Thicc girls. BBWs. Chubby chasers. 

These are just some of the labels used to validate a sexual attraction to plus-size women. These unnecessary labels do not imply preference. They encourage the fetishization of plus-size women, which is damaging, according to sexologist and relationship expert Noni Ayana.

"We build relationships around our preferences," she told Revelist. "However, the fetish is strictly about how it pleases you, and is only done within the context of sexual stimulation. It's the difference between what we like versus what gets us off."

However, what makes a person feel fetishized versus flattered varies. So, we spoke with eight plus-size women to understand the difference.

Blogger Faith Costa said fetishizing is a purely sexual thing.

"More often than not I feel directly fetishized specifically by men on the internet. It's such a common occurrence I can't even pinpoint one and that's a problem," she told Revelist. "It is one thing to pay a compliment. However, there is a VERY thick line between being sweet/admiring someone, and putting them in a sexual box without consent and acting upon it."

She points out that fetishizing takes away her power over her body and sexuality.

"Because I am a plus-size woman, I automatically get categorized as a 'BBW,' even when I do not identify as such. I should have a say over how I want to be identified and what categories I want to be in. It's a problem when other people do it for you and think it's okay to do so, and then get offended when you are not thankful for that classification as if it should be a 'compliment' regardless.... I am not ashamed of my body in any sense, but if I am to be admired, I would hope it would be more than just for the size of my body."

Plus-size powerlifter Anna Stomosis noted that she mostly encounters fetishization online and through dating apps.

"It could've been guys who just wanted to know my measurements or were just interested in my belly. I never met those guys IRL because it just made me cringe in a certain way, but luckily most guys and especially my boyfriend today made/makes me really feel like a 'normal' woman. There is no overly excessive stroking of certain 'fatter' areas, it's just wonderful and fulfilling to feel absolutely 'normal' and not have to think about your body for once and just let loose."

Plus model and activist Minerva, also known as @spookyfatbabe, didn't recognize being fetishized in past relationships.

"I'm a size 24, and I've been fetishized by partners before, too," she told Revelist. "When I was younger, I didn't realize at first when my partners were fetishizing me; I thought the attention was flattering. Eventually, I'd start to notice that it didn't seem that they cared for me as a person, but rather they were obsessed with sexualizing my fat body. They weren't interested in supporting me emotionally or meeting any of my needs beyond sexuality. 

I've had partners aggressively try to push me to do things I was uncomfortable with in the bedroom that centered around my fatness... I've heard that there are some babes who get off on being fetishized, and more power to them — I, however, feel completely disrespected by it." 

The difference between flattering and fetishizing is striking for activist and blogger Jewelz.

"When I feel fetishized it's because they are talking about my size. When I've been desired by men and women, size is forgotten. it's just about two bodies. 

The difference is, if it's a preference I wouldn't for sure know about it. But if it's a fetish, you are very aware. It's one thing to find someone who has more meat on their bones (or even someone who doesn't) attractive and prefer to date someone with that body type. It's another thing to make everything about their body and the size of it when it comes to sex."

Ratna Manokaran, a blogger and founder of Adevi Clothing, said fetishizing is all about the labels placed on you.

"I think the term 'BBW' is so old and it should not be used anymore," she told Revelist. "Also that's like a clear indication that this person only sees me as a fetish. When a person is less fixated on how big you are and more focused on the things that you do to make them feel a certain way, [it] takes away the fetish and them wanting to have some sort of connection with you other than your sexual connection."

YouTuber and Insta-star Gabriella Lascano particularly hates it when labels are used in place of her name.

"I think a red flag for me is being called a BBW, I am not offended by the term, because it really just is what I am right? A big beautiful woman. But when it's used in place of your name or actual descriptive terms that are exclusive to me then it becomes an issue. Or when a guy's first thought is, 'Wow can I take you to a BBW club?' Like they want to use you as a prop or show you off like the bigger the girl the more he wins. I feel that if I'm truly desired for every bit of me, inside and out, my size won't even come up. He will naturally appreciate me and make me feel sexy without ever saying 'Wow, you're so big, I love that.'"

Plus-size pinup model and speaker Cherry used to consider fetishizing a compliment.

"For me being is fetishized is when someone goes straight to sexual talk or sexual intent based solely on a photo of my body. I've had conversations on social media that go from 'Hey I like your work' to 'Mmm thick girls make me wanna fuck' in the blink of an eye. And those are the tame ones. If someone is instantly telling me what they want to do to me physically based solely on the size of my breasts, belly, or thighs, then I have become a sexual object to them and nothing more.

At first I thought it was complimentary. I would respond with thank yous and feel good about it. But as time went on and the remarks became more direct, I got frustrated...[It] made me feel dirty and objectified."

Instablogger Amanda once felt that big girls "had" to be fetishized in order to be loved.

"Growing up I was pretty well convinced by off-hand comments from my peers that I would have to find a partner who loved fat people for them to love me," she told Revelist. "Like what was inside of me didn't matter first; what was most important was finding someone who would 'deal' with my size. Online dating did not help that at all as many of the profiles I came across said fit chicks only or no fatties.

I don't have any major experiences that stick out singularly in my mind, but every time someone tells me I'm pretty for a thick girl or I get a comment on one of my pictures that says "I like thick women" I feel as if I'm just a 'type' and not a multifaceted person."

Fetishes aren't immoral, but there's a distinction between a fetish and a preference. And to be fair, the lines are blurry.

"According to psychology, fetishism is a form of sexual 'deviance" involving erotic attachment to an inanimate object or an ordinarily asexual part of the human body," said sex, kink, and intimacy coach Rebekah Beneteau. "Fetishism as a mental condition may be defined as the necessity to use a non-genital object in order to achieve sexual gratification."

While fetishization can be subjective, most experts agree that it is extremely harmful to the plus-size community.

SaulHerrera
photo: iStock/SaulHerrera

Fetishization is diagnosed as a "sexual disorder." However, it is dangerous to automatically deem attraction to fat people a "disorder."

Dr. Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist studying sexual desire, flat out refutes the notion that an attraction to plus-size people is a fetish:

"The social discrimination is absolutely harmful to those individuals who are larger and desire sex. Reinforcing the idea that one could not possibly be desirable unless the desiring partner is 'diseased' is a clear, strong message unnecessarily impacting those already more vulnerable to social discrimination. Many lines of data point to feelings desired as an important component of both men and women's sexual self-esteem."