Self-Esteem Is Not Weight-Stigma-Ending Magic

Content Notice for Body Image & Fat Shaming

Self-love is a supernatural power that hides adipose tissue, apparently.
Self-love is a supernatural power that hides adipose tissue, apparently.

Once upon a time, someone asked me why I hate going out to clubs and meat-market-style bars. I answered honestly: I am not a fan of draining my bank account to acquire the overpriced drinks necessary in order to make hanging out with people with whom I have little to nothing in common more tolerable. She laughed at me and asked me why I was “stupid” enough to pay for my own drinks when men would buy them for me. Again, I was frank: Men I don’t know don’t tend to buy me drinks at bars because I’m not the type of person they see as desirable in that setting. She proceeded to tell me that it was my fault for not knowing how to “work it” and for not having “confidence.”

How “confidence” and “working it” would have stopped the many men over the course of my dating experience from saying some variation of “I like you a lot but just not…. physically. Do you have any smaller friends?” (and those were the ones who were being kind), to give just one example, I don’t know.

This has happened more than once over the years and with multiple people, and I have discussed it before, over and over.

When I hang out with much thinner (by about 50+ lb.) friends, even if I’m done up nicely and the friends are in sweats, men stare at them and hit on them but don’t do the same with me. And yes, I know you’re going to say “Oh, that’s because they look more approachable, not because you’re bigger than they are.” The fact is that the same thing happens if we’re dressed similarly or they’re dressed more fancily than I am. The body-based pattern is very consistent.

a meme that claims that "CURVY" is seen as conventional by men, larger by women, and very large by women on OkCupid
Just one of the many such shaming memes.

When I put the word “fat” in my OkCupid profile, the number of messages I got dropped down to a trickle (though the drop was far more significant when I added the bit about my body hair). And yes, I’m aware that this might reflect a perception of my self-perception (since the very term “fat” is so stigmatized), but if I called myself by any of the many euphemisms for fat, like “curvy,” I’d be demonized for that, too.

When I used to post Craigslist personal ads, they invariably got flagged and removed within less than an hour of my having posted them. In the forums as well as in responses to my ad in Rants & Raves, the reason that people gave for my having been flagged and removed was “You’re fat.” And yes, I am aware that Craiglist is a wretched hive of scum and villainy that no one should be using anyway, but I think fat people have as much a right to use it as a thinner folks, if we so wish.

My past is filled with men and women who turned me down and/or refused to consider me for non-platonic activities and relationships solely based on the fact that I am and have always been fat. And yes, it was because I am fat, and I know this because they literally said so. Some of them told me that was why to my face, and some said it was so behind my back. Many of them said something along the lines of “Heina is my type in terms of everything but the physical.”

Heina with their partner, Danny
Controversial Fact: My partner Danny loves me for me but also lusts after my corporeal form.

People are much nicer to me and treat me much better when I’m on the lower end of my weight range than when I’m on the upper end. And yes, this is regardless of how well or poorly I dress, act, or feel.

People assume all the time that my partners are with me and attracted to me for my personality, not my body. They can’t even fathom the idea that someone else might be attracted to a fat body. This is on top of how, for my entire childhood and adolescence, I believed what I was told by people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds: That I would have to work hard to get someone to be with me by helping them to see past my body. And yes, there are people who are physically attracted to me, but the socialized disgust for fat bodies is so endemic in modern American society that their existence is vehemently denied.

Me loving myself in the past, as I now do, would have had little to no effect on my experiences as a lifelong fat person. The experiences persist despite my now-healthier relationship with myself. Self-esteem isn’t magic. I can love myself long and hard all day, and doing so certainly helps me to better deal with the hate I get for existing in the body that I do, but it doesn’t eradicate the hate in the first place.

A version of part of this post can be found in my Ask.Fm answers (and yes, I know the question-asker was deliberately trolling).

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Self-Esteem Is Not Weight-Stigma-Ending Magic
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9 thoughts on “Self-Esteem Is Not Weight-Stigma-Ending Magic

  1. 1

    When I hang out with much thinner (by about 50+ lb.) friends, even if I’m done up nicely and the friends are in sweats, men stare at them and hit on them but don’t do the same with me. And yes, I know you’re going to say “Oh, that’s because they look more approachable, not because you’re bigger than they are.”

    I would never say people find your friends “more approachable”. That would mean that you’re so gorgeous, men are intimidated by you, but not your friends. I would say they find your friends more attractive than you. And that’s their right. Nobody gets to demand somebody else find them sexually desirable on penalty of being not considered a good person. I also don’t go to singles clubs because nobody there wants to fuck me. It sucks, but it’s my problem, not theirs. But, you’ve found somebody who loves you and finds you physically desirable for who you are, so you’re way ahead of the game compared to those of us who haven’t been able to do that.

    Also, about your friend, usually when I hear about women who think that getting men to buy them drinks is a good way to have a cheap night on the town, it’s a MRA describing a straw-feminist.

  2. 2

    Even when self-esteem does have a desirable effect, self-esteem is still primarily a result of what people say to you and about you. The only way to improve or maintain your self-esteem is to replace self-esteem reducing people and situations with self-esteem improving people and situations.

  3. 3

    Wait a minute. We’re supposed to “work it” to get free drinks in bars from people whose values we despise, and whose admiration of us is conditional at best?

    And this is fun… why?

    1. 3.2

      For added frustrated rage, throw in the fact that many men get unbelievably pissy if you decline an offer of a drink. Dude, I am saving you six bucks and an awkward conversation, why are you mad!

  4. 4

    I wonder that self-esteem gets hard-set early on, in such a way that it can never improve but can sometimes get worse. Seems like that when I look at the people I know well. Examples:

    My parents left three children with no emotional support from them, but that was fine because we were close enough in age to form a peer group. Years later, we have pretty fine self-esteem. The sibling who has it the worst is the youngest by two years, because he was the last consideration in that group for a few crucial years.

    And the worst off of my siblings in the self-esteem department is a million miles in front of this other guy I know, who had crappy parents combining neglect, emotional abuse, and eating disorder-forming nightmare behavior. That guy, to this day, can never earnestly believe praise or affection, never see his own worth in any way. He’s fortunate for having talents that he receives praise for, but to him that’s “something he does” and “not him.” He can’t connect the art to the artist.

    Anyway, I get knocked down by SJ education showing me the wretched things I’ve done, but my self-esteem is unassailable and regenerating – I’m still totally confident in myself, my talents, my intelligence. Meanwhile, abused guy can momentarily forget to hate himself on an exceptionally awesome day, but he’s never getting better. Thanks, momz.

    So we’re all fairly set in stone, and the only way to go from here is down. There’s a million ways for complex systems to break and no sure ways to fix them. Though it’s often try or die. Llewelly has a good suggestion at 2 there, but in a society that is pretty terrible to some people, reducing negative situations could make one agoraphobic.

  5. 5

    Reminds me of a time back in September when I was feeling good and cocky after losing 10 lbs. in two weeks after having taped right at the max allowable BMI for the military a couple weeks before. Same day the Command Sergeant Major walks into the office, grabs my belly and jiggles it and tells me “Gonna have to work on that.” Pretty much lost the motivation to go to the gym for a week after that. So, yeah, doesn’t seem like feeling good about yourself helps in the slightest.

  6. 6

    Reading this confirms for me how similar the experiences of short men and fat women are. For us, it’s “confidence” rather than “self-esteem” that gets touted as the magic cure, but it’s the same experience — rejection after constant rejection, “invisibility” in social situations and bars or clubs, ridicule in the media, being liked “in terms of everything but the physical,” getting the conflicting messages of “it’s not even a big deal” and “yeah you’ll have to work hard to make people see past your height,” being told by friends, in quick succession, that we’re not short/fat at all, and then that, really, our problems stem from our attitude about being short/fat rather than actually being short/fat. It’s as if people are made so uncomfortable by us just pointing out that life sucks as short men or fat women that they have to rush first to deny that we are either of those terrible things and then, seeing we’re not buying that, scramble to find something, anything, to pin it on other than an unchangeable (or hard to change) superficial physical attribute. It doesn’t help that whiteness as a standard of beauty is enforced just as strictly, if not more, for men as for women. So, as a short man of color, I feel you.

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