He said I was too small.
Most guys felt I was too big, given that I’m well over 200 pounds, but Ralph insisted I was too small.
We had met on a dating app at the start of fall. From his photos, I couldn’t tell if he was attractive or not, but because he would write me often to see how I was doing and I felt it was thoughtful, we kept in touch on a day-to-day basis throughout our busy schedules. I hoped to move past the small talk but he didn’t seem interested in that. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt though. I knew once we met in person I could gain more clarity on how I felt and if it might lead to something more. So after months of going back and forth, we finally found time to meet in spring.
We met at a restaurant on the Upper West Side, an upscale bar and grill, around 111 and Broadway. I wore my favorite black and flowy top that flattered my body type, and wore my hair down cascading over my shoulders, curled at the end. I had felt cute and hoped my date might feel the same about me. He was late, but I didn’t mind because I was one drink in and feeling less nervous the more time passed.
He was more handsome in real life than in his photos, so that was a plus. He stood at six foot two, had dark rimmed glasses like a therapist or a serial killer would, and had perfect white teeth that had to have been from a childhood of braces.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he sat down. “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I replied. It appeared we were off to a good start.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
“I could eat,” I said. “What about you?”
“I’m not too hungry,” he said. “What if we just ordered an appetizer to share?”
I agreed. I liked the idea of sharing a dish, so if he insisted on paying at the end of the date, I wouldn’t feel bad about the cost.
We talked about how it was funny how we hadn’t met until then, despite living just a few blocks away from each other, and even going to the same university. We imagined we had passed each other several times up until that point and hadn’t even noticed each other. He listened attentively and smiled enthusiastically. I was relieved this was turning into an unexpected lovely evening.
“Have you had enough to eat?” He asked toward the end of the date. I found it an odd question but told myself not to read into it.
“Yes, thank you. What about you?”
“Are you sure you don’t want more?”
The waitress came by and cleared the table. It was almost time to leave. I was enjoying his company and didn’t want the night to end there. I hoped maybe we could go for a walk or have another drink somewhere else. Unfortunately he had other plans, so we awkwardly hugged, and went our separate ways.
“It was nice meeting you,” he said, an hour after our date had ended, my phone’s screen lit up with his message.
“I was nice meeting you too.”
I wanted to say more, like how I wanted to see him again soon, but I had to remind myself to take it slow—because rushing things is never a good idea. It was a rather simple date, but good one, which had been surprisingly hard to find in New York City. I was optimistic at the prospect of having someone in my life again. It had been four years since I’d last been in a relationship; it was an unhealthy one that required a lot time to heal from. I was pleased things seemed to be turning around for me. So, being the self-destructive person I am, I sought out to find something wrong with him.
I Googled him. There was no immediate result for an arrest record, so that was good. I found his Facebook account, which indicated he was close with his family, but that much I could have assumed from our conversations. Then I found his Instagram. I thought I’d see if that had anything new to offer—and it did.
The photos he posted were standard scenery shots of sunsets, and random group shots with his friends at craft beer pubs. So far everything about him seemed pretty normal. Everything seemed to check out. I began to feel bad about my one-woman mission to find his flaws, but just as I was about to give up, I accidently clicked on the list of those he was following.
He mostly only followed other women. This wouldn’t have bothered me too much but I noticed they all seemed to have one thing in common; they were all plus-size women. I went through each profile one by one. One plus-size woman was wearing a bikini about four times too small for her, lying in a bed of cheeseburgers, posing erotically. Another held her fat over her jeans proudly. I quickly realized I had gone on a date with a man who had a full-on fat fetish.
I immediately went through most stages of grief. I skipped right over denial because the proof was right there in front of me. I went straight to embarrassment and anger. I wondered if this is how he saw me. It was no secret that I was plus-size, but finding this made me wonder if I gained more weight than I realized, and it forced myself to take a good, hard look at myself. I felt insulted, hurt, betrayed and used, even though I hardly knew this person, and knew he owed me nothing.
I called my best friend Britt in Santa Barbara. I knew she would find it funny and odd, but also find the silver lining in the situation, like she often does—and she did.
“Why don’t you just ask him about it?” she asked.
“Then he’d know I Googled him,” I said. “It would probably creep him out.”
“Maybe,” she said. “That’s the only way you’re going to feel better though. As much as you might be embarrassed about bringing it up, imagine how he might feel once he knows you know.”
She had a point. He could feel embarrassed too. Maybe even relieved that I found out his secret but kept talking to him. I was eager to have him help me make sense of everything. I wanted there to be some kind of explanation. I hoped perhaps he just had a certain type and this wasn’t the fetish it seemed to be. Determined to find an answer, an explanation, anything that might help me feel better—I wrote him. I admitted to him that cyber-stalked him just enough to learn his dirty little secret. He wrote back immediately.
“It’s something I’ve been getting help with,” he said. “I’ve gone to therapy about it but I just like what I like, okay?”
He continued to tell me he was incredibly embarrassed I found out and didn’t think he could ever face me again. Even though I was thoroughly mortified at first, I began to feel as though I may just have met someone who could like me for me, and told him I’d still like to see him again.
I’ve had a battle with my body since the sixth grade. It’s when I started to wear large sweaters, even on the hottest days, to hide any shape it might possibly be taking. It was a habit I wouldn’t be able to break until I was at least seventeen. Then during my first years at college, I walked a fine line with life and death, living solely on a steady diet of art and coffee. I was the smallest I had ever been and walked with more confidence, but wasn’t much happier with myself.
After a scare one morning, over an anxiety attack and my body rejecting my poor treatment of it, I decided I should start taking better care of myself before I landed myself in a hospital. I started to eat regularly again and put weight back on. I still went to the gym and watched what I ate. The main objective wasn’t to lose weight, but to be over all healthier, at the very least. At most, I’d miraculously change body types over night and have abs like Britney Spears circa 2001 when she carried that big yellow snake on stage at the VMAs.
Sadly my Britney day never came. I did however, start dating someone in my last couple of years of undergraduate school, and he encouraged me to keep up my attempts at weight loss. After a couple of years of dating though, the relationship took a terrifying turn, and I had to leave him. I ended up in the place I feared in the first place—the hospital—because of him.
Before the inciting incident, he began to push me around, and if I defended myself he pushed back harder. I remember one time he came at me and I held my arms up to cover my face. I pushed back on him to get him off me, and my hand slipped and my palm ended up hitting his face. A black bruise formed around one of his eyes and he refused to leave the house for weeks. He took pictures of it and said he would use it against me one day to convince people I beat him.
Before the physical abuse started, it was verbal and emotional. He would tell me horrible things about how he was disappointed when he met me and hoped I’d be thinner. He would constantly ask me, “Are you going to the gym tonight?” and “Are you going to eat that?” The encouragement I felt I was once given, quickly turned into a daily reminder that I wasn’t good enough, for him, or for anyone else. I know I should have left about several months into the relationship, but he had worn me down, and made me feel as though no one else would ever want me, and because I was young and naive, I believed him.
After I found myself in a small, cold room with a doctor standing over me, checking my stomach for internal bleeding, I knew I had enough and I had to leave. I filed a police report and then moved out in less than an hour when I knew he was in class. I stayed in a hotel and was only able to sleep with the aid of the blue little pills the doctor gave me for trauma. These were the first steps of beginning to care for myself again.
It took years before I began to feel normal, before I stopped having flashbacks to that fateful night, as I was shopping at the market or simply stepping off the bus. I stopped working so hard at the gym because it only seemed to maintain my current weight and drain me of energy I already didn’t have. I chose to focus on school and myself in ways I hadn’t before.
During this time, I gained quite a bit of weight back and then some. The doctor informed me I was in fact overweight now, but I was generally in good health and there was no denying that. Slowly, I began to accept myself, with only the standard amount of insecurity the average person carries, which was far from where I had started. So, when I found Ralph’s collection and love of bigger women, the insecurity I felt went deeper than just a self-consciousness.
After spending a good couple of hours confused and hurt, I began to talk it over with friends and ended up being able to laugh about it. Out of curiosity, I went back and looked through the photos of the women he followed one more time and attempted to see what he saw. I, like most people, have been conditioned by media to believe skinny, thin, or athletic are the mainstream standards of beauty. So, I had to step outside myself, get out of my pre-conditioned mindset, and look past what I was trained to see.
I started to see how being chubby could also be cute. It was something I had probably already known, but it still wasn’t the first thought I’ve been programmed to think, despite being a bigger girl myself. So there I was, late one night scrolling through his social media girls, and I began to have a new appreciation for myself and my body because of his obsession. I began to have hope that it might be possible to meet someone who could like me for who I was and not what I could be. In my prior relationship, that was a thought that never occurred to me.
Ralph refused to see me again. He told me I was too small. He said he liked his girls larger than my already pleasantly plump self, and if I didn’t want to gain weight, then the relationship would go nowhere. I certainly had no intention of purposely gaining weight, so I had to say goodbye. Even though it didn’t work out between us, I’m glad I met him. It became more than just a funny story to tell at dinner parties. It was a step toward self-acceptance that I needed. I know I will still have days when I’m too hard on myself, but in that moment of self-destructive cyber-stalking, I felt content with myself for the first time, in a long time.