The voice was high, sweet and girlish, the conversation animated and playful.
I had met Heather Boyle over the phone in 1995 after we'd chatted a few times via that new-fangled invention, the Internet. We agreed to get together soon after. She came to meet me on the Upper East Side where, freshly disengaged and between apartments, I was staying with some friends. When I opened the door, there stood a 5-foot-1-inch, black-haired beauty with skin like milk and a body as wide as the doorframe. Around 300 pounds at the time, she was like an extra-large soft cloud, a buttery oasis against the harshness of the world. A long-term relationship wasn't to be, but we stayed in touch through the years even as she went off to California and England, and I went off to Bali.
She's 32 years old now, 422 pounds, happily married and runs BigCuties.com from the house she recently bought with her husband John in Massachusetts. Sixteen women of assorted sizes, from plump to hypersize, including Heather, model for the site. Last year, she says, BigCuties.com grossed $200,000. Boyle has also become something of an advocate of fat acceptance-make that fat embracing. On March 28 she's speaking at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at NYU in an evening titled "Fat Porn: Tipping The Scale," which promises "a frank discussion about fat porn and fat admirers."
"It's sexually exciting to me to be fat," she says over the phone. "If I had a choice to be thin, I'd turn it down. I'm 422 pounds, and there's nothing wrong with me. There are fat women I know who accept their bodies, but if they had a choice, they'd be thin. I'm not like that. I'm extremely rare."
She started BigCuties.com five years ago with three models. "They have to be really cute. We're not hard-core. We have women wearing too-tight jeans or eating cupcakes because it sexually stimulates the viewer, but it's not explicit. It's a place for men who see fat in a sensual way."
Born and raised in Yonkers by her mother, Heather began to gain weight at around age 7. Her mother protested and took steps to get her to reduce. "She put me on every diet in the world," Heather says. "I'd lose five and gain back 10; lose 10 and gain back 20. She actually said, 'Heather, if you don't lose weight, no one will ever love you.' One day we had it out. I said, 'You'll either have a fat daughter, or you'll have no daughter.' That pretty much settled it."
Heather believes society tries to guilt men out of liking big women.
"Fat admirers are mostly strong, intelligent men who say, 'I can't change it, and I'm going to enjoy it,'" she says. "The preference itself is a natural predilection. Why is black the coolest color car? Why are there fads, or different styles of clothing? Someone's out there designating it. Butts are getting surgically enhanced now. Next week, it'll be something different. If someone had a preference for small breasts or a certain race, most intelligent people would say, 'Cool.' But if a man says, 'I like fatties,' he's a weirdo. I'm trying to educate people and let them know that fat isn't as icky or strange as they might think."
Regarding the health risks of extra weight, Heather responds, "It all comes down to the almighty dollar. Society has raised us to believe if you're fat, you're lazy and unhealthy. I'm healthier than my husband, who exercises. My weight doesn't make me any less smart, and it doesn't make me any less attractive."
She has strong words for both the diet industry and the growing popularity of gastric bypass surgery.
"I'll tell you something. I've been running Heavenly Bodies, a dance for big women and their admirers, for eight years. In those eight years I've seen 20 deaths from complications from weight loss surgery-20 people who I knew. In 20 years, we're going to look back and say, 'My God, what the hell were we thinking!' It's not like they're getting heart replacements. They're bypassing a natural function, digestion. So what's the answer? I don't know: Maybe accepting yourself, whatever your weight. I see young girls in public with their belly rolls hanging out, so progress is being made. You couldn't do that when I was a kid."
She's also trying to deflate the freak factor in fat admiration.
"One of the reasons I was excited to be asked to speak is because it's at a university and not a tabloid talk show. I've been on at least a dozen talk shows and documentaries in different countries. It always turns into some kind of circus," Heather says. "Time magazine asked me 'Why teach about porn in the classroom where parents are spending tens of thousands of dollars to educate their kids?' What I do shouldn't be called porn. The only reason people call it porn is because the models are fat. If you showed thin women eating cupcakes in their underwear, no one would bat an eye. Better people learn about things that are different from what they know in an environment where things can be discussed."
And the ultimate goal? "When it's OK for me to be on the cover of Cosmo in a bikini, then we're cool."
Fat Porn: Tipping the scale, March 28. Kimball Hall Lounge, 46 Greene St., first floor; 6-7:30, free .