Another young woman feeling fat in her skinny jeans.
May 25, 2009 6:52 AM   Subscribe

How can I help resolve my body image issues?

I'm not really overweight, though I definitely have some curves. I'm a woman, late twenties, between a size 8-12 ( size 8 when I've been watching what I eat and can squeeze into some skinny jeans, size 12 when I'm not really paying attention or stop exercising. I've been a size 6 a few times, too, but that's when I'm eating on like a regiment and I was younger then too.) And I'm 5'7 or 5'8, so I know I'm not really that big. But, I have a lot of friends that are smaller than me, like in the size 2-6 range. I know its not rational, but I feel like the fat friend and it sucks.

What do other people do to overcome their body image issues? I don't want to just diet my life away. Boring! I eat healthy enough, so I don't really need diet recommendations-- I know what I need to do to squeeze into my skinny jeans. I just- I guess I just don't want to care as much!

I feel like my body issues have developed slowly throughout my twenties, maybe because my body changed , or maybe I just became more aware of lookism. It drives me crazy though and makes me feel lame for thinking about my weight and what jeans I can fit into all the time.

Does this go away after time? I know I'm a beautiful girl- but rationally I feel "fat" like a lot of the time. Help?
posted by Rocket26 to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
What is interesting is that you clearly have the ability to shed pounds when you feel so inclined. So I suppose the issue is that you are faced with a choice if you choose to ignore Hermitosis' advice and that is, commit to losing weight or commit to accepting the size that you are. The fact that it bothers you implies that maybe you need to take active steps. I too wish I was a few (dozen) pounds lighter but I know that only me getting motivated will make it happen.
posted by Ponderance at 7:13 AM on May 25, 2009

Are you trying to dress like your friends? The clothes that look amazing on a size 8-12 are not the same as those on a 2-6.
If I were you, I would seriously consider getting a couple items that would make the tiny girls jealous as hell of your curves. I say this as a very small girl who has some bigger friends with some seriously awesome outfits that I could never wear without looking ridiculous.
posted by snoogles at 7:13 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hermitosis, cut it out.

I don't want you to diet your life away either. Using this as a point of departure, one angle might be to get away from the diet and food question and think instead about fitness. What do you use your body for? What do you want to use it for? Approached properly -- with a goal not of weight loss but feeling good about having a strong, agile, fit, and flexible body that you're proud of (and that can you can use to do things the skinny girls can't) -- developing a sport or active hobby could be a helpful part of self-acceptance and self-love.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:14 AM on May 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks snoogles. Any suggestions for really awesome clothes in that size range?
posted by Rocket26 at 7:16 AM on May 25, 2009

I can't speak for all men, but I can fairly say there are a whole lot of us who like curves. Enjoy who you are. If you convince yourself that you are desirable no matter how you look, it makes motivation for any change you undertake so much easier.

I know I'm a beautiful girl-

Yes you are, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, including yourself.
posted by netbros at 7:18 AM on May 25, 2009

The mature advice is to seek therapy for your body image issues, and set straight the problem of your perception (which I personally know very well).

The immature advice is to start banging someone who likes your body just the way it is -- and it will not be hard to find that person.

They both work; although the latter advice is more fun and inexpensive, it tends only to last as long as the guy is in your life, so the first is the only long-term solution.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:26 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Write these words upon your heart.
posted by jbickers at 7:28 AM on May 25, 2009

I spent the whole night on saturday talking to a lonely guy with a really great job and his own apartment about how hard it has been for him to find a size 8-12 curvaceous lady in San Francisco.

Looking can be so harmful because it is nothing less than the taking down of your spirit. The most humiliating thing a looker can do is walk past silently with their eyes affixed to you momentarily.

You either should:
1. Become dedicated to maintaining the weight you find is most meaningful to you.
2. Move to San Francisco and let my friend make you dinner.
posted by parmanparman at 7:48 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Arrange to volunteer at a spinal cord injury rehab facility. Meet young people who have lost the use of their arms and legs. I'll bet any one of them would give anything to trade places with you, whether it's the size 8 you, or the size 12 you.

This is honestly not meant as snark. I once met a quadriplegic man who told me he most missed the ability to breathe on his own. I thought of him every time I felt critical of my body, and I just let go of all that self-hatred stuff. Seriously. You have better things to spend your time on. I'm not minimizing the angst you are feeling - I've felt it too and it's awful. But you have to stop defining yourself by your clothing size. Get busier and live your life. You are more than your shape ... aren't you?
posted by Kangaroo at 8:00 AM on May 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

Something I find helpful is to remember that a few pounds, or a size or two, up or down is unlikely to be transformative--people who think you are attractive at one weight are probably not going to change their minds if you gain or lose some weight but you can make yourself miserable trying to change your body by that much. Some people are going to find you very attractive just the way you are, some people are not going to find you attractive at any size--so no point in sweating it too much.

I would suggest making sure you have some clothes you really like, that fit the body that you currently have well and then just remember that lots of women would probably love to be your size--your friends happen to be small but there are plenty of women struggling to get to a healthy weight. I am about your height and size and while I have some ups and downs in terms of body image, this works pretty well for me--and I work at a college so I am constantly surrounded by whippet thin undergraduates. :)
posted by pie_seven at 8:05 AM on May 25, 2009

I'm 5'5 and about a size bigger than you (so, a bit rounder overall), and friends with a lot of asian girls (nothing against asian girls, obviously, but my friends are all 5'2 and ~105 pounds and convinced THEY're fat). And when I look at pictures of us together I do feel like a giant, so I totally understand how you feel.

But, like you, I know that I am a pretty girl and have a nice shape body, and I just keep telling myself that. I look in the mirror for an extra minute or two when I look hot and smile at myself, and just remind myself that even if I look bigger compared to a friend, I still look great, no one's gonna look at me and be like, "oh look at her, she's taller and bigger."

And yes, as Countess Elena said, it really helps when I am dating a guy who loves my body and tells me I have an amazing ass. I'd go with the more fun, less expensive, and temporary solution - it's much more satisfying to have a guy tell you your body is nice than a therapist.

And as foxy_hedgehog suggested, don't just work out for the sake of working out - pick a goal such as running 5 miles, or being able to do 3 pull-ups, a yoga headstand or a split, or playing for a team or anything, so when you accomplish that you'll love your body for what it's able to do and you'll feel like you can kick ass, instead of just thinking about how you have to stay on the elliptical machine for another 20 minutes or so to lose more weight.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:06 AM on May 25, 2009

I am just your size, I think.

Aside from saying I think the 'wear appropriate clothing' advice is spot-on (I was in high school when belly shirts were in, ugh), all I can say is: you're not fat.

Maybe it would help to think of what you're doing instead of exercising. Do you read, cook, play with the cat, sit out in the sun? If whatever you're doing is enjoyable or satisfying, just realize that you'd be trading that thing for exercise. Would you give up those experiences for a slightly thinner frame?
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:20 AM on May 25, 2009

Focusing on the appearance of my body has never done anything to help me feel better. There will always be something I could theoretically improve. Neither has comparing myself to anyone else helped. What has helped me is feeling like my body is healthy.

Is there an exercise you enjoy? Not an exercise whose results you enjoy, but a physical activity that you enjoy for its own sake. For me, I love walking. It gets me where I need to go and makes me feel healthy. It doesn't make me skinny, but that's ok. It makes me feel good about my body in terms of how it works, and it also has the added benefit of keeping me at a consistent size with minimal effort (provided I don't overdo it on the cheeseburgers).

I'm sure there are other ways to improve body image, but this is what works for me. I've never been dangerously overweight, but I've always felt too heavy. Because it was less a matter of health and more a matter of self-perception, I stopped trying to go from a 10/12 to a 4/6 and started to focus on what makes me feel attractive.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:30 AM on May 25, 2009

A lot of my social body issues were quenched when I started dressing up more. I hated how pants looked on my legs, so I gradually (and unintentionally) shifted to wearing skirts all the time. When I dressed better, a lot of my anxiety left.

I'm pretty sure that I would go back to feeling like a lump if I wore plain jeans and a long sleeve shirt, no matter how darling smaller friends look when they wear the same outfit. When I worked with children, I found some jeans with a lot of velvety embroidery stuff along the side, with a flare at the bottom, and those were pretty enough that I still felt like I looked nice. I didn't have to make a direct correlation with other people, because I wasn't dressed like other people. So maybe that's enough, for those size 12 jeans days. Even though you feel lumpy, make an effort to wear something that looks really damn good. Don't put off buying a couple pieces of nice clothing in size 12 just because you think not having them will inspire you to never put on a couple pounds.

I'm a couple of sizes larger than you, so of course part of me thinks you're judging yourself way too harshly. You have an awesome shape! But, of course, the people I'm close to think *I'm* being nuts when I get weird about weight issues, too, so it's not like a bunch of people on the internet telling you not to worry will magically solve it.

And maybe take a concerted effort to notice people that are bigger than you who are totally awesome. It's easy to fixate on willowy elven girls, but don't forget to notice the other ladies, too. The ones who can't always get their clothes straight off of the rack, but are still rocking it.
posted by brisquette at 8:43 AM on May 25, 2009

My previous response, that you should try to make fatter friends, was deleted, but I wasn't making a joke.

Honestly, it sounds like you are just fine, and that you mostly know you're just fine, but you still find yourself susceptible to the same unrealistic standards of beauty, and that it might have something to do with the company you keep. If you spent more time with more people who are your size or larger, you'd probably feel more supported and a little better about yourself. Perhaps you unconsciously gravitate toward running with a "skinny crowd" so that you feel that you're among their number, but in the end that just makes you feel more self-conscious. I think you should honestly examine what sorts of people you gravitate toward and why, and maybe make some new friends who may be able to round out your perspective.
posted by hermitosis at 8:53 AM on May 25, 2009

First things first. If you want to resolve body shape issues, move that body around and see how if it works the way you want it to.

I get the feeling that you don't exercise. If not, do so. Go run or walk an organized 5K, where you will see people of all shapes and sizes and skill levels. Then perhaps you can get a different perspective. Then maybe you'll come away thinking, "Not only am I not fat, I'm healthy." Or, "Wow, this is fun, I'll do it again." Or, "Maybe I could lose a few, and now I know how to do it."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:56 AM on May 25, 2009

I'm working on this too at the moment. I'm going to nth wearing clothes that are nice and flattering on you. I wear spanx a lot, not to make me look thinner, but because clothes sit much more comfortably and look much more flattering on me when I have spanx underneath.

Look at people you value whose bodies are different from the social ideal. Do you love them any less because their bodies are different? Believe that other people will value you for reasons other than your body.

Try to learn to tune out people and societal messages who say you're not a size 2 because you're not trying hard enough. Your body is beautiful the way it is.

Do "mirror work." Look in the mirror and try to look at your body objectively. Once you hear yourself criticizing a part of your body, walk away from the mirror. Do this regularly.

Check out Kate Harding's blog and the book, "When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies."
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:59 AM on May 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions thus far, and they are all helping. I feel like I'm being a bit vain, ("oh god, I'm a size 10 and i'm soooo fat!") but I know this happens to women in every size, and men too. My logical mind knows a 10 or 15 pound weight fluctuation is not going to be the make or break it point for my self worth or even really in overall health.

That's why I don't really want to focus on losing weight, but rather finding ways to feel better about my body, no matter if I'm an 8 or 12 or whatever.
posted by Rocket26 at 9:30 AM on May 25, 2009

Yes, yes, yes, read Shapely Prose (Kate Harding's blog). There's an earlier, similar thread wherein these two excellent posts were linked specifically: Don't you realize fat is unhealthy? and The fantasy of being thin.

I understand the desire to say "you're not fat" (and I'm about your size too, same height, slightly plumper) but you know what, I'm not sure it matters if we're "fat" or not. To me, letting that not be the relevant question has been hugely helpful. Do my clothes fit the body I have, and do they make me feel cute? Can I get around and have fun and do what I need to with the body I have? Those are the important things.

It's totally hard. Stopping comparing oneself to everyone else around is super helpful but really hard to do. It's work. But there are supportive places to learn how, and seriously, it's worth it.

I should also note that when I stopped watching TV commercials, and stopped consuming magazines or even looking at them in the checkout line, my mental health and body image increased noticeably. I'm not a celebrity gossip or fashion or makeup person, so if you are it might be harder to give that up, but I was really surprised to note how effective it was to just ... opt out of the external pressure.
posted by librarina at 9:39 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

My body image issue isn't related to weight and can't be changed through diet, exercise, surgery, or clothing. Since there is no fighting it, I've had to accept it.

As I've gotten older (I'm mid30s) I've realized that people don't pay half as much attention to me as I thought they did. I had 1000 times more negative thoughts about myself than people did about me. I am a fleeting blip on most people's radar. The ones for whom I'm a constant presence - well, they obviously don't think of me solely in terms of what I look like. And I don't think of them in those terms either. Do you constantly judge your friends on their clothing size? I doubt it, and I doubt they care about yours either.

While new clothing will make you feel more confident, what happens when you're in a situation in which you have to take it off? You can look in a mirror and tell yourself how beautiful you are, but you won't always believe it. Real confidence can never be imparted through material objects or other people or trite sayings. It only occurs when you can truly let go of the need for approval. The concept of beauty is sooooo context-dependent* as to be essentially empty and meaningless. There is untold freedom in being able to divest yourself of it, in being able to step out of the unwinnable rat race. This doesn't mean you should shave your head and wear rags. It just means putting those opinions and preferences in their place and not letting them run you. Notice your thoughts about your body and about others' bodies, but don't give them any weight, any credence. They're just there, in the same way that you idly notice that the sky is blue today... and then you move on. Keep practicing "just moving on" from those thoughts, and eventually their power will disappear.

* I'm personally squicked out by the earlobe thing - obviously her culture sees it as a beautiful thing, and her face is certainly very attractive.
posted by desjardins at 9:47 AM on May 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I can't speak for all men, but I can fairly say there are a whole lot of us who like curves. Enjoy who you are. If you convince yourself that you are desirable no matter how you look, it makes motivation for any change you undertake so much easier.

Nth on these points, courtesy netbros. One of the most beautiful women I've ever dated was around your size— you can carry and dress yourself just as well, if not better, than your tiny friends.

Maybe talk to a trainer at your gym and set goals for body tone and fitness rather than weight loss. The trainers I know are happy to work with clients who have healthy goals as opposed to unnatural, and potentially damaging, "let me drop X pounds in Y weeks" targets.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:53 AM on May 25, 2009

As for clothing ideas, here's my personal and unprofessional list of Women's Clothing that Looks Exceptionally Good on Curvy Women:

Wrap dresses
Boot-leg pants
V-neck tunic-style tops (With or without belts or sashes)
A-line skirts
Knit dresses (such as those made out of jersey or other curve-complementing material)

I also wanted to add: your reference to feeling self-conscious around other women -- who are notoriously obsessed with thinness as a singular criteria for beauty -- shouldn't blind you to the fact that men, in my Also, in my personal and unprofessional experience and opinion, prefer otherwise.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:13 AM on May 25, 2009

Your body's sole value is not measured by its relative beauty. Also, guys, her body's value is not measured by its attractiveness to men, either, and frankly saying "I find bigger women hot" is kind of demeaning and missing the point. Having a wardrobe that fits you well and is flattering is nice, but it is a bandaid on the underlying problem that your view of your body's worth is determined by some arbitrary standards of society. I always respond to these threads the same way (and one that has been mentioned above): you need to find some value in your body other than its appearance. Exercise that pushes my limits is the way I do that, but there are many ways, the suggestion of volunteering with people that have spinal chord injuries or lost limbs is a good one. Dance, paint, play music, volunteer. Do something that gets you out of your head and into your body in some way. Because your body is amazing whatever its size, whatever you are wearing, and no matter what anyone else out there thinks of it. This won't cure your body image issues for good (I wish) but it can help you anchor yourself in reality and allow you to dismiss those thoughts as irrational when you do have them.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:16 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I also suggest avoiding reading fashion and womens' magazines. They are obsessed with weight-loss and skinny moddles. As for fashion advice, What Not to Wear covers some basics - emphasing or creating a waist with structure, pants that go straight down rather than tapered.

I agreed with Cool Papa Bell in saying that using your body can help change your frame of mind. Your body is an amazing thing, it can do all sorts of powerful and fun things.
posted by Gor-ella at 10:24 AM on May 25, 2009

You say you have 'some curves'. Do you have an hourglass-type body with a small waist? Use it! There are a ton of styles out there right now that emphasize waists- wide belts, wrap dresses, et cetera.

Avoid clothing that drapes over your waist. All those empire-style tops that billow out over you without being fitted? Run away quickly. I see a lot of dresses and tops now that are tight on top, loose in the middle, and are banded at the bottom. Things like this are exactly what you do NOT want.

I am right about your size and these are things I would gladly buy:
Silk twist-neck dress
Silk skirt [the waist detail is perfect to show off by tucking in your top]
Perfect boot-cut jeans
Classic wrap dress, short sleeves
Fancy dress-to-impress tank dress

Sorry about all the dresses. I feel like dresses flatter me best, so I tend to flock toward them. Keep in mind these are just silhouettes to follow- unless you can afford these, in which case, go hog wild! And send me one of those flouncy shirtdresses in an 8, plz.
posted by rachaelfaith at 11:00 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am also about your size, but closer to 5'9" (and my size/weight exactly fluctuates like yours). I go through periodic body-hating, but have found that when I dress nice I feel a hundred times better and almost entirely content with my figure.

So I definitely agree with snoogles & emilyd2222 - it's all about getting the right clothes that flatter you and make you feel hot. I'm not sure what your exact body shape is, but perhaps try for some vintage dresses that emphasize your waist/curviness. I've found that vintage cuts look really fantastic on bodies like ours. Also, don't be afraid to wear heels! It might seem counter-intuitive to make yourself feel less giant by wearing flats, but for me it works. It makes me feel very Joan Holloway. :) Also, generally speaking I prefer skirts and dresses to pants and jeans--not only because they tend to be more flattering, but because it just *feels* good to dress nice, you know? And that always makes me feel better about my figure, flaws and all.

I totally hear you when you say you feel like the "fat friend" - god, all of my girl friends are 5-7 inches shorter than me. Sometimes I look at their tiny-ness and literally feel like the most giant, unfeminine girl in the room. But I can't tell you how many times they say things like, "You look so amazing in that dress! There's no way I could ever wear something like that!" and "You always look so glamourous! Ugh, I have no waist and am sooo short". Maybe I just have complimentary friends, but I think the point is that everyone always seems to be a little unsatisfied with their body (unfortunately) and want what they don't have. Chances are there are probably a dozen people close to you that would rather have your body than their own and think you are hot stuff, size 8 or size 12. :)
posted by bienbiensuper at 11:16 AM on May 25, 2009

You're certainly not the only one going through similar issues trying to adjust emotional-brain to logical-brain regarding body image, while trying to eat healthily rather than "diet!"

For me, I know that my size is quite small (though I too would like a little more discipline toward getting myself into my favorite jeans). But trying to gracefully and realistically deal with how my body has changed now that I'm in my mid-thirties is proving a wee bit more difficult than I ever would have thought. (Betrayal, I tell ya!)

You may find this blog interesting. (Added twist -- she's a food writer and restaurant reviewer, so she has to build a great deal more restaurant food into her healthy eating habits.) Disclosure: The blogger is a friend of mine.
posted by desuetude at 11:34 AM on May 25, 2009

Looks like you already got some great advice for clothing, but here's my 2 cents.

What's your favourite body part? Boobs? Ass? Strong calfs? Nape of the neck? Whatever bit of you you think is particularly nice (and you know that there are at least a few!), try to find a type of outfit that will flatter it. Odds are you have bigger breasts. Get a gorgeous bra and a nice V-neck and flaut it!

rachaelfaith has some nice suggestions, and I think she's onto something with the dresses and skirts, especially those with a cinched waist and slightly flared bottom.
posted by snoogles at 12:09 PM on May 25, 2009

I think women are so harsh on themselves.. I wish it weren't like that. No matter what size I wear, it's a mental thing and that's what needs work. My college roommates were much shorter and tiny and it was so tough being envious of that all the time.

buying clothes that fit well does help. I've bought sizes that barely fit & end up feeling terrible about myself - why do this? Don't. :) Take care of yourself, eat healthy, drink lots of water. Caving in to the beauty industry and doing all this highlighting, waxing, tons of makeup, etc - nah, that's awful - but a flattering, low maintenance haircut, shaping your brows, a bit of low key makeup - it's more attractive to be well groomed and healthy and wearing clothes that suit you, than worry about a few dress sizes.

A guy I know, his girlfriend must wear a size 12-14.. it suits her, she takes great care of herself, wears flattering clothes, and really.. she looks good and she knows it and just lights up the room. I'm not gonna lie, I wear a 4-6 but I've got messy hair and wear baggy clothes, worry about appearances way too much and always feel like I gotta lose 5 pounds, and it's ridiculous - I know it's got to be happier and healthier and more attractive to walk in her shoes. All the guys look at Christina Hendricks from Mad Men and are like whoaaaaaah.
posted by citron at 12:21 PM on May 25, 2009

I'm about the same size as you as well. In the past I've always dieted, accepted my size, said screw it, tried to accept my size, drank bottles of wine while watching programs on anorexia, etc.

I think, however, I've finally found the perfect thing for me - competitive sports. OK, it's just racquetball - but in the year since I've started playing, I've found myself thinking of my body in a different way. I'm more focused on what it can do, instead of how it appears (as some posters have said above). I really have no idea what size I am anymore, probably about the same, but I can run and jump and slide across the floor and sprain my ankles and sometimes whip a player's ass on the court.

And, I do think all of this gets easier with age as well - my 30's have found me much less judgmental in these areas.
posted by Kloryne at 2:30 PM on May 25, 2009

Do you live alone? Can you walk around your house naked? It really can be useful to just spend some time with your body. Get used to it. Get bored with it.

And what Kloryne said.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:49 PM on May 25, 2009

Similar-- size 10 or so-- gained about 15 pounds between early and mid-20s, plus I live in what was recently named "The Leanest City In America," so I occasionally feel like a hippo, even though rationally I know I am far from being Roseanne Barr.

I dealt with this problem by getting good at cutting my own hair. If my bangs are totally awesome, and I feel in charge of how good I look because I made that happen, it makes me way more confident than any pants size ever did or probably ever will. On days where I'm like "every dress is built for someone else," a 20-minute trim of some layers to frame my face and I'm like "hello, world."

YMMV, obviously.
posted by neitheror at 10:57 PM on May 7, 2010

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