My topic today is rather specific. I want to address the oversexualization of bisexual and fat women combined with the desexualization of fat women and how this creates a perfect storm for objectification and how that objectification affects fat bisexual women. I’ve chosen to specifically speak about this issue because, as a fat bisexual woman myself, I feel like I can speak to my own experiences.
First of all I want to throw out a trigger warning for those who need it because I’m talking to be talking a little bit about rape culture and statistics as it pertains to the objectification of women and bisexual women in particular.
I want to talk about this trend that I see where there is this mash up of oversexualization and desexualization. Oversexualization can apply to a lot of people but right now I’m going to talk about the topic as it pertains to bisexual women. As a bisexual woman I get to hear a lot of the stereotypes and then some. Bisexuals are sluts, they cheat, they’re dirty, they carry STD’s, they’ll sleep with anyone, they’re always up for a threesome. While there’s a hearty dose of slut shaming in biphobia I want to focus particularly on the stereotypes that bisexuals have a lot of sex and that that sex is somehow what defines them.
If you’ll notice, most stereotypes about bisexuals involve sex. While monosexuals have alternative names for their sexuality (gay, lesbian, straight) bisexuals are stuck with “sex” in the title. This may be both caused by and contribute to the problematic ways bi people are viewed.
Bisexuals are rarely seen as people and often seen as oversexed and always willing. It is, perhaps, for this reason that bisexual women face rape more often than monosexual women. In fact, they’re about three times more likely to experience it. According to the CDC, 61% of bisexual women have been raped, stalked, or assaulted by an intimate partner compared to 41% of lesbian women and 35% of straight women. The segment of these women facing rape is even scarier. 13% of lesbians, 17% of straight women, and a whopping 46% of bisexual women have experienced rape.
So imagine what that means for bisexual women. Imagine how terrifying that is. Women in general have to constantly be on their guard even in the midst of friends. Remember that most rapes are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. So 46%, almost half, that’s a big number, that’s a scary number. It means never being sure if you’re safe.
It’s pretty obvious that oversexualization leads to objectification. Objectification is the point at which a living being becomes an object, a commodity.In media we often see women literally turned into objects. One recent example is a coca cola bottle with a human-eque shape and a fat belly used to talk about the “obesity epidemic”. This is a clear example of the objectification of fat people, but let’s get back to women in general for a moment. A study by Princeton psychologists showed that some men (specifically men that they identified as sexist) had less brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps identify humanity, when shown photos of scantily clad women, indicating that they were not seen as human, but rather as objects. This means that men who show other signs of sexism, that is, a prejudice against women, are more likely to see women like they’re less than human. And it’s so much easier to commit violence against someone that you barely see as human.
Objectification is possibly the only logical outcome to oversexualiztion.
To oversexualize simply means to make a person’s core being into a sexual one. To define them by their sexuality and their use for sex while denying them their own agency or being in control of their own sexual being. I deal with this fairly often as I run an art project called The Fat Naked Art Project. Fat naked bodies which are meant neither to be sexualized nor objectified, but this is often the case. Inappropriate comments have needed to be moderated time and time again. My fat models, very specifically the women, are seen as nothing more than sexual objects, specifically fat objects. Their entire identity and being often reduced to the type of belly they have or the size of their thighs.
So then, I’ll beg the question, why are fat women so oversexualized? One reason may be that fat women often have larger breasts, which are downright fetishized in our culture. But another reason may be that fat women are othered, made to feel different, to exist in a separate societal box. This makes them into a forbidden fruit dangling just out of reach. Fat women have their own set of sexual stereotypes as well. They’re always easy, they’re desperate, they’ll sleep with anyone who pays attention to them. These stereotypes that over sexualize fat women also lead to many people seeing them as objects which leads us back to rape culture.
Several months ago I wrote a post on my blog about fat girls and rape culture which was inspired by a cafepress T-shirt which read “fat girls can’t say no and when they do it means yes”. Fat girls and women who are sexually assaulted are often told a myriad of horrible things to try and delegitimize their experiences. “You should be grateful” is the one I hear most often. Yes, grateful, because who would want to touch a fat chick?
And here we come to the desexualization of fat women. Isn’t it interesting that we can be both hypersexualized and desexualized at the same time? Our sexuality is often denied to us. In the movie, The Lorax, the fat aunt of the main character is being rather mean and the lorax himself threatens to hit her. Our main character steps in, asking, “you wouldn’t hit a woman would you?” to which the lorax replies “that’s a woman?!”. It’s all for good laughs, right? Fat women are rarely allowed to be sexual beings in the media and when they are it’s as a twist, a surprise, or a joke.
I’m a huge doctor who fan. Even with all of it’s problems I can’t stop watching it. But I couldn’t help but notice that Donna, the one character who is, although not fat, a little thicker, the only companion who is never ever shown as a sexual being. In fact, her lack of sexuality is joked about in “The Doctor’s Daughter” episode where she offers to use her “womanly wiles” to get past some guards. The butt of the joke yet again. When Rebel Wilson becomes sexual in Bridesmaids it is a garish display that involves, you guessed it, food. Her sexuality is meant to be laughed at in that way that she’s not really sexual at all.
Both oversexualization and desexualization share a common aspect in the removal of our agency. While men, straight women, and lesbians often take control of and ownership of their sexualities, both oversexualization and desexualization involve having those decisions taken away. Women are oversexualized through the assumptions and assertions that they want any sex with any person, and do not need to consent to that. These women are given a default of “yes”. Women are desexualized when the agency over sex is taken away from them and given to someone else. Sex is not something fat women are seen as having a choice in, but something the generous will gift upon them and they can only respond by being grateful.
It’s interesting to note that fat people are often hypervisible while being completely invisible at the same time. By Hypervisible I mean that fat is on everyone’s lips, we’re in the news, all over the media, even on the radio and ads and billboards, but we’re talked about as dehumanized objects. The classic headless fatty is a good example. We’re invisible in the sense that we’re rarely seen as human and, indeed, our humanity flies under the radar.
In a very similar way bisexual women are hypervisible, in that women are almost expected to be bisexual, to experiment, to have a more fluid sexuality, but we’re sexualized to the point of dehumanization. Actual bisexual issues including biphobia and discrimination are overlooked, made invisible. While bisexual women are oversexualized and not desexualized it’s a problem in and of itself that bisexual women are seen as being constant sexual beings and sexual objects.
Living as a fat bisexual woman means being oversexualized and desexualized in various ways. Specifically I believe that the combination of oversexualization and desexualization inherently lead to objectification because it dehumanizes it’s target.
What does this dehumanization and objectification mean for every day fat bisexual women though? What it means is constant stigmatization, discrimination, oppression, and violence. We’re objects that aren’t important enough to treat with respect or equality. It can very often mean violence (from verbal to physical) from partners who have something to prove, it can mean being othered, , it can mean rape culture is a daily reality for you, it can mean being bullied and abused and it can mean a constant state of anxiety in a culture that refuses to recognize your basic humanity.
Being fat is it’s own challenge, but being fat and queer is it’s own experience. While being queer isn’t usually outwardly visible and being fat is, they can carry different consequences that, when combined, can become overwhelming. As a bisexual you can become automatically closeted because people assume your sexuality based on your current relationship. As a fat woman your sexuality can be automatically invalidated. And as a fat bisexual woman you can be fetishized and dehumanized.
I believe the solution to these issues is the destigmatization of both fat bodies and queer identities. Though the oppression of both of these groups is deeply ingrained in our society, it’s not a lost cause. As queer rights and fat rights pick up steam via social media, literature, protests, and demonstrations, we also pick up more supporters. While I fear that internalized fatphobia and biphobia may be a large hurdle, I have seen this overcome in so many people through my activism and the activism of others that it gives me great hope. I’m so inspired by many other activists and I see the progress we’ve made even since I found fat acceptance in 2010. While it almost seems like the “war on obesity” efforts have doubled, fat acceptance is spreading quickly.
Perhaps the key to destigmatization is not only getting others to accept us, but to get people to accept themselves. In a society where we often deal with internalized bigotry, self acceptance is a core part of our activism and goals. When you convince one person to change their bigotry and lack of acceptance for others, you make a small but meaningful impact towards the change we need to see.