Fat Bodies: Learning to Care for Your Rolls and Folds

Fat folks have unique needs when it comes to body care and we often aren’t ever taught what those needs are. Because we have been taught to be ashamed of our bodies and view them as a punishment because we look the way that we do, we are often even discouraged from learning the proper techniques required to care for ourselves. 

This guide is here to help fix that. It’s here to walk you through some of the starting steps I took for myself that revolutionized the way I cared for my fat body, especially my skin. I’ll also talk about some of the stereotypes and judgements I had to work through while going on this journey. While I discuss my own experiences a bit in this article, I hope that you can see it as a jumping-off point to start your own relationship⁠ with caring for your body. The list of tips and tricks I have below is not at all exhaustive, and I would love to hear what methods have worked for you over the years!

Don’t Be Afraid to Touch Your Body 

One of the biggest problems I had when I started figuring out⁠ how to take care of my fat body was my own discomfort with it. I didn’t want to get up close and personal with my stomach, with my back folds, with any of it. It felt easier just to ignore it all and take care of my entire body the same way. 

But I came to find out that some parts of my body needed more special attention than others. Where areas of skin overlap with one another, it’s easier to experience chafing or irritation. If I don’t treat these areas more kindly than others, they can cause me pain and discomfort.

The first step to caring for your body is letting yourself learn what it feels like. So, it’s time to get up close and personal with your body! Feel where some parts of your skin overlap with one another. Does your back have any folds that rest on top⁠ of each other? Does your stomach sit on your thighs when you sit down or stand up? What about your belly button? Does it get red or itchy on hot days? Start by identifying which areas of your body touch each other. Then, touch them: see how they feel. Are any of them warmer or more moist than other parts of your skin? Drier or bumpier? Is your skin darker between your thighs? It’s important to have a baseline of what your skin feels like so that you can find out what types of care it needs and recognize when it may be irritated. 

Keeping the Wet Bits Dry

Now that you’ve identified which parts of your body need some extra attention, let’s figure out what kind of attention they may need! 

If you have any areas of skin that experience friction, feel warmer, or are moist to the touch, it will be important to keep these areas of your skin dry. When the folds of your skin collect moisture, they can also collect bacteria and other pathogens that can lead to irritation and rashes. Some common areas that can get warm and moist are right below the belly, between your thighs and groin, and inside your belly button. 

Body powders can do wonders for prevention by reducing moisture in areas of skin that don’t often separate from one another. Baby powder is a common choice, although it has a fairly distinct smell that not everyone likes. There are also tons of neutral-smelling anti-chafing powders and body powders on the market from various brands. Some factors to consider when picking a powder include the cost, ingredients, and how frequently you need to reapply it. Once you find the powder that works for you, dust it on any areas of your skin that experience more moisture or irritation. A good rule of thumb: if the skin feels sweatier or warmer, it could be a good place to apply some powder. You don’t have to go overboard either—a little bit of powder can go a long way! It’s important to re-apply powder after you shower and dry off your skin thoroughly, or before doing any activities that may make you sweatier. 

While body powders can be a great tool, they don’t usually last long on areas of the skin that rub together frequently, like the inner thighs or the upper arms. This is where products like chafing balms and sticks come in - they absorb oils and reduce friction like body powders, but have additional wax or butter based ingredients that stick to the skin to last longer. Some folks use deodorant sticks for this purpose, but there are specialty anti-chafing sticks designed just to reduce this type of friction, too. Feel free to experiment and try out a few different products until you find one that feels right for your activity level and skin type - there is no one-size-fits-all approach to caring for skin irritation! 

If you’re experiencing an active flare-up of red, raw, irritated skin, don’t panic. It’s common for yeast-type infections to develop on areas of the skin where oil and moisture are present. These infections are very similar to “jock itch," a common infection⁠ of the skin on the groin. Keep the impacted area clean⁠ and dry, and it will likely clear up on its own. You can use ice packs or cold compresses to help with some of the warmth and irritation. There are also antifungal sprays you can get to relieve some irritation, although they can sometimes cause burning when first applied due to their alcohol content. If you’re picking up any medicated sprays or treatments, it’s best to check in with a doctor first to make sure they’re right for you. You should also check with a doctor if the irritation doesn’t go away, or if it gets worse after a few days. 

Keeping The Dry Bits Wet 

Not only do we have to try to keep some of our moist skin dry, but we have to try to keep some of our dry skin moist! Moisturizing dry skin is an important way to keep your skin from cracking and itching, especially during the colder or drier seasons of the year. You can use lotions, butters, oils, and many other products to keep your skin hydrated. Pick whichever method feels most comfortable for your skin type and personal preferences. You can even switch it up based on what part of your body you’re moisturizing! 

Body size can also have an impact on which parts of our bodies are drier than others. For example, if you have trouble reaching your back, you may not be able to apply lotion or oil as thoroughly as you would be able to on another part of your body. Luckily, there are tools for this! You can look up lotion application sticks, which are long sticks with flat disks on the end designed to make moisturizer application easier. If you don’t want to buy something new, you can even use the smooth side of an old hairbrush to reach these harder-to-reach areas. 

When applying a moisturizer, try to stick to the areas of your body that feel drier. Sometimes, applying lotion to areas where you experience more moisture and sweat can amplify the oil production in those areas. It’s still important to keep these areas of the body moisturized, but look into creams that reduce chafing and repel moisture like chamois creams or the previously mentioned chafing balms. You can even apply a thin layer of your usual oil or moisturizer, let it absorb, and then wipe away the excess before applying something like a body powder to dry the area again. 

Keeping drier parts of your body moisturized can help prevent cracking and tightness of the skin that leads to discomfort. If you are experiencing any active cracking or splitting of the skin due to dry skin, it can help to have a medicated ointment on hand. These types of creams are designed to help heal broken and cracked skin, although they’re usually too heavy for day-to-day wear. Be sure to monitor for skin dryness even more in the wintertime, as this is usually when folks experience it more. There are also some chronic skin conditions like eczema that can flare up more during these times. If you know you experience eczema, be sure to follow the treatment plan that works best for your flare-ups.

All About Thigh Chafing, AKA “Chub Rub”

When you’re fat, there are bound to be some parts of your body that rub together. If you’ve ever worn a pair of shorts in the summertime, you may know that familiar feeling of pain between your legs while they slide against one another. Excessive friction can lead to chafing between your thighs, sometimes called “chub rub.” This chafing can be painful and make it more difficult to walk or do other activities. It’s usually harder to use loose body powders on your inner thighs because they don’t last long against the constant friction and brushing of activities like walking. 

One solution to this problem is to wear longer pants with fabric covering your usual chafing spots to prevent the extra friction. Moisture-wicking clothing or breathable fabrics like cotton and bamboo are especially nice in the summer time, and will keep you from getting too warm while covering these higher-friction areas. You can also opt for adding some thigh bands to an outfit, which are stretchy bands of fabric for your thighs designed to minimize friction. Any and all of the anti-chafing methods already mentioned in this guide, like balms and sticks, can help reduce thigh chafing too. If you start to experience some thigh chafing, do what you can to reduce the friction as soon as possible. Take it from someone that has pushed through the discomfort before - handling thigh chafing quickly reduces your chances of more intense irritation that can lead to burning, itching, and scabbing of the skin. Using these tips to prevent thigh chafing should keep “chub rub” from slowing you down while enjoying your favorite activities. Thigh chafing can be tricky to manage, especially on hot and active summer days, but thankfully there are lots of tools out there to help.

Wearing Loose, Breathable Clothes

Clothes are a way that the world around us loves to police fat bodies. Not only is it often impossible to find clothes that fit comfortably, but many items of clothing that might fit include “slimming” technology like extra layers of spandex to keep our bodies looking smaller and smoother. Clothes can start to feel extremely restricting, which in turn can prevent your skin from being able to breathe and wick moisture. The more moisture that builds up under restrictive clothing, the more likely you are to experience skin irritation. 

Choosing and trying on clothing is a deeply personal and difficult part of many fat people’s routines. First and foremost, you should always prioritize clothes that make you feel good about yourself and the body you are in. Then, you can look into moisture-wicking and breathable fabrics and looser clothing like bamboo or cotton materials. Often, these materials can be blended with stretchier fabrics that allow for the breathability you want and the stretchier fabrics you need. 

Sometimes, tighter clothes are a necessary part of our routines. You may have a circulation condition that requires you to wear compression socks, or you may be an athlete who needs to wear compression clothing to comfortably participate in your sport. If you are putting on something meant to restrict part of your body, whether that is a chest binder⁠ , compression shorts, or a compressing body suit, be sure to provide the skin underneath with some extra care and compassion. Apply body powder to any area that will be restricted for a long time, and give your body and skin time in between wears to breathe and dry off any accumulated moisture. 

All About Showering and Soaps

Let’s talk about keeping your body clean. Adding all of these powders and creams is great, but it’s important to take them off and clean your body thoroughly afterwards. Body powders are used to absorb oils over time; once they have absorbed oil, they can stick to the skin and become irritating if not cleaned off. Be sure to scrub and exfoliate anywhere that you are applying anti-chafing products or lotions to prevent product buildup and skin irritation. For lotion, re-apply it while your skin is still damp to boost your skin’s ability to absorb the product. But for body powders or chafing creams, you want to make sure the area you’re applying them to is completely dry. Any extra moisture can cause the powder to clump up or not work as well. 

If you have any areas of your body that are more prone to developing rashes or irritation, it may be a good idea to get some antibacterial soap for those problem spots. Antibacterial soap can help keep infections under control; however, it can be drying, so I would recommend only using it on areas where you feel like you need the extra boost. You could use it all over your body if you want to, but if you do, make sure to replenish the moisture your skin may be losing with moisturizing products like lotions or oils. 

It took me a long time to give myself permission to be comfortable and happy while showering and caring for my body. I’m here to tell you: It’s okay — great, even! — to buy tools for showering that actually fit your body and help you feel good about yourself. Look into larger towels that cover your whole body, not just a portion of it. Invest in a robe that actually closes when you wrap it around yourself and doesn’t open when you sit down. Find loofahs or washcloths that are long enough for you to scrub your back with. These products are often more expensive than common products, but that doesn’t mean they should be seen as a luxury. You deserve to have your basic needs for comfort and cleanliness met, no matter what size your body is.  

Some Thoughts on Scented Products

It’s impossible to talk about caring for fat bodies without mentioning some of the stereotypes about fat people. One of the biggest ones is that fat people smell bad. This stereotype⁠ is so common that one study even found that some people’s brains respond to seeing fat bodies by perceiving that they smell worse, even if they smell the same as thin bodies. 

The weight of this stigma might push you to want to use tons of scented products on your skin. If your skin can handle it, it’s absolutely okay to use scented products in moderation. However, it’s important to monitor how scented products interact with your skin. Some scented products can irritate sensitive skin, including the skin between rolls and folds. If you start to notice irritation in any area of your body where you apply scented products, stop using them and consider exploring unscented products like body powders or unscented lotions. 

Your Body Deserves Kindness and Care

For most of my life, I was ashamed to take care of the skin on my body. If a problem arose, it felt like a justified punishment for looking the way that I did. It also felt like if I asked for help, others would agree it was my own fault. I thought I deserved to be in pain. Showing care and compassion to my body was impossible because I didn’t see myself as deserving of it. 

Even on days where it seems impossible, your body deserves to be cared for. You deserve to have skin that doesn’t burn, thighs that don’t hurt, and to lovingly touch every crevice and curve of your body. I’m not going to tell you that you have to love your body to care for it. I’m really fortunate to have a better relationship with my body than I used to, but I wish that I didn’t wait to start taking care of my skin until that relationship improved. I wish I had been taking care of my skin when I hated how my rolls looked, when I resented my belly. 

Loving yourself isn’t a requirement for caring for yourself, and skincare is a basic need we all deserve to have met. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you as you begin your own journey to loving and accepting your body for all of its beautiful bumps, lumps, folds, and rolls. 

Photo in article image by M. Hayes

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