On Fat Femmehood, Gender & Pink Shoes

I am a hot, fat femme.

I wish I could report that my femme roots reach way back into my pre-consciousness days, but to be honest – though I did think of myself as hot shit – I don’t recall thinking of myself in any kind of gendered way before the age of 5.

When I was a little girl my best friend’s name was Lorna. We were in the same fourth grade class and engaged in “friendly competition over who had the best grades. We were both smart, both wore glasses, both were brown girls, but she was petite and I was fat. The most memorable thing about my relationship with Lorna was what we did during recess.

Every single day without fail we played a boyfriend/girlfriend game that had been inspired by the very popular Baby Sitters Club series. The couple we emulated was the only star couple in the entire series: Mary Anne and Logan. Mary Anne was quiet and studious and Logan had a southern drawl. Every single day Lorna got to play Mary Anne and I was relegated the part of Logan. As a fat girl it was clear that I could never, ever play the girl’s part. It went without saying, a tacit agreement.

It would have been thoroughly absurd to have even suggested a role switch. Truly, it just wasn’t believable. Lorna couldn’t wrap her arms all the way around my large frame. Lorna couldn’t make me feel like the dainty, delicate flower that Mary Anne was. I wanted to be the girl, but the thought remained unutterable for nearly fifteen years when I recalled that memory and its ramifications for my own young, burgeoning gender identity. Lorna “ and skinny girls all over the world “ gained a growing sense of her own femininity at my “ and fat girls’ all over the world – expense.

I began research for my master’s thesis in human sexuality with the intention of studying fat women’s sexualities. I was interested in critical race theory, fat studies and the vast world of gender and sexuality studies. The memories came flooding back as I did the preliminary research, and as I began to interview the participants (10 fat women, 8 of them women of color) the same thing kept staring me in the face: gender. The narratives of gender poured from their mouths, many of them unprompted. Nearly every participant brought up clothes and some of them brought up how lack of access to cute, feminine clothes had impacted their ability to feel like a girl or like a woman. I spent a lot of the interview asking about their childhoods.

I profoundly related to one participant who said that she didn’t feel like she was allowed to do girly things, that she didn’t feel like a girl. I had been enrolled in a course on research methodologies, and one of my classmates had asked that the members of the class do an activity she was considering using with her participants: a gender timeline. We were given 5 or maybe 10 minutes to fashion a time line on our blank pieces of paper, from birth to now.

As a cisgender girl, my original impulse was to insist that I had no story to tell. My gender time line would begin with “I was born a girl and end with “and I still am a girl. The end. But rather than follow my impulse I decided to take the assignment seriously, to spend the allotted time actually thinking about my gender story. Gender is all around us. We learn gender (depending on what school of thought you subscribe to, we learn most or all of our gendered behavior or we learn some or very little of our gendered behavior). So I must have a story.

Did I have a story! It turned out that as I began to think about it, I realized that I had begun to stop feeling like I was a girl or like I was feminine around the age of 5. This point on my timeline coincided with my entry into primary school, where I began to be teased mercilessly every day, mostly by boys. My body was attacked all the time because I was fat. And since boys were the uncontested arbiters of who was attractive and lovable, and girls were meant to be these things, then I clearly wasn’t one of those. That point lasted until I was 17 or 18, when I finally began sleeping with and dating men who told me I was beautiful, hot, and sexy. From 5 to 17/18, I had lived in some strange gender hinterland, some in-between place. This discovery was shocking and exhilarating and painful. How had I forgotten? How had I not been able to see how much of my life had been so completely dictated by my gender story?

I spent much of my life after high school chasing and relearning the femininity I’d lost, that had been taunted out of me by bullies and assholes and suburban, pre-teen detritus. My pussy, my tits, my body were a magic wand I could wield that could magically make my femininity appear again and again. I never seemed to tire of any of it. Then came my relationship with clothes. They became exhilarating costumes that could convey critiques and identities, including my gender identity and my fat positive politic: yes, world, I am a fat, fierce, uppity femme.

As an adult, I think of myself as “high femme, as over-the-top, satirically feminine. I almost always wear dresses. I love cute shoes, faux fur, pink, tights, thigh-highs, bows, flowers, glittery birds in my hair, two brand new coats of polish, lips glossed, nose powdered. These things make me feel sexy, seen, fierce, stylish, alive. Someone told me once “ another high femme “ that a femme was nothing but a failed woman. I think about those lost moments of femininity and wonder who I’d be without them. I can’t say for sure, but sometimes I wonder whether maybe this satire is my way of taking back Mary Anne, of exposing my petticoats to the boys who made me feel like nothing, of wrapping femme around me like a suit of armor (a suit that magically allows me to forget that for a long time I didn’t feel sparkly), of mimicking something that feels like it’s both mine and not – like I’m an imposter.

But I’m not. We all fight feelings of not-belonging, of fraudulence. Mine happens to be around fatness and femininity. But that dress feels like home, and those ridiculous pink shoes feel familiar and right. And that’s good enough for me for now. And as for those people who stole my pink, fluffy, girly moments, I say to them: “Thank you. Without your retrograde bigotry and selfish cunthood I might not be the fine, fat bitch who stands before you today. I would not be entreating you to bite my muffin top and kiss my ass. Now I’m going to need you to hold my tiara for a second while I lift my vintage, pleated, fuchsia skirt and piss on your shoe.

Virgie Tovar

Virgie Tovar is the author/editor of the upcoming fat positive anthology Hot &Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012). She holds an MA in Human Sexuality, is certified as a sex educator, and was voted Best Sex Writer by the Bay Area Guardian in 2008 for her first book, Destination DD: Adventures of a Brest Fetishist with 40DDs. After teaching Female Sexuality at UC Berkeley she went onto host The Virgie Show (CBS Radio) from 2007-2008. When she’s not teaching sexuality seminars or shimmying as her burlesque alter ego, Dulce de Lecherous, she is creating content for her video blog: Virgie Tovar’s Guide to Fat Girl Living. Virgie has been featured on Playboy Radio and Women’s Entertainment Television. She lives in San Francisco.

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1 Response

  1. Michelle says:

    Vergie, this is the first time I came across your blog, and I must say that I am in love with it! Great post and I have went through the same things as a child. Being shorter than average height, I wasn’t really “allowed” by my peers to be seen as feminine and fierce until my late teens, so I can definitely relate.