Here is a classic storyline:
A girl is an “ugly duckling”, she loses weight, puts on some makeup, a nice hairdo, and, let’s not forget, loses the glasses, and voila! She’s becomes “hot” and all the guys fall for her, and she lives happily ever after.
I experienced something similar to this.
I had lost a bunch of weight (through intentional, concerted effort) and all of a sudden became “hot” in the eyes of others. Nothing else changed about me, I just lost weight. Same person, just a smaller body.
So, happily ever after, right?
Because I wasn’t meant to be thin. That is not my natural body type. In order to keep my body smaller than it wanted to be, I needed to spend the majority of my time and energy focused on keeping my weight down, and subsequently, sacrificing my mental (and physical) health.
But as I recovered my mental health and healed my disordered relationship with food and my body, it ultimately meant that I gained back the weight I had lost. Did that mean I would no longer be “hot”? Did my bigger body mean that I’d never be seen as attractive in the eyes of others again?
That is a very real fear many people have when it comes to dating and finding a partner: that unless they are thin, they won’t find good one.
It’s also a very real fear that prevents people in current relationships from pursuing body acceptance - what will their partner think if they gain weight?
When I first started dating my partner, I was in a thin body. It was about a year into our relationship when I reached my breaking point, and started down the road to body acceptance.
It was an intentional decision that I knew I needed to make for myself, but I was afraid of what my partner might think of my new body.
So, I decided to ask my partner John to share with you how he felt about my body acceptance journey, and my new bigger body.
TW: This is a real and honest conversation that some may find triggering.
Kristina: We got together when I was in a thin body and was very committed to keeping it that way. What was it like being with me during that time?
John: Being with you when you were thin was the same as being with you now, with one big difference: your stress levels and anxiety around food and exercise were higher when you were thin. I remember the stress of being home and having dinner together, or even eating out at a restaurant. I remember for example when you came to visit me in Buenos Aires and we went to a coffee shop I liked. You were feeling guilty about the fact that some of the things you ordered had refined sugar in them, and we couldn’t really enjoy the experience together. That kind of tension around food always made sharing a meal with you a stressful experience at that time.
It was a similar thing with exercise. I remember you coming home from work on a Friday, exhausted and needing rest from a long week of hard work, but instead, pushing yourself to do a hard workout because you didn’t like the numbers on the scale that morning. By the time you were done, you felt so tired that we couldn't do something as simple as sit and enjoy a movie together. The few moments we had to chill and spend time together after a busy week were forfeit because, quite simply, you were either too tired or in a bad mood.
We usually couldn't have a sane, rational conversation when you were really hungry either (which, near the end of you finally stopping dieting, was quite often). All our conversations would end up revolving around food. For example, organizing a get-together with friends for the weekend ended up being about how you could pack your own snacks to the get-together so that you would have some "approved" things you could eat.
In general, I often felt like I had to walk on eggshells around you when you were at the worst of it. By then, you were hungry pretty much constantly, and when you ate, it was clear you weren't enjoying food at all.
Kristina: How did your feelings towards me change when my body started to change?
John: My feelings for you started to deepen the more I spent time with you. Incidentally, you also started gaining weight during that time. Your journey through weight gain has deepened my feelings of love and respect for you. When you stopped fighting against your body, it opened you up to express yourself more honestly and more vulnerably. That made me fall in love with you even more.
Kristina: What have you learned/become aware of throughout my body acceptance journey?
John: I became aware of how pervasive the beliefs of diet culture are. The assumption that everybody is supposed to have similar body sizes; and that fat people are thin people who "let themselves go", is ridiculous. Yet this is the kind of assumption that is pervasive throughout our society.
Kristina: Has your attraction to me changed now that I’m in a bigger body?
John: It has - it has deepened over time, especially since I came to see the real you (as you started accepting and loving your own body). I, much like you, grew up in diet culture. Before I got exposed to the hidden assumptions of diet culture, I used to believe that “thinner was better”. Thankfully, as you started on your body acceptance journey, I paid attention and noticed my own assumptions that I I held within myself about fat and bigger bodies. Seeing these beliefs clearly and questioning them using self-inquiry tools like The Work of Byron Katie, helped me gain freedom and understanding around those beliefs.
When I look at it without shame, what I find is that a lot of these beliefs I held about thin, small women being more “attractive”, came from an old chauvinistic perspective. Namely, that women needed to be physically smaller and weaker than men, so that men could feel dominant and in control. Any woman who is stronger or physically bigger than their male counterpart challenges this idea by their mere presence.
Kristina: If you could give advice to partners who are supporting someone through body acceptance, what would you tell them?
John: This journey is not an easy one for your partner. Your support could make a big difference, especially when the going gets tough. One thing you should understand is that this journey your partner is on, is not only about your partner, it’s about you too. It’s about freedom from ignorance and weight stigma. I encourage you to dive into the research around weight and disease, to read critically and understand that correlation is not the same as causation. By reading critically and hearing stories of people who are fat and healthy, you’ll start to see the side of the story that others who don’t live it, don’t see. This is important because, as you start understanding what the messaging that diet culture is trying to sell us, you’ll be able to support your partner better when the going gets tough. Even though this journey is something that your partner is embarking on for themselves, I think it’s important that they know that they are not alone and have support.
Every relationship is different. I share this conversation between me and my partner not for anyone to make comparisons, but instead to shed some light onto what embarking on the body acceptance path may look like in relationship. And to hopefully ease some worries that gaining weight would negatively impact a relationship. As you can see from my experience, the opposite happened.
From my side of things, I can stay I feel very lucky to have such a supportive and loving partner as John. But we aren’t all in committed relationships, nor are all committed relationships as supportive as we may want them to be.
Even while in a relationship, I still sought support from a coach, as no one can be everything for us. I also made sure I was online following people who inspired me, and in body positive communities where I could share my experience and receive support. I list some great people to follow and resources in my free Body Acceptance Jump Start Guide.
In the end, I ultimately share this blog post to help debunk the old and tired narrative that only those who meet the beauty “ideal” find love. It’s simply not true. And, although we may know it intellectually, it helps to hear real-life experiences of it in action.
If you’re ready to take the next step in accepting and loving your body, learn about my one-on-one coaching program here.
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[Image description: A man in an average-size body, and a woman in a larger body stand in a field with trees behind them, both arms up in the air, with the sun shining behind them creating an outline of their bodies.]
Photo credit: Representation Matters