Anna Pulley, @annapulley
RedEye's sex columnist
11:59 AM CDT, August 22, 2013
I have been reading your advice for a long time. My problem is that the woman I'm seeing has issues with my weight. I used to weigh a lot, nearly 400 pounds. I had gastric bypass surgery three years ago and now I am about 220 lbs. Which for 5 feet, 7 inches is not skinny, but not really very fat either. She is not exactly a skinny supermodel, but I love her just slightly over average proportions.
She is deeply ashamed and disappointed in herself for letting this bother her. But the fact is that it does. She is trying to work through it and wants me to know how deeply she cares for me. She asks for my patience and understanding. I know she is falling for me as I am falling for her. It is truly a great relationship that I very much want to pursue. I am torn. I know I am not the slimmest, most handsome guy in the world but I feel that I am much better than I used to be.
It really opened up some insecurities that I thought I had put away about myself. Should I be more hurt by her feelings? Should I walk away? I would hate to do that. She means so much to me. But it bothers me that her superficial side is showing.
We're all superficial. Those who claim not to be are either lying or Ray Charles. But that doesn't mean we can be dicks about it.
I think there's a right and wrong way to bring up body issues with a partner, and that your girlfriend is doing it the right way. She expressed a concern she had in a supportive way. She didn't issue ultimatums, belittle you or try to force you to fit into society's admittedly ridiculous and terrible standards for attractiveness. She respectfully and lovingly told you how she was feeling. Part of maintaining a healthy relationship means the ability to be honest with our partners even when it's difficult, even when it's not what we want to hear.
I know body issues are an especially fraught topic, and I absolutely sympathize, but as a conversation, it shouldn't be SO different than talking about spending habits, career choices or mental health. It's crappy that body issues are tied to our self-esteem—and really, the diet industry is a rabid nightmare monster and those who perpetuate it should all be lit on fire—but attraction is a necessary part of the relationship package.
That said, it's your body. Changing your body is something only you can choose to do for yourself (if that's what your partner is even asking). Others can help motivate you and work with you to eat better, exercise, etc., but in the end you have to want to change. If you don't, then can you accept being with a partner who's not as attracted to you as you are to her?
The key is to find a balance between pleasing one's partner and not losing one's sense of self (and self-esteem) in the process. If being seen as more attractive (and I don't mean a number on a scale) is important to you and your relationship's long-term potential, then both of you can work together on that, set reasonable lifestyle goals, and be each other's support system. If she's as loving and supportive as you describe, then it shouldn't be too much to ask her to take that leap with you.
If you find that down the road her comments skew toward policing your body and habits or harshly criticizing you, then you can send her up Slim Fast Creek without a calorie counter. But as it is, I think you can help each other figure out the best ways to support and respect each other's bodies and choices. It doesn't have to be a dealbreaker.
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