Body Image, Dating and Relationships

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A few times a month, I teach a nutrition class and individually work with a group of teenagers enrolled in an intensive outpatient program. At first, I was a little intimidated. I was such a brat when I was a teenager, so I was ready for some karmic retribution. But y'all, as challenging as it can be some days, it is incredibly fulfilling. I feel like I learn just as much from them as they learn from me. 

This past week I led a class on challenging social media messages about food and body image. As part of it, I showed this poodle science video, which explains Health at Every Size in such an easily digestible format. It you haven't watched it, take a few minutes to. 

The group really connected with it, and the conversation that emerged from it delved deeper than I would have imagined for a group of mostly male teens. They talked about how diversity makes us stronger, how wrong it is to photoshop images of models and give unrealistic expectations of beauty, not judging someones abilities based on a disability, shared examples busting stereotypes of people in bigger bodies....y'all my heart was so full. Young people are just the best. We should listen to them and follow in their footsteps more often. 

One of the topics that came up in the conversation was relationships, specifically, the pressure to look a certain way to attract a partner.  

Everything they described, I remember feeling the exact same way when I was in high school. If only I was prettier, than whoever my crush of the week was would like me back. I still hear similar sentiments from some single clients and friends, that they have to lose weight or look a certain way to attract a partner. They hold off on entering the dating field until they're able to achieve a certain size. 

There's a kernel of truth. If you're conventionally attractive, you'll likely receive more attention. And are there people out there who won't date someone who is a certain size. Yup. It's wrong, but it's true. 

Trying to change your body or looks to attract someone gets you trapped in a catch 22 kind of situation. You want a trusting relationship, and to feel loved and accepted, but can you actually feel loved and accepted if your relationship is contingent on your appearance? Is a relationship worth the energy it takes to keep up your appearance? How meaningful is that relationship if it's based on looks? Do you really want to date someone who would only want to be with you at a certain size? I so, what will happen when your body naturally changes with time. 

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I'm 33 now, and I have a lot of friends who are happily married, in solid, trusting relationships who care for each other deeply and treat each other with respect - the kind of marriages anyone would aspire to. TBH, I also know a lot of people in not so great marriages and relationships (not naming names, guys!). I also have single friends, some who are looking for a partner, and others who are content as is.

When I look at those relationships, there is zero correlation between size and happy relationship status. I have friends who are in large or very large bodies who are so incredibly happy and in love with their partner. Literally, rom-com level love for each other. Oh, and they have great sex too.

I have friends whose body has changed significantly over the course of their relationship, and it's only grown stronger with time. That's because their relationship wasn't based on their starting weight.

I also have thin, conventionally attractive friends who are unhappily single, or in relationships that I know aren't fulfilling for them. Their appearance doesn't change the fact that one, or both of them, have unresolved personal issues that are poisoning their relationship, or that someone isn't faithful. 

Honestly, the only thing having to do with appearance that I see in common with my friends who are in happy relationships is that they have respect for who they are outside of their looks. 

A partner is not a status symbol. The point of dating is not to dress yourself up to "win" the most conventionally attractive person. It's finding someone you trust, who treats you with kindness, and helps you be a better person, and maybe has other qualities you appreciate, like a witty sense of humor or shared values. None of those things are contingent on thinness. 

You deserve to be with someone who accepts you for you (that is, if you actually want to be in a relationship). Not you but X pounds lighter (or with X pounds more muscles). Not you with a slimming outfit on. Not you with a full face of makeup and hair blown out. Just you. And to be in a relationship where someone accepts you for who you are, you have to show up being authentically yourself.