How to overcome insecurity about my body?
September 6, 2013 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Lately I have been feeling insecure with my body and how I look. I've always hated how I look and my body, but now that I am in a committed relationship with a woman, I feel like there is this added stress of what she thinks of me too.

The areas that I am most unsatisfied with are my smile, skin, and weight.

Unfortunately I've never been able to have braces and my teeth are crooked. I'd like to have braces in the future when I can afford to, but until then my teeth are crooked. I've never had a cavity or issues with my teeth though.

My skin has been ravaged by what I now know was an allergic reaction or intolerance to dairy. For the last 10 years I've struggled with 'cystic acne' and it has left me badly scarred. No amount of medication dermatologists prescribed me worked. Only recently did I learn it was an intolerance to dairy, and I have since been able to control it, but the scars and damage is still done.

Lastly I think I am too fat – I'm around 6 feet tall and my doctor weighed me a few months ago at 174 lbs. He thought it was absurd that I thought I was fat, and I might have added some weight on me because I sit all day driving a truck.

Now that I am in a close, sexual relationship with a woman, I feel stressed that she might think that I am unattractive. How can I better deal with this? Nothing she has said or done has indicated she does think I am unattractive (she said to me recently she thinks I have a nice smile), but I feel this anxiety anyway.
posted by 8LeggedFriend to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You might be able to reduce the scarring by sleeping with vitamin E oil on your face or vitamin A oil or both. I did that for a time. It is messy. I recommend putting a towel on your pillow and washing the towel daily.

I have read that the body image ("I am too fat!" when you aren't) thing can be related to a vitamin K deficiency. I also quit reading magazines years ago. Limiting your exposure to these crazy, unrealistic media images can help. I have talked before on AskMe about how I got myself mentally disengaged from that. There is also a post on my blog about beauty and how crazy unrealistic media images are. If you want the link, memail me. I don't really want to do a self link here.
posted by Michele in California at 3:57 PM on September 6, 2013

If this is still around your deeply ingrained issues with perfection, like most of your questions are, you really need to dig into that with a trained professional and get at the root of the problem.
posted by bleep at 4:02 PM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

– I'm around 6 feet tall and my doctor weighed me a few months ago at 174 lbs.

Pretty sure you're not too fat then.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:03 PM on September 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

How do you feel about other people (your partner or other people) who have physical "imperfections" (that is, things that don't align precisely with what the main stream media says is attractive)? I remember once developing a huge crush on someone who had a really big, unusually-shaped nose, and thinking about that was transformative for me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:08 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm 5'7 and three years ago I weighed 171 pounds. I don't think you're fat. You might be kinda flabby (like I am now!), but it doesn't sound fat to me.

Remind yourself that she picked you. She sleeps with you. If you were as unattractive to her as you apparently are to yourself, she wouldn't have picked you. She's not lying or just being nice: She's into you!

Try to see yourself through her eyes.
posted by rtha at 4:17 PM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

photographic height/weight chart -- you can see that your size is quite normal

Don't bother with vitamins etc -- Research shows the use of vitamin treatments for scars is ineffective.[42] Vitamin E causes contact dermatitis in up to 33% of users and in some cases it may worsen scar appearance sources. There are effective treatments out there (scroll through the rest of the page); unfortunately they are mostly not cheap, but it's a treatable thing if it doesn't fade with time. You can get a "dermaroller" device pretty cheaply. Here's one discussion thread about that

But I don't mean to suggest that this is stuff you should waste mental energy on. Think about what registers as 'ugly' to you -- it's probably not 'does not look like a model.' It's probably mean people, maybe a dash of atrocious hygiene/grooming thrown in. People really have to put some work into being genuinely ugly. Also, even if you were fat and ugly, it really, really would not matter that much. There are sound reasons these sorts of insecurities are things one often happily grows out of. The world definitely appears to be tilted in favour of the beautiful, and the 'survey: attractive people make more money!' news stories do not help -- but that fades, and there are loads of plain folk living very happy lives.

A link was posted on here recently to -- you may find it useful?
posted by kmennie at 4:23 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is it possible for you to be in better shape? Most people could be in better shape than they are now. In my own experience, making even a small improvement to your fitness -- losing a little bodyfat, increasing a little muscle, feeling a little less winded when your do physical activity -- can do wonders for how you see yourself. I'm not saying that you need to completely change yourself to accept yourself, but it can never hurt to work on your physical fitness -- especially if you have a sedentary job -- and even small wins can go a long way.
posted by the jam at 4:31 PM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

For what it's worth, 174 at 6 feet is pretty much square in the middle of the "normal" range for BMI. Now, this might be deceiving, people are all built differently and BMI definitely has its limits. That said, you are almost certainly closer to the "ideal weight" for someone your age and height. If you feel you are getting out of shape because your job is very sedentary, making it a point to get more exercise can never hurt. It will probably improve your mood in general as well. When I get back in the habit of exercising regularly, I notice my mood gets better way before I start to look different.

I know more than a few people who like the look of crooked teeth, and lots of people who are indifferent. They probably outnumber the people who find anything less than perfectly straight teeth ugly or unattractive. If your girlfriend says she thinks you have a nice smile, you should probably trust her. I lost the bottom half of one of my front teeth in an accident a day before a first date. It was on Good Friday, so there was no chance of seeing a dentist. I tried to cancel, but she insisted. She didn't care about the tooth, she just wanted to see me. I stayed that night at her place and we dated until the relationship had run its course for entirely non-tooth-related reasons.

Because you only recently solved your skin problem, you probably have a few years of the scars and damage becoming less and less visible. I had 'cystic acne' that left scarring too. It was resolved after two courses of Accutane. I never did anything about it, but what I thought was scarring became less and less visible. I still see it every time I look in the mirror, but people now will tell me unprompted that I have perfect skin, so there's that.

Remind yourself that you are in that "close, sexual relationship with a woman" who I guarantee doesn't see you as defined by these three (very minor) imperfections, but as someone she wants a close, sexual relationship with, for what I'm sure are lots of good reasons.

From your past questions, it seems you have a really hard time dealing with life's inevitable imperfections. This seems to me to be the real underlying issue. Take this advice from Mr. L. Cohen:

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:31 PM on September 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

She picked you. She would not have if your physical appearance was appalling to her. Nobody is perfect. We are all flawed. She has issues about her body, too. But, you love her for her, and probably notice none or very few of the issues she would point about about her body. Also, personality and kindness count for WAY more than looks.... and, btw, there sounds like nothing wrong with the way you look. Be gentle on yourself.

If you don't get a lot of exercise after your jerb, consider it. You don't have to triathlon or bench press your body weight, but it really helps in mood.
posted by Jacen at 5:13 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

All of the above. Also, it might help to remember that feeling good about your body isn't some magical state of mind, but a process you undergo. Are you working on the things you can change? If not, some of your ill feeling might actually be about the fact that you're not working to change. Make a routine and stick to it patiently and you'll likely feel loads better, even if the progress is small and incremental. Because you know you'll doing your best.

You might also try meditation, which is helpful with all sorts of self-acceptance and imperfections of the world. There are plenty of mefi threads on where to start. Here are a few: 1, 2, 3. Good luck!
posted by vecchio at 6:04 PM on September 6, 2013

Go to the gym, or if you don't have time due sit-ups, lunges etc. while on your truck driving breaks. Don't try to lose weight, just eat good food.
posted by thylacine at 6:34 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my experience, orthodontia was way oversold. As a kid, I went to an orthodontist who cwas grooming me (and my parents) to put me in braces. At age 14, I had enough social acceptance issues that having braces on my teeth seemed like just too much, and I got a second opinion from an uninterested professional (a dentist, not an orthodontist) who let me know in no uncertain terms that I did NOT need orthodontia for any medical reasons, and that my orthodontist was selling me a bill of goods based on purely aesthetic considerations. Well, I have some fairly crooked teeth as a result, and guess what; as others have noted above, some people LIKE crooked teeth. And almost nobody actually has a strong negative opinion of them. I've done just fine over the last 30-plus years with my crooked, un-orthodontized teeth. (Also, I recently and against character started working out at a gym, and the results have been great, as confirmed by my wife. And that despite the fact that I weigh 230 and am 5'10".)
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 6:44 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have always really disliked my body, but my body image has improved incredibly once I started working out--and this improvement began before I started noticing any changes :). I used to think it was stupid ("if I work out, I'm just going to be surrounded by hot people and feel stupid and out of shape!") but it really has made a difference. I'm so much happier now that I do. Even if you aren't overweight (which it doesn't sound like you are), I would try it. As a dude, you'll pack on muscle so fast you'll be shocked.
posted by obviousresistance at 9:34 PM on September 6, 2013

All your questions are anxiety about not being good enough. Talk about it with a therapist.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:51 PM on September 6, 2013

I don't think it's helpful for people to be dismissive about your feelings of being fat, or to imply that those feelings are irrational or indicative of some kind of mental disorder, just because you're not technically obese. Linking to pictures of other people at the same height and weight is also irrelevant. People at intermediate body weight ranges (and 6' 174 is on the high end of a normal BMI, not right in the middle) can have a very wide variety of body compositions and appearances. I wouldn't be surprised to see a man at that height and weight and 20% body fat if he didn't exercise. (The WHO cutoff for obesity by body fat percentage in men is 25%). If you've recently gained some weight, or simply aspire to a leaner build, your feelings are understandable.

Having said that, you're not outside the norm in most of the western world, and even if you were the flabbiest 6' 174 ever, I doubt that anybody would look twice at you on the street and think "look at that fat guy." And the good news is that this is the easiest of your issues to change on your own. This page is my go-to intro to diet and exercise basics. And working on diet and exercise doesn't only help you by getting you to your ultimate goal, but it'll give you confidence along the way, too. If I'm feeling bad about my body, remembering that it's a work in progress makes me feel better. It makes me realize that it may not be exactly what I want just yet, but I'm headed in the right direction, and I'm doing something good for myself.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:16 AM on September 7, 2013

Retin A helped my acne scars a lot, and eventually gave my skin a fantastic glow. My GP is the one who recommended it -- if I remember correctly, it's prescription only. The downside is that it makes your skin ultra sensitive to sunlight, so you might have to slather on sunscreen, and it might not be a good idea to use it if you face the sun all day driving a truck. It also takes a few months to start working properly, but it's safe to use indefinitely. It comes in a tube, and you rub a pea-sized amount into your skin at night; I don't remember it as being any greasier or messier than putting on lotion.

If you're feeling fat and uncomfortable in your body, I think that's probably a fitness issue. I start feeling like that when I feel weak and uncoordinated, not necessarily when I'm any heavier than usual (to be honest, being in bad shape often keeps my weight on the scale relatively low, since I don't need to eat as much and don't have muscle bulking me up when I'm not exercising). Maybe sign up for a sport or start taking martial arts -- something where you'll have to trust your body to be competent and strong. When I feel strong and tough physically, I'm proud of what my body can *do,* and concerns about how it looks tend to feel a lot more irrelevant.

As for your teeth, I can't help you there, as my teeth are straight but prone to cavities. In my personal opinion (and probably the opinion of most people with "bad" teeth!) strong, healthy teeth that aren't perfectly aligned are something to be *envied.* If it really bothers you, you can of course get orthodontia, but I would probably take a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" stance. Since you have had no dental health problems, I would suspect that the only reason to change your teeth is cosmetic. Also, in my experience, having an "ugly" smile isn't really a thing -- if I'm smiling or laughing with someone, what kind of bizarrely alienated asshole would I be to meanwhile be thinking, "ugh, he looks so ugly when he's friendly and happy!"

So yeah -- the good news is that there are conventional, easy-to-access ways to "fix" the things you don't like about your body...but it also sounds like these aren't actual problems with your body (as in, issues that are causing you pain or limiting your ability to accomplish necessary physical tasks), they're things you're focusing on because you're feeling very self-conscious and down on yourself. I think this is more about a lack of self-confidence. I second the recommendations to try mindfulness and meditation. If you're like me, you might even be too self-conscious to feel comfortable meditating at first, in which case, zen koans might be useful. I also found it useful to write out a list of priorities -- things I need to have in order to feel fulfilled (ie, a satisfying career, a partner, a group of friends I trust, a happy pet, a safe place to live, etc) -- and to think about what I was focusing on in my life that was connected to getting/having/keeping the things on that list, and what was irrelevant. For what it's worth, concerns about looks didn't end up making the cut for me.
posted by rue72 at 11:38 AM on September 7, 2013

Seconding veccio, feeling good about yourself is a long process and it takes a commitment to doing a lot of rethinking. Constantly ask yourself why you feel that way, and let it become clear to you that it's because of a bunch of strangers' opinions about people in general.

Also seconding those who say you should pay attention to so-called "defects" in people you find attractive. You are your best proof that most people simply don't care. People who love you, love even your physical "flaws". I also think it's helpful to find people who share your flaws and aren't just happy, they absolutely rock. If you start looking, you'll see the world is full of them!

My boyfriend loves me and I love him to death, and if we were to make an "objective" list of each other's flaws we'd use up an entire roll of toilet paper. I love putting my arms around his belly, despite all the negative things he thinks and says about it. You don't sound fat at all, btw. But if you have a belly, think about that. I know I'm not alone in this, your girlfriend seems to agree with me!

I hate my upper teeth, I think I have a huge overbite (though one dentist disagreed) and my smile is not symmetrical. Yet people who like me love it when I do it and normally smile back. So thinking of that has made it clear to that it's not about the details. Other people take you in as a whole person, and if they like you, they simply don't care. It's not even on their minds. Or if it is - they'll find it cute. It's incredible, isn't it?
posted by ipsative at 12:04 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Retin A...downside is that it makes your skin ultra sensitive to sunlight

There's good news here, which is that that idea has been getting a debunking in recent years. Now I am having a hassle finding an authoritative source, but:

"This is one of the biggest retinoid myths," says Doris Day, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center (and a Tazorac user herself). "The ingredient itself is sensitive to sunlight, which is why you should apply it before bed at night." A retinoid shouldn't make your skin any more vulnerable to UV rays than it would be after buffing away dead skin with a face scrub. via

This looks to be a very good blog post on retinoids and says It is recommended that retinoids are applied in the evening or at night rather than in the morning. Some people say the reason is because they increase susceptibility to photodamage, but I haven't found evidence to support this claim. Rather, a good reason not to apply it in the morning is that retinoids themselves are degraded by sun light.

(I have used Retin-A for about twenty-five years now. One dermatologist I mentioned this to actually squealed "You're so lucky!" Anyway, personal testimonial is that it does what it says on the tin -- which includes some irritation. Scale back the %/your use of it if redness persists past the first couple of months.)
posted by kmennie at 3:31 PM on September 7, 2013

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