Heather Corinna replies:
I recently turned 24 and I have never been in a real relationship. I am in love with my best friend, with whom I have had a very interesting and painful 4 year friendship. He took my virginity at the age of 21, and he is one of 2.5 guys I have slept with; he is the only one I have hooked up with more than a couple times. He has cheated on two different girl friends with me, and he tells me he loves me but he has always been very clear that he will never be in a relationship with me. I have asked him a couple of times why. After a lot of beginning, he finally gave me list of everything that is physically and mentally wrong with me.
(CMH's question continued)
He likes petite girls, as do most guys. I am tall (for a woman) and big. I weigh over 200 pounds, though I carry it well. I do not have a pretty face, though I would not call it ugly. It is also not particularly interesting. He told me that even though I have a good personality, I am not physically attractive enough for him to ever be with me. Mainly, I am too fat, my hips are too big and my face is just not attractive. I have felt the same way about my appearance for a long time; and while I am doing everything I can to lose weight, it just doesn't seem to work. I have been starving myself this week, and I have gotten to the point where I just don't feel hungry anymore at all. That and if I do eat, no matter what it is, I feel incredibly guilty and start to cry. I feel ashamed that I am so overweight, even though I am proportionate, and I feel like I am just insufficient when compared to other women in my age group.
I also started scheduling consultations with plastic surgeons. While I am not wealthy, I am willing to go in debt over my looks. Specifically, I want to get face, chin and neck liposuction so that I no longer have a fat/ugly face. I feel like I am obsessed over my appearance, but it is because I am sick of seeing the man I love hooking up with all of these beautiful women while I just sit and wait and cry. I have no respect for myself, and my self-hatred has caused me to be hateful towards other fat or ugly people.
It is consuming me, and I feel myself spiraling downwards. I feel that as a woman I should look a certain way, but that no matter what I do I will be big. I am convinced that if my appearance does not change, no man will ever want to be with me. Even the good guys don't want to date an ugly girl. I don't feel feminine at all. I suppose what I want more than anything is advice. I like who I am as a person, but I no longer feel like I am separate from my body. What I look like is more important to others than who I am or what I have done. I have even thought of suicide because I feel trapped in this horrible body with this horrible face. I just don't know what to do, and I don't know what is right. The only thing I do know is that I do not want to lose my friend, and that I wish he could see past my severely flawed physical shell. Please help me.
I really wish I could reach out and give you a very, very big hug. I'm going to say a lot here, mostly because you have said a lot yourself and because you are flat-out breaking my heart.
Most of what I am hearing here seems to be very directly tied into the way that this guy has treated you, and into how you think you looking differently would somehow cause him to behave differently.
I wonder if you might look at how he has treated his other girlfriends. Can you see that unless, somehow, you are all simply not attractive enough in some essential way (which is a fallacy already, since beauty standards are not essential, but very diverse, arbitrary and individual), you and these other women are not the problem here?
You call this guy your best friend, but I hear you describing a total creep who hasn't been any kind of friend to you at all.
In fact, when you later say, "even the good guys.." I think you may be acknowledging that this guy is not one of them. No one who is our friend and who is a person of any real quality gives us a freaking list of what is wrong with us like that, or tells us we aren't physically attractive enough to be loved by them, but attractive enough to be their booty call or their whipping girl. That is vile: not you, THAT. That's emotionally abusive behavior, and it seems clear this guy has been exploiting your insecurities and vulnerabilities for his own benefit. He cheats on others with you, says he loves you but treats you like dirt? The only big thing that's "wrong" with you -- which isn't even wrong with you, but just with your choices -- right now that I can see is that you internalized what this guy has said and done and that you've got it in your head that the problem is you instead of this guy or anyone else who behaves like this guy. You seem to feel like he has done you some kind of favor by being with you: I don't think he's done you any favors at all. I think he's messed you up, big-time.
If you want to slice-and-dice anything in your life that is guaranteed to have a positive result for you, I'd say it's this guy, not your own flesh. I'm not seeing that this guy is incapable of loving you because of what you, or any other woman, looks like. Rather, it sounds like he is incapable of loving you, or any other woman, because HE lacks that ability.
I also hear you voicing some faulty essentialism of your own. There is no "most guys like..." when it comes to how women look and to what women men want to be with (and when we're talking about men who are even attracted to women in the first place). Who and what people find attractive and multi-faceted is as varied as what foods people like to eat, what clothes people like to wear, what intellectual interests a person has. It's understandable you're feeling that way right now -- especially if this guy has also told you that, since he seems to have you well under his foot -- and I am sure you mean no insult, but I hope you can realize that it's actually pretty dehumanizing TO men to suggest that. In other words, what it says about men is that their attractions are nothing but visual, that they have no real depth nor any interest in having a real connection with women. That's pretty harsh, and something we know both absolutely is not true and also is an attitude which isolates men and women alike.
The body I hear you describing doesn't sound the way you're describing it to me. It doesn't sound ugly to me at all, or in need of any changes insofar of how you look. You say 200 pounds and tall and you seem to hear and see "too fat" or "too big." When you say that to me, that conjures up words to me like Amazonian, strong, stately, powerful, sturdy, solid, soft, nurturing... all things I don't associate with ugliness at all. I think people who look like you do are fascinating to look at and ungodly beautiful. Some aspect of my work in my life has been art and photography, and I've loved it when I have subjects to work with who look like you do, particularly since in this era and culture (which wasn't always the case), we don't get to see that body type as much as we should. Women built like you make me think of the women in Alphonse Mucha or Tamara deLempicka's work, two of my favorite artists of all time, particularly when it comes to depictions of women. I think of the Statue of Liberty.
Please try and hear me when I simply say this: You are not ugly. You are not unattractive. You are feeling like you look ugly because you feel ugly and because you have been surrounding yourself, or have been surrounded, with ugliness. You are beautiful, even if you cannot to see it or feel it yet. Your beauty isn't hiding under generous hips or a chin, but under an image and idea about yourself that is completely false, but totally changeable, sans scalpel.
One thing we know about cosmetic surgery and self-esteem and body image -- and any surgeon who is being honest with you and has you more in mind than their bank account will tell you this -- is that we have plenty of study to show that when women get cosmetic surgery who come to that table with very negative body image and low self-esteem that surgery does not tend to fix that. Same goes with weight loss. Instead, what usually tends to happen is that women do go into debt or toss away big piles of money and time, take big health risks, shove aside or underprivilege other important parts of our lives to try and get this magic fix, we find that lo, they either really don't feel that much better, or if they do about THIS body part, suddenly they find others that they feel are deficient. This is a big part of why, with cosmetic surgeries, we tend to see people who get one procedure getting others (the other reason is that cosmetic surgery usually needs upkeep, so in many ways, once you start getting surgeries, you're often starting some level of lifelong habit of these procedures).
So, there you get to be, more broke than before (meaning less time to enjoy your life since you're likely having to work more than usual to just make ends meet) and still probably not feeling much better, especially if what you didn't cut out was people like this jerk and your own self-hating. Even acceptance from others you might get post-surgery is likely to leave a little niggling feeling in your gut that it's not really, truly, you they like and accept, but the body you have fashioned for them, which is a pretty awful feeling. It's important for all of us to have the experience of being accepted and loved for who we are, as-is, without alteration. And what happens if you do all that and not only still don't feel better about yourself, but this guy STILL is a big jerk who also still doesn't want a romance with you?
I don't feel like your self-esteem is going to get better by spending money and time in a surgeon's office instead of using that money and time for things that are really about your whole life and your whole person. For instance, if you're going to find a way to raise that kind of money, why not use it to take a fantastic trip somewhere you've always wanted to go, expand your horizons and learn some more things about yourself which are positive? How about looking into more secondary education? Or moving to a new neighborhood or city where you can have all kinds of new experiences? What about a sabbatical to an excellent week-long retreat or workshop that focuses on exactly the real issues you need to work on?
I disagree that what you look like is more important than who you are or what you have done, and I think that mindset is a recipe for disaster, and something we also know is a recipe for low self-esteem. After all, throughout our lives, our bodies will always be changing, visually and otherwise, and will often not meet any given set of standards in some way. Most of us will at at least one point be attracted to someone who isn't attracted to us back, or who feels their attraction to us change or fade. It's easy to understand how if we try and tie up our esteem in those things, we rarely find they are a long-term way to have and sustain esteem. The value of who you are is NOT in what you look like: it's in what you do, how you value yourself, in who you are in the deepest way possible. We aren't separate from our bodies: we can't be, they're our homes in this world. What we do with the abilities they give us matters, how at home in them we become matters, the experiences we have in them matters, but not in any way that's somehow separate from us.
Ugly is as ugly does. In other words, you've been told some very ugly things about yourself by an earnestly ugly -- since the real ugly stuff is inside, not outside -- person, and you've been giving yourself a lot of ugly messages. In addition, you've been doing some ugly things: sleeping with this guy on the sly when you know he has a girlfriend is certainly more his responsibility than yours, but being his accomplice in that kind of betrayal can't make you feel very good about yourself. Same goes with behaving hatefully towards people of size, and with reducing all of who you are to physical attributes. It's no wonder you're feeling ugly, honey, but you just don't have to feel that way.
Here are my best suggestions for you:
1) First, I want you to spend more time with the supportive people in your life who earnestly love you, care for you and who not only accept but adore you just as you are, in heart, mind and body. You need a new best friend, stat.
I can't hug you, but one of those folks can. If you don't feel like you have anyone in your life like that or ever had, that's probably a missing piece of the puzzle here: we all need that. So, if that's missing in your life, seek that out. Make some new friends, or reconnect with some old ones. Whatever your interests are in life, find some ways to explore them with groups of others who share those interests. Since you're having such a tough time with body image issues right now, it might be good to cultivate some of those friends in some body-positive spaces and groups for women of size: a support group, or, for instance -- especially since it sounds like you could use some fun in your life -- a bellydance troupe. Bellydance is great exercise, a lot of people have a great time doing it, you can often find awesome communities of women that way and you'll notice a lot of those women are of size since it's a kind of dance that actually favors having some weight to shake around. (I have a friend who weighs far more than you who can isolate and move her folds without seeming to move anything else you can see on her body: it's so amazingly cool.)
You also need more supportive people around to clue you in on what awful news this guy is. If you haven't let anyone else in on all of this yet, I'd say you need to. You need some extra perspective from people who care about you and who can see this situation more objectively, and who can advocate for you even at times when you don't feel able to do that for yourself.
2) Next up -- and you knew this was coming -- dump that chump. I know, you don't want to. However, keeping him around creates a conflict with what you do really want: you want to feel better about yourself, but you've tethered yourself to someone who is pretty dedicated to keeping you feeling like crap, in part because so long as you feel substandard, he can treat you as substandard in a way that allows him to use you as an easy source for his own creature comforts. Personally? If someone in my life had been treating me this way, and gotten me to the point that I earnestly felt ready to put myself in debt and scar tissue for the rest of my life just to maybe have some chance at their half-assed approval, I'd move from sad to very, very deeply pissed off very quickly. I hope that in pretty short order, you can not only get the heck away from this guy, for good, and realize the number he's done on you, but that you can have at least a little while where you feel catastrophically angry at this man.
Please understand that if there is anything about you that has been turning men you are interested in off, it is more likely your lack of confidence and esteem than anything else. If you've ever been at a party where women who clearly have the idea that their conformity to a certain beauty standard should guarantee them male attention have been talking about another woman getting the attention they want who does NOT fit or conform to those standards, you may have heard those women say, "I don't get it: what the heck has she got that I don't?" Often the answer really is that what she simply has is self-esteem and confidence. That comes in every size under the sun.
The way this guy behaves is also not a realistic expectation of other men or all men: it just isn't. And if you raise your bar, you will likely be surprised to suddenly find yourself meeting people who meet or exceed it. Very often, if we ask for or expect very little, that's exactly what we get.
I hear you when you say you don't want to lose this guy, but I am not sure I understand why. From what I can gather, he has never treated you well, and always leaves you feeling bad about yourself. He doesn't appear to care much for or respect the other women in his life, either. If you feel lonely and isolated, and you don't have much of a social circle outside him, if this is the only person who you have been involved with sexually in any regular way or who you think you ever will be, I don't doubt that even the negative attention he gives you might be something you want to hold on to for fear it's all you'll ever get, but while I understand feeling that way, I have to question its logic, particularly since he's likely a large part of WHY you feel this way, why you're lonely and isolated and why you're in this downward spiral.
3) Do make sure you're taking good care of your body. Starvation isn't good for you, and actually screws up your metabolism as well as putting your health at risk (it also makes it even easier to gain more weight in the long-term). At the very least, if you are still hell-bent on cosmetic surgery, you have to recognize as a smart person that it doesn't make sense to go to such a risky, expensive place without first trying less invasive things known to net people better results. Have you ever seen a nutritionist, for instance? That's a good place to start: they can really look at your diet, see how healthy is it, and help you to start eating in a healthy balanced way that nourishes your body and leaves you feeling better in it no matter what you weigh. They can also see how much of your diet may even be influencing you feeling so lousy: sometimes, some things we're eating or the way we're eating can keep us chemically depressed. In conjunction with that, if you're not very active, get a little more active. Lack of activity depresses our mood: increased activity usually elevates it. As well, exercise makes us feel strong and capable in our bodies, which helps remind us that they're not just walking billboards. Our bodies DO things, make us capable of things. Our experiences in them aren't just sexual or about attractiveness or beauty. Really being able to feel that, every day, helps nurture a more positive and holistic body image. You don't have to do that on a treadmill, either, if that feels like a drag. You can do it outside walking the dog, do it dancing, do it learning self-defense or Tai Chi.
If you're taller than average, 200 pounds may well be a perfectly healthy weight for you. Even by a very conservative standard -- let's use Weight Watchers weight scale for instance, and know that weight loss businesses obviously need women to feel they are overweight to make money -- a woman who is 5'10 is listed as within a healthy range at a weight of 174: for a woman who is 6'1 is within range at 189. Ad again, I'd say that is a very conservative standard, and I don't see things like accurate BMI or body frame being taken into account in that list, either, which are not minor issues.
Usually, if improvements are made in these areas, we will see esteem changes, and we also can assure that we are in sound health and fitness, no matter what we weigh. Making those changes may or may not result in weight loss for you -- and if you're healthy, and that's just what your body is at its best, that is FINE -- and I'd suggest not going to them with that as a sole motivation. The goal is really for those things to make you feel better in body and mind, and for you to find out what healthy does really look and feel like for you. Remember that most of what we look like is genetic, so for plenty of people -- at your size or considerably above it -- fit can be fat. If you can at least stop trying to hate on other people of size, you might have a sound in-road to hating on yourself less, too: it's a win-win, all around.
4) The way you have been feeling, how low your esteem is is also something doing you harm that needs work of its own that isn't likely going to be fixed by any surgery or weight loss.
I'd suggest that you connect with a good therapist or counselor, and if you can find one who specializes with female clients and/or body image issues, all the better. I think you could stand to be looked at to see if you're dealing with depression, for starters (and if so, treatment for that may also make a big difference), but I also think you could use some support and practical help in seeing yourself, your life and your relationships differently, in a way that is much more likely to benefit you, make you happy, and really turn things around for you. That you even wound up with this guy and stick with him makes me wonder, too, if you haven't been grappling with self-esteem for a while, or if you don't have patterns in your life where you have been mistreated that might be making you not see that that's not normal or acceptable. I think it'd also be a good idea for you to put partnered sex or dating on hold for a little while until you're feeling better about yourself. Once you start to bump up your self-esteem more, by all means, go on a date or two with someone who is NOT this awful guy. If it still takes you a while to feel able to approach people, use a personals service: you can put a photo up and be assured that the only folks you hear from are people you don't have to doubt find you attractive and have a interest in getting to know you. You'll probably also notice in looking at ads that some people even say outright they are people of size who like others of size, or NOT people of size but still often find other people of size most attractive.
With that therapy or counseling -- or perhaps before, if you don't feel quite ready for that yet -- I have some books I'd like to suggest for you, some on body image, self-esteem and some on patterns of abuse. Those are: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men bu Lundy Bancroft, The Emotionally Abused Woman : Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Beverly Engel, Ditch That Jerk : Dealing With Men Who Control and Hurt Women by Pamela Jayne M.A., then on the esteem and body image roster, FAT!SO? : Because You Don't Have to Apologize for Your SizeBody Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image by Ophira Edut, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf...and I really think you need some Gloria Steinem (we all do from time to time, seriously, she's such a goddess), so how about Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem.
One last thing? After you read this today, I want you to either do or make a plan to soon do something marvelous ad self-loving just for yourself. Maybe that is planning or taking a vacation or weekend trip, maybe it's taking a long hot bath, maybe it's a hike somewhere beautiful, a luxurious meal and a nice bottle of wine, giving yourself an orgasm, a night out with friends, dancing in your underpants like a maniac in your bedroom, making or buying yourself something to wear that makes you feel divine, the purchase of a work of art that shows real and varied beauty. These things are simple, sure, but even if you can start with a very small way of showing yourself real love and care, that kind of baby step matters.
I sincerely hope that I'll hear from you in a few months after making some of these changes to report an improvement. No one can ever offer guarantees with these things, but I know in my heart and my mind that if you do make some of these changes, you are going to find yourself starting to feel a lot happier, and I'd love to hear about it when you do. I'm going to leave you a few more links to look at, a bucket full of love and support-from-afar, and my very best wishes.