In 2010, in the seclusion of my single dorm room, I spent most of my minimal free time on Tumblr, making friends through fandom. I was almost 21 and had never been in a relationship, though it had never occurred to me to try online dating. Some of my most meaningful friendships had been sown and harvested on the internet, but extending that to my love life felt weird.
Mostly, I felt weird.
That year, I realized with heart-stopping clarity that my attraction to women wasn’t hypothetical. Beyond that, I had a deep-seated hatred of my body that made it difficult for me to converse with people I liked romantically. I would flirt, occasionally, and revel in comments on my heavily edited selfies.
But whenever anyone asked about my relationship status, I would freak out and delete the messages.
For years, my weight had been a sticking point with people I’d tried to ask out. It felt like something I would never get past; like no matter how great I was, my weight would always turn people off.
I was the disgusting fat girl. End of story.
Then, a Tumblr friendship became more. We were separated by nearly 9,000 miles and a 12-hour time difference to boot, but that seemed manageable. It felt a little like relationship training wheels. My partner couldn’t see me, or my size, and that made me feel safe, even though the few photos I had seen of them intimidated me.
Here I was, fat and pasty with sticker tattoos, nails bitten to the quick, and glasses that didn’t suit my face.
In photos, my partner was clearly too hot for me. But they didn’t have to know that.
When asked, I sent photos of myself. They were always angled to make me look thinner, even once those photos became more risqué. I took off clothes and held the camera high, tilted my jaw to give it more of an angle, pushed up my breasts in my fanciest bra.
The first time we had cybersex, it was after I’d sent a topless mirror selfie, the boldest I’d ever been. My stomach wasn’t visible, nor my wide arms. I tilted my head to make my chin and neck look smaller. We sent each other detailed messages of what we would do if we were in the same bed and brought each other to orgasm, thus erasing any trace of my virginity.
Cybersex became a space where I felt comfortable exploring my body with someone else. After several carefully crafted nudes, my partner said, I know what you look like. You don’t have to hide from me. It felt like permission to be fat and have sex.
It felt monumental.
They complimented my breasts, my face, my hands; they told me my stomach was “cute” and my thick thighs were “nice.”
They nicknamed me “bebe whale” and made it sound like a cute pet name. Although it made my stomach curl the first time, eventually, I got used to it. I even liked it, as long as they didn’t call me that before, during, or after sex.
Sex became a focal point of our connection.
We had cybersex, phone sex, Skype sex. We recorded voice notes of our orgasms. Eventually, I visited. Any anxiety I had about being with them in person was erased by several delayed flights and a burning desire to just finish the trip, which made our first real-life hug pretty anticlimactic.
At my hotel, it was different.
I feared that seeing me — really seeing me, without the filter of a camera or the distance of half a globe — would turn them off. But they didn’t hesitate to touch me, once I asked, and we spent three weeks exploring each other, bodies fully on display, limbs entangled.
Physical sex was different from cyber sex. It was headier, messier, sweatier; I couldn’t control the way my stomach jiggled when we moved on the bed or the way my chin multiplied when I pulled back from a kiss. I was too heavy to be on top unless I strained my arms to keep me up, and my partner noticed all of it.
I was self-conscious, and they told me, it’s fine, bebe whale, I love you. I believed them, though the anxiety never really faded after they told me I was squashing them during a particularly vigorous round of intercourse.
When I came home, my weight became a Topic of Conversation.
My partner told me that they wished I could have been on top. They said things like, we could have better sex if you were more flexible. They suggested I lose weight.
The anxiety I’d felt during my visit amplified into something ugly, and it never really went away, even after we broke up. Our cybersex felt like a safe, comfortable space to explore desire, but our physical sex brought it all crashing down. I felt too fat to be wanted.
After everything, I think that’s the one thing I’ll never be able to forgive.
I’ve been with just one other person since that relationship ended. We’re engaged. I know, unequivocally, how deeply I am desired. How deeply I am loved. My weight is neither a positive nor negative; it’s something that simply is.
Compliments from my partner are never about my size.
The pet names they choose don’t make me feel self-conscious. I used to fear that one day, they would wake up, realize I was a fat, ugly mess, and leave. I don’t feel that way anymore.
Of course, there are Bad Days.
I still talk to my therapist about my weight. About my ex. When someone takes your worst insecurity and makes you feel safe, then rips that away, it’s a betrayal.
It leaves a scar.
It’s been a long, slow crawl to once again feel like I can be fat and have sex. This time, I don’t feel like I need anyone’s permission but my own.
That is monumental.