Big girls bask in the summertime sex appeal.
Constance D’Ulisse is a big, beautiful woman. And she’s not afraid to say so.
“I have curves. I don’t know how else to describe it: I have a bustline, a waistline and hips,” the South Philly woman says. “I have a great smile, I have twinkling eyes. What’s not to like about me?”
Such confidence is rare enough to find in any woman, even one with a supermodel’s looks. But D’Ulisse’s vital statistics tell, well, a bigger story: She’s 55, 5-foot-5 and is—by her own account—verging on 300 pounds.
Those numbers turn you off? Too bad. D’Ulisse also has a mischievous sense of humor and an easy laugh that make her a delightful conversationalist. But inner beauty only goes so far: She likes the way she looks, and she knows that there’s a few men out there who do too.
“If I look at my face in the mirror, I say, ‘Yeah, Con, you’re beautiful,’” she says. “Cocky, ain’t I?”
D’Ulisse is part of a growing online movement—often called “fat acceptance”—dedicated to the idea that women can be beautiful and healthy at every size. The idea isn’t to attract “chubby chasers” or other fetishists, but to battle against a culture that has a hard time seeing beyond the big-tits-skinny-body template of female attractiveness.
That can be a challenge at the dawn of summer, when the temperatures rise and the bulky sweaters and coats of winter give way to outfits more revealing of eye-popping physiques.
“I’m certainly not trying to encourage people to be attracted to people they’re not attracted to,” says Kate Harding, a Chicago writer whose Shapely Prose blog stands at the center of the movement. “I do think there’s a problem in thinking that your preferences are universal and thinking that nobody would be attracted to a fat woman just because you aren’t.”
If all this sounds like a dry and humorless crusade, it’s not. Harding came to Philadelphia’s Rotunda in early May with her co-author Marianne Kirby to read from their new book, Lessons From the Fat-o-sphere. Their reading was sandwiched between performances of Big Moves, a Boston-based dance troupe made up of plus-sized women.
“I do feel beautiful on my own terms,” says Harding, a blue-eyed blonde who weighs in around 200 pounds. “I’m married, my husband thinks I’m beautiful and plenty of guys have thought I was beautiful.”
But it’s not always easy to maintain that mindset. Sherri Wilcauskas, 39, is a fundraiser at Philadelphia University who, like D’Ulisse, is a participant in the Philadelphia message boards at Harding’s website. She’s 5-foot-5 and 200 pounds and recently got engaged. She really believes in fat acceptance, and she’s tried to spread the online message to her real-world friends. She can’t, however, quite describe herself as “beautiful.”
“My fiancé, bless his heart, is wonderfully patient,” Wilcauskas says. “When I get down or I’m having a bad day, he’s always there: ‘But you’re still beautiful. But you’re still cute.’
“Where I mostly am now is that I look in the mirror and say, ‘I look good.’” she says. “I wouldn’t say I’m at a point where I can look and say, ‘Yeah, I’m beautiful.’”
D’Ulisse finds it easier to maintain confidence. She’s always been on the large side, so she’s never dealt with the ego deflation that comes from body inflation. Other women of her generation have found it harder to cope with the natural advances of age.
“Honey, I was born with middle-aged spread,” she says. “It’s easier for me to accept myself, because they have a picture in their mind of being a person of average weight. When they put on the pounds, their whole body image gets skewed.”
Still, when D’Ulisse and her partner of 20 years separated a few years back, she wondered if her weight would keep her out of the dating game. It didn’t take her long to garner flattering attention, though.
“I realized that, ‘Hey, there are men who like my figure,’” she says. “And I started to become very confident.”
“There’s all sorts of shapes and sizes,” she adds. “That’s what makes the human race so much fun.”
Harding, the movement’s godmother, agrees. “Don’t let anyone tell you what is and isn’t beautiful,” she says. “There’s no one standard.”
Kate Harding, the Chicago-based writer we featured in our story about the "fat acceptance" movement, has critiqued the story at her blog.