Earnest question: how can I love my body?
July 28, 2017 11:04 PM   Subscribe

I find my own difficulty accepting my non-thin body is hindering me from dating and pursuing relationships. How can I see myself with new eyes? Or at least accept myself and enjoy (or even pursue at all) a relationship?

I am a mid-thirties lady who is probably around a size 16. I have an hourglass figure but it's got some extra junk. I'm frustrated because I feel like through excessive early tv watching (child of divorce, natch) and general negative culture osmosis I have internalized negative attitudes about not-toned bodies and larger women. I'm in therapy for general help with depression, but I find that not believing I am a sexy lady is holding me back from even dating at all, let alone having relationships. I have had one intimate dude partner who I liked, but I have this messed up feeling like I am typically attracted to bigger dudes because they like, are "my wheelhouse" or something? Like when I online date, I tend to just assume good looking, fit men won't be interested in me? And I know this is messed up thinking! I'm trying to explore more body positive media and authors, but I find I still feel this unshakeable self-consciousness- and some of my own feelings of loathing seep through into how I perceive partners in a weird vicious cycle. Maybe just venting here is enough but if not: does anyone have any suggestions besides mainlining Lindy West? In my fanstasy world, I act as if I am the most beautiful woman ever, and then it just happens. In real life-this is so hard to do and seems never to stick. I know this isn't really a super simple question, but any words of wisdom would be welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Plenty of fat, unattractive, weird, old, non-models get laid and find love all the time. Even the assholes. You can probably think of examples of irl people you know who have.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:27 PM on July 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

One of the things I did was get on Instagram and start following a ton of non-thin women who are into fashion and beauty as hobbies. When you rarely get to see someone who looks like you being attractive and confident in popular culture, it can really do a number on your self-esteem. It helped a lot when I added it into my media diet via social networks.
posted by jess at 11:42 PM on July 28, 2017 [29 favorites]

Oh, anon! I feel you. I really do. I've been fat (size 28) and I've been thin (size 6). Right now, I'm about a size 22. One thing I have noticed during my dating life is the people I'm dating don't care nearly as much as I do about what size I am. And I didn't feel good at all about how I looked when I was at my thinnest. My internalized fat phobia and body shame is so toxic, I've never been able to fight it off. If you like Lindy West's writing and get a lot out of it, you might also try Roxane Gay and Samatha Irby. Following a lot of fat positive people on Instagram and Twitter has helped me too.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 11:47 PM on July 28, 2017 [7 favorites]

There can be a lot of external noise around the notion of size. Being bigger and curvier can be seen as a label, an extension of who we are. Except that it's not. We contain multitudes; women are deep, rich, exciting beings who are so much more than a number on a tag.

When I first started dating I thought a lot about my weight, not because I particularly cared about it, but because I thought that all men did. In my early thirties I decided to change my entire perspective toward dating. I decided that instead of spending time worrying about what I thought my dates wanted (or didn't want), I would give myself space to reflect on what I wanted. It was only when I stopped judging myself that I was able to see the truth: the men that I wanted to spend time with weren't judging me at all. I gave myself permission to acknowledge my own sexiness, to own the fact that I was asked out on a second date 100% of the time.

I got married in April to a man who loves every single inch of me. He is the man that I spent my whole life looking for, the man that I soldiered through date after date looking to find. The journey, though, was always about me. It required letting go of old thoughts and patterns in order to embrace what I wanted, who I wanted.

Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Don't be afraid; the journey is yours.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 11:59 PM on July 28, 2017 [20 favorites]

I have this messed up feeling like I am typically attracted to bigger dudes because they like, are "my wheelhouse" or something? Like when I online date, I tend to just assume good looking, fit men won't be interested in me?

It's been my experience that someone who has never been fat is more likely to say and do things that make me feel bad about my body, including unintentionally, than someone who is or has been fat themselves. Of course there are exceptions, but it still makes sense that bigger dudes would feel like a safer bet in general.

Also, being larger doesn't necessarily preclude being "good-looking" or "fit." Good looks are a matter of taste, and some of us genuinely find larger dudes attractive. Fitness as in being able to run far and lift things, or as in having good numbers for blood pressure and such, can exist (or not) at any size. Using "good-looking" and "fit" to mean "thin" is a linguistic habit in our society that sustains fatphobia. You might try questioning the assumptions that underlie this word usage. Maybe larger guys are your wheelhouse partly because they're your type? Nothing wrong with having a type, if that's the case. Maybe a certain level of fitness, like being able to participate with you in dancing or hiking or whatever else you enjoy, is sufficient to be a "fit" date, regardless of size?

I found it really hard to work on body issues in therapy because my therapist believed fat people were objectively unattractive and unfit. I pushed back on that idea, and maybe just standing up for myself in that way was helpful, because it stopped even mattering to me what my therapist thought about fat.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 12:38 AM on July 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

I focus on how my body feels and what it does. Yeah, my thighs jiggle and my knees are beat to crap. But I fucking climbed that mountain, didn't I, and ya know what? It feels great when my fat claps together. Like, sensorily, it's really satisfying and creamy and solid. Close your eyes, stroke your skin, dance a little, really try yourself out. What you like may not read hollywood in the mirror but damn if you don't feel fine.

Your bones have carried you far and wide. Look at all you've done in your life, the places you've gone, the experiences you've had. Your body *earned* those stripes. Even when you hate her, she's always working for you. There's no greater, more selfless love than that.
posted by fritillary at 1:11 AM on July 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

You sound like you're probably built similarly to me, and I've had/have some of the same concerns about attractiveness, dating, etc.

This may be a roundabout way of approaching your question, but here's what has helped me in this area. Over the past couple of years I've spent more and more time volunteering. I happened to luck into the exact right fit for me (working with horses at a stable that gives physical therapy to special-needs kids through horseback riding) and I'm a huge advocate of getting involved with similar programs, but obviously it wouldn't be the right fit for everybody. (although if you're interested, programs like this are EVERYwhere, even in cities, and always need help)

I feel like my efforts with this group are repaid a hundredfold. My physical labor is appreciated, which is not something I'm used to. Partly because of me, kids get to have an awesome experience, and animals get taken care of.

The work is also great exercise, which is its own good thing, but for me it's mostly about appreciating what my body can do, for myself and others, in the state it's in TODAY. I can't even express how much of a new attitude this is for me... it's something that just never occurred to me before my late 30s, that my body has value and goodness as it is now (and anybody who disagrees can eat shit).

Also, there's no better kick in the teeth on this issue than to hang out with a bunch of kids in wheelchairs. I have had many, many long thinks about how little I previously valued my mobility, my general health, and the fact that although I'd still love to change a lot of things about my body, those changes are essentially on the cosmetic level. I can walk and run and carry heavy things. Sometimes, now, I'll just be walking around and suddenly feel goddamn powerful. I've still got a big fat ass! But it's ok. I have far less hate and way more love for my physical self than ever in my life, and I feel like this is possible for you, if you find a way to appreciate and value what you can do, and who you are, today. Maybe that would be helped by joining a volunteer program that's right for you, or a yoga class, or some more individual progress toward self-acceptance. I encourage you to find your thing. It is so worth it.

(Memail me if you ever feel like it, I'm friendly.)
posted by jessicapierce at 1:34 AM on July 29, 2017 [15 favorites]

It might be helpful to remember that the way the fatness is portrayed in the media and how it exists in real life are worlds apart. There are three TV shows I've seen some episodes of recently (American Housewife, Drop Dead Diva, and This Is Us) that have fat women characters and that I think are supposed to be fat-positive, but they are just the opposite. The women in these shows are obsessed with their weight, and it's presented as a calamity. I cannot relate to their views at all. I am a size 16/18 and I don't even think of myself as fat. I acknowledge that my size is generally considered fat, or at least not thin, but it is not even on my radar, because in real life no one has ever brought it up or cared. In real life, many women look like me, and look in a wide variety of different ways, and it is generally unremarkable. The media presents a very distorted view. In real life, no one much cares. (Well, some might care but then they are not the partners for you, or me.)

I know this is all easier said than lived. Best wishes to you.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 1:43 AM on July 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

I feel for you, as I struggle with much the same problems, and I can't add much to the excellent advice you've received here, except for a few rather superficial observations.

1. Buy clothes that you feel good in. Sometimes this may mean sizing up, which can present something of a mental roadblock to some people. It certainly did to me, but since accepting the need to size up I feel much more comfortable and attractive in my clothes. Technically, I can wear a size smaller, but going up a size gives me a little movement and breathing space in my clothes, which I like and feel comfortable in; and if you've ever seen a person struggling with uncomfortable clothes and shoes you know that feeling comfortable is an important factor in feeling attractive.

2. This is more like a 1b, but get to know yourself and your style. I used to feel like, as a big person, I would only ever be considered attractive if I tried to dress more like the plus size beauty bloggers (I mean, have you checked some of those bloggers out - they're stunning!). But in my heart of hearts I am a schlub, and honestly I feel much more comfortable and 'myself' when I am in jeans and t-shirt. I feel more attractive when I am wearing clothes that I feel like myself in. So my advice would be to wear what you feel like yourself in, not what you feel you 'should' be wearing.

I get that these are superficial, sartorial pointers but I do think that how you dress can affect how you feel about the body you're dressing, and your sense of ease with yourself is something that can radiate outwards into your dealings with other people and how you're perceived in general.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:24 AM on July 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think you probably do need to cut yourself some slack... at size 16 and with an hourglass figure, you certainly don't sound horrendously out of shape.

Although I'm a man, and I'm thin, the negative female and male stereotypes portrayed in the media repulse me also, and I've found the easiest way round this is simply not to watch shows/read magazines that reinforce these views.

People's types are incredibly varied, and a lot of men do actually prefer the plumper women. I have several friends that fall into this category, but you'll find these men don't tend to shout their preferences from the rooftops, because it's not socially acceptable to do so.

I think, in general, people do prefer men/women of a similar size/look to themselves. There's certainly nothing wrong with you if you don't find the classic David Beckham look attractive.
posted by inner_frustration at 2:53 AM on July 29, 2017

I thought the same thing, SAID the same thing, and then said screw it, and one month later I'm on a dating site and have the new dilemma of more guys wanting to date me than I have time for. WaspEnterprises nailed it. Her words are gospel.

It was only when I stopped judging myself that I was able to see the truth: the men that I wanted to spend time with weren't judging me at all. I gave myself permission to acknowledge my own sexiness, to own the fact that I was asked out on a second date 100% of the time.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:10 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am typically attracted to bigger dudes because they like, are "my wheelhouse" or something? Like when I online date, I tend to just assume good looking, fit men won't be interested in me?

Or maybe you just like bigger dudes. I do, and I'm "medium sized," not especially heavy. My last boyfriend was pretty into fitness and was very lean and muscular as a result...even though I found him attractive, he also wasn't my "type" and, personally, I would have preferred if he'd been carrying an extra thirty or forty pounds. I mean, I would never have told him that, because I would never have wanted him to feel self-conscious about his body. But the heart wants what it wants.

I think if you're attracted to larger men and that's a body type you find hot, then you should accept that as legitimate. That's not necessarily some kind of externalized self-hate thing. Personally, I just find some extra cushion for the pushing very sexy, and maybe you do, too.
posted by rue72 at 4:57 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have this messed up feeling like I am typically attracted to bigger dudes because they like, are "my wheelhouse" or something? Like when I online date, I tend to just assume good looking, fit men won't be interested in me?

Fat or no fat, this is the wrong approach to dating and life. Going out there looking for the person who might possibly find you attractive even though you are awful is giving away your own agency over your own life. What do *you* want in a partner? If the answer is "someone who loves me for who I am" then you will be settling, no matter how fit the guy Is.

Instead of thinking about who might want you, think about what you want. How do you want your life to go? Is your partner a city mouse or country mouse? What kinds of attitudes toward women, the gig economy, religion, marijuana, reality tv, does he have? Is he sarcastic? Nerdy? What do you want to do to pass the time together when you are two years in?

I was late 40s when I joined okcupid. I am overweight and opinionated, my half-grey hair gets frizzier every day, I have two half-launched kids I raised on my own, I am a yankee in the south, an atheist in christendom, and I have resting bitch face. I did online dating "wrong" and found my permanent dude (PD) 2 months in. I have no idea what he thought of me physically - what attracted him was my passion and my confidence. I think that is not unusual.

On my profile I stated exactly what I was looking for (progressive local grownup who likes to play outside, etc). It is a self-limiting strategy but you end up with quality over quantity. There were maybe a half dozen people who fit my criteria, but I didn't settle, and even though PD is objectively gorgeous and I am not, neither did he. Because in the end, are you hoping to meet someone to look at, or are you hoping to meet someone to talk to, touch, goof around, and do stuff with?
posted by headnsouth at 5:04 AM on July 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

In regards to self image do remember lots of real people prefer women around size 16, and would find a size 6 not as appealing.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:36 AM on July 29, 2017

Like when I online date, I tend to just assume good looking, fit men won't be interested in me? And I know this is messed up thinking!

Oh, no, they almost never are. It is very rare that the people we find very physically attractive feel the same way about us. We are like that as a species. We tend to reach.

Realistically, no amount of confidence will increase how other people respond to our bodies. But that's why it makes sense to date lots of people until we find someone compatible.

I have had one intimate dude partner who I liked, but I have this messed up feeling like I am typically attracted to bigger dudes because they like, are "my wheelhouse" or something?

I mean, they might be! As a size 18, certainly I have dated guys in my "wheelhouse" sizewise, and some rail-thin guys. You could probably go out and find someone who was in the middle, muscular, toned, not too fat but not too thin, etcetera, but I'm not sure that would help. What would it prove? That you're not messed up? Unfortunately, there is no way we can prove we are not messed up based on who we are attracted to.

If I'm snarky or teasing, it's all in good faith, believe me. This might be a therapy-sized issue, because not dating due to body issues is legit is a big deal. This thread may have some starting points for thinking about the matter, but this seems to be a serious real life thing for you, and probably beyond the scope of one thread.
posted by benadryl at 5:38 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I haven't tried to make myself believe that I'm sexy and beautiful as a mental exercise. I'm not sure where I would start with that. But I do love my body. My body allows me to be here on the planet with all of you, to talk, paint, drive cars, sing 3-part harmony, kayak, heat up frozen dinners, analyze, swim, fall in love, go to the movies and drink coffee.

Here are some things I've found helpful on the whole body-acceptance thing:
* I got cancer. I used to be really mean and harsh with myself about any weight gain. When I found out I had cancer I didn't give a shit what size I was, I just wanted to stay here. So there were some mornings when I would lie in bed hugging my body and telling it "I love you, thank you for being here, please stay."
* I spent some time in the Fatosphere, reading stuff like The Fantasy of Being Thin. I don't agree with every opinion in the Fatosphere but it did give me permission to live right now and let go of always feeling terrible for not having a perfect body.
* I looked around me and saw larger people who fell in love and were loved.
* I looked at myself and realized I could be deeply attracted to a larger person, so why couldn't someone be attracted to me?

As far as feeling attractive, I feel more attractive when I wear clothes I love and get a fun haircut and play around with makeup. I also feel more attractive when I do things I really enjoy and find exciting - I forget about what size I'm wearing when I'm on a kayak floating down a river, covered with paint, reading something fascinating. And that carries over into how I present myself to other people - when they ask what I've been up to I talk about the things I'm doing that make me happy, and I feel like I come across as a passionate person and not a size.

The other thing has been realizing that it's an ongoing process. Some days I feel so sexy I don't know what to do with myself; some days I don't really notice my body, some days I feel ugly and my hair won't behave and my skin breaks out.

I had a friend who had some ups and downs with her weight due to health problems, and when she started dating again she met a larger fellow to whom she was wildly attracted and they had a fling. She said that it was almost like an epiphany to realize that sex is for everyone - not just movie stars and models.
posted by bunderful at 5:50 AM on July 29, 2017 [12 favorites]

I'm another one who said fuck it, and now I'm married with two stinky dogs, a stinky husband and a house who are all laughing and stinking while making breakfast while I'm sipping my coffee posting this. Hellloooo Saturday! Jesus. Lol.

What helped me was reminding myself consciously when those self defeating thoughts creeped into my head was that people have different tastes. Not everyone has to like you, but whomever you do end up with has to, warts and all. Everyone has those warts, just in different forms - some may be in the weight we are (in my case, the height I carry), the quirks we have or other things. That is what makes us, us.

Personally I did not have the luck I was hoping for on the websites because many of the people I met lied about their height and then when I met them in person couldn't handle the fact that I was towering over them. That in my mind is ridiculous - in 30 years does that really matter?! No, no it does not. But being a good person to one another and for each other does.

Another thing I used to do was open the newspaper to the wedding announcements section and look at the photos. There is always one or two gnarly ones in there that made me thing "wow". It's a reminder that people see things they desire themselves in others...one of those things is weight. There are zillions of other things that are less shallow than weight. I desire to be a caring, smart, laid back, generous person and that is who I ended up with. :).
posted by floweredfish at 5:56 AM on July 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

"Act as if." Pick a role model who you feel carries their size-- whatever it is-- well, and seems to enjoy being the shape they are, and play the role of that person for a while. A writing teacher of mine told me to do this when giving a reading; she told me specifically to channel an actor I admired and I picked Kathy Bates. It's very freeing.
posted by BibiRose at 7:39 AM on July 29, 2017

I was trying to find this comic that showed a curvy belly dancer next to a very thin woman and basically asked why we think the thin woman is more attractive. I can't find it, but I'd like to suggest you look into taking belly dance as a way to learn to love your curvy body. When I was taking belly dance, men always wanted to know what I wore for classes, but in every class I took, you wore regular workout clothes and a jangly hip scarf. In my experience, the belly dance community is very accepting of all body types and ages. And real belly dance is not about entertaining men. It's a way to move and feel beautiful while embracing who you are. I am much larger than you, and it was a super body-positive experience for me. The only reason I'm not doing it now is because of a scheduling conflict.
posted by FencingGal at 8:00 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, FencingGal, you beat me to it. I was coming to suggest belly dancing. It's a fabulous way to stay fit at any size and feeling sexy is sort of built in. Also, it's not an isolating community so you get to meet all kinds of people, including men, who enjoy the dance, the music, the food, the talk—everything. And if you keep at it, you get into the widely varied styles of the dance. Try it; you'll like it.

Also, I laughed when you said size 16 is fat! I'm an 18-20 hourglass type body and can be just as sexy as I want to be. You can too.
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:15 AM on July 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

One thing to think about that took me so, so long to realize is that like 90% of the women you know think they are overweight, whether they are a size 4 or a size 20. I used to look at my skinny friends with a kind of distant envy, but have you ever listened to skinny women talk to each other? They're always going on about "that last 5 pounds." This culture is fucked up and teaches us to never be okay with our body so we'll buy more stuff to make us feel better about it. I know I'm generalizing here, but I have listened to a LOT of body talk from my female coworkers who are both in their 60s and still so unhappy with their (skinny) bodies, despite having lived long, productive lives with their life partners. 60 years and they can't get over how they look in clothes. I can't live that way. I started dating at my biggest size and although I've lost some weight since then, that wasn't because my partner needed me to or because I hated myself. Did I get as many dates as smaller people might have? No, but I've watched my size 0 friend beat off men with a stick and she hates it. If anyone makes your size an issue, dump him. And have fun dating. Don't settle. You deserve a partner who will love all of you.
posted by possibilityleft at 10:53 AM on July 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

For inspiration, check out the BMI project, which shows how different people can look, even when compared the same (ostensibly) objective standard. What strikes me about many of those photos is that size seems irrelevant to how happy the subjects appear.

Also, try to find a hobby that has nothing to do with your looks or with men. It's great if it's something that gives to others, but it doesn't have to be. If you're writing or painting, the size and shape of your body are irrelevant.

Also, think about who is served by all these negative messages women get. If we're ashamed of ourselves and our bodies, we're likely to be quieter and easier to control, and we'll spend energy on trying to fix things rather than on helping ourselves or others. Certain segments of society benefit a great deal from keeping us down. Don't let them get away with it!
posted by rpfields at 11:06 AM on July 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

You know what helped me recently? Being on the beach in the south of France and seeing many women my size and larger in bikinis hanging out looking gorgeous playing on the beach. I don't know where you live, but where I live, in the United States, I've gotten a lot of messages that I am too big to be beautiful or sexy, especially when my extra junk is hanging out. Seeing all these beautiful (larger) women who are comfortable enough with their bodies to wear bikinis was inspiring to me. Find women your size who you think look attractive. It really helps me to have a greater appreciation for my own body when I see women with similar looking bodies rockin' it.
posted by ezrainch at 11:41 AM on July 29, 2017

I would be amazed if you hadn't internalized the pervasive fat -hate in our culture, so don't take it as a personal failing or the result of too much TV. No woman is totally free of this even if they never watched television.

I don't know how to turn the hate into love but the answers about adopting a fuck-it attitude are inspiring. Also, yeah, imagine your size 16 or larger relative, friend, model, woman on the street, etc. and imagine banning her from dating because of her weight! You would never do that to another, so don't do it to yourself.

They make much better clothes for women over size 10 these days so if dressing the way you want is something you're holding off on, don't delay. Get hot clothes that fit you right now.

As someone who's been so big that strangers harassed me and so thin that strangers harassed me, I don't think you want to date the guy who'll only date you if and when you're a size 6. There are plenty of those guys out there, especially online, but you don't want them in your life.

If you can go to a large city or diverse gathering like a state fair, become a people-watcher and you'll see we really do come in all shapes and sizes and we all deserve love.
posted by kapers at 11:58 AM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

one thing? Take selfies. Take a lot of selfies. Take a selfie when you did your eyeliner really well, or when you are wearing a cute outfit, or when the cat is licking your ear and you're making a funny face, or when you are standing in front of an amusing sign, or just whenever. Learn to overcome the instinct to flinch or avoid looking at yourself - normalize yourself TO yourself.

For bonus, cultivate a person or people with whom you can exchange selfies and selfie affirmation. Sometimes the "trying my new lippie"/"GIRL it looks FANTASTIC" exchange can just shore up your whole day.

Try to spend less time looking at Hollywood people and more time looking at, and appreciating the beauty in, regular people that you see around and know.
posted by oblique red at 9:32 AM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it helps at all, size 16 is the national average for the United States.
posted by JDHarper at 2:52 PM on August 1, 2017

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