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How can I trust that someone else will like my body when I hate it so much?

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porte asks:

I am 15 years old and about 5'10 and weigh more than 200lbs. I am currently in a long distance relationship and have been for almost 11 months. See, the thing is, I know I'm pretty, but I hate my body. The only thing that I like about it is my boobs. I am very self-conscious about it and I can't seem to lose weight.

My boyfriend and I share everything together. He doesn't lie to me, he comforts me and he tells me I'm beautiful. He loves me a lot. He shares everything with me. He really means a lot to me and would never pressure me to do something I don't want to do. He wants to see me. Or rather, see me below my chest. It doesn't mean like naked or something (but he probably wouldn't mind), but he just wants to see what I look like. Sounds simple enough right? I know what he looks like but...

Heather Corinna replies:

(Porte's question continued)

I'm ashamed of my body. I'm scared of showing him. All my life I've been made fun of for being 'fat' my whole life basically. I don't care what people say about me anymore (usually) and I like myself. Kinda. I don't think of myself as like...this huge chick who stuffs herself with mounds of fat.'Cause really I barely eat anything at all. It's the way I am. But I am ashamed of my body. Sometimes it hurts so much that I just want to curl up into a ball and cry for hours. I can't help but thinking that everyone's right about me, I am fat and ugly and I'll always be that way. I don't know what to do anymore. He's seen maybe the upper half of my body including my stomach because of a picture my friend took with me on facebook. He said that I don't look fat at all, but at the end of the day I'm still ashamed of myself. I care for and love this guy, a lot. But I don't know, I can't bring myself to show him how fat and ugly I really am. I'm kinda afraid he'll stop thinking I'm beautiful or something, or stop loving me.

On top of that I have all these family issues I can't handle, which makes me stressed, which makes me gain MORE weight. Basically the bottom line is that I'm fat and ugly, scared to show my boyfriend what I look like and can't seem to lose weight. I want to look sexy and hot, I want my boyfriend to drool over my body and brag to his friends about how hot I am, but... I'm ashamed of myself. I'm tired of crying and being ashamed.

Since sometimes a visual comparison of someone else our same height and weight can help, I want to start with that. Take a look at some of these images.

The woman in them, Crystal Renn, is only a little smaller than your height and weight, though your proportions may be different. She also has recovered from an eating disorder, one she developed trying to be as thin as she was asked to become in order to model when she was younger. She has had some great things to say about why she feels better at the size she is now and about accepting her body as it is:

Recounting this catalogue of deterioration with little self-pity and a maturity way beyond her years, she says now that she learned valuable lessons from her brush with anorexia. 'I found out a profound thing about myself - that everyone's got issues with their weight and their body. I was lucky enough to get it sorted out when I was a teenager. Now I know what happiness is, and I feel blessed to have that at such a young age. I'm glad I went through it. I can tell other girls about it and save them the trip.'

This woman is one of the most in-demand models of ANY size there is at the moment. In fact, we seem to be standing at an apex of some serious change when it comes to mainstream beauty standards and visibility for larger women: it's a very cool thing, and I'd encourage you to keep your eyes peeled and your own mind open. Beth Ditto is about your weight, though far shorter than you (she's only 5'2): check out how she carries herself, and see if you can't get a sense of how she feels about her shape in this image. Check the images and words here out. Given your height and weight, your body is likely a lot like the bodies there. By all means, someone like Crystal Renn or other models meet a lot of other mainstream beauty standards (they all also look very femme, which may or may not match whatever your gender identity is), and someone doing well as a model is about looks, not about them as a whole person. However, I just want you to try and step outside your own self-image for a second and see if you can't see someone else about your same size and recognize that there is nothing wrong with the way that person looks, and their body is as beautiful as one that is lighter or heavier.

You might find Joy Nash's Fat Rant helps you out, that Kate Harding's BMI project does, too, and that this recent blog entry at Scarleteen is a goodie for you. I love them all and think they're spot-on.

I want to make sure you understand that hardly eating not only is exceptionally bad for your health, especially when you're younger, it's also bad for your metabolism. While it's likely that you are already at a healthy weight, especially at your height, your metabolism may not be operating as well as it could because you're not eating properly. In other words, not only does eating too little pose potential short and long-term health problems, it can also make it so that now and later, your body has a tougher time staying at a healthy weight. If there's anything the screws up metabolism most, it's dieting, especially fad or starvation diets. If you want to consider losing weight in a healthy way, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist, see if they even think that's something you need to do, and if so, and get a sound plan from then. Don't just not eat or do fad diets.

I'd also -- as would any sound healthcare provider worth their salt -- also encourage you that if you don't feel healthy and fit, that getting more active is the better way to go than dieting. When we're all as active as we should be, doing activities we also really enjoy, not only are we likely to be the size and shape that genetically, we're supposed to be and are healthiest at, we also tend to easily eat in a healthy way AND feel a lot better about our bodies. And that's not so much because of the changes to how we look that may happen, if they do, but because when we are doing things with our bodies, we get more in touch with them and we feel more at home in them; we feel more vital and alive and tend to put much less stock and energy into nothing but appearances.

More than anything else, what we look like is about our genetics, something you might consider when unpacking your own fat-phobia: when you say things like that you're not "this huge chick who stuff herself with mounds of fat" you're suggesting other fat people, but not you, are fat for that reason, which often just isn't true.

If you are or start eating in a generally healthy way (which isn't just about what you eat or not eating too much, but is also about eating enough), and you are or become active at least a half hour a day, in a little while, you're probably going to look like what you're supposed to look like per your genetics and being healthy. That may be different from how you look now, or it may not be. One reason you may be unable to lose weight is that the way your body looks is exactly the way it is supposed to.

Even though it sounds like for your height, your weight may not be that much above average, let's just go there. Let's go ahead and say you ARE fat (whatever that means, since there isn't a sound definition for that word and the way people use it). Okay, so you're fat. So what?

There's nothing wrong with being fat, just like there's nothing wrong with being skinny, or being on any place in the hugely diverse spectrum of shapes and sizes that exist. Fat people are as cool and beautiful as everyone else, just like disabled people are as cool and beautiful as everyone else, just like people of one race are as cool and beautiful as those of another. I don't know about you, but my cool and beautiful friends come in a big range of shapes and sizes, and I don't find any one more cool or beautiful than the next based on weight. Some of my fat friends even have better body image than some of my thinner friends: in other words, them being fat doesn't mean they (or others) find themselves ugly, nor are they ashamed of their bodies just because they're fat.

I know some people in our world, an alarming number, are fat-bashing or fat-phobic, and you won't hear me say that doesn't suck and isn't hard to live with: it does suck and it is hard to live with. It's freaking awful. But just because we live in a world with bigotry and bias in it, and with far too many people who judge others based on appearance (be that about weight or about race, gender identity, disability, what have you) that doesn't make messages sent via bigotry and bias true. It also doesn't mean you have to keep them for yourself.

Those are false messages that come from crappy places. They can come from one person or group's fear of losing power over another, from someone's need to cut someone else down so they feel better about themselves, from learned attitudes from those who didn't accept themselves (like from a Mom, aunt or sister who we heard saying how ugly and fat they were all the time when we were young and impressionable), from poor overall self-esteem, from companies pushing things like diets and "slimming" garments and cosmetics not to improve anyone's life, but to increase the size of their own wallets with no real care about how it makes others feel, even if it makes other people sick or less healthy. But what we know, any of us who have studied bigotry and bias -- where it comes from, what motivates and enables it -- is that one place they do NOT come from is a place of clear feeling, clear seeing and real love for oneself and others.

I also want to pose a suggestion to you: can you recognize that someone going on about how "hot" a person's body is to others can enable exactly the cultural and individual attitudes that are part of why you feel the way you do about yourself? In other words, lookism, or focusing mostly or solely on someone's value based only on their appearance, is a ot of WHY anyone like yourself feels so lousy about how they look, puts so much stock in it, and feels they have to try and meet some kind of standard. Lookism is what drives and holds up people making words like "fat" a barb, and people poking fun of how other people look.

A partner going on to their friends about how great ALL of you is -- how you look, sure, but also who you are, how you make them feel, how you, as a whole person of body, heart and mind, enrich their life -- is totally awesome. (It's also a way higher compliment than "nice ass.") If you want to do something to make yourself feel better AND do what you, as one individual, can do to dismantle some of the world's stupid ideas about bodies, you can work on changing your own thinking and what you create when it comes to wanting someone to brag about you being hot based on only your body. Being made into an object doesn't ever result in anyone feeling earnestly better as a person.

As far as your relationship goes, I do think when a relationship is so serious that you count yourself as being in it for nearly a year and people are expressing love to each other it's high time for folks to meet or at least get a whole picture of each other. In other words, if you two are going to invest this much in the relationship, it's past-time to at least have some sense of at least what each of you looks like. Ideally, you'd have met each other in-person before you both got so serious, not just to see what you look lie, but to get to know how you both are in-person, to feel out your chemistry together, to see how you work (or don't) in real life when neither of you can control what the other person sees or perceives so much. But it's already serious, clearly, and shoulda-woulda-coulda isn't of much use.

If we want to get and stay close and intimate with people, we have to be willing to show them the stuff we don't feel so great about, not just the stuff we do. Relationships that are never and have never been in-person unfortunately make it easy for people to only show the good stuff, and if and when that's what's going on, you need to recognize that that's actually not a very deep relationship yet. (As someone who works online a lot, for instance, a lot of people have this idea that I am a total superstar, and oh-so-perfect because they rarely get to see my more annoying traits, my failings, or the things I may do I'm not so great at the way people who know me in-person do.) We can't have something of depth when we're only seen by someone else the way we want to be seen, be that about appearance or our personality. I'd go a step further and say that we don't give anyone a chance to really love us until we're truly vulnerable with them and show them all of who we really are, not just what we like or think they will.

If this is someone you have every reason to trust, and who has shown you a lot of care and love, I think you need to step outside your comfort zone and extend that trust to allow this person the opportunity to accept (and even like!) the parts of yourself that you don't accept or like, including your body. That's one of the coolest things about love: often, people who really know us and love us will like and love things about us that we think suck or feel are substandard.

I want to share with you how "beauty" is actually defined; what it literally means. Beauty is whatever any of us sees or experiences that we find to be beautiful; which delights or pleases our senses in some way, or which elicits feelings of emotional or intellectual admiration, awe, love, joy or connectivity. Just sit with that for a minute, okay?

While there are cultural "standards" of beauty, that's mostly a self-designed lie, because we don't all find delight in our senses from the same things. My mother is wild about the smell of gasoline: she thinks it smells wicked good, the way some people think roses, the smell of a lover or a fresh-baked pie smell good. I experience that same smell as totally gross. Even just with those two opinions alone, we could not say how gasoline smells to everyone. In other words, were I to say "Gasoline smells bad," I'd not be telling the truth. The truthful statement could only be, "Gasoline smells bad to me."

The same holds true with how people feel about how others look. What looks good to one person doesn't to another, and the range of preferences, ideals and experiences people have when it comes to what they find beautiful or sexy in a person's appearance is just as vast as the range with people's preferences with what tastes good, what smells good and what feels good. There is no one beautiful just like there is no one good-smelling. And you may want to bear in mind that your standards of beauty are narrower and less open-eyed than someone else's -- which may include this guy -- are.

Heck, while we're at it, let's talk about the actual definition of ugly, which is displeasing to the senses OR inclined to anger or bad feelings with overtones of menace. Your body isn't ugly, but for sure, how you're treating it and yourself sure is.

The idea that there is one standard or kind of beauty a lie, just like the idea that you are ugly based on what you see on a scale is a lie. If no one ever gave you the idea that there was one right shape or size, or one kind of beautiful; if you grew up seeing images of beauty that all looked like this or this or this (which, by the way, have all been representative at some time of a cultural standard of beauty, as those standards change all the time historically) you'd probably have a very different perception of yourself. Of course, if you weren't comparing how you looked to anyone else at all, you'd likely have a very different perception, too.

Beauty is far more complex and diverse than current fashion magazines or one standard at one given time held by one given person or group. One of the reasons we see more diversity in fine art is that artists generally aren't looking to sell you something, like a fashion mag is, or cut you down to make themselves feel superior, like people at school may have. Artists try to see more deeply, see what's really there, past the surface or ideas the world has given us. We relish in seeing as much beauty in as many places as possible. We try and see things and people as they really are, and want to show that to others so ideally everyone can see themselves, others and the world more deeply, more clearly and with all the dizzying complexity that is truly there.

Chances are very good that if you're unable to see your body as anything but ugly, that's in part about you having internalized certain cultural bigotry and bias. It may also be impacted by you not fully liking and accepting yourself as a whole, great person, beyind how you look. It's easier to have crappy body image when we have low overall self-esteem in the first place. And good self esteem tends to involve making sure we aren't hyperfocused on our appearance, or making how we look or what we weight the be-all-end-all, or see that as a reflection of who we are. As is also common, you may have gotten into the habit of trying to process difficult or hard emotions by putting them all on your body. For instance, whatever is going on with your family and those feelings may be the real deal, you may have strong worries about being loved and accepted, or be feeling vulnerable because you're in a love relationship, and any or all of that may not all be about your body in the first place, but you're putting them on your body because it may seem like something easier to try and manage or control, or because you're so used to dumping everything on your body.

Mind, all of this is a process: a rare few of us come of age with an amazing body image (and this is also true for women who are thin). Most of us learn that, unlearning the bad stuff and accepting and embracing ourselves over time, not in one fell swoop. We keep taking baby steps and we keep feeling better and better as we go. It's okay you're not there yet, but it is time to start really taking those steps. Not eating, hiding yourself from someone who loves you and telling yourself you're ugly are backward steps that keep you stuck: working to accept and embrace yourself, to dump ignorant or bigoted ideas about size and beauty, to really take care of your body and your whole self (which can also include counseling) in smart, healthy and loving ways, to change the things you say to yourself and to just put yourself out there are the right kinds of steps to take to improve your image of yourself.

I asked my gorgeous pal Corinna Tomrley, who is a fat activist, for some words for you, because I knew she'd have great input. (And because I don't just like her because she shares part of my name: I like her because she's a badass.) Here's what she has to add:

At 5’10 and +200lbs, you sound like an absolute goddess. But we've all been there - it is really hard to accept how you look, especially if you’ve been told you don’t look good – but, honestly, it isn’t impossible. It is also really scary to show how you look to someone who you’ve got to know online and so far have been selectively revealing only parts of yourself. We all do it to some extent. But at the end of the day, if people can’t take the whole you and the real you, they aren’t worth your time and effort. Though it’s cliché it’s true: you have to love and accept yourself first and not rely on someone else’s idea of what you should look like. If he’s a good guy he’ll be glad he’s got a whole person to keep in his mind’s eye until you meet IRL. Self confidence, acceptance of your gorgeousness (and I imagine you are gorgeous and in no way 'ugly'), that is totally hot, sexy and adorable. It’s a long and hard journey to accept yourself when you are big, but it is certainly not impossible. Start today and you may find that this was the best thing you could do for your body, your confidence and your future. Instead of feeling bad that a diet didn’t ‘work’, that you can’t lose weight or gained some, put that energy into doing something nice and rewarding for yourself. Get a new outfit and see how awesome you can look with the amazing body you have. Take a picture exuding sassy attitude and you’ll look stunning. Send it to him. Whatever happens, you will have a great picture of yourself to put up online to show the world just how beautiful you are.

Hear all that? I hope so.

Ultimately, I think it's your image of you you need to worry most about, not how other people do or may perceive you. Even if your boyfriend thinks you are the most fabulous-looking thing ever to happen to fabulousness, while that will be a relief, and will make you feel good, someone else's opinion isn't an instant fix to body image problems. Someone else thinking you're lovely won't usually change how you think about you much. It doesn't for anyone else, so I doubt you'd be the lone exception. It's you who are in your own head 24/7, and it's you who are going to live your whole life in this body: the person I am most concerned about accepting and loving your body is you. Once you've really got that, it actually stops mattering much what other people think. If you never get that, what other people think will only be a band-aid, at best.

Here's what I suggest to start: take that photo. Even if you just take it for yourself. Take it the way Corinna suggested, or, you could take it while thinking a big, powerful internal "Screw you" to anyone, even the voices in your own head, that say you and your body aren't beautiful. Then, I want you, all by yourself, to take a good look at it.

Would you diss that girl in the street if you saw her? Would you truly be unable to find anything of beauty in her if she wasn't you? Would you try to make her feel bad about herself? Would you call her ugly? Would you starve her? Would you shame her? Would you make her cry? Would you be as harsh to her as you're being to yourself?

If not (and criminy, I sure hope not), please let that be a big ding-ding-ding to you that you need to STOP treating yourself this way. You can't control what other people said to you or how others have treated you, but you can control what you say to you and how you treat you, and you've been treating you very badly. Your body isn't your enemy. Your body isn't making you feel bad right now: your mind is. Changing our minds is actually something that's a whole lot easier to do, and usually more healthy to do, than changing, or trying to change, our bodies.

Now, send your guy that photo.

I'm going to leave you with a few more links I think you could use, in addition to my best bod-lovin', self-accepting, get-out-there-and-take-life-by-the-horns sentiments:

written 04 Jan 2010 . updated 31 Jan 2014

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