The Daily Mail's shocking tale of Donna Simpson, a 602-pound mother who wants to become the fattest person in the world isn't exactly a piece that screams "restraint." ("Attention-grabbing"? For sure. "Strange and sad"? Perhaps.) The story has already made the blog rounds as a grabby example of American gluttony, with its picture of Simpson gorging on McDonald's and doughnuts. But amazingly, the trashy U.K. tabloid did show restraint, by avoiding the most salacious aspect of this story: extreme fat fetishes.
A sex story that even the Daily Mail won't touch? It goes to show that despite our desire to be titillated through shock and horror, there are certain sexual subcultures that are truly forbidden. The piece briefly mentions that Simpson "runs a website where men pay her to watch her eat fast food," but it ignores the site's dark sexual undercurrents. The site, SuperSizedBombshells.com, shows her posing naked, in lingerie, wearing handcuffs and rubbing folds of her flesh against another obese woman. Men don't just "pay to watch her eat," they pay to get off.
Her site is but a small part of a thriving online community for fat fetishists. Simpson actually met her current partner on a dating site for fat admirers. Innumerable porn sites delight in big-bodied women and folds of excess fat; and some take it farther, specializing in video clips of women struggling to do aerobics or otherwise demonstrating how their weight has incapacitated them. (For $12, visitors can buy a video clip of Simpson "testing her mobility" in her underwear.) Then, there are sites that cater to feederists, who like to watch super-sized women eat, sometimes to the point of painful fullness. Often times, there is a male "feeder" who gives a female "feedee" fatty junk foods.
It isn't just the tremendous health risks of feeder porn that most find unsettling. Several months ago, an excellent Bitch magazine article explained:
Feeders get off on the idea that their feedee might one day become too 'satisfied' -- and too obese -- to move, thus making them completely dependent on their feeder. It's an extreme manifestation of the idea that masculinity in men involves eroticized dominance over women.
It's that element of misogyny that makes extreme fat fetishism unpopular in the fat acceptance community.
Still, there is also a sad tendency to either (la-la-la) pretend such paraphilias don't exist or cast fetishists as "freaks." So, I talked to Dr. Fred Berlin, a leader in the study and treatment of sexual disorders, for some clinical illumination. "One of the things we're learning from the Internet is the remarkable spectrum and variability of human sexuality," he told me over the phone. What we have yet to learn is why people like what they like: "Nobody understands [the answer to] 'Why am I attracted to women rather than men?' or 'Why are there some people who aren't attracted to adults and are craving sex with children?' People don't decide the nature of their sexual desires, they discover them," says Berlin, who was prominently featured in Daniel Bergner's book, "The Other Side of Desire."
It's tempting to play armchair psychologist -- particularly when a paraphilia involves bodily harm, which feederism certainly does -- and pick it apart in the same way one might do a feminist analysis of mainstream porn. On the same token, though, "we're talking about human beings," as Berlin puts it. "This has to do with a spectrum of sexuality and these are people who are perhaps struggling, or troubled in life, and it's all too easy to make a quick judgment and dismiss these folks as less than human." So, maybe we should be thankful that publications like the Daily Mail are spooked by the sexual aspect of Simpson's story -- but, of course, that doesn't mean she isn't still getting that "less than human" treatment.