Maybe it was the appearance of every animated princess I saw get a happily ever after — and how I knew I didn’t look like them. Or it could’ve been the fact that every adult woman in my life talked about dieting constantly. Maybe it was my mom telling me how “lucky” she was to get mono and lose 14 pounds before her wedding, or an aunt bragging about how her husband could fit his hands around her waist. But I know that, from an early age, I connected thinness with romantic love and attractiveness. I was a chubby kid who understood what it was like to be loved by my parents, sibling, and friends, but I couldn’t fathom someone loving me romantically in a fat body.
In a strange way, this belief insulated me from body-shame as a child. I wasn’t interested in romance yet, and I believed it was okay for kids to be fat, while it was shameful for adult women. I was six years old when I first heard people making negative comments about my body. A babysitter cruelly said I had a soccer ball for a stomach. A kid commented on how I looked in my leotard during ballet class. My dad suggested that I cut out condiments so I’d look better for my first communion (which, looking back, seems both inappropriate and like bizarre nutrition advice).
But when I heard these comments, I didn’t think I should lose weight and I didn’t consciously feel bad about my body. Instead, I thought why do I need to lose weight right now? I’m just a kid. I told myself that I would go on a diet when I was older and wanted a boyfriend. And thus, the association between love and my weight was born.
But once I had actually grown older and became interested in romance, sex, love, and everything that goes along with that, I could no longer ignore what I had been taught to believe about my body: To be desirable to men, I needed to lose weight. I started going on diets so I could conform to my idea of an attractive woman.
Dieting made me lose weight sometimes, and subsequently gain weight other times. But no matter what I weighed at any given time, my body became a convenient excuse for why I wasn’t dating anyone – or at least why I wasn’t dating anyone for very long.
I spent most of my twenties bouncing between two viewpoints about my singleness:
(1) Being single and having independence allows you to learn about yourself. You have the freedom to quit your job and move across the country when you find life isn’t working (I did that). You’re able to invest fully in your passions without the time commitment of a relationship with another person (I did that too). You have more space to grow deep, supportive friendships. (2) Being single can majorly suck when you long for romantic connection and keep pushing yourself to “get out there” — despite not really being in the headspace for a relationship. I was more concerned with whether men liked me than if I liked them. As a result, I got burned out on horrible first dates and rude comments sent to me on dating apps.
When I was particularly frustrated with being single, I clung to my childhood logic that convinced me my body and my weight were the reasons I wasn’t falling in love. In my conscious mind, I knew this was ridiculous — I knew people of all weights and sizes in committed relationships; I knew fat people who were attractive and sexual, and who both felt and received love. But emotionally, I didn’t think I was one of those people. I felt unlovable when my body was fat, but I didn’t realize I also felt unlovable after being pressured to diet when I wasn’t overweight by any doctor’s or society’s standards.
Things subtly began to shift one year when, instead of making a New Year’s resolution about changing my body, I decided to try and accept it at any size. Maybe even love it.
I think I’d become even more tired of hating my body than I was being single. So instead of saying I needed to lose a certain amount of weight, I bought myself a plus-sized black bikini. I read books like Shrill by Lindy West and Hunger by Roxane Gay, two memoirs by women asserting their complete humanity and worthiness as fat women. In therapy, I started exploring other reasons I didn’t have the romantic life I wanted.
None of this worked like a magic wand. As I said, the shift was subtle. But then I fell in love with someone when I was at my heaviest.
After years of being ghosted on apps, feeling disappointed when good dates didn’t turn into relationships, and dealing with the other shenanigans that go along with singleness, I had a really good date on a random autumn Saturday at 4 p.m. This led to more good dates with this person, then texts with too many happy emojis, and eventually a conversation about being exclusive. This new relationship felt like a complete rejection of everything I’d believed for my whole life about the kinds of bodies that deserve romance. My new boyfriend rarely made comments — positive or negative — about my appearance, but it was still clear how attracted we were to each other. And while I was falling in love, I didn’t really think about my size. I was much more aware of how my body felt, physically and emotionally.
Still this relationship hasn’t been a magic wand, either. My growing confidence and self-love had as much (or more) to do with my own work on myself as it did the guy I was falling in love with. But now, after a year together, I feel more attractive and worthy of love at 240 pounds than I did at 140 pounds. And that is something I’m still processing.
Sometimes I still want to lose weight for reasons I’m not proud of, like continuing to internalize thinness as the ideal. Sometimes I want to lose weight for reasons I’m more comfortable with, like my future health or the way my knees have started hurting after a night dancing with my friends. And sometimes, I feel just fine at my current size.
I expect to have a complicated relationship with my body for the rest of my life. But I no longer think I need to be thin in order to be in a relationship. When it came to the question of why I was single, my brain latched onto the easiest answer: my weight. But if I ever find myself single again, I hope that this year in a caring relationship will have taught me important lessons about my body’s worth at any size.