The Confidence of Fat Sexuality: An interview with sex educator Elle Chase

Elle Chase is one of the leading voices talking about fat people's sexuality, from media portrayals to private life. A certified sex educator, author and an advocate for body-acceptance and pleasure, she has been published by Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Huffington Post.

With her book Curvy Girl Sex: 101 Body-Positive Positions to Empower Your Sex Life (Fair Winds Press, 2017) Chase gave us a guide for methods, positions and sex hacks for fat lovers with a range of different body types, centering all kinds of people who have long had their sexuality marginalized, denied or erased.

In a conversation with Scarleteen, Chase talks about the book, how the media is changing its portrayal of fat people, the relevance of the word “plus size,” and her personal experiences with her own body acceptance and sexual journey.

Curvy Girl Sex book cover
Curvy Girl Sex book cover
Scarleteen (ST): What inspired you to write Curvy Girl Sex? Can you talk a bit about why we need books like it so much?

Elle Chase (EC): I was inspired by my own experience as a fat person on a journey to find my sexual self. I couldn’t find any books out there that spoke directly to my situation and I knew I couldn’t be the only one out there. So, when I was approached to write a sex position book for fat folks, I decided to make it the book I wish I’d had when I was starting to have sex in a fat body.

ST: We have been seeing more plus-sized people in the media, be it on catwalks or on TV shows, and not as the butt of a joke. I can think of Euphoria’s Kat Hernandez (Barbie Ferreira), singer Lizzo, actress Aidy Bryant, TV host James Corden, models Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser to name a few. Do you think the world is finally ready to embrace fat bodies and their complexities?

EC: I do! But I also think more attention needs to be paid to the origin of the fat acceptance movement. People think this idea of fativism is a recent one, but it’s not. It started with fat, black queer folks in New York who organized a support and activism group called NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance).

When we think of fat acceptance and the body positive movement it’s imperative that we also acknowledge where it began, why, by whom and that anti-fat bias is a direct result of colonialism. I suggest everyone to read, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings, and Fattily Ever After by Stephanie Yeboah

ST: How important can it be for plus sized and fat people to see themselves and their sexualities - including their own sexual appeal - represented in mainstream media?

EC: It’s absolutely vital. There’s so much societal programming and anti-fat bias out there to combat. So many of us are desexualized, and not just fat folks. If you happen to be disabled, over the age of 40, not “attractive” or “sexy” in a narrowly defined cultural sense, and so much more. Add racism and economic status to the mix, and you have a majority of our country that’s been told they aren’t worthy of pleasure and love. Unfortunately, this infects our opinions of ourselves and we end up believing the cultural lie that we aren’t sexually desirable. Nothing could be further from the truth.

ST: How do you approach this with fat teens and twenty-somethings and with their friends, family and other young people who aren't fat?

EC: I really encourage young people to educate themselves on media literacy. We weren’t born hating our bodies. Our opinions and beliefs were built by patriarchy, colonialism and avarice. Once you are able to recognize how the anti-fat narrative has been stitched into the fabric of our lives in order to sell products, or otherwise make money and attain power, you can’t unsee it. I think this is the first step one needs to take to see how we’ve all (fat and straight sized alike) have been manipulated into a false beauty standard and ideal.

ST: Is there anything when it comes to sexual health that is particularly important for young fat people to know?

EC: Yes. The medical system is set up to think about fat folks as unhealthy. But fat does not equal unhealthy, just like straight-sized bodies aren’t inherently healthy. This bias leads to misdiagnoses and ignoring other health factors that could be contributing to a malady, dismissing of reported symptoms, and blaming the patient. This is negligent at best, and malpractice at worst. Unfortunately, we have to learn to advocate strongly for ourselves and insist on the care we deserve. Be the pebble in the shoe of your doctor who dismisses you because of your weight or fat distribution. Educate yourself on the history of the BMI, how insurance companies came to use it and the false flag of diet culture.

ST: How can pleasure advocacy help with body acceptance?

EC: The capacity for pleasure is built into human beings (and not just sexual pleasure) and is the great equalizer. If all bodies are built for pleasure, how could my fat body be unworthy of it? How can ANY body regardless of ability, color, size, shape, etc. not be valuable and accessible to us as human beings? Beginning to give pleasure to your own body in whichever way you seek it, like masturbation (with or without orgasm) or, maybe just comforting touch for some folks who aren’t interested in sex, is one way to acknowledge that you deserve pleasure regardless of what you think your body looks like.

ST: How much does your own experience inform the sex education you provide?

EC: That’s how I communicate and teach best. Accessing (and having) my own experiences is how I translate the education I receive. In turn, I get inspired by hearing others’ experiences. There is so much to be learned anecdotally. Science is just scratching the surface about what it knows about sex. Human history is filled with cultures whose experiences are told as stories to teach and share with others so that they know they are not alone. It gives people permission to find their own way and have their own experiences that are meaningful to them.

ST: In your journey to finding yourself and your own sexuality, have you dealt with body shaming?

EC: Yes and no. My body shame came from my own brain: my standards for myself, and what I imagined others thought of me. Looking back, there were only a handful of times I felt shamed about my body because of a direct comment from someone else. My shame was a result of making my body the reason I wasn’t getting what everyone else seemed to have, and that I didn’t deserve it because I made myself fat, and I was born ugly. This is the insidiousness of cultural programming.

ST: Do you believe “plus-sized” is a term invented in order to introduce fat people in mainstream society in a form of a euphemism?

I think all of those euphemisms are a gateway into mainstream acceptance. Think of these euphemisms as an IV drip of medication, titrating a new framework for thinking into the zeitgeist. Society and culture need a slow drip at first to get used to the idea of change… Once that’s metabolized and stable, we can control the dosage and make the “patient” more comfortable.

Eventually, we’re able to remove the drip and go on, better for it. I think the term “plus-size” did that for taking back the word “fat” from being a pejorative description to being a descriptor and a nonpartisan adjective.

ST: What do you believe are going to be the next steps in sexual acceptance of fat people?

EC: More media, public figures, and adult entertainment need to present sexual desirability and attractiveness in a more than a handful of ways. This means not making a different size, ability, shape, conventional attractiveness, skin color, etc. a plot point (unless it’s part of the narrative), but as a natural choice, or organic attraction. Media and entertainment need to show a more neutral and diverse representation of what the world really looks like. They need to cut the tether to ideas, images, genders, relationship styles, sexualities and aspirational ideals that we’ve been conditioned to accept up until now.

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