Just shy of our first anniversary, my boyfriend Drew told me he had a feeding fetish. He texted it, actually. He was visiting family in Florida, and I was alone in our apartment after a 12-hour workday. I had ordered takeout, inhaled it and was lying on the floor next to our bed ― anchored by pan-fried noodles and a colossal order of egg rolls.
I was complaining about how full I felt when Drew broke our usual dialogue.
“It’s weird for me because, I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this from my side comments, but I’m into feeding. In a sexual sense …”
I froze. Eyes glued to the three blinking dots onscreen.
“I’ve been hesitant to bring this up ’cause of what you go through.”
I continued to hold my breath.
“But in the interest of being more communicative, I wanted to tell you.”
Feeding, I would later find out, is a nesting bowl within feedism ― a sexual subculture that fetishizes overeating and weight gain. It’s weird for him because food is a substance with which I have a history of abuse. My life is punctuated by episodes of bingeing, purging, restricting and bingeing again.
My obsession with food began over a decade ago and manifested as anorexia ― a misguided attempt at controlling an unstable environment. Eventually, the pendulum swung the other way, and restricting became permitting. I began bingeing, a feeble “screw you” to my formerly constrictive self. But anxiety prevailed, and to compensate for overeating, I became bulimic.
When Drew and I started dating, I thought we had outwitted the system. I’d never been in love before, and it was no less than magic. I marveled at our secret world. We had created something out of nothing.
Everything was easy. Here was a best friend with whom I loved having sex. Nine months after our first date, we moved into a studio apartment. Two months later, Drew revealed his kink.
At first, it was thrilling. Like realizing you never took the protective sticker off your iPhone’s screen and peeling back a layer to reveal a fresh start. This from my perfect boyfriend, who wears the same size 30 in jeans that I do and lifts weights while we watch TV. Though I weigh less than Drew’s fantasy, he lusts after my appetite. This insight into his sexuality made him more masculine in my eyes, thinking about how much woman he wanted. For a while, things seemed shiny and new.
I asked Drew to show me what he liked, and he sent me a video of a chubby blonde in her underwear… She ran her hands up and down her stomach suggestively before tearing into a cake face first.
As a recent graduate, I did what I knew how: research. I found websites, articles and videos on feedism ― a sexual proclivity with enough subcategories to rival Myers-Briggs. Feedism is often born of fat fetishism, but the two kinks are not attached at the hip; they can exist independently. Feeders want to feed their partners, and feedees want to be fed. Gainers derive sexual pleasure from cultivating fat. There are fat admirers who simply want to bask in the beauty of BBWs and SSBBWs (big beautiful women and supersize big beautiful women). There’s stomach play, squashing and inflation.
I watched videos of girls in hotel rooms eat their way through 3-by-4-foot pizzas. I watched girls chug liters of Pepsi and burp loudly, to the delight of their viewers. I asked Drew to show me what he liked, and he sent me a video of a chubby blonde in her underwear. She was on her hands and knees, sizing up a cake on her kitchen floor. She ran her hands up and down her stomach suggestively before tearing into the cake face first.
My intellect was awestruck. I delighted in the feminist, riot-girl side to the community ― blatantly upturning the cookie-cutter molds into which women are expected to fit. I was engrossed by those who identify with the fetish: Women who bragged about how they could no longer fit into their clothes because of how much weight they had gained. Women whose stomachs spilled onto their thighs. I watched them lift their belly fat and let it go so it made a slapping sound. I watched them lift their belly fat and drop it on countertops, massaging their stomachs as if they were kneading dough.
Underneath my gleeful wonder, something uglier kicked in, a primordial hiss. Anger simmered as my brute mind filled with resentment toward these women. They seemed so satisfied, so radically unashamed of their bodies. They got to indulge their every craving guilt-free. It didn’t seem fair.
For most of my life, I have been held hostage by diet culture. Adolescent insecurity roped me in, and Stockholm syndrome ensured my loyalty. I was cozy in the familiar embrace of this false virtue. I fell prey to sunk cost ― my panicked ego clung to the disordered mindset that had been my North Star since age 12. I subscribed to the societal directive that seemed to be written everywhere in invisible ink: Attempted thinness is a moral imperative.
My anger toward these women sprang from the truth slinking in. Its rays of light exposed my lifestyle for what it was: miserable. Disordered eating robs life of its vitality. Every pulse of rage I felt was in response to the dissolution of toxic thoughts that had become my core beliefs.
And now, by way of fate, I had stumbled into a community of opposition. It’s an absurd world to be thrown into, one in which my deepest insecurities are placed on a pedestal and sexualized. Could I turn this unconditional body embrace into my reality? I decided to try it on.
It’s an absurd world to be thrown into, one in which my deepest insecurities are placed on a pedestal and sexualized. Could I turn this unconditional body embrace into my reality? I decided to try it on.
While Drew was still in Florida, I asked if he wanted to feed me.
“What do you mean?” He texted back.
“Order me a pizza.”
“Positive,” I replied, with a heart emoji for good measure.
An hour later, a large pizza arrived at the front door.
“Do you want me to FaceTime you while I eat it?”
“Not exactly.” He typed. “Would you mind … sending me before and after photos of your stomach?”
I smiled to myself. I didn’t mind. Feeling cocky with a flat stomach, I peeled off my T-shirt and slipped out of my sweats.
Twenty minutes later, I sent him a picture of the empty pizza box.
“Baby!” He replied immediately. “Did you enjoy yourself?”
“I did!” I said, truthfully. I got up and walked back to our full-length mirror for the after photo. For once, I didn’t think about sucking in my stomach.
I spent the days until Drew’s homecoming alight with curiosity. I wanted to parse out his kink. Though his preferences align entirely with a fat fetish, he shies away from that term. Women in the feedism community assert themselves voluntarily, often in pursuit of sexual gratification. They put themselves forward to be sexualized, as opposed to being objectified without consent, for the stark truth of their physical form. For him, this distinction is indispensable.
Once Drew came home, we effortlessly fell into our usual routines. I felt less self-conscious reaching for second servings, but I wasn’t greeting him at the door with cans of whipped cream to consume at his signal.
Soon, it was our anniversary ― as good a time as any to take my newfound knowledge for a spin. We went to a pricey Italian place, and I wore a short black dress layered over lingerie that wasn’t much more than string.
After cocktails, we ordered charcuterie, and I ate the prosciutto as quickly as I would popcorn. I wanted to indulge his desires, and all I had to do was indulge myself. My risotto was a bowl of comfort with delicate shavings of truffle on top.
We left the restaurant in a cloud of tipsy laughter, and I told Drew I wanted him to buy me ice cream.
“Your wish is my command.” The right corner of his mouth perked up, cheekily.
By the time we got home, I felt as if I had swallowed a bowling ball. But I wanted to see the night through.
Drew lifted off my dress and caressed my bloated stomach. I tried to ignore the sirens of insecurity blaring through my mind. He thought my full body was sexy — why couldn’t I? We fell onto the bed, and I climbed on top of him, rubbing my stomach like the girls in the videos, waiting for the truth behind “fake it till you make it” to turn on. He grabbed the pocket of fat below my hip and squeezed, moaning with pleasure. I tried to stay present, but my mind was keen on detaching from my body, content to observe from afar and take notes. I didn’t feel as though I was having sex; I felt like an undercover journalist whose eyes were bigger than her appetite. I didn’t fit in here.
My boyfriend’s love of fat didn’t fix anything in me… But things have changed, if almost imperceptibly. I watch how he treats my body and try to mimic it: Caress, don’t criticize. When I turn on my side, I no longer grab the flesh that pouts from my stomach and wish I could cut it off with the scissors on our kitchen table.
When I binge, my body is no longer mine; I relinquish jurisdiction. And not in a sexy, submissive way. It’s just how I keep things comfortably at arm’s length. Adding sex to the mixture proved futile as kissing someone after the dentist, with a jaw full of Novocain.
In theory, this dynamic should have worked. In practice, it felt incredibly uncomfortable ― a coat I admired on someone else but when I tried it on, the wool felt like sandpaper on the nape of my neck and the sleeves constricted my range of motion.
By revealing his fetish, Drew handed me a visa. “Here,” the paperwork read. “You know what you hate most about your body? The excess of flesh? The fear that you’ll slip up, gain a few pounds and become monstrous? These are the things I find most attractive. Here is external validation, enough to ward off any insecurity.”
I lazily hoped his affirmation would be a cure-all but was unsurprised when it wasn’t. My self-worth has never (consciously) come from others. It’s mined deep inside my belly, a place with loud opinions and unsound logic.
Drew and I are still together and plan on keeping it that way. We talk abstractly about getting married and concretely about adopting a kitten. In between the figurative and the literal, we discuss a threesome with someone comfortable playing feedee. We’ve considered the logistics of an open relationship, and the prospect remains on the back burner of our kitchen stove.
These secrets of ours no longer feel like a big deal. Now that I know I don’t have to be everything for him and he doesn’t have to be everything for me, our relationship has room to breathe. Some things are best left for fantasy, but that doesn’t mean we’re not enough for each other.
My boyfriend’s love of fat didn’t fix anything in me. It didn’t turn my full-length mirror into a self-love campaign or Victoria’s Secret catalog. But things have changed, if almost imperceptibly. I watch how he treats my body and try to mimic it: Caress, don’t criticize. When I turn on my side, I no longer grab the flesh that pouts from my stomach out and wish I could cut it off with the scissors on our kitchen table.
Though I still struggle with food, it is nowhere near the beast it used to be. For the past 10 years, my eating disorder has been a dark shadow on my bedroom wall. I didn’t know where it was coming from, and I don’t think I cared. I was too preoccupied with my worship of the looming figure to objectively analyze it. Speaking it out loud to my partner didn’t make it disappear, but it turned the lights on ― revealing the terrifying shadow for what it really was: Something ugly, something influential, something manageable.
Sophia Ortega is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and New York magazine’s The Cut. She and her boyfriend share a tiny apartment with a lemon tree outside. She can be found deluding herself on Twitter @sophia__ortega.