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What it’s like dating as a plus-size woman

WORDS BY MARY ROSE MADIGAN

“I’m just a normal-looking lady with belly fat, and men were obsessed anyway.”

I love dating. While it isn’t exactly the Sex And The City vibes I envisioned for myself, (it involves more Birkenstocks than heels), it has been instrumental in teaching me to love my own plus-size body.

Of course, it’s true that learning to love yourself has to come from within, but in my experience sometimes you also need a bit of external positive reinforcement to get there and maybe the odd fuck boy to call you hot – I’m shallow but I’m also honest.


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When I was younger and wore lipgloss instead of lipstick and genuinely saw the surf brand Roxy as high fashion, I always felt like dating was only for skinny girls. In my mind the smaller you were the more chance you had of falling in love or lust.

In my defence, I grew up in the era where being skinny was very in. It was before the body positive moment had made its way to the mainstream and before Ashley Graham had modelled for Dolce & Gabbana. Instead, it was the era of Kate Moss heroin chic and Kelly Osborne being called fat.

There were no plus-size Instagram influencers or ‘any body is a bikini body’ hashtags. It was not a time where hips or curves were celebrated, instead, they were criticised. Nor did romantic comedies feature many plus-size female leads. Yes, there were some but it certainly wasn’t (and still isn’t) the norm, and it definitely made an impact on how I felt about myself.

If there had been more representation at the time, I think I would have felt entirely differently about my body, but the world around me was telling me I was the funny best friend, not the sultry female lead. For a long time, I bought into that.

I don’t think I exactly had a lightbulb moment, but somewhere in my early twenties, I made the decision to rewrite my own narrative. I was going to be the lead in my own romantic comedy – admittedly a low budget romantic comedy, I was wearing thrift dresses not designer ones – but still, there was going to be romance no matter the size of my pants. I was determined to stop counting myself out because of my size.

I decided that I needed to put myself out there in the dating world. I’m talking about downloading the apps and actively looking for romance. Sure, I’d had boyfriends and hookups before but through mutual friends or workplace relationships. I’d never really put myself out there and into the wider world, particularly not on apps where you are solely judged on your looks, at least initially.

I’d always thought the only way I could win someone over was through my personality – after all my stomach wasn’t flat, so using photos of myself to lure men felt very overwhelming. I entered the dating world tentatively, unsure, anxious and worried that I’d get no matches. You have to remember this was before everyone had Tinder. It was in the middle of the dating apps taking over the dating scene.

People were still lying and pretending they didn’t meet their boyfriends on dating apps. There was a stigma, but I was determined (and maybe also a little bit horny). The thing that shocked me almost instantly was how many matches I got and how many men messaged me and how many men wanted to meet up for a drink or a coffee. I realised pretty quickly that while I wasn’t skinny the general male population was very much still interested.

I got plenty of attention and that attention spilled over from the virtual world into real-life dating. I also think it’s important to mention I’m not shockingly good-looking. I’m just a normal-looking lady with belly fat, and men were obsessed anyway. Suddenly I found myself meeting men at bars, going on sushi dates, drinking coffee and dating all types of men, from builders to lawyers. It was exciting.

I was suddenly opening myself up to a whole new pool of men and experiences. I was no longer putting myself in a box and counting myself out and I honestly found the experience utterly delightful. Who doesn’t like realising that you’re actually quite lovely? That sure your stomach may never be flat but you’re fun and cute and men are interested in you.

I won’t pretend that going on a few dates suddenly cured all my body hang-ups but it was something that made me really learn to love and appreciate my body. After all, I was meeting men, who liked my body – even loved my body. It made me see my body in a whole new light as well. My body was not something that I needed to hide but rather something I needed to learn to accept.

Now, in a perfect feminist world dating a few men wouldn’t change my self-esteem. I should have been able to learn to love my body by learning to love myself, but you know what? Whatever works! I was young and looking for affirmation and a way to come to terms with myself.

Yes, it would have perhaps been more fabulous of me if I had found it by listening to feminist speakers and not on dates with men that used the letter ‘z’ instead of the letter ’s’ while texting. But it was a moment in time and a moment in my life.

I needed someone else to see who I was and what I had to offer and make me feel beautiful. The mirror in which I judged myself was no longer so harsh. The reflection that others could see, helped me learn to realise I was beautiful.

This article was originally published on December 8, 2021.

To learn more about body acceptance and body positivity, try this.

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