April Flores has been a successful adult film star for over a decade and is known as an icon of sexual empowerment to her many fans. She also happens to be fat. While she finds the experience personally fulfilling, she also wants her career to send a message.
"I want to show other women of my size, not of my size, other people, just anybody that's watching, show them that a fat woman can be sexy, sexual, explore her sexuality, express her sexuality," Flores told Mic.
And she's not alone. While models of size and body image activists are successfully pushing back on narrow beauty standards that uphold an impossible standard of thinness, beauty is just one battle in the war on fatphobia. Beyond accepting or embracing their appearance, our culture must truly learn to love fat women in all senses of the word — including recognizing their sexual desires and agency.
There are still plenty of misconceptions perpetuated about fat women's sexuality, including that "we're not confident, we are unhappy, we're at home every night crying into a bowl of Ben & Jerry's," Flores said. Sex and sexuality, she continued, is "coveted in our society" and therefore, fatphobic attitudes that vilify and even dehumanize fat people perpetuate the idea that people of size are not "worthy of sexuality."
One woman recently demonstrated the prevalence of this misconception through an experiment she conducted on OkCupid and wrote about for Metro UK. Yvette Caster created two profiles, identical save for her size: One accurately identified her as a size 18 and another reflected her at a previous size 10. The thin version, she reported, received more than double the messages, likes and visits than the other.
There are likely many reasons thinness is equated with sexual desirability, but media depictions that reinforce this standard is certainly a significant one, sex educator Elle Chase told Mic.
"The U.S. has 'Media Stockholm Syndrome,'" Chase told Mic. American culture's dependence on media that narrowly equates sexual desirability with being "female, Caucasian, cis, heterosexual, thin, young and with all appendages and faculties intact," contributes to a standard in which individuals "are desexualized based on how socially unattractive they are," she said.
The prevalence of images and depictions like these are compounded by age-old sexist attitudes about women that equate their worth with their bodies, according to fat activist Virgie Tovar.
"We live in a culture that teaches women that our bodies are the most the important things about us, and our bodies are tied to our sexualities in so many obvious ways," Tovar told Mic. "When we teach women to feel ashamed of their bodies, we are also taking away their capacity to experience sexual pleasure and we are limiting their ability to exercise sexual freedom. When we feel shame, it is easy to disassociate and disassociation is antithetical to sexual pleasure."
Tovar knows firsthand how powerful this internalized shame can be.
"I learned at a very young age to associate attraction with rejection because of my body," she said. "I was definitely a sexually frustrated teen who thought weight loss was the only way I'd ever get anyone to notice me. I dreamed of having the 'discipline' to starve myself so I could get sexual attention."
And yet, people who watch pornography are seeking big women in record numbers. According to a Pornhub study published on Mic last month, searches on the site for videos featuring "big beautiful women" have risen 47% since 2013.
Many fat women hope to emphasize this reality and reclaim the damaging media narrative about fat women's sexuality in no small part by creating their own media. Plenty are using social media to prove that not only is sexual empowerment possible for women of their size, but realized and enacted by many.
Tovar, for example, launched the hashtag #LoseHateNotWeight to destigmatize the fat female body in all senses.
"Social media has served to boost the signal of a message that mainstream media had convinced us was a minority opinion," Tovar told Mic in February.
"With Instagram and Tumblr there are so many women who are a little bit bigger really expressing themselves in terms of how they dress, the way they look — their hair, makeup, everything — just being this embodiment of their own individuality, and they ooze confidence," Flores said. Larger women, she added, are using these platforms to "work together, to help each other out."
These efforts prove that "fat people do enjoy sex," Flores concluded. "We deserve happiness, and sexuality and sex is under that umbrella of what we deserve."
What's more, this movement is one that women of every size would do well to note, fight for and incorporate in their own lives. As Chase put it, "when women are able to pick the lock of self-loathing and see the situation for what it is, out comes an unshakable confidence that was never there before."