My weight has fluctuated throughout my life. I’ve been thin, I’ve been fat, and I’ve been everything in between. Right now, I’m at the bigger end of that spectrum, which should feel familiar by now, but it still tanks my self-esteem every time. I just can’t see past the socialization I’ve received that my worth is tied to my dress size. It sucks, but knowing that it’s a bullshit standard isn’t enough to make it not matter.
I would normally just try to ignore those feelings, but they’re in direct conflict with some of my other ones, namely my desire for partnered sex. I know that surely someone finds my body attractive in its current state, but even if I manage to find them, how can I actually enjoy the sex when I don’t feel confident about my appearance? This is one of those times when ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ feels impossible. I hate to think that sex is off limits for me until I either figure out my weight or my body image.
DTF & Fat
Dear DTF & Fat,
Oh, my love, please don’t ignore those feelings. As tough as they may be, they also offer an opportunity to review some of your core beliefs that stand in the way of feeling more self-actualized. It’s the type of inner work that cuts at the core of our identity, so I don’t mean to make it seem light. But your desire for closeness and sex is not actually in conflict with your feelings about your body. In fact, what if it’s not your body that needs to change, but your mindset? The good news is, that’s much easier to change.
The experience you’re describing is exactly why, for some, ‘body positivity’ has fallen out of favor. No one likes being told how to feel, especially if it’s in response to being slighted. Body positivity can feel like it places the burden on fat folks, especially fat women, to undo or ignore the harms of living in a fatphobic society without acknowledging that structural oppression, let alone correcting it.
Body neutrality, on the other hand, is about existing without investing a ton of emotional energy in your body’s appearance, positive or negative. This could be a helpful framework for getting yourself to a place where seeking out sex feels more natural again. What if, instead of feeling like you had to be confident in your body to pursue sex, you just had feel comfortable?
How would it make you feel to fill your wardrobe with new clothes that feel great now, instead of hanging onto the old ones you hope you’ll fit into again someday? What would it mean to you to pursue physical pleasure outside of sexual contact, like wearing perfume or getting a massage? What would it mean to regularly make room for those pleasures in your day, and tell yourself in the mirror that you deserve them?
Anything that can make you feel more comfortable in your skin more of the time is a worthy pursuit. If you can begin to invest more and more focus into how your body feels as opposed to how it looks, the notion of having sex at your current size won’t strike you as something in need of correction. I’ll be honest though, rewiring your brain can be a slow and tedious process, and patience is another essential component. Trust me on this – I relate to what you’re saying more than I usually care to admit.
When I was younger, especially in my teens, I was convinced that I was perpetually 10 to 15 pounds away from my best life. I just knew that once I hit my ‘goal weight’, shopping for clothes would be fun again, I could date any guy I wanted, and that I’d be a better ballet dancer. I was so sure that any other problems I was facing would magically start feeling surmountable, instead of suffocating.
All of this is to say, I know it can genuinely feel like your body is what’s standing in the way of the (sex) life you want for yourself. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had thoughts like that recently too. You’re absolutely right: the passage of time and the awareness of sexist beauty standards alone don’t make them go away. The key is knowing how to respond to them in the moment, in the way you most need to hear.
For what it’s worth, this is what I usually need to hear when my body image brain worms do their dirty work: First, that life is life, and tough shit happens no matter what you look like. There is no body weight or shape I could attain that would make me impervious to life’s ups and downs, and whatever problems I imagined would vanish once 20 pounds did would be swiftly replaced by new ones. The second thing I needed to hear? Simply that bodies change. As a rule.
Bodies change because their environments do. Bodies change because they get hurt or sick, and sometimes they stay that way. Bodies give birth, and keep babies alive. Bodies get older with each passing day. Bodies are naturally in a state of constant flux, and fixating on what life might be like when yours is in an imagined state makes it so much harder to find pleasure in the one it’s actually in now, and the ones it will occupy in the future. The goalposts are always going to move, and we’re much more content when we’re less determined to win some nebulous endgame.
The older I get, the more certain I become that putting my life on hold until I look the way I think I want to just puts a lot of joy on hold too. You deserve that joy at any and every size, and I hope that starts to feel true for you soon.