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Sunday 17 February 2013

Sex and dating for the plus-size woman

You may have read a real-life story from 'Josie's Juice' reader Maria on her life as a plus-size woman. It struck quite a chord. You can read that here.

In part two of Maria's story, she talks about romance, dating, and sex for the plus-size woman, in her own words.

"I think a combination of coming from quite a socially strict family (ie: not much socialising outside of family functions, etc) plus being overweight, inhibits you tremendously when you’re in your late teens and moving in to your 20s.

Those years from, say, 18 to 25, are your years to experiment. To find out what makes you, you.  To discover your sexuality and to learn how to relate to the opposite sex. To investigate your personality traits, and to live experiences so you know what you want and what you don’t.   When you’re overweight, and look at old photographs... well, I was SO much smaller back then -  I don’t know why my lack of self-confidence festered away at that time.

Dating was very difficult, and still is now, but these days for different reasons.

My first date was at the age of 19. Someone I met at a picnic with a girlfriend. The date was a disaster. Men were weird creatures and the only way I could keep the “weirdness” away was by talking non-stop. So, for the next few years, there were no more dates. I was working, going out with girlfriends and being approached by sleezy 40 year old men at the various bars in the city we would frequent. There was the odd gem of a man who would take the time to actually talk to me, share a laugh, but when you don’t feel “trendy” or attractive, teamed with not knowing yourself very well, meeting someone nice doesn’t progress to the next step: a date.

And then came the internet. Ahhh, the internet. You gave me a life and a new, trendier wardrobe! At 27, I had come in to my own element. I could be “me”. The first thing I did was become a member of a chat-site (sadly it doesn’t exist any longer).  It was SO wonderful. I still have friends 12 years on that I made there.

For the first time in my life, at 27, I was talking to a wide variety of people from all over Australia and the world; I began to realise I was a very warm and flirtatious person. My personality was able to seep through in the text I typed, and people responded.

This ability to communicate without the barrier of people looking at you first having a pre-conceived notion of you, opened up amazing avenues of socialising. There were weekends away, chatter harbour cruises and bar get-togethers. People already “knew” you, because for a year or two before we started meeting up in large chat-parties, we’d spent copious hours joking, sharing life stories and being there for each other without ever meeting.

Although there were no “romantic” interludes stemming from my online chatting, I did develop my personality, which was what I missed out on doing between the ages of 18-25. There was no judgment on the internet, people couldn’t judge you because of your size. It was liberating.
Well, at the age of 29, I finally agreed to get out and date. There were a quite a few, all of which I met online through chatsites, and they never went anywhere: 

“Michael” the windsurfer (it never went anywhere, but I finally got my first kiss… yes I know… 29 was very late – but not unusual in my childhood group of European and Asian friends);

“Michael” the weird guy whose place I went to for “dinner”, but when I got there he served himself a plate of food, and left me sitting on the lounge whilst he watched sport (thankfully my dad had wrestled with us as kids, because if it turned nasty I could have taken him down in one headlock);

“Hans” (because I can’t remember his name) who was a scuba diver, and who told me at dinner on our first date that “he’d have to weight me down with a lot of weight belts” to get me to be able to dive deep enough – at the time I laughed it off, but thinking back, it wasn’t very nice;

“Warren” a lovely NZ’er who if I knew then, what I knew now, would have been shirtless in the first 15 minutes.

They were all okay in their own ways, but no one really connected with me, nor I them. 

The worst experiences are when you organise to meet someone, and you stand there waiting for them for an hour. You eventually realise that they aren’t showing up, or have shown up and have checked you out and walked straight past you. Your self-confidence takes a knock.

Then came online dating sites and what do you know, there are sites for “BBW” – big beautiful women, and their admirers. Free profile listings, and wow, there are men who really want to meet you and get to know you. They find you attractive on the outside as well as the inside, and that you’re more than “a pretty face”. They see your photo, they contact you. They must like you if they spend the fee to contact you. 

I didn’t have to worry about it being “blind” – and needing to tell them that I was an overweight person.

By the age of 33 I had become selective in who I would meet, and eventually responded to an email from a guy off one of those specialty sites. There was something about him, and his way in speaking to me, and our mental click, that crept under the defensive wall I had erected. 

Thinking back, I fell hard. I was totally swept off my feet. I think, had I had more positive dating-life experiences earlier on, and gotten to know myself better without intrusive thoughts of “I would not be good enough for someone”, I would have realised a person who has such an impact on your life is a very rare find. The initial meeting and the subsequent six months was like a vivid dream - I know it sounds corny.

There are vivid snapshots I remember from that time, when you feel like your equilibrium has shifted, and you love the feeling of being off-balance and willing to steady your feet eventually, but not too soon, to just move with it for a while.

Even in the midst of a relationship like that, old demons come back to haunt you: old bad body-image phrases, doubts as to why someone as great as this person wants to spend time with you.   That inevitable question of “Why me?” – and men SO hate that question.

The old intrusive dialogue, experienced from the age of 7, of “You’ve got a nice face, you’re a nice person, but you’re fat” really does affect the way you relate to a partner, or any other person for that matter.

To try and have this all-encompassing feeling last as long as possible, my constant inner dialogue, on repeat subconsciously was “He’s a great guy, he wouldn’t be with you if he didn’t like you, just go with it, be yourself”. It works, but eventually old demons get intrusive. Up to 8 months ago, we still had constant contact, grounded in “friendship”. The term “friends with benefits” fits this situation perfectly up to about 4 yrs ago… and now it’s just friends.

Ohhh, the internet. You saved me from a life of having to get clothing made by a dressmaker.
I love online shopping. It’s virtually impossible to find clothes in sizing referred to in the US as “super-sized” clothing. There are some great larger fashion sites here. Dale & Waters, Elegance Plus and Making It Big, to name a few. These companies at least cater to a size above 26.

I can go shopping every season, and buy pants and shirts and tops that are at least trendy for a 42 year old to wear. 

Lingerie is a different thing altogether. For some reason, buying a good supportive bra here in my proper size, retails at $109 approx. I can order the exact same thing online from a place in the US, in a larger cup size than I can get through the specialty retailer here, for $30 plus postage of $30. It’s not difficult to understand that I will continue to place online orders for my specialty sizing super-support scaffolding garments and get two with postage for the price of one in a shop here.

I stumbled across a great online retailer in the US called “Love Your Peaches”. That was my very first attempt at buying clothing online. I chose the size and in 7 days my new jeans had arrived. I felt GREAT. I was finally trendy in a bought pair of jeans. They fit like a dream, and I proceeded to order MANY items, most of which I still wear today. They just last forever.

I have not had a bad experience with a member of the public saying anything to me about my weight.  It would be fair to say, I don’t put myself out there to be ridiculed or harassed, if that was to happen.

As close as I can recall to something quite eyebrow raising happening, is going to a small local clothing store and looking for Christmas presents. The Asian lady there said in no uncertain terms “we will have nothing for you here”.  I spun around and said “I am looking for a size 6 for a Christmas present”, and gave her my well-practiced death stare, after which her attitude changed. She always has a smile for me now, and goes out of her way to drag me in to her store to show me the new “size 6” range of clothing in case I want to buy. 

As for socialising out and about, I tend to go to large places where you kind of 'melt' in with the crowd, or small cafes where I can enjoy a quiet coffee with girlfriends.

It’s hard to socialise when you are overweight. It may sound ridiculous to normal sized people, but you are forever worried whether the place you’re going to, will have proper seating that wont cut in to your hips, or even give way when you take a seat. Those cheap aluminium and plastic chairs are the bane of my existence. I choose places to go, based on their seating. I realise that might be ridiculous to 99% of the population, but overweight people need to take those things in to consideration. Checking out a restaurant online is great - because people upload photographs of the venue, and you can check out the seating in the pictures.

Live theatre is something I miss seeing.  It’s hard to go to those venues because the seats are narrow, especially in the old theatres like the State Theatre. I don’t go to concerts much anymore, unless it’s held at, say, the Hunter Valley, where you can sprawl out under the stars with 10,000 other likeminded people, and soak up the atmosphere - there’s something very tribal about an outdoor, night concert."

For part three of Maria's story, stay tuned.

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