Ask Aunt Fattie: How do I stop feeling negative about my girlfriend’s fat?

Hi Aunt Fattie –

So I’m a late-twenty-something lady who is dating another twenty-something lady. I am a curvy sort of lady who spent years upon years hating myself and censoring myself and focusing on other people’s (perceived) dislike of my body, etc., went through much disordered eating, and am just finally starting to come out the other side. Due to getting involved in a very feminist-positive team sport, which has helped me look at my body in terms of what it can DO, not just as a potential object of desire/disgust/whatever for other people, AND due to finally applying my feminist outlook to the subject of fat oppression, I’m really feeling a turn around. I feel better about my body than I have in years, and I think that intuitive eating and HAES have a lot to do with that. I’m so proud to be in a better place.

The really-super-awesome lady I’m dating is much heavier than me, but also seems very comfortable with her body, and is somewhat physically active, enjoys doing the activities she’s involved with, and is very comfortable with talking about eating, etc., so it seems like we’re in a similar place in terms of body positivity. I’m very attracted to her (physically! mentally! everything!), but for some reason, I sometimes find myself having weird non-body-positive thoughts about her, when we’re together. Little things, like thinking “is she going to eat the whole thing?” or “I wonder what people think about me dating someone who is heavier.” Thoughts, in other words, that I used to reserve for being shitty to myself when I was being negative about my body. They’re not exactly conscious-level, but they sort of creep into my consciousness, and I have to actively ask myself why I’m thinking these things.

In addition, my new lady-friend is not as physically active as she once was, and seems to miss it; I do worry a bit about her because she ends up being inside so much (working too much and then doing indoor activities) after describing years of enjoying being outdoors. I obviously don’t want to be overinvolved with her enjoyment of whatever she wants to do, but I do wish she’d get back into some of her old interests. But then I wonder if that’s because I secretly feel uncomfortable with her weight.

What does this mean? Am I not doing as well as I thought? How can I be more positive about her body, and generally keep my eyes on my own paper? Should I share with her that I have had those problems about my own body, and explain that I’m a bit neurotic about these things but I’m working on it? Does this all go back to not really being as comfortable with my own body as I thought?

Thank you much, for all you do –
Crushing-Out Worrier

Crushing-Out Worrier, are you familiar with the poem “This Be The Verse,” by Philip Larkin? It begins:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

It goes on to say that said moms and dads were also damaged, and that the cycle continues: “Man hands on misery to man.” Aunt Fattie thinks of this poem when she thinks of your situation, because it doesn’t just apply to literal moms and dads, but to the whole of our cultural history, on whose broad back our current society is built. We learn, when we’re much too young to resist or analyze, how to judge and disapprove and shun and think ill. We learn bigotry and prejudice of all kinds at the knees of previous generations — not necessarily from our actual parents, or even from any particular individuals, but from the atmosphere of bigotry and prejudice that surrounds us from an early age.

Moving from poetry to science: in 1970, the research team of Colin Blakemore and G.F. Cooper found that if kittens were raised in an environment consisting only of vertical lines, they would lose the brain cells that responded to other orientations, effectively losing the ability to see horizontal stimuli. What we see in our earliest years can have a profound and genuine effect on how we perceive. And no matter how enlightened your particular household, many of the vertical lines you see in childhood are the most loathsome pillars of popular culture: whites as superior, women as inferior, fat as gross and funny and unhealthy. And of course, all the subsets thereof.

So instead of scolding yourself for being unable to completely rise above these influences, take a moment to congratulate yourself for resisting them to the degree that you do. If the key to being a tolerant and humane person were to be raised with a pure and compassionate mind from day one, we would all be failures. Luckily, the key is not to remain untouched by prejudice, but to consciously and deliberately rise above it at every opportunity. You are not failing in your fat activism when you look at your girlfriend and the voices of a thousand magazines and TV shows and judgmental relatives trill out “is she going to eat that?” Rather, you are succeeding when your response is to shake your head and say “how ridiculous you are, tiny voices in my mind.” (Aunt Fattie begs your forgiveness, by the way, for using the word “girlfriend” if the two of you are not at that point.)

You are still doing well; you are merely dealing with a new challenge, a new subject for the tiny voices of history to latch on to. Loving a fat woman — which includes caring for her well-being, in an environment that constantly tells us that fat and well-being cannot coexist — presents a challenge because it allows you to externalize the feelings that you thought you’d vanquished. Suddenly it’s not about self-love anymore; it’s the same old fat, and the same old tired society, but the context is different. It may take you a while to retool your strategies for rising above prejudice and shaking off harmful messages.

While Aunt Fattie would not recommend telling your girlfriend specifically about your doubts — you know where they’re coming from, and you know they have nothing to do with her — she does hope that you both become able to discuss body issues with one another. Having someone who truly understands the trials of being a woman dealing with body image, and who simultaneously truly appreciates and celebrates your particular body, can be a great gift. Aunt Fattie also hopes that you can separate your desire that your girlfriend return to hobbies she found enjoyable and fulfilling from the tiny voices’ desire that she become more active to lose weight. If you also enjoy outdoors activities, why not suggest that the two of you go hiking, camping, or kayaking? If you don’t enjoy outdoors activities, perhaps this is the time to try something new.

If you’ve got your own questions on fat, fatshion, fatiquette, self-esteem, or body image, send them to auntfattie@gmail.com.

54 thoughts on “Ask Aunt Fattie: How do I stop feeling negative about my girlfriend’s fat?

  1. I’m the larger lady in a same-sex pairing.

    Many times, I wonder what it would be like to date a damn lumberjack just so I wouldn’t have to be the bigger one in my relatio ship.

    Don’t have any advice that contradicts aunt fattie, but there might a be a chance that your GF wouldlike to do something active outdoors without you.

    Sometimes, us gay gals aren’t nice about giving each other “me time.” I know I’m dying for it.

  2. there might a be a chance that your GF wouldlike to do something active outdoors without you.

    Wow, that is a head-slappingly excellent point.

    It can be hard to motivate people to do things without you, which is why the advice is usually to get them to do something with you. Because if the girlfriend is really dragged-out after working inside all day, no amount of convincing will get her to go for a hike of her own accord, even if she knows intellectually that she’ll enjoy it. Making it a fun group activity works a little better. But framing it as me-time is also a really good idea.

  3. As to what other people think, most people don’t. Most people are so wrapped up in their own minds that they don’t give that much consideration to you, so if they think anything about you dating someone it’s “She found someone who makes her happy! Damn she’s lucky, why am I still single?” If people think about you at all, it’s probably to notice that your grass is greener than theirs. Plus add to that all the invisibility of being in a same-sex relationship, people don’t think of you as “together” because of heteronormativity, random folks aren’t going to notice.

  4. Many times, I wonder what it would be like to date a damn lumberjack just so I wouldn’t have to be the bigger one in my relatio ship.

    As a serial lumberjack-dater, I have to say, it’s awesome. But that’s also ’cause I think lumberjacks are irresistibly hot. And they’re so wonderfully hard to break!

  5. I like the whole “come do this with me” thing, mostly because I hate HATE hate when other people try to suggest physical activity to me. So I guess it depends on the girlfriend’s feelings about being “suggested” to. “You should really take a karate class.” Comes off as being more about my weight than “I was gonna go take this karate class, wanna come?”

  6. I agree with Aunt Fattie! The fact that Crushing-out Worrier recognizes that her thoughts are “weird,” and analyzes why she’s thinking about them means that they don’t own her the way they did when she wasn’t so body-positive. Good for you, C.W.!

  7. I’m in a hetero marriage, but I can relate to being the larger of the two… my hubby is UNDERweight to my obese. He gets to go out and do the things he loves to do, active and inactive, because I’m the one at home minding the children. If it were him writing this, and then coming to me with a babysitter lined up and asking me to go hiking with him (for example)? I’d jump at the chance. So yeah… I would definitely agree with the advice to try to get her to do something WITH you.

    But the “me-time” idea is a good one, too. It all depends on your girlfriend – which do you think she’s more likely to go for? That’ll be your answer right there.

    As for the rest of it… I can’t find fault with Aunt Fatty’s advice.

  8. My first thought was that perhaps Crushing-out Worrier isn’t Crushing as much any more. She might want to consider whether there isn’t something else bothering her about the relationship (or stress at work, or something) that’s manifesting as fat-phobic thoughts. I know that when I’m tired or hungry or generally stressed, little things that normally wouldn’t bother me at all can become huge issues. Anything else going on?

  9. This all sounds like a fun date to me. Especially when you add in the LEAPING FROM TREE TO TREE!

  10. Lumberjack story. I actually went to a show in Alaska, with real lumberjacks, where they did real lumberjack stuff. It was pretty cool. Until my mom and I stood up and we both had many inches on all these guys. (we’re 6′, the tallest of them, maaaaaaabye 5’8″) They were so pretty though…mmmmm muscles..

    To sum up, Lumberjacks, while hot, not as big as one might expect.

  11. A couple suggestions for helping your partner get back into outdoor activities:

    If you wouldn’t feel weird giving her a gift (I add this caveat because it sounds like the relationship is kind of new), could you get her one that deals with one of the outdoor activities she liked? Maybe, I don’t know, a beginner river-rafting class, or a wildflower hike given by your local university’s extension service? (I am such a 4-H nerd.) Then it can feel more like, “Look, something you’ll enjoy!” instead of “Look, I want you to exercise more!” Especially if you frame it as (as mentioned above) “You work really hard, and you deserve some ‘me time.’”

    And if you wanted to do something together, maybe go to her and say, “I know you have experience doing X; could you show me the ropes?” Perhaps it’s just the show-off in me, but if my partner asked me to teach them something, I would be out the door in a heartbeat.

    I have nothing to add to the rest of the post, because Aunt Fattie says it all, and perfectly.

  12. “While Aunt Fattie would not recommend telling your girlfriend specifically about your doubts…”

    The best approach is complete honesty, in order to have a candid discussion on body image issues.

    Sometimes one can’t help what one is attracted to.

  13. I haven’t filled my daily dose of sycophant yet.

    Dear Aunt Fattie:
    You are 28 levels of win.
    Love,
    Arwen.

    PS to the win in the thread: My sister is a sign language interpreter, and the one set of signs I’ve been able to retain from her patient repetitions with me – well, other than “crazy cow” – is how to sign the lumberjack song. When you sign it In the Persona of Lumberjack, it’s fun.

  14. This was good stuff, Aunt Fattie. I’m bookmarking it in case I get to teach that Size Acceptance class after all someday, to address the “feelings of partners” issue.

  15. Oh my. It’s 6:30 AM, but I wish it were nighttime… I want to go back to sleep and dream of lumberjacks.

  16. Sometimes one can’t help what one is attracted to.

    I guess you missed the part where she is very much attracted to this woman.

  17. “I guess you missed the part where she is very much attracted to this woman.”

    I didn’t, and didn’t miss the big “BUT” after the attraction statement: “… but for some reason, I sometimes find myself having weird non-body-positive thoughts about her”

    Attraction can be lost, and she appears to be concerned about that, and wishes to approach it in a sensitive matter.

    The letter doesn’t seem to say how long they’ve been dating, which would help to assess whether it’s a societal body image projection she’s being influenced by, or simply that her partner has let herself go.

  18. @Cindy

    I’ve been the fatter partner in, well, every relationship I’ve had with someone of the same gender. It’s one of those things that on a case by case basis doesn’t bother, but when I look back at the women I’ve dated I think “man, why is no one close to my size?”

  19. @99ppp
    I didn’t, and didn’t miss the big “BUT” after the attraction statement: “… but for some reason, I sometimes find myself having weird non-body-positive thoughts about her”
    …which would help to assess whether it’s a societal body image projection she’s being influenced by, or simply that her partner has let herself go.

    I’m always uncomfortable with the phrase “let herself go” because it implies that the primary reason women try to look good, is to snag a partner and once they get one, they stop being cute. Which..eh. I mean I get that some people do stop putting effort into their style once they are in a long term relationshp, etc. I just. It makes me twitch. Which may be my own stuff.

    Anyway. You’re right that it’s hard to say if the negative thoughts are the result of a dramatic change in her partner’s body. But, given that she generally seems to be into her partner’s form, with occasional flare ups of negative language, it seems like the problem is more likely societal than aesthetic.

  20. I’m always uncomfortable with the phrase “let herself go” because it implies that the primary reason women try to look good, is to snag a partner and once they get one, they stop being cute.

    And even if it weren’t offensive to feminist sensibilities, it’s inaccurate in this particular case, since it presumes that this woman’s body has changed significantly over the course of a brand-new relationship. We’ve got no reason whatsoever to believe that.

    It’s true that I cut some of the new-relationship rhapsodizing, but she does say clearly that it’s a new relationship.

  21. @julia: I didn’t use it to imply any added burden to women, just the situation involved (I’d love to remove gender from language). As you mentioned, some people can take their appearance for granted in long term relationships. But it doesn’t seem to be the case here (see below)

    @fillyjonk: Indeed, I missed “NEW lady-friend” later on.. mea culpa

    Regardless, I don’t believe attraction is a static property, it can change with shifts in behaviour and attention. I suspect the writer got caught up with the initial novelty and affinity of a new person (which is part of attraction) and now is noticing little turnoffs now that the initial excitement has tapered off.

  22. That’s possible, in the sense that it certainly happens in relationships, but I genuinely wonder if you’re projecting. I see nothing in the letter indicating that she is in any way less attracted to her new lady friend (to use the letter-writer’s terminology) than she was initially. What she says is that she thinks uncharitable thoughts about her eating and exercise habits and worries about other people’s opinions — all of which sound much more like the result of anti-fat socialization than anything to do with attraction.

  23. We have no choice but to project, since we don’t have the writer to directly address any ambiguities. The fact that the “but” comes immediately after an attraction statement CAN SUGGEST that its directly related to the attraction. The writer herself is unclear where her inclinations stem from, so I’d be cautious to declare it as “anti-fat socialization”.

    I don’t believe anyone needs to apologize for what they are attracted or not attracted to.

  24. I don’t believe anyone needs to apologize for what they are attracted or not attracted to.

    Right, you’ve made that clear. But there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that the writer is not attracted to her girlfriend.

    If you, on the other hand, are having trouble with a partner you’re no longer attracted to or a partner who’s no longer attracted to you, as your insistence implies, I suggest you write Aunt Fattie yourself, and then we can have this conversation on a post where it’s relevant.

  25. It isn’t all or nothing. One can be more or less attracted to another within the same day. Or attraction can be eroded little by little, almost imperceptively. Here she specifies that some of her behaviours concern her and she appears to be unclear about them herself.

  26. I believe it is relevant. Here the lines between attraction and fat-acceptance is blurred.. I enjoy exploring where things are blurry.. :)

  27. I don’t know. You don’t need to keep making your irrelevant point that nobody needs to apologize for attraction either, yet you keep doing it. I thought maybe you had a problem you needed to talk about. If not, though, do please feel free to rest on whatever laurels you think you’ve earned.

  28. I don’t think so, I find this discourse stimulating, and have conceded to my oversight on the newness of this relationship.

  29. I believe its relevant: “But then I wonder if that’s because I secretly feel uncomfortable with her weight….What does this mean? Am I not doing as well as I thought?”

  30. We in fact have had a lot of “civil discourse” until you started busting out your troll moves.

  31. Yes, there’s been some. Unfortunately you are shaping up to be a concern troll, which I should have realized when you said “let herself go.” So, I’m gonna let you go.

  32. “Alright, I thought this thread could have served as a place for civil discourse. So be it.”

    Fascinating how you break this little chestnut out whilst all of the replies to you have been perfectly civil, just confused as to why this single point, not mentioned in the question asked by Crushed-our Worrier, is so important to you.

    See, I saw this point…

    “I’m very attracted to her (physically! mentally! everything!),”

    And then noted that the only negative thoughts were either about attitude to food and stereotypes of fat people or “how do other people see us”.

  33. Thanks Bunny! That’s precisely what I saw too, and I was a little worried that I’d undercut the obvious attraction by editing out some of the new-crush mooning. (But not that worried, because 99ppp has a fairly classic concern troll methodology, right down to the “I thought you were cool” parting shot.)

  34. Wow. There are a LOT more references to lumberjacks than I ever could have imagined.

    I don’t know why, but whenever I see a tall, beefy, beared man, I hear myself in my head say the following in a come-to-bed-with-mama voice: “Hellllloooooooooo, Lumberjack!”

    And now I promise never to bring up lumberjacks again.

  35. Oh, and, of course attraction wanes and waxes (Attraction: Wax on, wax off!), I though the letter writer was concerned about fat-phobic thoughts derailing both her own progress and her relationship. That there is a loaded concern toward the end of the letter is evidence of just how much culture can dictate dimensions of relationships.

  36. 99 Pee Pee Pees on the wall
    99 Pee Pee Pees!
    One concern troll down
    Others around
    98 Pee Pee Pees on the wall.

    I have decided this is my new theme song for the Ignoring Of Concern Trolls.

  37. i do love femmy lumberjacks, yes i do. i sort of am one; gender identity/presentation-wise, not so much regarding the jacking of lumber.

    everything else is pretty much right on and therefore not needing further commentary

  38. I hate the phrase “let herself/yourself go”. Not just because of the suggestion that women only try to look nice to snag a partner. But also it seems to be just another way of claiming fat is a character flaw. You got fat because you don’t care about yourself anymore. I mean, anyone who cared about themselves wouldn’t dare let themselves be fat!
    I don’t understand how this could come from someone claiming to care at all about fat acceptance. (of course I think it’s clear 99pp never actually did).
    Or is it that fat is ok, and acceptable only if we have always been just as fat as we are now? As soon as you gain more weight then you’re “letting yourself go”? I mean, if you once weighed less, how can you say that your heavier weight is a healthy weight? Clearly if you could weight less before, you could weight less now, and so you should!
    Making distinctions between acceptable fat and unacceptable fat doesn’t seem like fat acceptance to me.

  39. As far as motivating goes it is easier to do something *with* you rather than to suggest a physical activity.

    Maybe it is just me but that always comes off sounding like, “Hey you need to exercise fat ass.” rather than anything constructive.

  40. Hi all!

    Fillyjonk, er Aunt Fattie, thank you for replying to my issue! :) I am really honored. It was a good response. Things have been moving along nicely — yes I can confirm this is a very new relationship — and I have found that being accepted by HER, and the fact that she’s so positive about my body, has helped me get more comfortable about body issues.

    This may be odd, because it sounds like saying “it’s not her fault,” but I have since learned about her thyroid issues, and in the course of that there has been some acknowledgment about being fat, about being OK with it, but in her case definitely having a ways to go in terms of comfort. In her case, she is also not “typical” in terms of gender identity (kind of a crock in the first place) so this complicates her feelings about her lovely, womanly shape ;)

    Anyway, y’all asked a couple questions so … no her weight has not changed, no I am not noticing reasons I would feel less attracted (however, due to being a person who is kind of permanently trapped in my own busy skull I have gotten worried and scared a lot, has nothing to do with her body or mine, just has to do with me being scared when someone likes me).

    Also, she is not a lumberjack, although I am extremely amused that this thread turned (at least in part) to a celebration of lumberjackitude. Hee.

    And she loves kayaking and I’m curious about it too. So I’m going to ask her to show me how! I have a definite tendency to fall in to water and/or be unable to get into a boat, but I can tough it out ;)

    Erin: “Making distinctions between acceptable fat and unacceptable fat doesn’t seem like fat acceptance to me.” Yeah, seriously. Awesome.

    Thank you Aunt Fattie!!!

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