Avoiding the voice of Thin Doom
February 21, 2018 2:45 PM   Subscribe

How do I learn to like and/or not care about the way I look as a fat woman?

Despite years of trying to get on board with fat acceptance/fatshionista/etc movements, which worked ~ok when I was like a size 12, I am now fatter than I've ever been and getting fatter, and I have a Hell of a Problem looking at myself and thinking that I could possibly be cute, desirable, etc. I am operating under the assumption that I am not going to change how I look in the physical sense. I also do not have a partner and I am extremely clumsy and uncoordinated (so the potentially excellent advice that I see a lot on MeFi to find something to love about what I can do with my body instead of how it appears has not yet been helpful to me...)

I am in therapy and do not need therapy-related advice at this time. That said, this feeling is pretty extreme! I am sitting here feeling teary about a video I just posted because you can see how awful I look (I think) even though it's a video of me doing something really cool. This is a huge waste of my mental energy and I'd like it to stop!

Have any of you successfully learned to love or even just not give a shit about the way you look? Or is it more like, that gremlin's gonna live in my head forever, so I should treat it like the other voices of my anxiety and learn to live alongside it?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Since you mentioned gremlin, it reminded me of this book, Feeding Your Demons. You might find some of the exercises useful -- and I think they can get at some of the emotions related to body image. Whatever voice -- or gremlin -- is bothering you, give it a name and start "talking" to it, asking what it wants from you, and instead of berating it or telling it to shut up, listen to it and "nurture" it. So, yeah, you might have to live alongside that gremlin, but perhaps you can befriend it?
posted by Cwell at 3:04 PM on February 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

I am a fat lady who is a klutz and cares about how she looks, but /not about the fat/. If this is a thing you are interested in, kind of a middle ground, I strongly recommend it.

For me, I found going to Sephora for one of their full face makeovers to be super helpful in helping me to be my prettiest, snazziest self.

I also love Eshakti, for making me dresses that actually fit me.

Wearing makeup and nice clothes is my armor, and nobody can get through it, because I know I am fierce.

Memail if you need to talk, too. It can be okay.
posted by corb at 3:17 PM on February 21, 2018 [23 favorites]

Here's a suggestion for a different way of thinking about this:

Yeah ok, you're a fat woman. Maybe you won't ever be as cute or desirable or coordinated or graceful as The Ideal. Maybe you're never going to change how you look.

So what?

You're still alive. You're still moving around kicking ass. You're still awesome regardless. You're still worthy of love and respect, because you exist.

Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability (which I saw presented live and was very moving) expresses some similar sentiments that you may find interesting.
posted by divabat at 3:19 PM on February 21, 2018 [11 favorites]

Honestly, one of the best things I did for myself was preferentially seek out media that had a wider variety of body types - this means I watch a bunch of game shows (especially cooking shows) where people are selected for their skill, not their looks. (Specifically, things like Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped, not Masterchef - the sort of shows working sous chefs go on to try to win enough money to take a vacation, you know?) For a while I had a rotating set of pictures of attractive women with achievable-by-me body types as my desktop background, which means big, burly women with thighs that could pull a plow.

And the other thing I did was find some clothes that actually fit, in a style I actually liked. This has been an ongoing project, but man, I went to a wedding in a pant suit that was comfortable and fit through the shoulders and across the chest, and it was such a vastly different experience than I usually have when Dressed Up. I looked good - I did not look like the brides, who are among the more attractive humans I have ever met on their worst day, but I looked good.

The big thing was, for me, really letting go of the media-driven "ideal" woman - I mean, I'm a dyke, and that isn't even the physical type *I* find most attractive, so why was I giving it preference in any area of my life?
posted by restless_nomad at 3:19 PM on February 21, 2018 [20 favorites]

I highly recommend looking at photos and videos of fat women. For example, follow kick ass ladies like Virgie Tovar, Substantia Jones, Lindy West, Jessamyn Stanley, hashtags like #adipositivity, #fatpositive, etc. We all receive and consume lots of messages about how fat bodies should make us feel. To see them as a source of beauty and delight can really help rewrite the script and how we feel about our own physical forms.
posted by annaramma at 3:29 PM on February 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

I do better when I remind myself that I’m choosing to be fat. I mean, I can be thin. Or thinner, at least. I’ve cut myself down to 1,000 calories a day, and I lost 40 lbs. I could do less if I had to. But I was miserable. I was awful to be around. Every conversation I had was about calories and every fraction of a pound determined my self-worth. I will never do that again. So yes, I’m overweight and it’s, in part, my choice. I own it. So when I look in the mirror and see my rolls, I think to myself “Do you want to be that person again?” - the answer is always no. It’s harder to feel badly about it if I feel I’m exerting some control and making it a choice.
posted by greermahoney at 3:36 PM on February 21, 2018 [12 favorites]

You don't have to be coordinated or graceful to love what your body can do. Try taking a walk, pay attention to your feet hitting the earth, your breath sustaining you, the breeze on your face. Walking -- not to lose weight but just to walk -- is a way to occupy your body more fully while thinking your own thoughts. It is also exercise, which is an anti-depressant. But don't think of it as exercise, think of it as allowing your body to move through space while you are mindful of how it interacts with the space around it.
posted by velveeta underground at 3:59 PM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

A while ago I decided to follow lots of body positive Instagram accounts, that post pics of women of all shapes and sizes, looking happy, confident and proud of their bodies. I thought it would be a revelation, but at the start, it didn’t make me feel anything different much. But after about six months, I definitely noticed that there had been a shift in how comfortable I felt in my body. (Hesitated to post as I’m a vaguely average size, so YMMV, but many of the models are larger, and it’s been so great for me to see them flaunting themselves with joyful abandon in a way you just don’t see otherwise - so figured I’d share as it sounds like you might also get something from it.).
posted by penguin pie at 4:07 PM on February 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Is exercise an option for you? Not in terms of losing weight, but to reconfigure how your see yourself and your body. I was a fat girl and fat woman for most of my life, and while I did end up losing weight, exercise has given me a whole new perspective on my body - feeling strong, feeling capable, feeling awesome. Hiking, lifting weights, boxing, hula hooping, whatever. I am not a particularly graceful or coordinated person either - being a badass doesn't require being dainty.

I have stepped on the scale exactly once in 2.5 years, and I don't really care. I know that I'm stronger than I was a year ago, 2 years, 5 years, etc. The physical and emotional strength I learned to cultivate from my body has taught me to respect and appreciate it in a way that I didn't know was there, and didn't know how badly I was missing from my life and self worth.
posted by raztaj at 4:20 PM on February 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have found the idea of body neutrality empowering. As in, you don't have to love your body but can just feel kind of neutral about it. That goal is lot less demanding than loving your body. Here's an article about it.
posted by purple_bird at 4:21 PM on February 21, 2018 [19 favorites]

+1 to being neutral. Other things that have helped me (ymmv obvs) are: stop looking at magazines and following a lot of pop culture stuff, having less mirrors in my house, and giving fewer fucks about my clothes and what size they are and where they come from. Men's shirts fit me better for work--great! Maternity tank tops are actually long enough to cover my waist so I don't show butt crack every time I bend over--fantastic!

But I'd say--start towards neutral, then you can deal with other stuff. Plus, there's always going to be good days and bad days. Some days I feel great and then there's other days when I try to go shopping and can't find anything other than maybe a lipstick and I feel shitty. Take things as they go and be gentle with yourself. Like so many things, it's a process.
posted by sperose at 4:58 PM on February 21, 2018

I have a story that will maybe help by analogy. I'm pretty heavy, myself, at the moment, and not happy about it. But that's not what this story is about. I have a prosthetic leg and missing fingers. I never really understood how someone could find me attractive. Yes, people have, but I figured they were just politely ignoring my disability. Until a few months ago I saw a guy I like, limping across the floor on the way to the gym(!). He is post-polio and has a brace. I saw him mellowly limping along and I wanted to tear off all of his clothes right there.

So is there a fat person (of your preferred gender) that you find attractive?
posted by 8603 at 5:36 PM on February 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm right there with you, anon. So I'm thankful that you posted this, because I haven't had the courage to post it myself.
posted by sarcasticah at 5:41 PM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can have beautiful hair and nails and skin and dress well. You can accessorize and play with color and looks. Most people who are "effortlessly stylish" are really playing dress up as their favourite character only they do it all the time. You can too. Buy soft, comfortable clothes, stylish scarves or fun structural coats- whatever floats your boat but only things you love. If you feel like your body isn't the right type for your favourite looks then the internet is a godsend to find inspiration so you can feel like you present yourself the way you want to.
posted by fshgrl at 6:07 PM on February 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Another +1 to being neutral. I'll also second what greermahoney said about reframing the state of your body as a choice you're actively making. It's kind of a scary way to approach the situation at first, but hey, you've gotta feel okay living in whatever body you have at the moment, and a sense of agency will help with that.

Something that helped me when I was overweight was not aiming to be desirable. Now, this doesn't mean that there weren't people who found me attractive nor does it mean that I didn't successfully date when I was heavier than I liked, but dressing/presenting myself for the male/queer lady gaze just stopped being a thing for me. I had a lot of trouble getting to a point where I could feel 100% romantically/sexually comfortable in my skin, and at some point I just stopped fighting myself over it. There's other things to find value in and focus on.

From an appearance perspective, all I really cared about was making sure that I looked presentable and polished for work. The way I dressed to suit my shape was a betrayal of my personal style, but it helped me not have to think about my body too much. Similarly, I stopped doing things that really benefit from thin privilege* like going clubbing and started spending time in spaces and on activities where physicality doesn't matter.

I also stopped trying to actively date or assume that a future relationship would be part of my long-term goals - this is a weird one for most people, but it was less about me thinking that no one would find me attractive than it was about recognizing that I felt persistently meh about my body in a way that would affect any relationship I was in. Acknowledging and embracing the meh actually made it easier to date in the long run, strangely enough.

All of this is to say that it's okay to be okay with your life without being totally okay with your body.

*My experience is probably heavily impacted by being a WOC who doesn't spend time in POC-majority spaces - because I don't have some of those other markers of Eurocentric attractiveness available to me, going from high-normal to overweight led to a pretty significant social/romantic penalty that doesn't seem to play out in the same way for non-WOCs. So my relationship with fat acceptance is potentially complicated in a way that yours might not be.
posted by blerghamot at 6:26 PM on February 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

try to focus on the things you like about your body. i've been told i have great skin. i take having great skin for granted, but i know skinny women with bad ("bad") skin who feel a lot of angst about it. knowing that doesn't make me feel good about their problems but it reminds me that there are positive things i can focus on instead of just thinking about the negative all the time. i can be grateful that i don't have to wear heavy makeup or think about getting facials or glycolic peels or whatever. do you like your hair or your feet or your nose or your butt? it helps to give yourself permission to be happy about those things instead of always thinking they don't matter because of being overweight. and seconding the advice about consuming media with fat attractive happy people & exercising for fun (not all exercise requires good coordination).
posted by katieanne at 7:09 PM on February 21, 2018

So many good answers upthread. I hope they help. I remember how awful it is to feel that way about yourself.

I'm here to tell you that the situation will change, because no matter how much shit you're wading through (ah, so many people helpfully telling me how much prettier/better/happier I'd be if I just lost some weight), if you're lucky you'll get old. I'm just as fat as I ever was, and now it's saggy -- and I DO NOT CARE. And neither do any of my old friends. The ones that still care are like people with a mental illness, you feel compassion but you can't really have any fun with them. Do what helps now, but you're heading into another country, where you can feel differently about yourself. Still problems, of course, but you can really get to a place where you simply Don't Give A Good Goddamn.

I held this in my heart, and it helped me, to look towards my strength, when I was so different, so big, so awkward. I wish you something as freeing.

A Work of Artifice

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
til split by lightning.
But a gardner
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardner croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

Marge Piercy
posted by kestralwing at 7:10 PM on February 21, 2018 [19 favorites]

There was a popular book called Color Me Beautiful that recommended color palettes. Parts of it did not work well, but color is a big part of looking good. Make a point of trying on clothing in colors you might never have considered, and shades of color. The gold-orange-brown palette makes me look like I'm recovering from flu. Certain reds really suit me.

Wear underwear that fits perfectly. The right bra should be fairly comfortable. Underpants shouldn't ride up. And if it's pretty, it makes you feel better.

Get a good haircut and style. Wear good shoes that are in good condition. No missing buttons or too-long hems.

I had a friend with distinctive taste in clothes. I wouldn't wear a lot of her choices. She'd try on a bunch of clothes before going out, and when she decided on an outfit, she just knew she looked totally great, and that really affected how she carried and presented herself. You deserve pretty and interesting clothing that fits, is hemmed correctly, is made of quality fabric and sewn well.
posted by theora55 at 7:19 PM on February 21, 2018

Something that has helped me tremendously is regularly being among lots of naked happy women of all sizes. I recommend Korean nude spas (Mine is in Illinois, and has a large Russian population, other nude spas would probably also be beneficial) and BDSM clubs. It took me quite a while to unlearn some of the crap I'd absorbed from the culture I'm in, but hating your body has so many bad consequences (what a time/energy suck, if nothing else) that the lesson is worth it. I had to see over and over again that large happy women are out there, and that I could be one too. It is hard to see that, sometimes.
posted by Vatnesine at 7:26 PM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wearing clothes that fit is so helpful. When I squeeze myself into too tight jeans or wear the wrong size bra, I’m constantly aware of my size because I’m so uncomfortable. I recently gave up and just bought some larger sweatpants from the thrift store to wear around the house and it made such a positive difference in my life.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 7:50 PM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I follow really diverse Instagrammers to remind me that human bodies can look many different ways and do many different things, and they're all awesome. I love:

Lindsay Hilton
Sitting Pretty
Jennifer Mancuso

And you can search other hashtags like BodyPositivity or PlusSizeFashion for more people to follow.

Flooding your online experience with all different bodies is a great way to normalize what bodies- including yours- can look like.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:13 PM on February 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

I am fat and USUALLY okay with myself but also wrestle with body image off and on. This has been true whether or not I've been partnered. I recently had a big knee injury that made me less active and popped a BIG hole in my "I might be fat but at least I'm athletic" self-myth. Here is some of my process, but it's a continuous journey and I identify SO STRONGLY with your post.

What has helped the most for me is surrounding myself with body-positive media and portrayals of beautiful fat bodies. Lindy West's book, Shrill, was very valuable to me. She talks a lot about dealing with being a fat woman in a world that does not give you permission to be yourself. I remind myself almost daily that it is okay for me to exist this way, and that I am allowed to take up space. I reject the notion that it is "brave" for me to be fat in public and I wear what I want, even if sometimes that means I dress to blend in as much as possible and sometimes that I angrily wear a bikini and force everyone to accept that my body is a bikini body, too. Fat women are often desexualized or fetishized (and sometimes a little of both, in a body-horror kind of way, I'm looking at you, gross new I Feel Pretty movie), so I refuse to frame my fatness as "fat but XXX still likes me" or "I have a pretty face." It helps me to reject these sorts of "yes, but" statements about my body. I am not "fat, but..." I'm fat. I'm also other things. I reject the idea that my body always has to be placed in the context of being fat.

I follow several fat models on instagram. Fat yogis, like Jessamyn Stanley, who pose in ways that don't diminish their size and in fact sometimes even emphasize their body shapes, make me feel so much better about the way my body looks at rest or in casual clothing. (Beware of just blindly following anything labled "body positive," as I find some of it really shaming of those of us who do not always love our bodies.) I have started listening to the podcast She's All Fat, and I enjoy hearing other women talk about being fat and also being a human being.
posted by assenav at 9:21 PM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

+n to body neutrality here. I tried for many years to emulate the fatshionistas I, too, followed on social media before realising, that really wasn't me at all - the for me the ideal position was not "being hot" but being able to just not think about how I looked. For me, that seemed a position of greater power and privilege, one that I could never have imagined as a teenager - to just wear what I wanted to wear regardless of how much it nipped in my waist or whatever.

It took a really long while to get there but a key factor was changing how I dress. I used to wear clothes that I thought my body shape dictated and took a lot of guidance from fat fashion bloggers. Actually, my preferred aesthetic is very casual and unisex and I used to feel like that style was closed off to me because it did not flatter my exaggeratedly curvy body. Being true to my real aesthetic has done a lot for my body confidence even though it is not the idealised fat woman aesthetic as portrayed at least in the kind of social media I was following. Those bloggers and plus sized models are very glamorous and sort of retro-styled, there were a lot of 50s-style flared dresses and high heels etc. But embracing my preferred, more casual style, even though it doesn't necessarily flatter my body shape as much as high heels and dresses, did a lot for my sense of self. I mean, I'm more than just a body shape after all - which is what I mean by body neutrality. Maybe I'm not objectively cute or desirable now but my self-presentation feels true to myself and that counts for a lot.

Also, this is a biggie: exercise helps so much in allowing you to inhabit your body with a sense of possibility and joy than a sense of limitation and regret. Couldn't recommend it highly enough. Yoga is good for this. Your body is so much more than what it looks. It takes you where you need to go. It carries you around. It can do so much! Try to celebrate that, rather than your size.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:48 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm fat. Size 24/26 fat for pretty much the past 30 years.

I stopped hating myself the day I realized I had made the decision to be this way & owned that shit. What I tell myself basically runs as some variation of follows.

"If you don't like how you look diet & exercise & change it, otherwise stop whining about it, if you don't care enough to change it then you've made the decision to look like you look. Now make the you, you are the best looking you can be, because bitch you deserve it, you're fat not dead. Buy the best fitting clothes you can, yes it's a pain in the ass finding nice plus size clothing, but you made the choice to look like this, so own the damn decision and dress yourself like an adult. Cool got some decent clothes, now get some make up on. BB cream & mascara & lip gloss even, do not leave the house with out it. You are fat, you decided to be this way because you haven't done anything to be any other way so own that shit, respect yourself enough to put some care into how you look. Shave your legs, get a good hair cut. Own your decisions."

I tell myself some variation on that theme every damn morning when I look in the mirror preparing to face the day. This is the body I got, from the life I've lived. I've had a great, varied & interesting life. If you can't make your body look like how you want it to, make your life how you want it to be instead, let your life show on your body. Let every curve be because of a great meal you had with people you loved, the lines on your face be because you laughed at silly jokes.

Do I think I'm good looking? Lord no I'm a fat 50 year old woman. Occasionally I'll look dramatic, or stunning but mostly I look like a fat 50 year old woman. Do I work to keep my skin looking great, my wardrobe up to date & trying to get the hang of make up & hair care. Hell yes, because I'm totally worth it.
posted by wwax at 9:12 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like to remind myself occasionally of Jon Kabat-Zinn's snappy little observation: "As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel."
posted by flabdablet at 9:37 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

For me my big moment happened in a store dressing room. I was in a dress and contorting myself in the mirror and asking myself, Does this make me look fat? And then it dawned on me. Of course it made me look fat, because I AM FAT. Everything makes me look fat. There is not one trick or piece of spanx or type of clothes that's going to disguise the fact that I weigh 260lbs. It was so freeing.

I recommend first getting rid of any spanx or shapewear that you have, because women are lumpy, dammit, and you're not fooling anyone and you're just making yourself hot and uncomfortable. And then, like many have said above, get clothes that are comfortable for you. For me, fat lady pants fit me horribly and I'm uncomfortable and self-conscious when I wear them, so I only wear skirts and dresses. And I hate woven fabrics that pinch when I sit even though they fit fine when I'm standing, so my closet is 99% knits.

I also found a look I like, which is pencil skirts and bodycon dresses. Are they "flattering"? Probably not. But I like the way I look in them and they're comfortable and stretchy, and I don't think about my clothes all day.

Finally, nth-ing body neutrality. I don't love myself every day, and that's okay. It's a body and it does body things and works pretty well for me, so most days it's a truce.
posted by catwoman429 at 11:13 AM on February 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

Hi! Thank you for posting this important question and all your answers above. A left-field suggestion: the new Queer Eye.

A few concrete takeaways that are easier said than done:
1. Confidence is everything.
2. Wear clothes that fit your body right now.
3. You deserve to look like the best version of yourself.
4. Have some fun with it.
posted by athirstforsalt at 11:51 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

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