XXL

When the voluptuous Camryn Manheim won an Emmy for her role on The Practice, and dedicated it to "all the big girls!" women of all sizes cheered and the fat liberation movement went wild. Like Roseanne, Oprah Winfrey, Kathy Bates, and other large ladies, Camryn is a supersize role model, especially for women struggling with body issues, dieting, eating disorders, and low self-esteem. But she's got a little something more than many of her sizable sisters: She's overtly, unequivocally sexy. While her character on The Practice is all buttoned up and professional, when Camryn shows up for a photo op, she drips sexuality. She loves to wear low-cut dresses that accentuate her bodacious I'm-not-hiding-these-girls-I'm-showing-them-off boobs. I look at her and immediately imagine what it might be like to bury my face between her bosoms.

I recall the time I got to cop a feel of porn star Candye Kane's enormous tits; they were like the softest feather pillows wrapped in the smoothest silk. Yes, like buttah. Or the time I saw a woman in a thong bend over for a paddling at a play party and all I could think was "That's a huge ass. A nice huge ass. An ass I'd like to know better." Part of it is that when people of size, especially women, flaunt their flab proudly, they give meaning to the phrase "more to love." The bigger the body, the more flesh there is to rub and nibble and lick and suck. Covering every inch could be an Olympic sport, and plenty'll be lining up to contend for the gold.

My fantasies fly in the face of commonly accepted ideas in our culture about size and sex. No one thinks fat people are sexually attractive. Fat people are fat because they're hiding from their sexuality. Fat people are sexless. Fat people are sexually desperate. If you sleep with a fat woman, she'll crush you. Well, fat activist and author Hanne Blank would like to do some crushing, but not to her lovers. She aims to pulverize these myths in her new book Big Big Love: A Sourcebook on Sex for People of Size and Those Who Love Them (Greenery Press). Camryn's book, Wake Up, I'm Fat! (Broadway Books), and others like Marilyn Wann's Fat?So! Because You Don't Have to Apologize for Your Size (Ten Speed Press) and The Forbidden Body: Why Being Fat is Not a Sin by Shelley Bovey (Pandora Press) have helped further the cause of fat acceptance. But Big Big Love is perhaps the first book to explicitly survey plus-sized sexuality.

Last week, I took Hanne's enlightening workshop on lovin' large. She's the perfect poster girl, clearly confident in her size. The combination of her boldness and her see-through black shirt revealing a push-up bra amplified her sexiness. The class itself was a huge helping of stereotype busting, old-fashioned feminist consciousness raising, and self-esteem elevation for women who don't fit into the American idealized version of a size-six woman. She offered handy tips and techniques on everything from bedding ("waterbeds and mushy mattresses are not your friend") to self-acceptance exercises ("make peace with your tummy"). She reviewed the big girl's guide to sex toys, and I learned that longer dildos and realistic ones with balls give you a handle to hang onto so you're not playing masturbation twister with yourself. (So that's what the balls are for!)

Hanne demonstrated how a woman can get on top of her lover, without smothering him or her, when she climbed on top of a volunteer, who gladly straddled Hanne as she lay beneath a shelf of sparkly silicone dongs. Hanne encouraged every big woman to "Get on top." One audience member exclaimed: "Being on top when you are a big woman is extremely empowering!" Claire Cavanah, owner of Toys in Babeland, which hosted the workshop, agrees: "I personally have an affinity for marginalized communities. . . . I think there is a strong connection between fat acceptance and lesbianism and other marginalized groups. Society may say we aren't the norm, we don't fit in, but we need to get out from under the shame and claim our sexual power."

Hanne has turned her large body of work into not only a book but a big fat career: She lectures, teaches workshops, publishes a magazine, writes a column in Scarlet Letters: A Journal of Femmerotica (www.scarletletters.com), and has a syndicated advice column on the Web called (what else?) "Ask the Fat Broad" (www.cleansheets.com). Her magazine, Zaftig: Sex for the Well Rounded, carries the tag line "Smart Smut. Real Bodies." Zaftig is a grrrl-powered erotic alternative to more mainstream big girl publications; glossies like Dimensionsand BBWdon't have sex as a focus and stroke books like Bigg Butt, Belly, and Plumpers emphasize fat women as sex objects for heterosexual men.

"We provide a place for people of all sizes who are thinking sexual beings," Hanne says about Zaftig's mission. "People of size are having sex, and we're just as thoughtful, erotic, sensual, and intelligent as anybody else can be. Literary erotica is not just the domain of hip, skinny, urban twenty- to thirtysomething people." Zaftigalso boasts a Web site of full-bodied erotica and resources ( www.xensei.com/users/zaftig). All of the aforementioned print magazines are also in cyberspace, along with hundreds of other fat-related Internet venues, like the more politically oriented sites National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) and International Size Acceptance Association.

With a government-estimated 97 million overweight Americans, according to Hanne (who throws in the caveats, "Over who's weight? Over what weight?"), there's plenty of audience for all this media bounty. And a segment of this audience may or may not be overweight. Fat Admirers (FAs) are men and women who like fat partners. They too have fat admiration Web sites, personals, columns in magazines, organizations, and events to meet fat mates.

Among FAs, fat can be not just admired, but fetishized. The Women We Love section of the Dimensions MagazineWeb site (www.dimensionsmagazine.com) features pictures of celebs like Kirstie Alley, Alicia Silverstone, and Kate Winslet, and text which tracks and celebrates their weight gains. For some, there are even computer-enhanced photos to add on pounds converting skinny stars to Rubenesque celebrities. Calista Flockhart, beware. Some of the fetishism reads very tongue-in-ample-cheek. The cover of Plumpers magazine touts "Over Two Tons of Heavyweight Honies" and U.K.-based Belly (subtitled: "Where Fat Chicks Are Cool") advertises "Future Fat: Welcome to the Next Bellennium."

Big Big Love covers the vast terrain from fat as fetish to finding the perfect vibrator, while helping women and men come to terms with their size as it relates to their sexuality. Like my personal crush Camryn and all the sexy fat girls out there, Hanne has proved that she's got dangerous curves—and she ain't afraid to use 'em.

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