Self-esteem, attraction, and love: a fat woman’s perspective.

(Because I removed myself from FA for a while, I’ve been spending a lot of time going through various blog archives, reading what I missed. There have been a few posts that I really want to say something about, so I’ve decided to create a new category: What I Missed. This is the first post in that category, but believe you me, there will be more. I realize most of this will be old news to most of the people who read my stuff. But it’s one of those things where I read something, and I’m just itching to comment… but the post itself is old, so I don’t feel right commenting on the post itself. So I bring it here. After all, isn’t that basically what my own blog is for?)

Reading through Shapely Prose‘s archives for the past few months brought me to this particular post. I had read it back when I first found Shapely Prose, because I spent a couple of weeks going back and reading everything Kate, Fillyjonk, and sweetmachine had written. I read through all the comments, and I realized I just had to write my own post.

Kate’s post is brilliant (as usual)- I urge you to go and read that before you continue here (but if you want to read all the comments, be warned: there are a lot of them and it will definitely take you a while to get through them all).

It really got me thinking about self-esteem, attraction, and love in regards to my own life. Because even though I’ve had many boyfriends before snagging The Hubster, I always felt that I was unlovable. Why? The fat, of course!

It was drummed into my head from an early age that no one could ever possibly love me because I was fat. No other reason. My fat made me ugly, therefore I was decidedly unattractive, and no one would ever love me. Ever. Unless, of course, I magically became thin.

Only one person in my life ever attempted to make me feel good about myself, but it didn’t help much; she lived over a thousand miles away and I only got to see her once a year, at most. Aunt D was always the one person I could count on to actually listen to me and take me seriously as a human being, but hearing once a year that I was a valuable person wasn’t enough to counteract the negatives that I heard on a daily basis.

And I don’t just mean from peers, either. My grandmother was one of the worst ones for making me feel less than worthy – simply because she was the one person I should have been able to count on to bring me up, not tear me down. But tear me down she did. Between nagging me about every single thing I ate (even healthy food!) to telling me that the bullies were right when they told me I was fat and ugly to telling me that I couldn’t ever do anything right, she tore me down piece by piece by piece. (And to this day, she denies ever saying anything of the sort, but other people witnessed it, too – and remarked on it – so I know I didn’t hallucinate these things. [This is the main reason The Hubster really can’t stand her: because of the way he’s seen her treat me.])

So I believed it. The whole kit & caboodle. I was fat, therefore I would never be attractive to anyone, therefore I would never be loved. The worst part? I wasn’t even FAT! I was probably what would be considered overweight, yes. But so was my grandmother, so was my mother, and so were many other members of our family. On both sides. I was 5’2″ at 12 years old – and that’s when I stopped growing. 145 pounds. I wasn’t fat, I was just big for my age. I was one of the tallest kids in my entire grade, with only 2 others being taller than me – and they were both boys. So it was okay for them to be big, but me? Oh no, I was a girl, I wasn’t allowed to be bigger than 98% of the other kids. Nope.

But regardless of the realities of my life (the fact that I would have boyfriends anyway, regardless of what I’d been told), I truly believe that I was an unlovable person simply because of the excess adipose tissue on my body. No matter what, I always believed that one day, the person I was with was going to realize that I was fat and would be disgusted with his choice of a girlfriend. Which really sounds silly when you think about it. Suddenly realize? What, are these blind people? What the hell made me think that they couldn’t see the fact that I was fat when they first met me is beyond me. Like they were all hypnotized like Shallow Hal or something.

And every breakup – at least in my mind – was the fault of my fat. It didn’t matter if I’d done something wrong, or if he’d done something wrong, or if I was a bitch, or if he turned out to be an asshat… nope. It was all because I was fat. Because I was fat, that meant that I was unlovable, right?

I can actually pinpoint the one and only time in my life that I had anything resembling self-esteem. I was living in a group home after my final suicide attempt and hospitalization. (Ironic, don’t you think, that my one period of feeling good about myself immediately followed my period of feeling the absolute worst about myself?) The home was a good 25-30 miles away from my hometown, and I only saw my grandmother periodically. Getting away from the mental abuse I suffered every day and having (at least at first; it slowed down the longer I was there) daily therapy helped tremendously. The school I first went to out there was so different from the one I had come from, as well. At my old school, I was everybody’s favorite whipping girl. Even people I’d never even heard of knew who I was, and would join in on the torture. It was well-known by most of my schoolmates that I was one of the poorest kids there, too. At this new school? Nobody gave a shit about how much money my grandmother made, or if my clothes came from K-Mart instead of J.C. Penney’s. And they sure as hell didn’t care that I was fat. I wasn’t even called fat at this school. My looks didn’t matter one way or the other, it seemed, and because I was new, most of those kids were actually going out of their way to be nice to me.

And the population was much more diverse, as well. I came from a town that only briefly had one black family (until somebody torched their house, isn’t that nice? but I didn’t learn about that until well after that family had already moved to another town [I actually met a member of that family in a church two towns over, where my uncle and his wife lived]). Everybody else was white, and solidly middle-class. Here, there were people of pretty much every ethnicity you could think of, and for the most part, it seemed like a much more welcoming place, for everybody. I made lots of friends – friends that taught me a lot about inter-racial relations. I’d always been the kind of person who really didn’t think that other ethnicities (non-white people) should be treated any differently, but because I’d never really had much contact with anybody who wasn’t white, I really didn’t know how to relate to them. But it didn’t seem to matter to them. It was obvious – many times, I was asked if I came from an all-white town, as if they could read it on my forehead – but I guess it was just as obvious that, despite coming from whitey white-ville, I didn’t have any prejudices, certainly not against them.

So for the two years that I lived in that home, I had a very diverse group of friends, I wasn’t stigmatized as “THE fat girl” (as if I was the only one in the world), and I didn’t have to hear on a daily basis that I was worthless and ugly.  So, needless to say, my confidence soared.  I had boyfriends, I had girlfriends, and for the first time in my life, I was content with who I was.  It was a strange experience, I tell you.

Because when I moved back home in 1992, at the age of 16, it all went downhill.  I was once again living with the woman who constantly berated me for not being good enough – nothing I ever did was good enough.  And getting kicked out on the street at 19 with an 11 month old baby, having to go live in a homeless shelter, did nothing but tear me down even further.  I’m seriously amazed that I never thought of suicide during that time.  Before my BPD diagnosis (which I happened when I was hospitalized), the slightest thing would push me right over the edge.  But during that time, even though it was one of the worst times of my life, I managed to tough it out.  I’m amazed at myself.

My self-esteem had continued to erode to such an extent that at the time, even the breakup with The Little Helper’s biological father – at least in part – was attributed to my fat. Never mind the fact that he was an alcoholic, drug addicted, pedophile (!! – yep, only I didn’t find that little tidbit out until AFTER the breakup), abuser (I also found out – after the fact – that I wasn’t the first woman he’d beat around). And never mind the fact that the woman he left me for looked just like me, in every respect. Nope, I blamed it on my fat.

But then, being a single mother with two children and having the guts to get some job training, get an actual job, and then move out on my own did wonders for me. Finding another boyfriend who did nothing but make me feel good about myself helped a lot, too (thank you, Reg!). Being self-sufficient, raising my girls the way I wanted to (and not being second-guessed at every turn by some fundamentalist nutjobs running a homeless shelter), and really just being myself turned my life around. Oh, I still had self-esteem issues, sure. But I realized something. I didn’t need a man in my life to make it a good one. I already had a good one, and I’d done it all on my own.

I knew the relationship with Reg wasn’t going to last, and it didn’t. But it didn’t feel like the end of the world when that happened. Of course, the fact that Reg was honest with me and never claimed to be head-over-heels in love with me had a lot to do with my reaction when the end finally came. But I came away from that relationship knowing that there wasn’t anything I did wrong. He liked me, he was attracted to me (he was definitely attracted to me, if you know what I mean), he just didn’t feel that deeply towards me. And because he was always honest about it, and didn’t just tell me things he thought I wanted to hear, when the end finally came I was okay with it. Sure, I was disappointed, but I didn’t feel like my life had come to an end.

Kate wrote:

I’m not a big believer in the “You’ll only find love when you’re not looking for it” school of thought.

Well, I’m a living, breathing reason why people say things like that. I wasn’t looking. I was open to the idea, sure, but I wasn’t actively looking. My relationship with Reg had just ended, and from my experience with The Little Helper’s biological father proved, being alone for a while after the end of a relationship is a pretty good thing for me. So finding someone else was the last thing on my mind.

And then The Hubster fell into my lap, so to speak.

More correctly, he popped up on my screen. He and I met in a chat room that doesn’t exist anymore (on the Zone; they took out all the chat rooms back in ’03/’04 [can’t remember exactly], when MSN decided to get rid of all chat rooms across the board). He seemed like a nice guy (having to deal with repeated requests to “cyber” might have colored my perception a bit, though; anybody who wanted to talk without it being about sex would have seemed appealing to me), and talking to him seemed to be as good a way to pass the time as any. But never, in 1,321,858,498,432,321,687,984,651,657 years did I ever dream – at the time – that something permanent would have come out of it. Ha! Shows you how much I knew!

But we very quickly became attached to each other and fell in love. It still sounds a little bit strange, even now, but that’s what happened. We met online, fell in love before we even knew what the other one looked like, and he travelled halfway around the world to be with me.  Within 2 months of his arrival (well, 2 months and 4 days, to be precise), we were married.

But for some reason, the longer we were together, the faster my self-esteem continued to slide down that slippery slope into self-loathing-ville.  I can’t really put my finger on why.  I think it had something to do with the way The Hubster treated me for a while.  Not badly, per se, but he definitely started to take me for granted.  I began to feel like a piece of furniture for a while there.  And then he had the affair, and it pretty much destroyed any shred of self-esteem I had left.  In my head, I knew it had nothing to do with me (it wasn’t anything *I* did, I didn’t cause it), but part of me couldn’t stop thinking that maybe, if I wasn’t such a fat, ugly, worthless person, it wouldn’t have happened.  And I couldn’t help but believe that the other woman had been slimmer and ultimately more beautiful than I was.

It has only been in the last couple of years that my self-esteem has finally begun to make the slow, agonizing crawl upwards again.  The Hubster and I managed to salvage our marriage.  I began to realize that him having an affair had absolutely nothing to do with me whatsoever.  It affected me, yes, but he had compartmentalized me to such an extent that his decision had absolutely fuck all to do with me.  And I began to trust him again, to be able to believe that he really did love me.  (After all, if he didn’t love me, he would have had to have been the most masochistic person on the face of the earth, to go through that period with me, and to stick it out with me.)  I’m finally beginning to be able to accept that he truly loves me as much as he says he does, and that he finds me as attractive as he says he does.

So I hate it when people say “nobody will ever love you until you love yourself.”  I don’t mean that to say that self-esteem isn’t important; of course it is! But that’s taking away even the possibility of finding love from people who need that hope the most.  Of course you should love yourself – but even if you don’t, that doesn’t mean that you won’t meet someone that loves you. Even when you don’t.  And it’s harder for some of us than for others.  Not everybody has a great support system; and a person’s background has a lot to do with how they feel about themselves as adults (I’ve only scratched the surface of my background here; there are a ton more things I could tell you to explain why I grew up with such poor self-esteem, but this is getting long enough as it is).  But that doesn’t mean that someone with low self-esteem is never going to find love.  It does, however, mean that they might not recognize it when it’s standing right in front of them.  But it’s not an impossibility.

So if you’re single, and you think nobody’s going to love you because of the way you feel about yourself, let me just say you’re wrong.  You are attractive, you are lovable.  Maybe Mr. (or Ms!) Right just hasn’t crossed your path yet.  But that doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen.  I didn’t think it would ever happen to me, simply because I thought the way I saw myself was the same way everyone saw me.  But I was wrong.

And you are, too.

Marital Revelations

In the last couple of weeks, as I said in the previous post, my marriage seems to have done a total 180 – for the better!

My hubby and I are talking more, laughing more, and having a lot more sex. I can partly thank the people in the LiveJournal group fatshionista. Since joining over there (I’m MrsNoName1999 over there; somebody hijacked my username, dammit!), they have opened my eyes so that I’m seeing myself in a totally different light. It started with the clothes, but it’s gone so much deeper than that.

A few weeks back, I posted some pictures, asking for some advice. I’d bought some tops on a whim, off a clearance rack, and could have taken them back if I’d wanted to, but I needed somebody to tell me if it looked good on me or not first. I had absolutely no idea. I’m a complete idiot when it comes to dressing myself – I’ve been hiding in Omar The Tentmaker clothes for so long that I just don’t even know what kinds of things I should be wearing or not. Thus the reason I joined fatshionista in the first place. In doing so, I got a lot of remarks about how the one top I was the most concerned about was the best one for me, because it showed my shape a whole lot more.

That literally blew my mind. Shape? What shape? I have no shape! I’m just…. round. …. aren’t I?

But after having several people say the exact same thing to me, I took a step back and tried to look at it objectively. I stared at the photos for a while, and I realized they were right. I still have the hourglass shape I had when I was a teenager – it’s just a little bit different on the bottom now, because I’ve had children. But it’s still there.

Those comments sparked something in me, and were really the catalyst that got me back over here.

Sometimes I seriously wonder if I don’t have body dysmorphia. Because for as long as I can remember, I’ve seen myself completely differently to what others tell me they see. I look in the mirror, and I see someone who is twice the size I actually am. My “problem areas” seem much more pronounced to me than they do to other people (apparently; I’m just going by what people have actually said to me). But, just as hearing that I was fat, ugly, and worthless got tattooed on my brain, having people tell me that I actually have a nice shape and have body parts that should be flaunted and not hidden away has started to imprint on my brain just as much.

It’s like counter-brainwashing. I needed to hear (or read) people tell me that I’m not what I think I am. If they can honestly see me that way, then maybe – just maybe – I can start to see it for myself. And so far, it’s working. I can feel myself, bit by bit, becoming more and more accepting of myself – and even more than that. Not just accepting, but almost to the point of liking myself. For the first time in my life, I’m almost to the point where I can say that I like myself. I’m 32 years old – better late than never, I guess.

But all of this has had a knock-on effect on my marriage. A wonderful effect. While things had spontaneously started getting better between my husband and I, what’s happening within myself is making them even more better. (Mo’ betta?) We’re communicating about what my self-loathing has done to our relationship, and realizing that we’re much better together when I like myself. And in this communication, he’s told me things that he’s never really told me before. But now things are starting to make sense.

When we first got married, I felt as if I were living in a dream. I couldn’t believe that he actually wanted to marry me. ME?! I seriously thought I’d never get married. Why? Because I was fat. Who would want to marry a fat woman who already had 2 children, one of whom was disabled? My disbelief was so bad that I unconsciously started a fight the night before our wedding, pretty much opening the door and telling him that he didn’t have to marry me, because I didn’t feel worthy of him. Of his love. Of his promise to spend the rest of his life with me. (I honestly didn’t realize that was what I was doing; it is only in hindsight that I can see it.) But even with all of that, he still wanted to marry me. And marry me he did.

All throughout our marriage, I felt that he had settled for me. I always worried that he married me because he felt he ‘had’ to; that he wasn’t willing to renege on a promise, even if he didn’t really love me as much as he said he did. I would look at other, better looking (to me) women and wonder why the hell he ever settled for me. And it would just make the self-loathing even worse.

In the beginning of our marriage, he would try to tell me that I was good-looking. I would brush off every compliment, just like a good fatty would, and tell him that he was wrong. After taking so much of this, eventually he gave up and just stopped trying. And so I deducted that I was right; I wasn’t any of those things. I was an ugly, worthless fatty that he had simply settled for.

I specifically remember one argument we had gotten into, because he felt that I was comparing him to the men in my past. I wasn’t, but he had taken it the wrong way. The problem was that every single man before him had mistreated me in one way or another. But they weren’t all alike, either. One took me for granted, one physically abused me, one fucked with my head – all of it was bad, but it wasn’t all the same. So I took from that that there was something wrong with me, something that made men want to mistreat me. And that’s why I feared him doing the same to me; because while he wasn’t like the men in my past, I was still me. And since I so obviously drove those men to mistreat me, then the same thing would happen to him. Just one example of how my self-loathing was threatening to drive us apart.

And it got worse after he had the affair four years ago. That, too, reinforced every negative thought I’d ever had about myself. Because, in my mind, if none of that was true, then he wouldn’t have had the affair. Never mind the fact that we had both made mistakes in the marriage itself, and had pretty much driven ourselves apart. Before the affair ever happened. Nope, in my mind, it was all my fault for being the ugly, worthless fatty that I was.

But he loved me enough to not only try to fix our marriage but to prove to me that it wasn’t anything I had done – or been – that had caused it to happen. He had made the choice, and he tried to fix it as best he could.

What I didn’t realize then was that when I would look at a woman that I thought looked better than me, what he saw was someone completely unattractive. Why? Because he’s always preferred big women. My husband has always been a chubby chaser, and I only realized this last night. I don’t know if he didn’t think I was capable of taking it in, but he never told me that before. (I do remember one comment he made to me, when I was actively trying to lose weight. He told me that if I ever became as skinny as he is [he’s 5’11” and 145 lbs.], he would divorce me. That blew my mind, and I never understood it until last night.) While I was panicking, worrying that he would find me disgusting because of my fat, he looked at me and saw a sexy, desirable woman.

But up until recently, I couldn’t have believed him. Not that I didn’t want to. I was completely and utterly incapable of believing it. It wouldn’t have computed. I needed to get to a certain place psychologically before I was capable of believing it. And I do believe him. Now, I do believe him. I don’t think he could fake the passion for me that he has had lately, ever since I started seeing myself in a different light.

What I regret are the lost years. All these years of arguments and iciness. All these years of me hating myself and thinking that he simply settled for me when in reality, I was exactly what he’d wanted all along. It literally brings me to tears when I realize that every time he told me that he thought I was beautiful and desirable and I just brushed him off, he was telling me the truth. The. Truth. How must it have made him feel, knowing I didn’t believe him? I cringe just thinking about it.

But at the same time, knowing that he loved me enough to stick by me and wait patiently until I got to the place where I could believe him? That thought brings tears as well – tears of joy and happiness.

Who would have thought that getting to a place in my life where I’m starting to like myself would make my marriage like new again?