Dear Virgie, have you written anything about how to handle a boyfriend/partner/husband’s disappointment (and frankly, asshole-ness) when you let go of dieting culture and your body changes? This is a theme in our office this week. I want to tell them to have fun with their porn stars, lotion, and kleenex. UGH.
This is deep material for the office, girl. I love it!
I am a strong believer in harm reduction thinking, which means I like to meet people where they’re at and suggest small changes rather than suggest they radically alter their lives in order to get a better outcome. So even though my inner scandalized-lady-friend-who-wants-to-give-unsolicited-advice-over-coffee is screaming “DUMP THAT MAN HE’LL NEVER CHANGE!” the therapy-immersed part of me wants to remind you that only you can decide whether a relationship is working for you.
So, I’m going to give a brief relationship 101 course on what you have the right to expect from your partner:
1. You have the right to expect that your partner can change with you
This tip is inspired by something one of my friends taught me. We are both women of color who are in relationships with white dudes. I was venting to her about how frustrated I get when my boo doesn’t GET how racism affects me. She asked me:
“Do you love him?”
“Do you trust him?”
“Then believe that he will get it because it matters to you.”
In short, if you are committed to staying in this relationship then you see something special in this person and maybe they deserve your faith in their ability to shift as you do.
- You have the right to expect hurtful behavior to stop immediately Even though it might take some time for your partner to understand why you decided to stop dieting, you still have every right to expect that he will alter his insensitive behavior immediately. Due to male privilege, it is entirely possible that your partner has no clue that his disappointment is affecting you the way it is. I know that sounds ridiculous to you (and me), but we humans use our own response as a gauge of what other people’s response might be. So, he might think “I’m going to say something that I wouldn’t mind hearing said to me,” and in response to his “harmless” words you might feel crushed.
When our romantic partner expresses disappointment with our body, it erodes at our self-confidence and sense of stability. Ask yourself “when he expresses disappointment with my body what do I feel?” Express those feelings to him. Presume that he is open to listening with empathy.
If he’s not invested in changing hurtful behavior immediately, then it’s worth considering if you want to stay in a relationship with someone who can’t honor you.
- You have the right to expect that your partner is supportive of decisions that improve your life
A good partner is someone who sees an increased commitment to self-care as a positive, exciting thing. We need to be surrounded by people who support us, not people who want us to stay stagnant because that’s less threatening.
- You have the right to assert that your body is YOURS
About 3 years ago I was out on a date with an amazing dude named George. We were eating truffle fries (I think?) in an ambiently lit restaurant in Oakland. It was really dark in there, girl. I told him I was reluctant to tell him about a recent sexual experience, to which he replied “Your body is yours. Not me or anyone else gets to tell you what to do with it.”
I NEVER thought I’d hear something like that come out of a man’s mouth. And just because I waited 25 years to hear it and only one man has ever said that to me, doesn’t make it any less true.
Your partner doesn’t get to decide what your body looks like. By extension they don’t get to express disappointment when it changes. Period.
- You have the right to call bullshit on sexism and fatphobia
So, men feeling the right to dictate the way a woman’s body looks is nothing new. You’ve seen Mad Men! But there’s a name for that nonsense: sexism, boo. Don’t let sexism ruin your plans to take over the world with your new found commitment to yourself.In short, once a conversation begins to go down the shitty brick road, Shut. It. Down. I might say something like:
“Your sexism is showing, baby. I need you to tone it way down before I am forced to ruin your night.” I mean that’s what I would say anyway.
- You have the right to refuse to educate a man
When you take the time to teach a man how not to be a fatphobic sexist I need you to understand that you are giving him a GIFT:The gift of understanding the power of his words and actions.
The gift of helping him be a better person.
The gift of giving him the tools to make you happy rather than just leaving his ass.
The gift of your time and the gift of your faith in him.
A gift is something you don’t owe anybody. A gift is a manifestation of generosity. And if you’re not feeling like Santa’ing up then that’s totally fine. If you decide that you want to give him that gift then please remember that you are being an amazing babe who deserves gratitude and a goddamn blackberry mojito.
7. You have the right to change your deal breakers
Relationships chaaaange. And with those changes come new non-negotiables. Express that your decision to stop stressing about your weight isn’t going anywhere. Then express what you need from your partner to feel supported. If your partner cannot give you what you want you then it’s time to consider what you are getting from the relationship and whether you want to stay in it.
Remember: you are the only one who gets to make that decision.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is 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.