How to repair a shattered body image?
July 10, 2008 1:31 PM   Subscribe

How to repair a shattered body image?

Like many women, I can point to numerous specific, damaging comments made in the past about my weight and appearance, but can generally shrug them off and enjoy being healthy and active. I've been fighting major depression and social anxiety for over 15 years now, and after a breakdown and new medication (Effexor), was last year finally back to dating, working full-time, and socializing after almost a year spent home alone -- albeit with an extra 70 lbs.

Enter T last summer: I fell in love quickly, although he told me he was only willing to date if I lost weight. I went to a gym, got a personal trainer, and dropped 20 lbs of weight, dropped my body fat percentage to an average level and got back to a size 10. We kept dating, he proclaimed his everlasting lurrve for me and moved in this March - and continued to push me to lose more weight, more quickly.

Partly because I could afford it, but mainly to prove I was still trying to lose the weight for him (this was phrased as "putting effort into the relationship"), I had liposuction done. Three days after the lipo, while I was still bruised and sore, I was being asked to go to the gym - even to the point of ripping stitches.

When I took time off the gym to recover from the surgery and the ripped stitches, T stopped all sexual contact with me and it never resumed. He'd tell me he loved me, called several times a day, and we were living together - - but either refused or was unable to touch me for two months. He finally confessed that he found me physically and sexually unattractive (but that we didn't need to break up because we were such good friends, and he really needed my car to go to work!), and I kicked him out.

This has brought me back to the point to breakdown. Every bad thought I've had or heard about myself is replaying in my head in a dull hum. I haven't been able to make it in to work or even outside for groceries (thank fsm for being able to work from home and order delivery!).

I'm fat, frightened, and miserable. Catching sight of myself in a mirror makes me cry. I'll get distracted from working and spend an hour pawing at the rolls of fat around my belly or pinching the fat on my thighs. I know that T's a massive dick. I know that the hum and sounds in my head are delusional, brought on by stress. I just need some advice and techniques in pulling it together, because I can't picture a time anymore where I won't feel ugly and inadequate.

Apologies for the length :)
posted by grippycat to Human Relations (49 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my gosh, that sounds terrible. No wonder you feel like crap.

I don't have a ton of advice to give, but I would ask: is therapy an option? Something specific like cognitive-behavioral therapy might help you stop thinking the bad thoughts and start thinking good ones.

I'd also recommend the book Feeling Good by David Burns. It might help, to make you stop thinking so little of yourself.

Good luck!
posted by sutel at 1:41 PM on July 10, 2008

Girl, you were in an intensely abusive relationship. Good job for you on kicking him out, even though he did everything he could to wear away your self esteem. Most women don't do that when they find themselves in a relationship like that. This is not about your body image, that is what you've picked to hate on yourself for. If you were a size two you'd be flipping out about some other feature of your body or a personality trait you have. You need some serious healing. This is a job for a therapist -- are you in therapy?
posted by pazazygeek at 1:43 PM on July 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

Seconding Feeling Good.

Also, he did have feelings for you, but he has self-image problems--his self-image involves him being with someone who "society" considers attractive. This is different from him rejecting you.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:44 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

ditto Feeling Good.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:44 PM on July 10, 2008

Christ, what an asshole.

I'm not just being flip. Sounds like the guy was a first-class jerk. Trying to get you in the gym while you're still stitched up from lipo? Jeez.

You need to remember that he's an asshole, and you're ok. Keep that in mind. And get back in the gym at a lighter level - not for the weight loss, but for the endorphin rush.

You've seen some of the people in the gym, right? They should make you feel skinny by comparison. I know it's mean, but if that's what it takes to make you feel ok enough to hit the gym...
posted by notsnot at 1:46 PM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: > He finally confessed that he found me physically and sexually unattractive (but that we didn't need to break up because we were such good friends, and he really needed my car to go to work!), and I kicked him out.

One day you will be able to laugh at that.

Well done.

Don't look in mirrors for a while, don't weigh yourself, measure yourself or over-evaluate the significance of exactly how your clothes fit today, or whatever other habits you notice support being stuck in all the bad stuff that happened. Do whatever you can to feel good in your body, that is be aware of how it feels emotionally and to your senses. In other words, love yourself, actively, as if you were another poor broken person who needed that affection. I am starting to sound like a broken record this week, but pamper yourself.
posted by Listener at 1:48 PM on July 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Find your confidence.
Confidence is a whole lot sexier than thinness. (I'm a guy)
It may mean therapy or something else. Do it.
posted by artdrectr at 1:49 PM on July 10, 2008

I am actually choking on my rage, and will therefore keep this short: I would suggest finding a social group that interests you. Maybe something on; try out a few hobbies or side interests to see what sticks. It seems to me that, among other things, it would be useful for you to have social interactions based on common interests.

I know this may be difficult for you, and you may need the support of therapy in order to reach the point where you can go meet groups of total strangers, but I think it is a worthwhile goal and will help you feel better about yourself (and other people).

Don't withdraw further -- that will likely end up making you even less happy.

Also, maybe cover your mirrors with something bright & cheerful. At least for a while. That helped a friend of mine.
posted by aramaic at 1:50 PM on July 10, 2008

Find your confidence.
Confidence is a whole lot sexier than thinness. (I'm a guy)
It may mean therapy or something else. Do it.

Sorry, didn't mean to be another male telling you what to do. Just suggesting.
posted by artdrectr at 1:51 PM on July 10, 2008

T was an abuser. You were in an abusive relationship.

Please, please get yourself to a therapist. Anti-depressant medication might also help in the short term - not saying you will need meds forever but they can be a godsend in getting you back on your feet after a traumatic experience. Therapy will help you build up your self-esteem and give you tools to avoid another abusive relationship in the future.

A good book to read is Pema Chodron, "When Things Fall Apart."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:54 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

It may mean therapy or something else.

No, it means therapy and probably ongoing review and management of meds, not something else. This is classic, full blown-depression caused by the trauma of dating a true 100 percent piece of shit. You are not going to recover by staring through a computer screen, hiding in your house. Go get help.
posted by nanojath at 2:05 PM on July 10, 2008

first of all, if you are a size 10, unless you are only 4'5", you ARE NOT FAT. at the most, if you are short, this would be curvy. i would focus on building muscle tone--it will help with the jigglies (which you can have at any size) and keep your metabolism up and the weight off.

i know that my saying that doesn't make it so to the nasty little voice inside your head, so how about some therapy? i think once you get your body image under control, you'll be able to make better decisions about how proceed with an eating an exercise plan. i would recommend a therapist that works with people with eating disorders--while your eating does not seem to be disordered, you do seem to have all the accompanying body-image distortions, and a therapist can help you with that.

what that guy did to you was horrible, and you should be proud of yourself for ending it. don't beat yourself up about getting into it in the first place--these things are super-sneaky and you often don't realize you're in too deep until the water is already over your head. be proud of yourself for stopping the damage before it got worse. so many women let it go so much further, even with friends and family encouraging them to leave, and the fact that you didn't is a sign of strength.

i'm glad you're taking care of yourself and reaching out for help. you're doing all the right things. good for you.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:07 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I want to second the Pema Chodron book and quote something she wrote in an article she wrote a few years back. I think it was called something like, "10 Bad Things I'm Thankful For." One of the things she listed was that she was thankful for her "plainness." She didn't feel she was beautiful in any way. Just a regular-looking woman. But she was thankful for that because it made her realize that when a man said he loved her, he meant he loved her and that love would not fade simply because he no longer liked the way she looked. I might have quoted her in the past but I love those words.

Also, you might want to check out this show. It's on Lifetime so it's incredibly, incredibly hokey but you might identify with the struggles of the women on the show who want nothing more than to learn to love and accept the bodies they were transported to the planet in ... and they all manage to at least begin that process.

I would also advise doing some physical things meant for women with some curves: Bellydancing is hella sexy (and a great core workout). If they're available where you live, you should also look into West African dancing. Buy yourself things only you like for the time being. Get yourself some great-smelling bubble bath.

I recently sent copies of "The Women's Comfort Book" to two friends. Great self-care exercises.

I was also thinking precisely as thinkingwoman. If you were 70 pounds overweight, lost 20 pounds and are a size 10 .... I dunno... The math doesn't add up. You sound like a curvy girl! Rock it!

Finally, I concur with the advice on therapy. And I would never suggest that you, yourself exact revenge on that slimy piece of man (a waste of cosmic energy) but just be secure in the comfort that every dog has its day.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 2:20 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hie thee to the therapist, as so many other people have said. This guy set out to do a number on your head, for whatever reasons of his own, and letting him finish the job now-- after you've thrown his ass out-- would just be doing his dirty work for him. You'll probably want a specialist in body-image issues, as they'll have experience with the abusive situations that lead to anxiety over weight.

Do you still live in the same apartment you shared with this jerk? I suggest redecorating. You'll get to pick out things you like and that make you feel better about your surroundings, and you'll have plenty of work to do moving furniture, putting up new wall art, etc., which will help allay your anxieties. When you're done, you'll have somewhere that's all yours to come back to, with nothing about T hanging around to remind you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:24 PM on July 10, 2008

It took you years to feel this bad, it may take years to learn to feel good about yourself. Sometimes, it's a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other slog that seems to go on forever. But looking for instant fixes, for immediate gratification, is part of a behavior pattern that can make people obese, as one form of self-destruction. Learning to look at yourself realistically, and do what is necessary, nutritionally and in terms of activity, to get and remain fit, without creating other problem behaviors, would be good for you.

Don't cover the mirrors. Don't play with your fat rolls just to hate yourself. But don't expect to feel good about yourself tomorrow, either. And don't go for more cosmetic surgery, or euphemisms from cuddle buddies. It is what it is, until you've done the work to make it different.

Instead of hiding in your home, walk to the grocery store, and buy healthful food. Stop ordering delivery. Get on the scale everyday as a concrete measure of your health, and don't kid yourself about your appearance, one way or another. Feel responsible each day about doing positive things for your health.

Do the things that consistently achieve a 200 calorie a day energy deficit, while eating a healthful, varied diet and getting 30 minutes of brisk physical activity every day, for 180 days in a row, and image issues will be entirely second in your life to accomplishment.
posted by paulsc at 2:25 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you're beautiful.
posted by milarepa at 2:39 PM on July 10, 2008 [10 favorites]

You might try photo therapy.

Get yourself a decent digital camera (if you don't have one already) specifically one that has an easy to use automatic timer. Start taking pictures of yourself. Use the timer as well as take pictures from arm's length. Take hundreds, even thousands of pictures in different poses, different lights, different outfits. In shadows, in full sunlight, in different rooms in the house. Take pictures of your feet. Take pictures of your hands. Of your cleavage. Of your profile. Delete anything that is not up to your standards. After awhile you will discover that you have many great assets and that even the worst parts of your body don't look that bad from certain angles.

As you build up your photo collection remind yourself of the amazing job your body does: These are my feet. They carry me where ever I want to go. Look how cute they are in these slippers and how sexy they are in these high heels. I think my pinky toes are funny and kind of adorable. That red toenail polish really makes my skin look fantastic.

Try to find something positive to say about every single part of you. In other words, make friends with your body because you guys are going to be together for a long time.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 2:40 PM on July 10, 2008 [7 favorites]

You are so much more than the body you live in. You are your heart, your head, your thoughts, your history and your soul. Your body is the bag that all this great stuff travels around in.

You asked for advice and techniques on pulling it together. Try this: When you have thoughts that make you feel bad about yourself, such as, "I am so fat, no one will ever love me, I don't deserve happiness", think of your sister, or your best friend, and imagine saying that same thing to her, like this: "Annie, you are so fat, no one will ever love you, you don't deserve happiness". Ridiculous, isn't it? You would NEVER say or even think such thoughts about someone you love, so don't think it about yourself or say it to yourself. Love yourself. You are lovable and worthy. Treat yourself that way.

Lastly, try to get outside of yourself a little bit. Volunteer at a nursing home or some place where you can give of yourself. I find that's the best way to feel good about yourself - to give. After all, we are what we do, ya know? So bringing a smile or a warm touch to someone's day makes you a thousand times more beautiful than crunches or miles on the treadmill ever could. And just try to love your body a little, for the places it takes you, for allowing you to see beauty in the world, to hear music, to feel the touch of a breeze or the warmth of the sun, to taste wine and chocolate and all the other good things on this earth.

Be gentle with yourself. Be nice to yourself, okay?
posted by Kangaroo at 2:45 PM on July 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm kind of stunned that anyone answered... thank you so much! thinkingwoman, I was only 120 lbs soaking wet at 5'7" - and I know how shallow and idiotic I am. I know I should adopt kittens or feed orphans in Sudan instead of being so wrapped up in my own shit but I'm so numb, and just feel worse for *not* fostering kittens and orphans.

It was a revelation to start to feel acceptance with my body while working out with the trainer (I've never had boobs! They're neat!) and now I can't stand to even feel the fat fold over itself when I cross my legs. I know I should have sussed T's disinterest in me more quickly, but I guess I'm not a good judge of character.

If this is the sort of thinking that can really be helped with therapy (really?), then I'd be willing to try it. If anyone has any suggestions for therapists in Toronto, I'd really appreciate their help.

Even reading this over I'm just so ashamed to be worked up over something so stupid.
posted by grippycat at 2:46 PM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: Get on the scale everyday as a concrete measure of your health, and don't kid yourself about your appearance, one way or another.

Respectfully, paulsc, your answer was a really bad one. First off, if one of her problems is a distorted negative body image, then getting on the scale everyday and taking care not to "kid herself" about how she looks (do you even know what a size ten looks like?) is actully the opposite of helpful.

More importantly, OP, your problem is not your weight and it never was. Your problem was that you got involved with someone who is sadistic and abusive. Some might prefer women who are smaller than you were - and that's fine. But a man who'd say "I'll be in a relationship with you IF you lose weight" and who obsessed over how often you were at the gym and pressured you into lipo and pressured you to resume working out immediately post-op.... well, that had nothing to do with your body and nothing to do with what kind of body he prefers. He wasn't going to be into your body no matter what you did because he wasn't someone with a normal, healthy response to women, he was someone who got off on controlling and humiliating you. And I agree with the posters above that a great first step would be to find a therapist to work through why you thought that kind of relationship was normal and desirable.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:53 PM on July 10, 2008 [7 favorites]

Even reading this over I'm just so ashamed to be worked up over something so stupid.

I would like to suggest that this is a risky line of thinking, because it starts making things "your fault" again. Which they're not. Shame is a terrible weapon, and you oughtn't be using it on yourself. There's been enough of that, I think.

You've no reason to be ashamed.

IMHO, anyway.
posted by aramaic at 3:00 PM on July 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm also gonna recommend Pema Chodron, but not that book (haven't read it). Go to Amazon and download "Getting Unstuck" (available as an MP3). You were chewing yourself up over appearance, now you are chewing yourself up over being "shallow and idiotic". Stop, take a deep breath, accept that you made a mistake, and move on.

And you should go back to the gym if you are healed up. It's a great way to fight depression and exercise control over your life.

Best wishes for you.
posted by chairface at 3:03 PM on July 10, 2008

As a woman with body distortions and an eating disorder (natch but in recovery), may I respectfully make some suggestions.

1) the Body Image Workbook
2) Ignore paulSC
3) a support group
4) completely ignore paulSC
5) go check out Kate Harding and Joy Nash who are each made of AWESOME!
6) Be compassionate with yourself. Think of how you would treat your daughter if she were in this situation. Treat yourself that way.

I am thinking about you.
posted by Sophie1 at 3:16 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

this is *absolutely* the sort of thing that can often be helped with therapy. while it doesn't sound like you have an eating disorder, talking to groups that deal with people with eating disorders might help since they may be able to suggest a therapist who deals with extreme body image issues.

also, seconding this: not saying you will need meds forever but they can be a godsend in getting you back on your feet after a traumatic experience. sometimes anti-depressants are like insulin for a diabetic, and sometimes they're like anti-inflamatories for someone with a sprained ankle.

try to be more compassionate with yourself. it's not easy.

good luck getting healthier.

also, i'm glad you're out of that because it sounds like he acted like a total choad.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:43 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Even reading this over I'm just so ashamed to be worked up over something so stupid.

What you're doing right there -- that is part of what's dragging you down. You're not just feeling bad -- you're beating up on yourself for feeling bad.

Feeling bad is part of life. But feeling bad about feeling bad is totally optional.

Start by being gentle with yourself about how crappy you feel. Don't let that mean voice inside berate you for getting "worked up about something so stupid." You've been hurt, and you feel awful. Acknowledge that, and befriend yourself.

After all, if someone you love came to you heartbroken over the end of a shitty relationship, you would console them and cheer them up, not harangue them, right? Treat yourself with the same kindness.

Pema Chodron's book is a wonderful resource for developing the kind of inner acceptance and self-friendliness that will help you pull through this. Good luck!
posted by ottereroticist at 3:44 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, grippycat, it's seriously *painful* to read the things you are saying about yourself:

* I can't picture a time anymore where I won't feel ugly and inadequate.
* I know how shallow and idiotic I am
* I know I should be... instead of being so wrapped up in my own shit
* I can't stand to even feel the fat fold over itself when I cross my legs.
* I know I should have sussed T's disinterest in me more quickly,
* I guess I'm not a good judge of character.
* I'm just so ashamed to be worked up over something so stupid.

I'm not telling you this to critisize you, I'm telling you so you can get help and stop hurting.

I've been through my own version of what you're going through. I know how it is to be so stuck in the negativity that you can't see how bad and damaging it really is.

Therapy totally helps with this kind of thing. It's hard, a lot of the time it sucks, and I'm so sick of crying I don't know WHAT to do sometimes. But I'm learning and growing and for the most part, I don't think I'm loathsome anymore, and I don't let people treat me like dirt.

Please find a therapist who specializes in body image issues, and start taking good care of yourself. You deserve better than you've been getting.

(I'm so angry that society expects us to believe being fat is the worst thing a woman can be. I'm 5'0" and awesome, and I can't remember the last time I was under 120. Fat? Please.)
posted by Space Kitty at 3:54 PM on July 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

I typed this huge long thing about how I've been there and I know what you're going through and what all I did to get past it.

But I'm sure you don't need another person telling you what to do.

But basically, take it day by day, minute by minute. If needbe, get a dog or something from a shelter that loves you unconditionally. You'll help him out by giving him a home, and he'll help you out by thinking you are the most awesome person ever because even though you may feel like shit and think you're totally hideous, ZOMG YOU HAVE THUMBS AND YOU GAVE HIM FOOD YAY.

That sounds corny, but it did work for me. And it's a teeny step that might become a huge one.
posted by damnjezebel at 4:10 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Even the skinniest, thinnest, most attractive woman will have a severe mental breakdown and likely have miserable self-image after the relationship you just went through. Just remember: you are not a bad person for the thoughts you have! The good thing is you want to change them, and have a POSITIVE self-image. Just like everyone else here said: go to a therapist. Work out, if that will make you feel good, and eat healthy, but don't feel pressured to change just because society tells you to. The most important thing is to feel good about yourself, and only you can change that!
posted by elisabethjw at 4:53 PM on July 10, 2008

You are not ugly and unattractive.

Let me tell you something. Altho I work out, I have gained a lot of my weight back and am a round little woman, age 49.

My husband still thinks I am hot. As a matter of fact, as far as he is concerned, I'm Angelina Jolie.

There are guys out there that right now, right this minute, will think you are incredible.

And all you will have to do is just be you.
posted by konolia at 5:13 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Let me get this straight. Grippycat was in a relationship with an abuser who told her to go to the gym, get lipo, work out while still recovering from lipo, and asks us for help in "pulling it together" so she doesn't feel ugly and inadequate.

And paulsc responds with the following suggestions:

to look at yourself realistically, and do what is necessary, nutritionally and in terms of activity, to get and remain fit, without creating other problem behaviors, would be good for you.

-- "buy healthful food."

-- "Stop ordering delivery."

-- "Get on the scale everyday"

-- "Feel responsible each day about doing positive things for your health."

-- "achieve a 200 calorie a day energy deficit,"

-- "eat[] a healthful, varied diet"

-- "get[] 30 minutes of brisk physical activity every day"

Paulsc, you are crazy. I don't mean that in a good way. I mean that in a "I shudder to imagine what it's like to be around you in person" way. The woman came to us with her self-image ripped to shreds by a man who forced her to view herself as ugly, fat, deficient, urging her to "improve herself" when she wasn't that big to begin with.

And your suggestion is to tell her to exercise, get on the scale, and eat better? That suggestion is absolutely nuts, off-your-rocker crazy.

Your suggestion is no less offensive than telling a woman trying to recover her self-esteem after physical abuse at the hands of a romantic partner, "Try to think about what you may have done to provoke the violence."
posted by jayder at 5:22 PM on July 10, 2008 [13 favorites]

Best answer: What a terrible experience you've been through. I'd wager that it has much less to do with your weight than with his wanting to tell you what to do, and his need to make it YOUR fault that he wasn't as attracted to you as he wanted to be. Lots of times you meet someone who you like just fine but don't happen to be to be hot for. Are you going to say, "I'll go out with you if you change yourself physically or otherwise"? That's's just not normal. You went along with it because you probably figured, what the hell, a healthy body is a good thing, and I'm in love with him so he's probably not a jerk. People do THAT all the time. Depression and social anxiety make a person weaken your confidence, make you less likely to trust your intuition. And there are bad guys out there that know this and will take advantage of it. Fortunately, they're not in the majority. To echo what Konolia said -- I'm fat, and my husband thinks I look great naked. That boy T is a bad person, and he did a very bad thing. Why didn't you catch on earlier? Because bad people can be very good at manipulating others. It's not your fault.
posted by wryly at 5:35 PM on July 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

God, I hate this guy from reading what you've written. I'm sorry it went sour for you but somebody this pushy is not someone you really want to be with long time. I know there are no magical words to make you feel better, but I wish that there were and that I knew them.

Whatever you had looked like at the start, this guy would have found flaws. It sounds like you were making all the sacrifices and he was trying to break you emotionally and physically.
posted by tomble at 5:41 PM on July 10, 2008

Yes, it is possible to repair a shattered body image. Doing so has NOTHING to do with healthy eating or hitting the gym.

Focus on feeling good about your whole being. Don't just try to accept yourself on the outside. You need to feel that your inside is worth it, too. That is where the bulk of the work is, actually. (Of course, some of this may involve eating sensibly and being active, but more so that you are healthy inside. Not so that you're toned or burning calories.)
posted by chelseagirl at 5:54 PM on July 10, 2008

Moxiedoll is exactly right--weight is not your problem and never was. Your problem is that you thought it was okay for anyone to treat you like that. HIS problem is that he was a cruelly abusive asshole who I'm sure is off destroying some other woman's fragile psyche right now.

Listen, this is how a good relationship works: The other person thinks you're the cat's pajamas just the way you are. No, seriously. It happens all the time, all over the world. It's happening on your block right now. The socially awkward, the deformed, the unintelligent, and yes, even the fat (which, let's get real, you're not, and I'd like to take a liposuction wand to the idiot doctor who agreed to operate on you)--they are all able to maintain healthy relationships with people who really truly believe they are the most wonderful thing ever. It can happen for you, too, but first you have to get to a place where you can even recognize this type of relationship, and for that the best solution is therapy.

Also, paulsc--WTF??
posted by HotToddy at 6:00 PM on July 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

There is lots of great advice here, so I'm not going to repeat it. Your post really touched me, though, and I just wanted to say something to you.

I really admire you for having the courage to leave that relationship. I think that shows that you are a strong woman, and that you have the strength to heal yourself.

I hope you stop feeling bad about posting this -- everyone responding is responding because they feel for you and want to offer you encouragement. You are not shallow or idiotic. Women everywhere have their self esteem destroyed by less than what you have been put through. I can't even imagine how it must have felt!

Also, I think it's good for people to post questions like this. The responses and suggestions here will hopefully help you -- and they might also help another person in a similar situation who didn't think to ask the question, if they stumble upon it.

((( hugs )))
posted by tastybrains at 6:17 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

The very fact that you kicked this piece of slime out of your life means that you have so much to be proud of. You do. It's a hard thing to kick anyone out, but it's particularly difficult when that person has invested serious time and effort in convincing you that you are worthless (when, obviously, you are not.)

As wryly said above, "that boy T is a bad person, and he did a very bad thing."

If you need to cover up your mirrors for awhile, do it. If it allows you a little breathing room in the day, do it. You can work on uncovering them when you're feeling stronger.

If you're getting distracted from work and pawing/pinching at yourself, does a replacement behavior appeal to you at all? For example, if you felt like you were going to pinch at yourself, maybe you could do something else with your hands, like cross stitch, or paint your nails, or knit, or anything else that appeals to you. Replacing the pinching isn't going to solve the problem--a therapist will be able to help you do that--but it might spare you some of the feedback loops that self-loathing can create.

Also, and I'm sure you already know this, be aware that since T is an incredible manipulator, there's a great chance that he will try and re-insert himself into your life. Prepare yourself to ignore him, even if he calls/emails to tell you how much he loves you and thinks about your good times together, even if he's in the hospital, even if his grandma died. Remind yourself that you are too beautiful to subject yourself to this poison.

I'm thinking of you. These are not trivial concerns. It really is possible to get better.

Best of luck.
posted by corey flood at 6:25 PM on July 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

This suggestion may be WAY outside of your comfort zone, but the absolute best thing I ever did for my body image was to model for art classes. You'll have people scrutinizing your figure, but only because they want to find the best way to transfer it onto paper. No one will be thinking, "Look at how jiggly that woman's upper arms are!" or whatever else your pet worry is. They'll be thinking, "How can I make that woman's arms stop looking like they're growing out of her neck?" Even better, fuller, rounder figures are easier and more satisfying for beginners to draw. When you show up, they'll be stoked that it's you, and not a pointy stick-figure.

My friend's mom, who is 60 and is completing her doctorate, just got into it herself, and she loves it!
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 6:48 PM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: Oh, honey. I'm so sorry.

There are people in this world who are just completely bankrupt as human beings. Sadly, a lot of these people use all of their time and energy to hone one, single interpersonal skill: making other people think that they (the other people) are the problem. These bankrupt people can tell that they don't have normal, fulfilling relationships with others, so they focus on making that deficit someone else's fault. As a result, all of their partners will eventually be too fat, too skinny, too needy, too bitchy, too....something. There's no way to get around it if you are that partner. You can't ever be good enough, because you're not the problem.

The hell of it is, these people are absolutely gangbusters at counterfitting love. They've got all the right words, all the sighs and lingering looks down cold. They know how to do it, because it feeds their addiction to their own validation. Some of them even believe it...but it's crap. It's just a show to get what they want. OF COURSE you couldn't tell that he was evil...these people have to be fantastic at faking it, or they can't operate. No one can tell these people apart until they show their cards. And I really think that the less bankrupt that you are, the harder it is to spot.

OF COURSE he found you physically unattractive. That had nothing to do with you. He doesn't have the capacity to relate to anyone in a normal way. And this way, it gives him the added bonus of power. Power over himself, since that way he could lie to himself that it's not his fault that he can't have a normal relationship. And certainly power over you, which is really the only relationship dynamic -- not love, not intimacy, not friendship -- that makes sense to his shriveled little soul.

I'm so sorry you're going through this. You're essentially the victim of the natural disaster that is this man. It's not your fault. There's nothing that you should have done that you didn't. You were operating under the premise that this was a man who could love and be loved by you.

It's not your fault.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:07 PM on July 10, 2008 [15 favorites]

On a practical note, cognitive behavioral therapy can be really great for getting people through this stuff.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:08 PM on July 10, 2008

I am so, so, sorry. And so proud of you.

No, really. You kicked his ass out! A lot of women feel to beaten down to manage that and you did. That's the first step :-)

Once upon a time I was eating disordered and weight about 130lbs less than I do now, so I know what it is to look in the mirror and cry and to fight your body in destructive ways. The way our society talks about women's bodies and fatness is enough to encourage this---but you had this man to add onto that. He was very much trying to control you by dictating what you did with your body. There wasn't---and isn't---anything you need to change about you.

My personally tested recommendations for getting your self-esteem back are as follows:
1. If you can, see someone professionally about what you've been through. If you can't afford a therapist, try the local library for books by Marilynn Wann or Naomi Wolf.

2. Find things to do with your body you enjoy---things that have nothing to do with how it looks. Since the gym was forced upon you, look into things like yoga, dance, or sports offered by your community center. I take belly dancing and it has been wonderful to see my own body move gracefully and look at the diversity of the other women there.

3. Seek out images of women that aren't what you see in the media. Various ages, colors, builds, etc. The more variety you see, the less your body will feel like some kind of weird enemy. It feels like just another body. A couple of places online I recommend:

Curvygirls, a livejournal community where women post pictures of themselves and offer support.

Adipositivity, a somewhat NSFW photo project that focuses on body fat.

Shapely Prose has a BMI project that shows a variety of women and their under/average/overweight category and posts that take on the idea that OMG FATNESS is something to freak about in general.

4. Buy clothes that fit and treat your body well. It's been put through a lot and deserves it, as do you.

That was quite long, but as you can probably see, this is a topic I feel pretty passionately about. Please, don't hesitate to drop me a line if you want to talk more about this. Best of luck :-)
posted by lacedback at 7:58 PM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's not clear from your question when you kicked him out, but given the timeline from last summer, I assume it was very recently.

In which case, I suggest that maybe you're mourning the (good parts of the) relationship, and fixating on your body image because that was the thing that T was constantly hassling you over. In other words, you're scapegoating your body for the failure of the relationship.

I'd suggest you try to put the body issue aside, and read a few breakup threads here. See about getting social & active again, pursue your interests, and when you meet somebody who isn't an asshole, and who totally digs you, you might find that your negative self-image suddenly disappears, because you'll be too busy having sexyfun times to give it a second thought.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:17 PM on July 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all for your replies. Ubu, I've read through the breakup threads, and I'm willing to accept that I'm mourning some component of the relationship, but they don't really resonate with me.

Granted, I loved that man - we had a real estate agent and were looking for a home. We'd been talking about having kids - and it was the first time in 31 years that I actually wanted a family of my own.

It's hurtful to know that all that is over - but it doesn't take away from the fact that I made the man I loved impotent for two months, and that to my face, using the exact phrase, T told me I was "physically and sexually unattractive". Not, "it's not you, it's me", not "we're growing apart".

The getting social and active again - how? Last night, I made it out to the corner store (a two minute walk). By the time I got there, I was shaking so badly I couldn't hand change to the cashier. By the time I got home, I was in a cold sweat, and dry-heaved for an hour. I can't stand the thought of anyone having to look at me, and being outside in public is terrifying. While I appreciate the sentiment, sexyfun times don't look like they're going to be happening anytime soon.
posted by grippycat at 6:30 AM on July 11, 2008

It's hurtful to know that all that is over - but it doesn't take away from the fact that I made the man I loved impotent for two months, and that to my face, using the exact phrase, T told me I was "physically and sexually unattractive". Not, "it's not you, it's me", not "we're growing apart".

I know you probably know this on a logical level, but it bears repeating: YOU did not make him impotent. HE was impotent, and instead of taking care of that in any responsible way (seeing a doctor, trying new things, whatever), it was more fun to see you suffer. Not only did he let you suffer from lack of intimacy, but he decided to make HIS medical/psychological issue a weapon with which to hurt you. People who love you don't do that. Hell, people who dislike you but who are decent people don't do that.

He couldn't say "it's not you, it's me" or "we're growing apart" because his entire purpose was to hurt you to validate himself. You were looking for a home and talking about kids because he knew that those conversations would emotionally tie you to him, not because he was sincere. Maybe on some level he believed it, but he knew what he was doing.

This was not the man that you loved. This was a man who could make you love something that he pretended to be. It hurts like hellfire to find out, but you are not, and never were in love with the man. You were in love with the character that he played. That doesn't make the breakup hurt less, and I'm so, so sorry.

It sounds like you are currently having a really tough time functioning. You need therapy ASAP, from someone who really knows what they're doing. I don't personally know any therapists in Toronto, but you can call the department of psychiatry at University of Toronto at 416-979-6948. That's the administrative coordinator, so she might ask you to call somewhere else, but it's a place to start.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 6:55 AM on July 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: i'm guessing the thing that may be bothering you is that he offered good times if you made an effort, and it sounds like you made an extreme effort - not only the exercise, but surgery as well - and instead of the land of milk & honey, you got the exact opposite of what you were promised.

in your mind this sounds like it translates into "no matter how hard i try, i'm not going to become more attractive, and i tried my guts out and look what happened!"

with that kind of story, it's hard to imagine anybody not feeling disillusioned.

however, ignoring that story, that guy was just one guy, regardless of whether you loved him or not. and if there's any truism that i wished people had tattooed into their brains, it's that whatever it is you're selling, somebody out there wants to buy it.

so, don't go beating yourself up about "making your man impotent". the vast majority of relationships die. plenty of couples end up with bed death, in spite of love & good intentions. these things happen, but blaming yourself is not productive to you or anybody else. the only thing you should be concerning yourself with is "where to from here? how do i get there?"

you presumably have an idea of what you want. now, it's just a matter of doing whatever you can to point yourself in that direction - in tiny, baby steps at first, if that's all you're up to right now. but hating your body is a step in the wrong direction. it's not your body's fault, seriously.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:04 AM on July 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry that this happened to you. I lived with a housemate who made me feel terribly about my weight and self image, I can only imagine if it were my partner. It is a control tactic, and extremely abusive - and he was not reflecting an accurate picture of you, that would not have served his purposes. Kudos to you (major kudos) for kicking him out - many strong women friends of mine have been entirely unable to do that. I have no doubt that you are gorgeous, and the size weight-wise that you are is wonderful & healthy. Seriously, many people on the street are looking at size 10 you wishing to be as svelte.

Also, my sister and I both found that the movie "what the bleep do we know" helped a lot with our self image and thinking positively about ourselves.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 9:19 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

> The getting social and active again - how? Last night, I made it out to the corner store (a two minute walk). By the time I got there, I was shaking so badly I couldn't hand change to the cashier. By the time I got home, I was in a cold sweat, and dry-heaved for an hour. I can't stand the thought of anyone having to look at me, and being outside in public is terrifying.

Take it slow. You actually went out to the corner store already? Great! Be gentle on yourself. Remember, when you go out, you are always free to turn back. Just take it slow. There's a lot to process about what you've been through, whether you do it alone, with friends, with therapy. Do whatever is kindest for you every day. It sounds like you want to jump back in and get back to feeling comfortable as soon as possible. The beginning may not be fast. You can't rush healing too much. Some of it takes time.
posted by Listener at 1:06 AM on July 12, 2008

It's hurtful to know that all that is over - but it doesn't take away from the fact that I made the man I loved impotent for two months, and that to my face, using the exact phrase, T told me I was "physically and sexually unattractive". Not, "it's not you, it's me", not "we're growing apart".

No. No, you did not "make" him impotent. You absolutely did no so such thing. I used to be a domestic violence worker, and I can tell you this: Abusers (of both genders) absolutely -love- to assign responsibility for things about themselves they don't like, from employment problems to money problems to the abuse itself, onto their victims. This is exactly what this yutz did to you.

I mean, think about it. Gay men father children through vaginal intercourse all the time. Completely straight men, when horny enough, will often gratefully accept blow jobs from gay guys. Being presented with a body plan that varies from the sexual ideal is not, in and of itself, enough to make a fellow's plumbing undergo catastrophic malfunction.

The guy was impotent. For two months. Whether it was depression, whether it was lack of general sexual interest, or whether it was a more deeply rooted medical problem, we will never know. The point is, it was a problem with HIM. And because for whatever reason he couldn't deal with the idea that his mighty stick of babymaking wasn't being all that mighty, he assigned responsibility for it to YOU.

You are not responsible for his impotence. You do not control his vascular system. You never have. His problems are his problems-- completely separate and completely distinct from you.

And also, consider this: The impotence may have been wholely strategic on his part. It sounds to me from your fact-pattern like he was perfectly happy to be affectionate with you when you were -heavier-, months ago. Perhaps the affection ceased, not because of a weight threshold but because you stopped doing what he told you to do. When you did somethng that showed you weren't under his control, he tried to get you back under control by withholding touch. This again is a dynamic we see in domestic violence situations all the time.

In summary, gal, it's not you. Oh, it is not you. It is him. It is him all the way.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Not sure if anyone will ever see this, but metafilter, you hoped me. In no small part thanks to the advice and kindness in this thread, I've found professional help, and let my friends know why I dropped off the face of the earth - which led to such an incredible amount of love and support that I didn't really know I had. Maybe by the time the next Toronto meetup rolls around, I'll be able to come out and thank some of you in person.
posted by grippycat at 4:50 PM on August 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

That's great to hear, grippycat. It's heartwarming to hear when people get a positive outcome from threads like this, and good to know you have such loving and supportive friends.

ps - anybody who uses the "Recent Activity" function regularly will usually see even a really belated update on any thread that they've commented in
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:01 PM on August 6, 2008

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