I’m not sure where to go to get advice, but I’ll try here. I’ve been with my girlfriend for a few years now. I love her so much, but for as long as I’ve know her she has always had a problem with her body image.
She is a curvy woman, but she is absolutely stunning too. She’s beautiful, and also health and active. She has been trying very hard to lose weight, and this is working.
I promised from day one that I would tell her how beautiful she is to me, and I’ve always kept that promise – whether in words or showing it emotionally or physically
To me she is gorgeous beyond gorgeous, but my words are not enough. I can tell her these things. I can show her. I try everything I can think of to make her feel better, but nothing helps. She still feels this way about herself, which actually really hurts me to know.
I feel very stuck right now. I don’t know what else to do, or say. All of this puts a lot of pressure on me, and leaves me feeling very helpless. I don’t like to see her so upset.
She is the most caring and sweetest person I know. I wish I could find her the help she needs.
Well, reader, the short answer to your big question is, yes and no. There are some insecurities that can be alleviated by a partner, but there are others that have to be fixed from within. You can do things to help the process along, but she’s probably still going to have bad days sometimes. When the subject is body image, this is a long, often uphill battle, and no one can fight it for her.
I think it’s so wonderful that you do your best to let her know how beautiful she is. Whether you can see it or not, this does help. But self-esteem really comes from within. Other people’s opinion can help us to see things, but the way we feel about ourselves can’t magically be fixed by an outside force. (Still, thank you so much on her behalf that you try. This means so much to a person with body image problems, even if we have a hard time accepting the compliments.)
I had an ex who started off pretty reassuring about everything – she even gave me “permission” to purge sometimes, since it helped balance things out for me, and generally made me feel better… Until afterward. I thought that she was being supportive, because at the time I thought that, if I was losing weight, it must be healthy.
I ended up losing a lot of weight, and I looked great – with my clothes on, at least. But my then-girlfriend had grown tired of being supportive (even though she wasn’t exactly supportive). She grew worn out from complimenting me when I couldn’t bring myself to accept it – and, of course, I blamed myself, because, when someone tells you you’re beautiful, you should be able to say “thank you” and not “no”, right? Well, that’s easier said than done sometimes.
When we would fight, she would bring up my weight, almost every time. Whether she brought up how big I had been before, or how disgusting I looked now that I had all this extra skin… She would find a way to bring it up. And let me tell you – these negative comments hurt so much more than the positive comments had ever helped.
In the mind of someone who’s struggling with their body image problems, it can be a vicious place. Unfortunately, the negative things are always more hurtful than the positive things are helpful. I can’t really think of a single positive comment that ever made me feel better, but I can tell you about the time my dad told me that I’d never be as pretty as _____, or how the guy who raped me told the person who confronted him, “You know I don’t mess around with fat girls” – like you had to be attracted to someone to rape them. (For those who don’t know, rape has very little to do with sex, and so much to do with power.)
My current partner has to deal with these body image problems, and I know they’re frustrating to her, too. I know it probably feels to her like she has to clean up a mess I’ve made for myself. No one can boost your self-esteem but you, but other people can make things worse. This is because, in our heads, the people who are telling us nice things could be trying to use it against us somehow – such as with my ex-girlfriend. Or, they could be lying entirely – that’s a possibility, too. But the people who say negative things about us are confirming the things we already feel.
It’s not a hopeless situation, though. With the proper support, body image can be changed. She might start to feel better about herself once she’s reached her goal weight – but you should be careful not to encourage her to go too quickly. Drastic weight loss has the potential to turn into an eating disorder very quickly, just as drastic weight gain can. These weight changes play into our already-disordered thoughts and make things so much worse.
Even if it seems like your kind words aren’t helping, I promise they are – just not as much as you want them to. Most of the change will have to come from within. You should encourage her to continue losing the weight, and also to take care of her mental health as a whole. As much as it seems to us that our body image problems are a result of physical deformities we see, really they’re mainly in our heads. This means that addressing the inside is just as important as addressing the outside.
Does she keep a journal? If not, you can try buying her one, and encourage her to write her thoughts down in it. Keep in mind that, when body image is the subject, there is such a thing as unhealthy journaling – I’ve got pages and pages detailing everything I’ve eaten that I shouldn’t have, and body measurements that were barely different than the last time, followed by pages about how I disappointed myself with my perceived lack of progress – even when the measurements were taken only a week apart, and therefore shouldn’t have changed much.
It’s also important that she loses the weight the right ways, otherwise the disordered thoughts are likely to stay strong. I’ll admit that, when I lost the weight, I didn’t do it in a healthy way, and this resulted in further goals all the time. When you reach a weight goal in an unhealthy way, you often reach it faster than if you had done it healthy, and this can be an immediate motivation boost – but this motivation will probably be used to lose more weight, rather than to maintain the new, healthier weight.
It can be a vicious cycle without the right support. If you want to provide the most help you can, try to take on new, healthier habits together. Go for walks together! Eat healthier! (Not just lower calorie – low-cal and healthy are not mutually exclusive.) These healthy steps have multiple benefits. Not only will she lose the weight she wants to lose, but she will also feel better from the inside. It takes time, though – nothing is going to happen right away.
Any chance you find to do something healthy together is a good bonding activity for the two of you, as well as helping her emotional state. You should also talk to her about her goals, because as I’ve mentioned, her goals could be something unhealthy, which will be more of a problem than a benefit. Talking things out might seem frustrating to you, but it can make all the difference to her – if you care about her, it’s important that you push her to talk about it. If she completely shuts you out, give her a little time, but try to keep her on the right path.
Take care, reader, and please don’t hesitate to write back in if you need more help – body image and eating disorders are a tough subject, and it’s not something that’s likely to sort itself quickly. I wish you both the best, and when in doubt, give your girlfriend a hug and a forehead kiss. It helps more than you would expect.
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