Newswise — Fat women who accept their bodies find more self-confidence and better sexual relationships. Those who struggle with their body size, however, report less sexual fulfillment and are more likely to say that men used them sexually.

That’s what a Texas Christian University researcher found when she interviewed 36 self-identified fat women. Jeannine A. Gailey, associate professor of sociology at TCU, asked the women about their body image, involvement in the size acceptance movement, and their dating and sexual histories.

“Most felt intense body shame and had unsatisfying sex lives until they began to embody fat pride,” says Gailey.

Thirty-four of the women reported that they experienced lives of ridicule, body shame and numerous attempts to lose weight. Twenty-six, however, reported positive change when they embodied “size acceptance ideology.” The research is detailed in Fat Studies, a professional journal.

“In other words, they went through a transition from feeling awful about their body and having less than satisfactory sex to feeling better about their bodies and sex lives,” Gailey reports. By contrast, the women who were interviewed and who reported very negative feelings about their bodies said they either avoided sexual relationships or had unsatisfactory relationships—sometimes with men who ridiculed them or otherwise treated them poorly.

Gailey says it is naïve to assume that the fat acceptance movement counters all of the negative messages about weight that women are inundated with daily, but that it helps.

“To embody a fat identify is subversive and a form of political resistance,” she believes. “Acts of subversion and resistance to dominant social forces can become empowering.” The women who embody fat pride can move beyond trying to change their bodies and focus on developing satisfying relationships with lovers and themselves.

Of the 36 women interviewed, all were involved to some degree with one or more size acceptance organizations. They ranged in age from 23 to 60 years. All had engaged in heterosexual relationships although one identified as lesbian and three as bisexual. Nineteen were single, eight were married, five were cohabitating and four were divorced.

“The conventional wisdom that women of size are either nonsexual or sexually desperate was not confirmed for this sample,” says Gailey. “Participants revealed that despite the tremendous social stigma associated with fat, 28 continue to experience satisfying sexual relationships. The size acceptance movement has played a key role.”

Gailey’s paper is titled “Fat Shame to Fat Pride: Fat Women’s Sexual and Dating Experiences.” It is available online at Gaily is also in the process of writing the book The (In)Visible Fat Woman: Sexuality, Health and Identity Politics.

Dick Jones Communications helps TCU with some of its public affairs work.

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