Sex and the Fat Girl: Subjectivity and Self-Image

Many of the ways we've talked about to combat dominant societal beauty standards and, in the process, boost your self-esteem/self-image, are subjective in nature. They involve presenting in a certain way to elicit the desired results: a new way of looking at fat sexuality. There's nothing particularly wrong with subjectivity in this sense, but when you take subjectivity to the personal level, the one-on-one level, it presents a problem. One commenter pointed this out in a roundabout way by complaining about women who say things like "Well, my boyfriend finds me attractive so that's good enough for me." Whether or not that attitude is annoying, it is certainly dangerous. Using perceived attractiveness (to a partner or potential partner) as a means to maintain your positive self-image is cheating on doing the work necessary to promote self-love.

I'm sure we all know a fat girl who feels like crap about her size until she receives some positive sexual attention from someone. Unfortunately, healthy self-esteem is not built on the slippery slope that is random affection from potential partners. If you only feel good about yourself when you're with a partner to validate your attractiveness, once that partner has moved on (and they most certainly will when they figure out your feelings about yourself are inextricably tied to them), you're back in the same, leaky, no-self-esteem boat. And by making statements like "I know I'm attractive because my partner finds me attractive," you're basically inferring that if you're not partnered up, you need to take a seat and think about what's wrong with you that YOU don't have a partner to tell you you're attractive. That's not going to earn you many brownie points with people, honestly.

There's nothing wrong with reveling in the desire of your partner for you. But I hear so many fat girls lament that they're not sure if this person finds them attractive, that they worry about getting naked because a new sex partner may or may not be disgusted by them, that they are starting to feel good about themselves because they got a boyfriend, etc. The desire of a partner for you should be the icing on your self-image cake. (Mmm, cake.) Feeling good about yourself starts with feeling good about yourself, it doesn't start when someone else starts feeling good about you. As I've said, self-love is a journey--and a solitary one at that. If you haven't done any internal work (and I'm not saying that you have to be completely free of negative thoughts about yourself), starting a relationship may only serve as a distraction if you don't recognize that your self-image is slowly being wound up in their feelings for you. Of course, this kind of thing happens to smaller girls as well, but for fat girls who are already so marginalized sexually, it's especially important not to fall into that trap.

So in formulating your master plan for the journey towards self-love, just as you would ignore what society thinks about your attractiveness, you also have to ignore what individuals think about your attractiveness. Let a partner be a complement to your positive self-image, and not the key.

Comments

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Heh.

"Mmm, cake" indeed.

Anyway, thanks for writing this up. While I might have had moments of feeling wanted or even worthy of attention while I was in a relationship, I was hung up so much on the feeling of having to have another person validate my sexiness that when that relationship ended, I had to build up my self esteem from the very bottom. It's a lot better, now; my self esteem is not based on the attention I get from anyone else, but rather how I feel about myself.

I'm not trying to make it sound easy, though. It took a good 2-3 years of deliberately staying single and really concentrating on what I want and who I am, and not feeling like being in a relationship is the be all and end all of my entire existence, before I was able to get to the point where I can say that I have high self esteem, and it's not because my boyfriend tells me that I'm pretty.

Solitary journey indeed

We humans are social creatures and seek validation from fellow humans in whatever we do, be it work, art, humor or sex. No one is completely isolated or enlightened to the level where they need no validation at all to feel confident about themselves. But if someone keeps getting rejected, is it because they suck in that area of expression, or simply because they need to find more like-minded folks? Is it because the society hasn't expanded to the point of including them? (That certainly is the case with fat beauty and sexuality.)

So where does one draw a line between co-dependence and healthy interdependence in love? Maybe it does take being single for a few years or longer, as the previous comment suggests. Single until we are secure enough in ourselves so that we can accept others' validation in a healthy way.

"Single until we are secure

"Single until we are secure enough in ourselves so that we can accept others' validation in a healthy way." I wholeheartedly agree with this. For years, I had low self-esteem that I fed through ramdom and meaningless (and horrifyingly bad) sex because goddammit someone found me attractive enough to sleep with me. I thought that was good enough. So I worked on myself and kept to myself.

I found someone. My husband loves me for who I am and does not ask for more or less of me. I am able to be in this marriage because I was ready for it.

"Single until we are secure"?

I do agree that it is important to take the time out to discover ourselves, but I am skeptical as to how much healing can happen in romantic isolation. I am happy to hear that you found your love and happiness upon taking the time out to discover yourself. I do wonder if it is possible for someone to regress into old patterns when they are flung into the "relationship game" without taking time to work on how they relate in a way that is self-nurturing and involved with another.
I merely wish to open up the possibility that it may be more complicated than taking a hiatus of relationships for a few years, and that working together may be beneficial if approached properly. Thoughts?

Initial Approval

I have a lot of difficulty with this line of thinking as far as isolation being the only way to create body acceptance. For me, I needed an initial flicker of interest (someone, anyone) to find me attractive enough to be worthy of being sexual, before I could start to see myself that way.

I think that it's unfair to expect people to self-motivate from the very beginning, because it is really hard living in a world where everyone and everything in media, society, culture, even family, is telling you to look a certain way, and you just DON'T. The tiniest bit of sexual interest from someone else can "flip that switch" inside that gives you the power to start approving of yourself.

Living in a family of dancers, bodybuilders, and gym teachers has made me extremely self conscious and I still struggle with body love occasionally from that heritage, but I don't think I could have ever gotten over that initial hump without my first boyfriend, who decided I was sexy enough to desire. His approval gave me the power to love myself, even after he was gone.

Touche

Thank you for bringing to light a sad reality of women's self-worth in our society. I found a deep sense of understanding in your words and was extremely appreciative that you took the space to recognize that larger women are not the only ones who fall victim of this falacy of self-worth. I speak from the voice of a currently smaller woman who grew up in an obese body. Even to this day I carry around the psychological stigma of externalized self-worth and I believe that this phenomenon is more common along the spectrum of bodily sizes than we give credit to.
It is a disconcerting reality that women feel the need to find self-worth through sexual/intimate relationships, but I would like to propose that we find this same pseudo-fulfillment in weight loss efforts. It is much easier to find a mate, or lose a few pounds than it is to do any deep work. Ultimately we are conditioned to find fulfillment externally, such is the reality of the consumer mentality.
What do I love? What is it that truly makes me happy?
These questions are time consuming and troubling when one is used to racing from work to the gym and then to the grocery store for an embodiment of affection in the form of sweet indulgence. I know because I have lived the above and still find it difficult to pursue true deeper healing.
Is it possible, however, to embark on a journey of self-appreciation while we are in a relationship? Is the lack of partner, male or female, necessary for us to start learning to love ourselves? I find it difficult to believe that we cannot heal ourselves on a deeper level unless we are alone, but I am open to criticism. Perhaps it is time to let the informed majority decide.

Very True..

I definitely agree with you. It is disconcerting to see how so many women find their self-worth through being sexually desired and through their intimate relationships. I believe that we can find self-acceptance while in a relationship, because it is true that we as human beings are not prone for isolation. We are social beings that interact with one another in order to experience life and from that grow in our self-identity. I'm not saying some isolation is not warranted. We are all different and so some do better in their journey through isolation from relationships and others are able to do it in a relationship. Do whatever works for you. The first step is to be aware of the fact that your self-esteem and worth are being hinged on your partner's validation that you are desirable and attractive to an extent that their opinion is the only one that matters. From there, some me time is definitely needed in order to work on accepting and loving yourself. I speak from some painful experiences but am proud to say that this is a long standing process that is still going for me personally.
I find that the media plays a part in this too, at least for me. We live in a society that constantly uses the impossible rail, thin, sexy models that only a small handful of the female population really are, in advertisements, magazines, and on TV as the ideal image of female desirability and self-worth. We see these women as the ones that men want, that thin is the thing and so we bombard ourselves with such negative thoughts and mentality that we drag our self-esteem down to the point where we cling on to this notion that if this man is willing to have me and finds me attractive, than I just need to have him be the source of approval for me. It is sad but I see this time and time again with friends and acquaintances.
All I want to point out that please learn to accept and love yourself for who you are. If you don't like something about yourself, like your weight, then do something about it. Don't depend on others to validate your worth and attractiveness, the only person who should have that power is you yourself.

I think this is a very valid

I think this is a very valid point, and self-esteem should certainly not be tied up in other people's opinions. HOWEVER, when low self esteem is caused largely by outside opinion (media, peer-group, etc), sometimes it takes a contradictory opinion to sort of kick start your self esteem. If said opinion comes from someone whose opinion is valued, eg a partner or potential partner, rather than friends' opinions (which can sometimes feel like are just what they think you want to hear), it can make you stop and question the norm.