After facing bullying and rejection for her weight, Karla Crowe spent years hiding her body in baggy clothes and starving herself to appeal to men.
Now, she’s a body-positive model who’s showing plus-size women they can have great sex lives – and that loving sex is nothing to be ashamed of, whatever your size.
‘Throughout high school I never had relationships like most of my friends did, I think nobody ever wanted to admit to having a crush on ‘the fat girl’,’ says Karla.
‘I was forced to hide under baggy boy’s clothes that made me feel awful and ostracised. Boys would make a lot of fat jokes, girls would generally exclude me.
‘Throughout high school I never used to eat lunch because I didn’t want anyone to see me eat.’
It was a night out at a gig that changed Karla’s mindset forever.
She says: ‘In my late teens and early twenties, I used to go out to a lot of live music events and always wanted to be a singer but never felt even remotely confident enough to get on stage, always worried that I would be mocked for my size and terrified that people wouldn’t like me.
‘One day I was at a gig and was chatting to the frontman after he got off stage and he told me, “you learn to stop giving a s*** about what people think of you when you realise that they seldom do”.
‘That has stuck with me ever since, realising that people are generally too busy worrying about their own image and insecurities that they don’t actually care much at all about me and mine.’
Karla decided to embrace and love her body.
That newfound confidence affected her dating life. She was surprised to find – after not having any relationships through school – that plenty of men were attracted to her at a size 20 and weighing 18st 12lb.
This inspired her to become an advocate of sex positivity and self-love, motivating her to share photos of herself in her underwear on Instagram.
In 2011 she met her now-husband Xavier, who encouraged her to pursue modelling.
Now Karla is a model and sexual wellness advocate, hoping to show plus-size women they shouldn’t be ashamed of enjoying and desiring sex.
‘I am so disappointed in how often women are being ripped off in their sexual relationships because of body image issues and all the societal norms that impact on healthy relationships,’ says Karla.
‘The body shaming, fat shaming and slut shaming has all got to stop.
‘Women are just as entitled to fulfilling sexual relationships as men are. Enjoying sex is nothing to be ashamed of and it should not be so taboo.
‘Being sex positive to me simply means acknowledging that women have sexual desires too and should feel comfortable to express them as freely as men do. It’s very well established that ‘sex sells’ so I don’t understand why it is still so taboo.
‘I make conscious choices about my sex life and actively explore and experiment with different things. My husband and I have a motto of “if it feels good, do it”.’
Karla’s journey of body confidence has seen her overcome the pain of bullying and rejection, and she now hopes to share what she’s learned with people around the world.
‘I once went on a date with a guy I’d met online,’ she remembers. ‘We chatted for a few weeks before meeting in person and when we caught up things got pretty hot and heavy so I thought everything was going really well.
‘Until later that night he sent me a text saying that he didn’t want to see me again because he didn’t realise from my photos that I ‘was so large’ and that he’d be embarrassed if his friends met me.
‘I think the thing that hurt most was that there was an obvious physical attraction, hence things getting hot and heavy on the date, but even though there seemed to be potential for connection there, he was too ashamed and concerned with what his friends would think because of the fat shaming that is still so prevalent in our society.’
For other women struggling to feel sexy, Karla recommends the cliché stuff along with that essential inner confidence and self-acceptance.
‘Lacy lingerie and red hot lippy make me feel my most confident,’ she explains. ‘I think sexy matching lingerie really affects my psyche, even when nobody else knows what I’m wearing underneath my clothes I know it puts a big smile on my face and spring in my step.
‘I love my body now. Like anyone, I have days where I don’t feel great, I am human and have a lifetime of poor self-esteem to keep working on but I feel like surrounding myself with like-minded people, especially on social media, is a hugely helpful strategy to keep me feeling good about myself.
‘There’s no room in my world for hate anymore, and that includes self-hate.
‘I think things are gradually changing but old-fashioned gender roles are still definitely a factor regarding women’s sexual relationships. I think the more we keep challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging women to feel worthy, empowered and celebrated, the more change we will see.
‘I hope that with tools like social media we can continue to shift attitudes by normalising healthy sexuality and making it safe for women to express themselves openly without judgement.’
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