I was wearing thigh highs and a garter belt, per my client’s request. It was our first meeting, and we were sitting on the bed across from each other talking—those awkward first few moments where we are getting to know each other, dancing around what is about to happen.
He made the first move, running his hands up my stockings and then onto my exposed thigh, and then said, without thinking, “I love fat thighs and asses.”
While I didn’t flinch—indeed, while I took it as the complement it was intended to be—he became suddenly self-conscious and followed his profession up with a fumbling, “I’m sorry, I know a lot of people aren’t into it, but I really am.” At that moment, I felt compelled to say, “But you’re wrong, a lot of people are really into it.” Or in other words, I felt the need to defend my own attractiveness to someone who already found me attractive.
This is not the only time my body size has become the center of an interaction with a client. In fact, as a plus-size sex worker, most of my dealings with clients contain some variation on this theme. While I take it for granted that my clients are attracted to me (wouldn’t they just book someone else if they weren’t?) they often come into the encounter with complex feelings about their own desires.
On top of the standard emotional labor that comes with sex work, as a fat sex worker I’m often put in a position to help clients sort through their fatphobia as it relates to my own body. This is the peculiar mindfuck that comes with being a fat person who markets and sells sexual desirability in a fatphobic world.
Seattle-based dominatrix and burlesque performer Mx. Pucks A’Plenty describes this form of emotional labor to be particularly taxing. “With cis-het clients, it is very fetishy,” they tell me over the phone. “You have to hold space for [their fatphobia] and it can be emotionally draining. I am already holding space for the fact that I’m Black. The ones that are salivating at the mouth to have a fat prodomme… it is just really gross.”
Ramona Flour, a New York-based sex worker, feels a similar sort of fetishization among her customers. “Most of my clientele treat me like I’m a science project,” she says. “They fetishize all of this.”
For escort Georgina Tyson, this fetishization has been very direct. “I’ve had requests to have my belly played with and forced fed and told to talk about how fat and disgusting I am,” she says. “I have thick skin now, but that’s hard to deal with.”
SultryMissEm recognizes that her clients often come to her precisely because they also want to play with and fetishize her fatness. She says, “I’m fat, heavy, obese, and I get men who enjoy that specifically, often in a fetishized way.”
While some clients interact with fat bodies in these directly fetishized ways, Lilith London, a Black erotic laborer who goes by LilithIsFat, points out that even when clients come for “vanilla” services, fat sex workers’ bodies themselves become a site of fetishization. Lilith comments, “Existing in a fat body, and having my fatness be the center of my branding and marketing makes it so that everything I do becomes ‘niche.’ Even if its vanilla work or content, the fact that I point out my fatness, talk about my fatness and exist in this fat body means that it all becomes a niche within sex work, which makes things more difficult.”
One of the ways that it is more difficult is that, in a world that hypervalues thinness, fat sex workers are often devalued in ways that impact business. In Lilith’s words, “My body is inherently viewed as less valuable. I get low-balled by potential clients and customers constantly! It’s a miracle when a potential customer doesn’t attempt to talk down my rates, because they don't believe a fat provider should be charging what I charge.”
Semi-retired sex worker Kitty Stryker says that fatphobia leads many fat sex workers to feel like they must defend not only their attractiveness, as I discussed earlier, but also their rates. “Fatphobia made it hard for me to set my rates to something that felt fair, and definitely increased the amount of bargaining clients would try to do,” she says. “I felt like I constantly had to defend my value.”
Baily, a full-service sex worker and erotic masseur, admits that it is hard not to feel this pressure. “For the longest time, I also set my fees quite low, buying into the ‘fat girls should charge less’ trope,” she says. “Despite years of positive comments in establishments (when I was not as voluptuous) and positive reviews, I still felt my size outweighed the wonderful experience I was providing for my clients.”
“I price myself lower because of my fatness,” echoes Georgina, who sees this not just as a matter of fatness, but also of body type. “I think if I was the palatable version of fat with a flat stomach and a big butt, I would be able to charge more.”
And yet, while there is pressure for fat sex workers to lower their rates, some of the sex workers I talked to are pushing back against this. Last year, for example, Baily decided to start charging what the thin counterparts in her market were changing. Similarly, Ramona commented, “My rates are my rates,” and went on to explain, “This is a physical job, it is emotional, it is intimate, it is criminalized. I am taking a risk and it has to be worth it to me.”
While our culture is intent on making fat sex workers feel like they are worth less than thin ones, fat sex workers continue to take up and demand space within the adult industry. And clients—despite their hang-ups—continue to book us. And they should, not only because fat sex workers are beautiful, but because fat sex workers are also doing the work to destigmatize fatness and to teach both clients and the world at large how to feel comfortable within their bodies (and this is important work!).
I was not offended when my client told me that he loved my fat thighs and ass. My thighs and ass are, in fact, fat, and that seems like a good enough reason to love them, one that doesn’t require apologies or explanations. But for clients, many of whom haven’t figured out how to feel comfortable in their own sexuality or body, this is the sort of energy they are looking to us for. “They want someone who is confident in their body no matter what size,” comments Pucks. “They suffer from body image and not feeling confident in their own skin. They need someone who is good at the work they do, who is moving and grooving in their body.”
For Pucks, this fat acceptance comes naturally. “I use the word fat, it is about reclamation and taking up space,” they say. “I am fat, I like being fat. I have a big personality and my body matches it.”
Similarly, Lilith has consciously made fat the center of their marketing, even though this narrows their client pool. “My whole brand is fat love, acceptance, desire,” they explain. “When I chose my username/general sex work name, it's one of the first I thought of to simply call myself ‘LilithIsFat’ cause for one, it’s true, but it’s also at the core of every piece of content I make and what my clients come to me for.”
Kitty also referred to herself as fat when she was doing in-person work. She says, “Calling yourself fat in a non-derogatory way is a political statement for many.” This is not without its risks though. She goes on, “It’s defiant in a way that appeals to some customers and makes others truly angry: How dare we be fat and love our bodies?"
Pucks also describes this contradiction. “Okay, this [fat] person is just existing as they are. And unapologetically. What? For some people that is really exciting and for others it is an affront,” they say. “The idea of people being who they are, especially when it is not what society tells us we should be, that’s powerful. What fat folks have to offer is that it is another form of resiliency and strength.”