always feel comfortable with what they do with their feelings, but I can't say that what I feel seems any different from what other men like me feel. I think it'd be easy for me to say that I'm different or better, but I can't do that in all honesty. What I feel for fat is what they feel for fat, so I'm not comfortable singling some people out as fetishists. Not because fetishes are wrong, but because I just don't think its the right word for what this is and I'm not convinced there is something else it would describe. A point made on the Fatcast is that we never talk about having a fetish for penises. This is my sexuality.

Which is not to say that different men (and women) don't do different things with this. I have a post I've been wanting to write for a while called "The problem with Fat Admirers" because while I know I've been a bit of an apologist for Fat Admirers lately, I am actually acutely aware of how earned a lot of the perception issues are for my sexuality. I don't tend to last long in Fat Admirer communities because I invariably spend my time telling them to be better and being told to shut up for my troubles. But I can't divorce my sexual identity with their sexual identity. On a very basic level, the physical attraction we feel strikes me as essentially identical.

I also think this division is born out of trying to accommodate fat stigmatization rather than confront it. Outside fat communities, we're ALL fat fetishists. And this is not for any nuance of behavior but for the essential desire for a fat partner that we share. I feel like the dichotomy was born (quite some time ago) from an effort to flatter this conventional ignorance. Oh, sure, there is fat fetishism but that's not me. Well, I'm not prepared to make such allowances. I think many of the distinctions raised about the differences often have less to do with this sexuality as it does with male heterosexual identity in general.

I'm going to keep writing about this because its way to large to get into one post and I really do want to get into the problems in fat admirer behavior and how that links to male sexuality in general but also how the problems relate to the stigmatization of fat attraction. But I'm not going to try to draw very hard lines to credit myself over other men. On a very essential level, I think sexual attraction is a wonderful thing. Sexual desire is a wonderful thing. There shouldn't be shame about that. It is okay to sexually desire a fat body and in our culture that really needs to be said straight on and without reservation. My reservations absolutely will come, but I want to push that as far away from the essential act of sexual desire for a fat partner as possible. That should not be stigmatized in the least and I feel on that level there is no dividing line between so-called "fat fetishists" and so-called "fat admirers". On a fundamental level, we are the same thing.

21 comments:

Notblueatall said...

Love this! Can't wait for more. I am so happy that more than a few people are talking about this and perhaps one day no distinctions will be required at all, it will just be. Thanks.

silentbeep said...

I have a confession to make: I have no idea what a fat fetishist is. But I think I know what a fat admirer is. Sometimes, i get the inkling that fat fetishist label gets applied to straight men that really are just interested in sex, not a relationship, with a fat woman. But I don't know.

I don't know if that's a fat fetishist or someone that just wants "booty calls" or someone that is disrespectful to women that happen to be fat, I don't know really. All those situations I described above are different from each other, and i don't think they have a whole lot to do with fat, but with other things.

I mean: some fat women aren't interested in what is oonsidered a conventional, monogamous relatiionship. Some just want sex. And if this dynmiac is a "fetish" I mean, some people like to be "fetishized" because (for lack of better terms) they are kinky/freaky/whatever like that and they want to share a fetish. I'm not sure how to approach this, or how to use the right words for this.

However, I gather just from reading a little bit about fat sexuality, some of this fat admiration stuff is threatening for so many different reasons for so many people.

Anonymous said...

I think you are in many ways right that the distinction is sometimes, if not most times, about othering. My experience has been that there's certain men who like fat women who creep me out--usually I see them as primarily objectifying, often misogynistic, and often not at all fat political--and others who don't. I'm not always sure I put the creeps in the fat fetishists category, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case.

But I must ask, what about feeders? Are they fat fetishists or admirers or something different? Is the distinction still hollow?

Palaverer said...

I've recently discovered this site (might have been from Shakesville?) and after reading through the first page of posts, I really like your perspective.

Speaking as a bisexual fat woman, I have considered myself a fat fetishist since long before I knew there was any negativity attached to that term. For the life of me, I know not why fetishes are considered bad. And I don't see the difference between myself and someone who claims the label FA, so if you figure that out, I'd love to hear it.

I think your reference to a penis fetish is a good analogy. It is considered normal to sexualize certain parts of the anatomy, most notably the genitals. But breasts may be an even better analogy. In western society most straight men have what could arguably be called a fetish for breasts. Because it's been so normalized, no one cares. And find me a man not obsessed with his own penis to the point of a fetish. We just don't call it that.

But make it about something less mainstream--feet, ears, fat--and suddenly it's perverted and immoral. Why should I be more focused on a penis than a belly? It holds heteronormative, PIV sex as sacred and condemns that which is simply a different expression of sexuality.

And to the anonymous poster, feederism is its own fetish. It intersects with fat fetish; we often share the same porn ;) If you want to learn more about that from the horse's mouth, I highly recommend the (sadly now defunct) blog Feedee World".

Brian said...

I absolutely think there absolutely are distinctions in behaviors and I totally get the feeling of being creeped out by men who like fat women. It frustrates me and I know I've tried to define that stuff away in the past, but I just don't think its fair of me to do that. To make it other people only makes me feel better, you know? But especially coming from a stand-point that doesn't reflexively stigmatize something as a fetish, I don't see a difference there. Not on our relationship with fat.

Like I said, I think some of what produces the creeps are cultural about men in general. In silentbeep's example, a straight man who was just interested in sex with thin women would be called a fetishist. He'd just be called a man. That's within the culturally expected behavior for men. It shouldn't be, but it is, so treating it as a problem only when the object of attraction is transgressive sends the wrong message. Anyway, this gets into the FA Problem post I keep talking about that hopefully I'll write soon.

As to feeders, I would say they are not fat admirers at all and I'm not comfortable using fat fetishist to describe them either as it wouldn't represent the variety of behavior seen. Essentially, though, feederism is not about fat. It seems like it is, but its not. Which isn't a condemnation. It's just not. The problem is feederists have aggressively campaigned to define fat admirer identity as not merely inclusive of feederism but as essentially feederists. This effort was essentially endorsed by institutional fat acceptance for a very long time and the end result is a lot of really distorted views about fat admirers and FROM fat admirers who either reject the identity because of this association or embrace the association out of a misplaced sense of requirement. But again, that's a whole 'nother discussion.

Palaverer said...

Brian, I'd like to have that discussion another time. I'm really not trying to pull this off-topic, but I discovered the fat acceptance movement ten years ago and even at that time, they were adamantly anti-feederism. And while I'm not into feederism, I do associate with some communities online (again, for the porn) and I've never seen them define feederism as essential to fat acceptance. So either this happened before my time, or I missed it, and I would be appreciative if you took the time to direct me to information regarding that, either in a future post or private communication (so as not to further derail this conversation).

Brian said...

Feel free to send me an email Palaverer. There is a lot of stuff that dates back past 10 years and public statements haven't always aligned with what was happening behind the scenes. While I don't think its explicitly stated much anymore, the communities that exist for FA's is still largely born out of the structures set up in that time so I think the pressure to either identify as a feederist or not identify as an FA at all still exists.

lili said...

I see the point your are trying to make but I do not agree. I feel that Fat Fetishism is something quite different as it shifts the focus of the attraction from a fat person to just fat tissues. You could draw a parallel to foot fetish here: Many men seem to find a woman in high heels arousing, this is merely an expression of a form of gender expression, a foot (or a shoe) fetishist would rather satisfy himself with the shoe than the woman in it, or at least the shoe is going to be highly necessary to his full satisfaction.
In that sense, you could say that the thin women bodies are a huge (pun intended) fetish in our society for man AND woman, as it seems that plenty of relationship there are based on women being and staying thin ABOVE all else
People are attracted to each other for a bunch of different reason, long hair, short hair, blue eyes, but also sense of humor, wit and yes fatness and who knows what else. I like mens arms for instance and it is indeed highly arousing to me but my sexuality does not revolve around arms. My husband has plenty of other sexy things to go around. My focus is on my husband, the person, not his arms or his butt, or his feet or whatever, though all these things are enjoyable. I will be sexually fulfilled if I do not get to grab my husbands arms ever again,
Both are fine and the more kink the merrier in my book but it really seems that an admirer (of whatever flavor) is attracted to a person, a fetishist is attracted to an object.

Brian said...

My point though, lili, is that my sexual attraction to fat isn't functionally different from that. How I respond to fat tissue is pretty much identical to how a "fetishist" would. The pleasure we would each feel would generally be the same.

The difference you describe is real, but I don't think we would generally define a fetish by what a person does (or doesn't do) outside of that fetish. A fetish can only be meaningfully classified by its own terms. So, while I think there are fat admirers that objectify fat women in a dehumanizing way, I don't feel like I define them as something other than who I am. There are a lot of straight men who do that and we never culturally think to define them as fetishists when the object of attraction is conventional so it would be unfair to do so when the attraction is less conventional.

Believe me, I want to disassociate myself with that kind of behavior. It disgust me. Both in conventional men and those who share my sexuality. I've come to believe, though, that this reaction isn't fair of me. I hope that these behaviors can change and I think other fat admirers like me who treat people with respect should take some ownership in trying to correct that. I can't just say this is someone else's problem, not mine. I feel like it is my problem and one I want to see get better.

Palaverer said...

I don't think that object fetishism requires viewing the person themselves as an object. One can be sexually obsessed with a part of anatomy and still respect and appreciate the person as a whole.

Which is not to say that some fetishists do not view the person as reduced to the part in question, but I think that is a personal failing rather than a defining quality of the fetish.

Brian said...

Right. I think that's the problem with trying to carve out a fat fetish from fat attraction. Its just too big of a thing to have a fetish for. (pun not intended). I think a fat admirer can have a fetish for a specific body part, and that may or not be expressed in a healthy manner. But I'd still say they are fat admirer with a fat-related fetish instead of defining them as something functionally other.

Giussi said...

As a SSBBW Escort in a large city, I find a strong distinction between people who are fat fetishists vs. fat admirers.

To me the difference between fetishist & admirer is that fetishists are more detached socalially and have a laser focus. It's almost as if they can't be sexually satisfied unless they can have this very specific experience with a very specific size, shape & color body-part. There's a human connection that is not required for the fetish to be satisfied. They have very specific questions and requests. Are you this tall? Do you weigh over this amount? What exactly are your measurements? Do you have a big stomach? Can you wear this specific type of clothing? That shoe? etc. And if I don't have the right answer, they move on. Also the fetishists are much less interactive. They approach me sort of like a living RealDoll - telling me to pose this way or walk back & forth while they just watch. They don't really want my attention or company. They want to look at me - my stomach or ass from various angles. They want me to jiggle it. They may want to touch the body-part of desire but that's rare. They're not seeking a sensual experience so much as a sexual one.

The admirers seem to like fatties the way some people prefer redheads or Scorpios. It's just what they like. They're engaging, interested in an entire person, wanting a mutual experience, a connection. They want to know me, talk with me, entertain me, please me.

If I had to boil it down, I'd say the big difference is in the level of connection sought by different people. Not to say that fetishists don't pursue relationships with women who meet their fetish requirements...

But as an Sex Worker - the fetishists are well distinquished from the admirers.

Brian said...

My point isn't that there aren't very different kinds of Fat Admirers. But, that's just not how we use the word fetish in other contexts. And these are behaviors commonly seen in men attracted to thin women without any such distinction being made. I might want to make those guys into something "other" to flatter myself, but I have to admit that the sexual attraction is no different. Fat admirers like jiggling, too. They like certain body parts. A fetish should be defined by the fetish, not the social awkwardness of the person who holds it.

Again, this doesn't mean that these different behaviors don't exist. They absolutely do and they work noting and discussing. But I think drawing a line like admirer vs. fetishist is not a useful one. It encourages the "otherness" of my sexuality and in some real ways denies my sexuality by stigmatizing it with an association with a group I wouldn't identify with. If we're going to understand the real distinctions, we need to be more focused when we define them. Our sexual desires just isn't a significant point of difference.

meyghann said...

Thanks for a very thought-provoking post. I too, have reservations with the wordchoice. But I'm not persuaded that because the words are imperfect and because there's some overlap between two types of people, they're the same. I've understood fetishism as being sexually aroused by the non-sexual- either on the human body or otherwise.

I'm not comfortable with saying that fat admirers are fetishists because I don't think fat should be acknowledged as non-sexual. And I think such a concession basically throws in the towel for Fat Acceptance. However, I'm completely comfortable saying a particular type of man attracted to fat is a fetishist because I've met them. Here, I find the comments of the escort really instructive. It's not about what turns someone on. There are times where an individual finds gratification in only within a rigid sexual construct, where the focus on particular girths and body pieces is intense, dehumanizing and to me, completely non-sexual- not because of what arouses, but of what doesn't. If the attraction is so overwhelming that there isn't room for a whole person, for another participant, for outside input... maybe again "fetish" isn't the right word, because there are obviously some people who find it sexual. But there should be a word. There are differences between the two groups, and I don't think these should be ignored.

As a woman, these differences are crucial and make or break sexual experiences for me.

Brian said...

I think those differences, though, speak to how they relate to sexual partners and not their sexual desires. I've seen people talk about fetishes I don't share and how I respond to that and I've seen how what are often classified as fat fetishists talk about their desires. Honestly, what is turning them on is pretty much the same as what is turning on fat admirers. The sexuality isn't any different.

The dehumanizing treatment of women is absolutely a problem among far too many fat admirers. And far to many conventional straight men, though I think other factors conspire to increase the intensity of the problem in fat admirers. Calling that a fetish, though, stigmatizes fetishes in a way that I don't think works in how its used in other contexts. A fetishist isn't, by definition, someone insistent on dehumanizing encounters with their sexual partners. I think in a lot of ways to get at the nature of this problem among fat admirers, we need to look away from otherizing these men. I deplore it, but I can't really say that our sexuality is much different. The problem is coming from somewhere else.

silentbeep said...

"The problem is coming from somewhere else."

Well, the thing is thin women have this experience too. It's not as if "all thin women are totally not treated like sex objects, but only as whole people." Not being treated like a whole person, is a potential problem for all women, unfortunately. In other words, this objectification is about a dynamic that isn't necessarily intrinsic to fat attraction. It's intrinsic to other cultural forces and influences that are not primarily based in fat such as sexism, misogyny, sexual immaturity, abusive behaviors, etc.

I have a friend, a gay fat man that was somewhat uncomfortable in the "bear" community. He met men that thought he was hot, and depending on the guy, he was creeped out by some of the attention he received. Some guys he felt weren't "fat fetishists" and he was o.k. with that and enjoyed it. But others made him feel like an object and he didn't like that.

Palaverer said...

Objectification sounds like the right choice of words, silentbeep. If it's fat specific, call it fat objectification.

I could see three different types of people who seek out fat partners: Fat admirers, which entails finding fat aesthetically and/or sensually pleasing in a partner; fat fetishists, which entails sexual obsession with fat while still appreciating the person; and fat objectificationists (objectifiers?) which would entail the behaviors described by Giussi.

Sleepydumpling said...

I think you're so right, however I wonder if it's just the approach that is different.

I don't ever want to be treated as an object by a potential partner. I am more than my fat. But the same goes for being objectified for any other feature. Ask any woman who's posted photos of her shoes on Flickr... having a stranger treat me as a pair of feet to be fucked is just so repulsive. Yet should a potential partner find my feet attractive, then that's fine.

It works the same for me. I love hairy chests, but a man is so much more to me than just his hairy chest, I want him as a whole, not just part of him.

Does that make sense?

Brian said...

I always think our culture creates a false choice between being loved for something and being loved in-spite of it. Loving someone for a trait is often framed as a negative, especially fat, while the other is exaulted as a virtue. But why is loving someone "in spite of" who they are at all honorable? That's not a good thing. Its about enforcing cultural standards, not true love.

I figure there are two less objectionable variants of these standards. You can love someone with genuinely no regard to something so its not something you are explicitly martyring yourself over as in the "in spite of" construction. Or you can love someone inclusive of, where there is a genuine attraction to a specific trait but that is not the entirety of the attraction.

The foot example is a good one as I've seen that before, too. I wouldn't say that this is emblematic behavior of having a foot fetish, though. Plenty of people have the same sexual reaction but are still capable of treating people with respect. Being a foot fetishist doesn't mean reducing a woman to nothing but a pair of feet. Although some foot fetishists will do this, it is unrelated to the sexual response that actually defines them as a foot fetishist.

Sleepydumpling said...

It's not that I'm singling out foot fetishists, just using the example of the Flickr thing. It happens with tights as well, and no doubt various other things.

It's the objectification I find distasteful, rather than someone being attracted to a feature.

Princess Pea said...

I liked the post, I couldn't wade through all the comments, but it seems to me that people of every shape size and orientation, struggle with being people pleasers or with being control freaks. The specific behaviors that are being used to distinguish fetish from preference are power and control problems, are they not? I wholeheartedly support your post that seems to argue that we need to not divide ourselves up and pick on the people who have very normal issues with power imbalances that are expressing in the way such issues do express in romantic relationships. I think fat acceptance is a goal worth staying unified to achieve. I also agree with you that its unwise and hypocritical to judge.

It's hard enough for me to just admit to my lesbain circle of friends that I have a fetish for penises, never mind trying explain the difference between a fat man and thin one. BUT we all know when some one is using our insecurities to bribe or harangue us into conforming to an ideal that is not our own. OH!! no we don't all know that and that's what needs to be taught. I think fat people of all gender and gender variance would be safer from controlling behavior inside the community if they were not so marginalized from the outside, but in the meantime lets not make it worse by inside discrimination. Love the blog!!! Best wishes PP

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