Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with my weight. I’ve ranged from a size 8 to a size 28, the former having been achieved only by means of a strict low-carbohydrate diet and hours at the gym daily. My size doesn’t bother me too much these days, having settled at a fairly comfortable size 12/14 and also having decided that, really, all the most interesting people are at least a little fat.
But in all my fluctuations, one thing I have never struggled with is getting laid. At every size, I’ve easily found partners casual and romantic to bring to my bedroom (or kitchen counter or bar bathroom). I’ve slept with many men who would be defined by societal standards as “hot.” I have always received regular sexual attention and interest from potential partners.
And I don’t think I’m some magical exception. Despite the dominant cultural narrative, there are no shortage of men of all sizes out there who are attracted to fat women.
Which is probably why I was so thrilled by the moment on Hulu’s new series “Shrill,” which is loosely based on writer Lindy West’s memoir of the same name, when Annie, played by the plus-size Aidy Bryant, clad only in a pair of panties, straddles her boyfriend during a steamy make-out. “You’re so hot,” he breathes, in a moment that felt both true to life and totally revelatory.
It wasn’t the only time Annie has been in a sexual situation on the show, but for me, it was the most impactful, representing her beginning to let go and celebrate her sexuality. I don’t even know if it could properly be called a sex scene, but a fat girl was almost naked, her body on display, and sex was about to happen. For many people, Episode 4’s pool party was their “holy shit this show is important” moment and deservedly so. But for me, it was Annie’s boyfriend removing her bra. I immediately posted a screenshot to my Instagram with the caption “Fuck yes, more of this please.”
Because when was the last time we saw a fat woman starring in a sex scene on television?
There was Lena Dunham and her not-model-perfect body on display through a series of sexual adventures on “Girls.” But she was far from plus-size, although that didn’t stop a backlash that saw the New York Post’s Linda Stasi refer to Dunham’s “blobby body” in a review and viewers to insist Dunham would never be able to sleep with a man who looks like actor Patrick Wilson, as she did in a Season 2 story arc.
Similar backlash followed Gabourey Sidibe’s groundbreaking sex scene on “Empire,” as Twitter exploded with memes and jokes.
Of the scene, Sidibe told People, “I was really happy to be part of something that’s never been seen on primetime television before. And you don’t notice it because you don’t have to notice it, but there’s never been someone of my skin color, my size, with somebody else of the same skin color in a love scene on primetime television.”
Plus-size actresses have started to make humble strides in being portrayed as romantic interests without their size being a plot point ― Paula from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and Miranda Bailey from “Grey’s Anatomy” come to mind, and Aidy Bryant herself had a small role on the aforementioned “Girls” in which she starred in a romantic storyline.
But for the most part, pop culture continues to retread the stereotype of the lonely, sexless fat girl that’s so contrary to my experience of being a woman in this body in the real world.
The dichotomy is echoed by Episode 6’s troll-hunting plotline, where Annie hunts down the man who has been trolling her with body-shaming comments online, only to find that he seems to harbor a self-hating attraction to her. Both the internet and TV seem to operate like fun-house mirrors, taking women who are perfectly desirable and attractive in their day-to-day lives and reflecting them back as grotesque stereotypes for commentary.
The idea that you must have a thin body to be sexually attractive is just not true, and trotting it back out for another tired storyline is boring and lazy.
And beyond that, it’s actively harmful. The reason that images like the screenshot I took resonate so deeply with people is because we’re starving for them. While there are plenty of confident, sexual plus-size women like me out there, most of us have had to fight to claim our sexuality because we live in a society that tells us our bodies are a punchline. The sheer transformative joy of a TV show like “Shrill” is that it’s rewriting that narrative. And the power is that it can change the way we feel in our own skin. Fuck yes, more of this please, indeed.
Fat people have sex. Fat people are desirable. For that matter, so are older people and disabled people and a whole range of others whose sex lives are rarely a part of mainstream discourse. Seeing this reflected in our pop culture shouldn’t be an anomaly.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Patrick Wilson’s last name as Williams.