My mother always taught me that the sure-fire way to catch a man was to lose weight while you were single. So now every time I’m single I go on a diet and exercise every day for two hours to lose the weight I gained in my last relationship. I am normally around a size 18 or 20 by the end. Once I’m down to a size 12 or 14, the dates start becoming more successful again and then I end up in another relationship. I stop dieting and stop exercising, gain the weight back, they inevitably become disinterested or I do, and then the cycle starts all over again. I started dating someone new about three months ago and I have started to gain weight again. Even though I like this guy, I have a feeling he never would have started dating me if I had been bigger. Sometimes I catch him staring at my stomach and I feel like he’s judging me or noticing that I am not as small as when our relationship started. I feel like I need to break out of this cycle, but I don’t know any other way to date. What do you think I should do?
I know this story all too well! Not only did I engage in this very same behavior for a really long time, one of my closest friends from my “dieting years” was deep in this pattern. I remember when she was single she would work out so hard, count calories so religiously, but as soon as some dude asked to date her the behaviors would stop immediately. Then she would get depressed, the relationship would end and the whole thing would start all over again.
I know it was hard on her, and she always attracted the same kind of men: men who expected her to keep up appearances so they could show her off and make their friends jealous. Obviously, this is not the greatest foundation for a relationship because, yeah, relationships based primarily on misogyny are gonna suck if you’re not the primary dude beneficiary.
Related: Ask Ashleigh: Dating Someone Thinner
It sounds like you are in a holding pattern. A lot of time when we establish habits when we are super young (or we watch our parents do certain behaviors consistently) they become our idea of normal. It sounds like your mom taught you a system and you have had some success with it. So you’ve kept it alive.
The problem is that, as with dieting, we think the partial success is only temporary. That SOMEDAY this ideology/behavior will work, but yeahhno. It actually won’t.
It is hard to admit that, and it’s all the more frustrating because you get close over and over again, but that truly successful end goal remains ever elusive, right? That’s no accident! When we behave inauthentically, we banish ourselves to inauthentic outcomes. Also, we can’t work our butts off playing by patriarchy’s rules and cash in for anything but patriarchy prizes. That’s the real bummer. It’s not like “Oh I’m going to do all this stuff that’s expected of me and at the end of all that soul-crushing conformity it will all metamorphose into something beautiful and true.” No, girl. That’s like earning a ton of Belizean money and then going into a car dealership in Germany and being like, here are my trillion Belize dollars; give me a car.
Doesn’t. Work. Boo.
“Our idea of normal” and “doing what actually fulfills us” can be two very different things.
It sounds like in your case, even though you find the weight and romance cycling really dissatisfying, you default to it because it is familiar and therefore “easy.” Trust me, I know weight cycling is no one’s idea of easy, but what I mean is that if that pattern is already cemented in your head, even though it might be physically or emotionally difficult, it may always feel easier to fall into it rather than create a new pattern for yourself.
Here’s the hardest part: this holding pattern will always create success in the short term, but will most likely not create long-term happiness for you. Why? Because when we alter ourselves to meet social standards, we get what we pay for.
Social standards are super busted, girl. As I’m sure you know. So when we engage in behaviors that uphold pre-existing social standards that are bogus, we end up recreating the cycle of bogusness. Bogusness begets bogusness, y’know?
I recommend giving your current relationship a deadline. If he keeps judging your bod and you start to feel like things are falling apart after two months or four months or, hey, even six months (whatever you decide) then maybe it’s time to break it off and reset.
Rather than jumping right back onto the weight-loss bandwagon, take some time to figure out what YOU want. Because right now you’re acting out of external desire — the desire that men have for women to fit archaic and sexist beauty standards. Don’t start dieting again. It is possible that deciding not to diet will make your single days last longer (or not!), but rather than acting out of anxiety and fear, recognize that sometimes it’s better to be independent than it is to be in a relationship that is dissatisfying.
I hope this helps!
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.