Take The Cake: My First BBW Bash

In my limited experience, I have always felt that BBW events were spaces designed by fat women for men — frequently thin ones.

I arrived in Las Vegas for a BBW Bash during the Capricorn moon. As always, I set an intention; a spell whispered under my breath as the plane tipped upward out of SFO:

"Let me surrender. Let me be open. Let me have no agenda."

There's this thing I do that makes me feel like I'm in control of any situation or environment. This "thing I do" came out of living in an emotionally volatile household growing up, where I had to pick up on slight mood shifts and changes in tone so that I could brace myself and cautiously mete out vulnerability like water coming out of a knotted hose. 

Essentially, I go into every situation with a theory of what to expect so that there are no surprises. Once I arrive, I immediately assess who is in the room, who is good, who is bad, and any other information I can glean from limited data and my intuition. Whatever happens, it is filed into one of two categories in my mind: "As Expected" or "Not as Expected." With each new piece of information, my attitude adjusts slightly to adapt. 

The weather here in Vegas reminds me of what it feels like when I leave the blowdryer on my face too long while I'm drying my bangs. I sit poolside in a bikini covered in ice cream cones and decide to read my horoscope. Chani Nicholas says: 

"Let (this moon) transform the way you think about it. Approach it. Work through it. Let it challenge you to purge your biases about it. Your misconceptions of it. Your expectations around it. You can be incredibly firm about your core values while still being open to nuances you’ve yet to learn about. Let yourself be changed by the alchemical process of unlearning. Let the parts of your mind that are wound too tightly around a subject unfurl."

The bias I bring to the weekend is clear to me. My jaw clenches in judgmental discomfort whenever I think of any event with "BBW" in the title. To me, the term "BBW" is coded. When I hear that word, my eyes begin a preemptive, unconscious roll as the keywords "heteronormativity," "hookup," "gendered labor," "mansplaining," and "ugh" scroll past the neon pink kiosk in my brain. 

Embedded within my confession to her was the presumption that women can't create community or safety with a bunch of straight dudes hanging around. I can't say I'm ready to let go of that belief, but her words reminded me of the bedrock of my bias. 

In my limited experience, I have always felt that these were spaces designed by fat women for men — frequently thin ones. I got politicized around my body size in queer and feminist spaces, where there was definitely sex, but there were also nuanced conversations on sexism, sizeism, and accountability. 

So why was I here? I was reluctantly enlisted to attend by a friend who wanted a supportive buddy for her first bash experience. My reluctance boiled down to the sense that my presence was inappropriate. I saw this event as a space made by or for super-sized women, of which my friend was a part. 

At 250 pounds, I definitely experience fatphobia but bump up against fewer institutional barriers. My relative proximity to the ideal weight grants me more access to spaces where friendship, romance, and sex can happen. I wanted to be here for her because I feel committed to her having affirming experiences. 

With Chani's words ringing in my ears I make my way away from the pool and into the vendor area where I immediately run into an old friend. I tell her what I've just outlined for you, and she gently pushes back. She tells me that people come here for many different reasons. Sure, hookups are a draw for some, but many come for a sense of community and safety from a fatphobic culture. 

These are the same reasons I love my fat community. Embedded within my confession to her was the presumption that women can't create community or safety with a bunch of straight dudes hanging around. I can't say I'm ready to let go of that belief, but her words reminded me of the bedrock of my bias. 

 

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Throughout the weekend I witnessed some of the things that I'd expected — like competition for romantic and sexual partners with smaller bodies. But I also witnessed many acts of solidarity — women complimenting each other for creativity and amazing outfits, supporting each other around physical tasks and emotional needs. I talked to people who had come to this event for a decade and looked forward to connecting with friends and lovers again and again. 

My sad heterosexual moment arose quickly in the weekend when I became unexpectedly emotionally intimate with a man who my friend also wanted to play with. It didn't help that as my wounded feelings began to rain down with unforeseen intensity, I had had no sleep for 20 hours, was dehydrated, hangry, and smelling of chlorine from the pool. I cried over a plate of biscuits and grits in the middle of the hotel restaurant at 4:15 a.m., confessing to her my confusion at how my outward appearance of strength could make her believe I wasn't capable of being hurt. 

I felt shame and guilt for my sense of possessiveness over him and the anger I felt at her for what I perceived as a lack of reciprocal allyship. Saturday was spent hung over, then at a reading of local Vegas writers, and finally a rose-scented bubble bath. I can honestly say that I have had a difficult time being changed by the "alchemical process of unlearning," but maybe I'm one step closer to it.

Honestly, I don't think this is my community. For now, I'm sticking to organizing and building my chosen family with intentional feminists. But I think this weekend taught me that rather than assess one type of coming-together as better or worse, I could accept that even though this thing wasn't right for me, it was definitely a sacred place for many others. 

After all, community improves and sometimes even saves lives, and I'm committed to that.  

 

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