Heavy issues: 'I'd think there was something wrong with anyone who found me attractive'

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

I am 45, 165kg and lonely. I am struggling to lose weight despite the adverse impact on my health. I desperately want to have the confidence to meet someone, but loathe myself so much, I would think there was something deeply wrong with anyone who found me attractive.

I have never developed a sexual or fantasy life, largely due to my weight, but intermittently go on dating apps which help only briefly. I sometimes end up having explicit conversations with men I have no intention of meeting or pursuing in any meaningful way. This often feels overwhelming but has been the case for so long (nearly 20 years) that any route out feels impossible. I otherwise have a “good” life, a great job and lovely friends, but this feeling of loneliness pervades and keeps me stuck. I’d love to think things can change but then remember my limits each day, keeping me in this place. Any thoughtful ideas would be much appreciated.

I go to a gym populated by a lot of very type A people, the type who prop briefing papers on the elliptical so they can do two things at once to fill the void. The gym managers are the same and every holiday they put up a sign for a “Maintain your weight!” challenge.

Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter: weigh yourself on the gym’s double-decimal scale before the holiday and if you come back weighing the same amount you win a prize. Extra points if you weigh less.

It’s ghoulishly emblematic of the moralising we do around food and weight, as though weighing more is so capital-B Bad that there’s no question of it being justified by sharing cake with your family or chocolates with your partner. It’s a bizarre dissonance: so many of life’s joys are structured around food, and we are so angry when we look like we might have enjoyed it.

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Nobody is more brutalised by this than people whose bodies read like signs of indulgence.

What breaks my heart most about your letter is that you seem to believe this conflation between weight and moral worth. You seem to really think that you’ll deserve love only when you weigh a particular number.

I could say the thing that’s obvious, which is that you do not deserve the loathing you have dealt yourself, and you can ask the friends you’re rightly proud of if you don’t believe me.

But I want you to hear something slightly less obvious: beware of stories that begin with “I’ll deserve love when …” Often they’re just dressed up stories about why we’ll never get it. The “when …” gets more and more specific and harder to satisfy until it serves as a perpetual justification for the sentence of unlovability we’ve already passed on ourselves. This is true for all sorts of things: people who think they’ll deserve love once they make money become restlessly unsatisfied with hundreds of thousands of dollars; people who think worth hinges on dressing well become endlessly critical of the clothes they already own.

But it’s especially, acutely true when it comes to bodies. Every pound lost can be a reminder of the ones still left; every hour in the gym is a reminder that we could do another if we really tried. Whatever weight you are, however your body looks, here’s the problem: if you think you deserve love only because you weigh a particular number, and weighing that particular number didn’t come easy to you, then it’s likely to feel like being loved doesn’t come naturally to you either.

Keep losing the weight if you want to and if it makes you feel good. But separate this from the mission of finding love, and keep your eyes on the fact that your goal weight is whatever weight you’re at when you’re living the life you love.


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