The Real 'Fatfishing'
Examining the confusing phenomena of men pretending to be attracted to fat women.
Vivianne and Vincent (2007) by Ariane Lopez-Huici
Back in 2017, I wrote an article for VICE about the lack of belly representation in mainstream body positivity. In the piece, I referenced lyrics by Drake on the song “Only” (by Nicki Minaj) wherein he claims to like his girls “BBW”. Obviously, no one believes this to be true, especially after looking at Drake’s actual dating history, but then why say it at all? Any time I hear of a male celebrity who is supposedly “into” bigger women, my instinct is to google who their exes are. This need for confirmation is the instinct of many fat women, because to hear it at all is so rare. Of course, the investigation almost always leads to disappointing results. Their dating history shows us women who are nowhere near fat. Another example, which sadly involves Macklemore, is in his lyric, “I like a big girl, I like 'em sassy” from the song “Downtown”. This is Macklemore’s wife:
Of course, the person you’re currently dating is not necessarily a signifier of the type of person you always date, but something tells me even goddamn Macklemore would never publicly date a fat woman. No straight, male celebrity would. People give Pierce Brosnan points for continuing to love his wife of over 20 years even though she has gained weight as she’s gotten older. That really seems to be the closest we have, despite more and more male public figures claiming to feel otherwise.
Multihyphenate heartthrob Matthew Gray Gubler supposedly said in an interview somewhere that he appreciates full-figured women, or something like that, but I can’t seem to find that interview. It has been frequently mentioned/discussed when I’ve gone down TikTok wormholes on the subject, though. The closest I’ve come to finding substantial evidence to the claim comes from a poem he wrote, “Girlfriend Wanted”, wherein his open call for a girlfriend reads: “no specific height/weight/hair color/or political affiliation required”. Later in the poem, he adds, “voluptuous figures a plus”. Like the others, his actual dating history suggests that this is not true. In fact, when I tweeted about the possibility of him actually maybe diggin’ fat chicks, a few women who wait tables and bartend in Los Angeles messaged to tell me that they almost always see him with blond “model types” (aka skinny).
Is there a chance that these men privately date larger women? Sure. However, if that’s the case, hiding such a thing implies there is a level of embarrassment to the coupling. So, why make the public statement at all if there actually is shame linked to your attraction to bigger women?
In the world of non-celebrities, many men are exhibiting the same sort of confusing behavior online and especially on TikTok. As body acceptance has grown increasingly mainstream, we’ve seen a genuine rise in straight men publicly embracing their attraction to larger women with no shame. On the flip side, we also see some pretending to do this. Again, why pretend? Why make the claim, but not actually date these women?
As I pondered this, I came across an amazing TikTok account that perfectly calls out these folks. TikTok user, Yiddiez, had created an investigative game of sorts called “Fat or Cap”. In these videos, Yiddiez plays a few seconds of someone else’s TikTok where they say something about being attracted to fat people. The rest of the video is then her scrolling through that user’s “following” list, which is really the best way to see what kind of person people on social media are trying to fuck. Many times they’re following plenty of attractive people -- none of whom are fat. So, in the game of “Fat or Cap”, this is Cap. When they actually are following fat people, that person passes the vibe check and wins the title of Fat. Yiddiez doesn’t seem to be playing the game any longer, but, if somehow Yiddiez ever reads this, please know I thank you for what you have done.
As a social media experiment, “Fat or Cap” perfectly encapsulates the skepticism so many fat folks feel. There is an inherent distrust in these public proclamations of fat affinity because our lived experience tells us otherwise. Despite all the progress made in mainstream fat acceptance, we still rarely see fat people being openly, romantically desired, particularly by men.
Before I get into that though, I want to explore a concept I am dubbing, “fatfishing”. Though this is apparently already a word, it’s used in a derogatory way against fat women and because this original meaning is so fucking stupid, I’m repurposing it here. When I say “fatfishing”, I am referring to someone who pretends to be attracted to fat people, but in reality, probably isn’t. So what is really happening here, then? Why pretend? Okay, let’s dig into it.
In my mind, fatfishing is one of three things:
Potential reason number one: You’re maybe kind of clueless or a bonafide idiot and think that women who are “slim-thick” are fat. Having a big ass and a tiny waist does not a fat woman make. If that’s what you mean when you say you like bigger women, stop it. This body type is the curvaceous ideal, and in reality, is an even more unrealistic body type to attain than simply being thin (which is also a difficult body to attain for many people who simply are not built that way). If you say you like big women but would never date a fat-assed, thick-thighed woman who also has a wider waist and plumper belly, then you like the curvaceous ideal. Not an actual fat body. You want to fuck Jessica Rabbit, which is fine. Just don’t say she's fat.
The second possible reason: Winning brownie points with the women you actually do want to attract. In stating that you would (or want to) date a fat woman, you maybe hope thin and more conventionally attractive women will think highly of you, or at least perceive you as less vain or not like “other guys”, or some shit like that. You are probably also the type of man who claims to love eating pussy, but never performs the act on your 22-year-old girlfriend who you’re dating because she’s actually really mature for her age.
The third possibility: Negging… fucking negging. This was proposed to me by a straight, male friend and when he suggested it I had to pause the conversation. My head couldn’t wrap itself around the thought and left me momentarily short-circuiting. When I came back to my senses, the casual quickness of his suggestion forced me to reflect on it longer and the more I did, the more it made sense (unfortunately). Maybe some of these men, by insinuating they are attracted to bigger women, want to bring out insecurity in women with less curvaceous features. Basically, flipping the script on the experience of fat women and imposing it on thin women. That’s the MO of negging, by the way. It’s a pick-up-artist tactic that encourages undermining someone’s confidence in the hopes that’ll make them more vulnerable and more desperate for approval. If this is in fact the case, it is extremely diabolical.
So if you’re a fatfisher you’re either a clueless buffoon, or a performative fraud, or a manipulative asshole. Take your pick!
To return to my previous sentiment re: wanting to see more famous straight men actually date fat women, one thing needs to be understood: the body positivity community focuses heavily on internal validation, self-acceptance, and self-love. Rightfully so, yes, but we can’t deny the need for public adoration is part and parcel of the body positivity movement. Call it representation, sure, but there are varying reasons as to why representation is important, and the desire to see someone like ourselves reflected in the media has roots in seeking validation. What’s the harm in admitting that? Why is wanting others to think highly of you or to find you attractive, in the exact way you know you deserve to be thought of, a bad thing to admit to wanting?
Honestly, one of the things that’s bugged me most in the mainstream body positive narrative is the sentiment that how you feel about yourself is all that matters. It’s what matters most, and don’t you forget it, but as a social species that interacts with the world, we have to acknowledge that public perception matters to some extent, too. We still crave validation from others. We want others to agree with us and support us and admire us and all that yearning for approval is ok. The harm is in letting that pendulum swing all the way over and only caring what others think -- in letting what they believe impact what you already know to be right and true for yourself.
More matter-of-fact than that, though, is the simple truth that what public figures do impacts what the rest of us do. I don’t like that this is true, but that doesn’t change it from being so. Brazilian butt lift procedures have increased by over 77% since 2015 because social media and celebrity changed the narrative on big asses. I mean, watch almost any sitcom from the ’80s or ‘90s and count how many cruel jokes are made ridiculing someone having a large butt. Even our precious “Golden Girls” did it, for crying out loud. So, why not use this unfortunate truth for some good? Show more public figures doing the opposite of defining beauty standards and instead normalizing that any definitive set of standards can go out the window? I mean, obviously, it’s more complicated than that but well-known individuals not contractually obligated to make people (women in particular) hate how they look for profit actually do have the power to enact this kind of change. That is, if they want to.
Simply put, the uncomplicated fantasy of attaining love and companionship is marred when you grow up not being thin in a world where thin is the ideal. So no, it’s not as surface-level as simply wanting to attract the male gaze or being desperate for approval. It’s so much deeper and more meaningful than that. Really, it’s about love. It’s about believing the kind of idealized love we see others have is also possible for us, and with romantic partners who fulfill our needs and love us back without shame, fetishization, or degradation.
Even in my own friendships, I see how the women in my life don’t all believe I can have what they have. I am often encouraged by them to date any guy who likes me, regardless of my attraction to, or feelings for him. The subtext being: because when is that ever going to happen again? I somewhat recently went on a date with a guy who was fine, yes. Nice, sure. Decent job, stability, and all that. That said, we had almost nothing in common. The conversation was stale, and there was no real romantic spark. Instead of understanding my decision to stop seeing him, based on those incredibly reasonable metrics, my friends pressed for me to keep dating him. They encouraged me to be with someone with whom I felt no real romantic connection, even though I know for a fact that's something they would never do. I even asked them, “Is this someone you would date?” Their answer was no. So, why is it different for me? Why is it that I should sacrifice my desire to be with someone who is the full package and more mentally stimulating? I don’t think they were consciously trying to hurt me, or even understood that imposing a different set of rules on me is partially due to their own fatphobic biases... but I know that’s what it is because I am living it. Actually, they are too; they internalize the same negative things I do and fear fatness because of it.
So, there you have it. That’s why I want to see more quality, genuine men proudly embrace women like us. Like me. Both in the media and in everyday life. Those who fatfish stand in the way of realizing that vision. They’re using us as a prop to make them seem as though they are evolved, giving us the illusion of the culture progressing, when it actually isn’t. And look, I really could care less if any of the current examples of fatfishers are actually attracted to me. I see these guys on TikTok and close to none of them are someone I would want to date. I don’t want or care for all straight men to find me attractive, that’s not the point. You don’t like fat people, fine, it’s your (inferior) prerogative. But, if that’s the case, stop posturing. If you’re not a fatfisher but, instead, a fat basher, go ahead and quit doing that shit too. Stop equating being fat to some sort of failure, or embarrassment. Stop giving us your shitty, unsolicited opinions about how you find our bodies to be wrong. Just let people live their fucking lives, and find happiness. That’s really all I ask. In a society that doesn’t give a fuck about so many things it should give a fuck about, why give a fuck about this? Put those few remaining brain cells to use fighting for shit that does matter and let me destroy Oscar Isaac’s marriage without shame.