Plus-size women deserve to find love on dating apps too — not be treated like a 'dirty little secret'

What plus-size women experience on dating apps. (Getty Images)
What plus-size women experience on dating apps. (Getty Images)

Talk to any plus-size woman who dates men about her experience on The Apps™, and you'll likely hear some version of a common refrain. Men will explicitly tell plus-size women that they only want to hook up with them or form a "casual" relationship (even if their dating profile states otherwise). The implication is that women in larger bodies should be grateful for any attention they receive — and that they aren't worthy of being wooed in public.

This phenomenon is ubiquitous enough that it shows up in pop culture, time and time again. In Shrill, for instance, Lindy West shares the story of a college classmate who was happy to sleep with her but refused to take her on dates where they might be seen together. When conventionally attractive men fall for plus-size women, there must be something wrong with them, or so the narrative goes. And those women pay the cost, with many left wondering if that hidden-from-the-public affection is all they deserve.

After ending a decade-long relationship, I created dating profiles on Tinder, Bumble and Hinge in 2021, my first time using the apps. I expected to get messages from trolls telling me I was unhealthy or would never find a partner, but I hadn't expected so much attention from men who didn't want to date me publicly.

Some men had profiles stating that they were physically interested in larger women. Others had profiles stating that they were looking for relationships, only to send messages declaring the opposite — for fat women, at least. Some would send messages about "working to get in shape." And some saw physically being with a larger woman as a novelty — something they hadn't experienced before and wanted to try. In every case, it was about my body, not about me as a person.

Image of Meghan De Maria against a magenta background.
Meghan De Maria sounds off on dating as a plus-size woman. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: courtesy of Meghan De Maria)

When I shared these stories with friends in larger bodies, we discovered they'd had similar experiences — and in some cases, we'd even matched with the same men. (One person a friend and I had both matched with sent her a message saying, "With bigger individuals, I just want to f***.") The experience is even worse for people who identify as "large fat," aka U.S. sizes 26 to 32, as well as for those with physical disabilities or mobility issues.

Physical appearance is the first thing you notice about a new person, and there's no denying that it plays a huge role in dating, online or otherwise. But living in a larger body seems to be a license for potential partners to throw basic human decency out the window, skipping introductory small talk in favor of commentary about how your body can serve them.

Of course, many of the same men who participate in this behavior are vocal about how fat women supposedly aren't attractive, are categorically unhealthy and the like. (Ask any plus-size social media influencer, and they'll probably have a story for you about trolling Instagram comments they've gotten about "glorifying obesity," simply for daring to exist without hating themselves 24/7.) But the cognitive dissonance is that the men in question don't actually believe what they preach.

It's not that plus-size women are unattractive — it's that straight-size men are afraid of the societal backlash that comes with admitting they find those women attractive. (They aren't afraid, however, of telling fat women outright that they "don't have the balls" to date us in public, as plus-size writer Virgie Tovar discovered.) Of course, it isn't these individual men's fault that fatphobia is so deeply ingrained in our culture. But loving fat women only in secret is perpetuating and upholding those norms, and it's actively causing harm.

Pornhub user data routinely shows the popularity of searches for "BBW," aka "big, beautiful women," on the site. According to Pornhub's 2019 statistics, "men are 21% more likely to search for BBW when compared to women." For all of the societal hand-wringing about fat women supposedly "promoting an unhealthy lifestyle," there are plenty of men who don't actually find people in larger bodies so repulsive after all.

Compounding this issue is the fact that attraction to women in larger bodies is often referred to as a fetish. Merriam-Webster defines a fetish as "an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification." By this definition, simply being attracted to fat women isn't a fetish; it can become one if a person is only attracted to fat women. Categorizing all attraction to curvier women as fetishization only furthers the idea that finding these women attractive is abnormal, which Pornhub's data has shown is far from the case. Fat women aren't outliers; they're the majority of American women. And there's nothing abnormal about finding them attractive.

Columbia College Chicago fashion studies assistant professor Lauren Downing Peters told CNN in August that 67% of women in the United States are considered plus-size. And that plus-size majority deserves so much more than being someone's "dirty little secret." In America, living in a larger body is the norm. We need to normalize loving those bodies too. Societal norms won't change overnight, but we can start the process by redefining what kinds of love we deserve and will accept into our lives.

Fat people are here to stay — and we're here to demand more than being treated as less than. I don't want to be loved despite my body, and I don't want anyone's love for me — and all that it includes — to be a secret, either.

As for the men on the apps who insist that larger-bodied women are only good for hookups and not relationships? They're only telling on themselves and their insecurities. Fat women fall in love and have wonderful sex every day, and we're done doing so in the shadows.

Meghan De Maria is a journalist and body liberation advocate whose work has appeared in Glamour, Cosmopolitan and more. When she's not writing, she leads the Plus Raleigh group in North Carolina's Triangle area, connecting plus-size people for support and community.