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You Need Help: You Fat-Shamed Your Beautiful Girlfriend

Editor’s note: Wow, we didn’t expect this piece to go viral, but it sure did. We’ve closed the comments for now to keep Autostraddle’s readers, writers, and editors as safe as we can. 


Q:

My girlfriend and I have been together for a few years. Recently, she has gained a lot of weight and it has been causing her significant distress. She doesn’t like how she looks, her clothes don’t fit anymore, and she hates getting dressed in the morning when she used to love fashion.

Throughout all of this, I have tried to be as supportive and loving as humanly possible. I tell her how beautiful she is, how much I love her, and I’ve encouraged her to buy new clothes that she feels good in. She admits to being a chronic overeater and not exercising enough, and so I’ve tried to support her adjusting her lifestyle to be healthier by eating healthier at home together and getting a gym membership. However, old habits die hard and those changes haven’t really stuck.

This has been going on for nine months, and she has continued to gain weight. And even though I am a self-proclaimed body positive person, I follow fat activists on social media, and I have worked hard to fight the fatphobia I’ve learned throughout my life, the truth is I sometimes miss the way she looked when we first met. And I feel completely ashamed of that fact. I feel like a horrible person, and a horrible activist.

I obviously have not told her this because I feel so ashamed and don’t want her to feel bad about herself. But we’ve been less intimate lately, and she’s so insecure about her weight gain and is constantly asking me for reassurance about it, which I’ve given. Recently, she asked me straight up if I am less attracted to her now than I was when we first met. I couldn’t lie to her face, and so I said yes.

Obviously, she was devastated. And now I feel even worse and even more ashamed. I feel like a hypocrite and a horrible person.

I guess my question is, how can I revive some of that physical attraction? How can I be less of a fatphobic asshole? And was it wrong for me to be honest about my feelings?

A:

I think it’s really admirable that you wrote into this particular publication to ask for help navigating your situation. And I’m going to take you at your word that you want some real advice here, not a fluffy feel-good pep talk. In fact, what I’m going to write isn’t going to make you feel very good at all. The reason I know that is because your letter is mostly about how you feel. How your girlfriend’s weight makes you feel about yourself as an activist, how your girlfriend’s weight makes you feel about your struggles as an aspiring fat-positive ally, how you said this really terrible thing to your girlfriend and now you feel “ashamed,” “horrible,” and like an “asshole.” The only thing I really know about your girlfriend is that she’s gained “a lot of weight” (whatever that means to you) and has gone from distressed to devastated because of your response to it.

While I’m hearing that you’ve encouraged your girlfriend to eat healthier and go to the gym, I’m not hearing anything about the zillion other factors that go into determining a person’s weight. Like genetics, age, hormones, family history, metabolism, mental health, stress, social pressure, medications, her relationship to her past traumas or abuses or neglects, her history with food and exercise, the messages she internalized about those things growing up, whether or not she’s a perfectionist, what demands are on her life and time and body outside of “diet and exercise,” what her financial situation is, whether or not she has any food aversions or sensitivities, how the pandemic has affected her. I could go on and on. I could ask a billion more questions about your girlfriend. Because a person’s weight is almost never about their willpower to eat vegetables and sweat it out on a stationary bike; it’s a tangled, mangled knot of physical, mental, financial, emotional, and social factors that is almost impossible to unravel. Really trying to learn about how those things intersect, and figuring out how any of them might have affected your girlfriend, would be a much better use of your time than following fat activists on social media.

I’m going to be completely honest: If your girlfriend wrote into this column with this story, I would tell her she should break up with you. Not because you were “honest about your feelings,” but because gaining and losing weight, over and over and over, is part of nearly everyone’s life. It is so inconsequential in the vast tapestry of existence, and if getting fatter over the course of nine short months throws you into this kind of tailspin where you find yourself not only unattracted to her, but you feel honor-bound to tell her so, how are you going to handle it when the really hard stuff happens? When one of you gets sick or disabled? When one of you becomes consumed by seemingly endless grief after the death of a loved one? When one of you loses your job? When money trouble strikes? When you lose your home? When one of you unearths a trauma you hid away even from yourself? When you become responsible for a dying family member? When one of you is unable to free yourself from the dense fog of depression or anxiety? When one of you is in an accident? When your bodies simply get old, the way all bodies do?

Why would your girlfriend trust you with her future happiness, with the burdens and joys of buying a home or having children, with the gift of loving her so long you get to see her face age into her grandmother, if simply gaining weight is going to cause you to say something you know will devastate her? Something you know is going to affect her perception of herself for the rest of her life? Every time you initiate sex, every time you walk into the bathroom while she’s taking a shower, every time she changes clothes in front of you, every time you now try to tell her something nice about herself, or her makeup, or her outfit, she’s going to have to wrestle with the fact you told her she wasn’t attractive anymore.

It seems like the way you perceive yourself is at the center of your decision-making process right now, so may I ask: Why aren’t you as attracted to your girlfriend as you were when you met? Is it really because her body is shaped differently? Or is it because you’re worried about what a fatphobic society will project onto you for being with her? Have you compounded your girlfriend’s insecurities by projecting your own onto her?

And here’s something you need to be extra honest about, because it’s going to reveal something deeply important to you about yourself: You knew it would devastate her, you knew it was cruel, you knew what those fat activists would say about it. You’ve done enough work to know exactly what you were doing. Yet you went ahead and told your girlfriend she isn’t attractive to you anymore. Why? Really, why? Did you do the mental calculations in that moment and decide that the shame and hurt you knew you were inflicting on her were worth it, if it got your girlfriend back to the size you want her to be?

You’ve asked for some practical advice, and so here it is: Start with yourself. Work on yourself. I’m not talking about liking photos of fat yogis and body positive quotes on Twitter. I’m talking about trying to really understand what goes into determining a person’s weight, and really seeking knowledge about what it’s like to move through the world as a person who isn’t thin, and most of all unpacking why you’ve responded to your girlfriend the way you have. If your intimacy is going to be repaired, it’s going to have to start with you doing some really hard work on yourself, and learning to center your girlfriend’s feelings about her own body. It’s going to start with you worrying less about how people perceive your activism and more about what’s going on in your girlfriend’s mind and heart.

I have it on good authority that these are some great books to kick off your journey to being a better you, both learning texts and memoirs: Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’Shaun Harrison, Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert, Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon, anything/everything by Samantha Irby, Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and LivesAnd, for podcasts, a good beginner one is Maintenance Phase and a more radical one is Unsolicited: Fatties Talk Back.

I’ll close with a story about my own personal diet and exercise journey. I’ve actually gained a good bit of weight since the pandemic started, in large part because of Long Covid, and the medications I need to take to manage it, and the way I was mostly housebound for over two years. I’ve struggled with how it makes me feel about myself, but through the process of that struggle, my wife and I have grown even closer and our intimacy has deepened beyond my wildest imagination. Not because I gained weight, but because my weight gain did nothing to diminish my wife’s affection for me or attraction to me. When I asked, and asked, and asked, she reaffirmed over and over and over that she loved me, that I was a prince among women no matter what size clothes I wear, that she wanted to love on me and smooch on me regardless of what the scale says, that she understood my insecurities and they were valid, but that my body is simply the bone-shell that keeps me alive inside it and all she cares about is that I’m still me in here. The process of making myself so vulnerable about my insecurities, and being met with nothing but affirmation, it healed something inside me I didn’t even know was hurting.

This morning I came in from riding my bike, covered in sweat and road grit and rain. My wife grabbed me and kissed me silly. I said, “You like me in this bike jersey.” She said, “Nothing makes me happier than your happiness, and nothing makes you as happy as being on your bike.” I almost didn’t get back on my bike after I started healing from Long Covid, because I felt like a sausage stuffed into my spandex bike clothes, but my wife encouraged me to just buy better fitting bike clothes. So I did, and my reward has been regaining my favorite hobby and getting smooched all over about it.

Everyone deserves that. Me, your girlfriend, and all the zillion other people in the world whose weight is just one of the myriad things that will always be in flux in our one wild and precious lives.


You can submit your own questions any time.


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1530 articles for us.

175 Comments

  1. That was a wonderful answer. My wife and I have both gained weight. I’m more self-conscious than she is about it and I, myself feel less attractive (although I’ve never felt attractive ever in my life and have no idea why she’s with me because she’s beautiful – but I digress). It’s a constant fight against my genes. Everyone in my family has weight issues. Looking at pics of my family through the years, it’s an issue that goes back most likely to our inception point. It just is and it’s always been a battle. Being overweight in High School was a nightmare. I’m someone that has zero fond memories of that time in my life but have moved on and literally forgotten all their names.

    For about 15 years after college, I was between 130-150, which made me look very skeletal and I did it by practically starving myself. Eating only 1000 calories a day. My wife hated it and was always worried about me. I told her I’d get my blood tested to prove I was fine. I wasn’t. All my numbers were so low they wanted to put me on meds to bring them up to normal. I changed how I ate and now my bloodwork is perfect but I hate everything about me. My wife, though is supportive and I’m supportive of her because yes, while she’s beautiful, she makes me laugh, we have wonderful conversations and we have so much fun together and I’m proud of her. We’ve been together 24 years this June (we met when we were 18).

    We made a pact – eat out less, cook more, and exercise, so we can maximize our remaining years together. I got her some Pilates videos and stuff because she wants to do that and I got myself a treadmill because I’m not down with Pilates. We have a plan, we’re supporting one another, and we are at least going to try. It’s hard with work, especially when we both do 10-12 hours a day, so we will fit in what we can. But never have we ever shamed each other or made each other feel bad about ourselves. I could never imagine not loving her just for her. My mom always said, “Love is more than the outside, it’s the small moments, compassion, friendship, laughter, that make life with someone worth everything.” She was right. She always was right.

    • I really appreciated your comment, Liz. Congratulations on 24 years; thankyou for sharing your mom’s wisdom with us. I’m going to put that above my desk.

      • Thank you. 😁

        My mom was one of a kind – shame she didn’t see how amazing she was or seek help before she took her life (not to be a Debbie Downer here but I think it makes what she said all the more powerful).

        I know she would smile knowing someone else found her words encouraging.

    • “so we can maximize our remaining years together” is the perfect sentiment for how I feel and how I’m trying to perceive eating, exercise, and general physical wellness. My wife and I each have our own physical and mental health issues, and this sentiment so wonderfully encapsulates how I (and hopefully my wife) will frame my/our goals. Thank you for sharing it.

      • You’re welcome. 😁

        Both of us have mental struggles too and it’s by the grace of whoever created us that we both haven’t been down at the same time. We’ve been able to listen and pull each other up when we each hit our lows. We know time is limited but the moment we met each other, it was as though I’ve always known her, that familiarity, and peace like, “This is my person and I finally found them again.”

        Each person believes in what they believe (or don’t believe) but I’m someone that believes in reincarnation and I know in past lives, in this life, and in future lives, we will always find each other, sometimes early, other times late, but always right on time. 😁

  2. Heather, this is so beautiful. My wife takes the same approach to me as yours does, and it’s the greatest gift. Thank you for writing this.

    • I agree with the broadstrokes takeaways, but shaming people for centering their own feelings in a blurb for an advice column is hysterical. Of course the writer focused on their own emotions. From what i can tell they were doing everything in their power to avoid speaking for their gf’s emotions to a stranger (you) and instead focused on what they should be focusing on (their own thought process) and… you shamed them for it anyway.

  3. I don’t agree and I hope the original poster sees this. If someone is a chronic overeater to the point it’s making them completely miserable – then perhaps she has depression or an underlying illness that needs to be discussed with a professional. Overeating is usually associated with depression or a vitamin deficiency such as Vitamin D. Gluten also makes you overeat like crazy and will make you pack on the pounds fast as your body struggles to break down the toxins.

    There’s nothing fat phobic about wanting to eat well and live an active lifestyle. It’s crazy to think otherwise. She’s not happy about becoming bigger and is overeating likely due to stress or something going on mentally.

    She needs to get a blood test done by her GP that checks for deficiencies and speak to someone about depression. If she physically cannot stop eating then something is seriously amiss here that needs to be addressed so she can get her health back on track and not face issues down the road like diabetes and heart problems.

    I hope this helps OP.

    • I really would like for you to take a look at why you don’t agree, and why you feel you have a right to comment on a fats person health and body. It seems like you need to reread what Heather wrote a few times, and take that advice yourself. If the OP’s girlfriend needs a doctor, they will seek it out, and that’s between them and their doctor, and never between them and random people.

      • I don’t agree either and I’m sick of this gross mob mentality on here. Let people think for themselves. You have no moral high ground. We are all human beings trying to figure out life. Cut it out. Let people breathe 🧘‍♀️

    • I agree with you that there’s nothing fatphobic about wanting to eat well and be healthy. What IS fatphobic is telling your girlfriend you’re not attracted to her anymore because she gained weight over the past nine months. The letter writer was concerned with their own feelings of guilt around the way they handled their girlfriend’s insecurities. That’s why I focused on that in my answer. Your advice for the girlfriend about getting blood tests, seeing a therapist, etc. is fine, if the girlfriend asked you for it, but she didn’t, and you don’t have a right to comment on her body. It’s wild to me that you read this whole question and this whole answer and decided the move was to double down on having an opinion about this woman’s weight!

      • “I’ve tried to support her adjusting her lifestyle changes” her changes. Clearly the girlfriend has asked for help with weight issues and this is something they discuss. Op was wrong to tell her partner she has lost physical attraction. Not everyone can handle that level of honestly in a relationship and should know it if they are in that kind a of situation. That being said being imperfect and making mistakes doesn’t make someone an unlovable monster who needs a lesson from the morality police on how to be a better human to a person they know nothing about. Sad to see bullying on this site. This article is toxic all around

        • I agree that there is some pressure being placed on the LW by their girlfriend, but it’s hard to determine from the letter exactly what she is asking for in terms of help. Maybe she did ask for ‘support adjusting her lifestyle changes’, or maybe she just talks about the issue a lot and the LW doesn’t know how to respond, so they took it upon themselves to intervene with unsolicited advice about lifestyle changes. They say the girlfriend ‘admits’ to ‘chronic overeating.’ Is that because the girlfriend announced this herself, or because she was cornered into such an ‘admission’?

    • There’s nothing wrong with caring about your partner’s health but the issue here is OP letting that change in their partner’s body/health status affect how they feel about their partner. OP is saying that they are not attracted to their partner anymore because they gained weight, which is the definition of fatphobia. Heather articulated this really well but bodies change over time. This is literally what it means to be human. None of us have a guarantee to be perfectly healthy forever, does that mean we don’t deserve love? Both you and OP should really reflect on your own feelings about being loved and consider where that conditional attraction comes from.

      Also gluten is not a toxin, please don’t bring that pseudoscience here!

    • This is a very common and telling response to this sort of discussion.

      OP is not concerned about her girlfriend’s health, mental health or blood work.

      OP finds her girlfriend less attractive. She is upset because her professed values are incongruent with her actual values. She compounded all this by telling her girlfriend she was less attractive.

      Maybe think about why you are pretending this is about health – even OP didn’t try to pull that card.

      • When people gain weight and are distressed about it, personal attractiveness plays a role but so does someone’s own mental health and physical health. OP doesn’t mention those things because all she can see is her girlfriend gained weight and she is no longer attractive. Why should she care about her gf’s mental health or physical health when all she sees is the superficial, you know the “How does she look on my arm,” feeling.

        Many people responding have their own experience with this and are responding in how they felt when they gained weight or saw the same in their partner. It’s called relating a shared experience. Seems that OP cares only about if her GF is hot and not if there is something else mentally, physically or medically happening that needs attention.

        I try not to get personal because it’s no one’s business but I was sexually assaulted my freshman year of college. I didn’t tell my girlfriend (now my wife) for fear she would leave. Why? I don’t know. It wasn’t my fault but I felt like it was because I let my guard down around a man who I though was a friend. I started overeating and drinking and doing drugs. She noticed right away because I was doing things different from before. Instead of trying to fix me with a health plan or encourage a different lifestyle, she asked me if there was something that prompted these changes. After much fighting to where I almost broke up with her because of the misplaced guilt on myself, I told her what he did to me. She cried and told me she loved me and it wasn’t my fault. Her love fixed me, not any of her judgment about what happened or what I did as a result.

        I’m not saying something like this is the cause for OPs GF but maybe instead of trying to fix what she perceives as the problem – overeating – resulting in a not so hot GF, perhaps she should ask the questions relating to health because maybe something happened and she needs OPs love, not judgement.

    • You sure have read a lot of things into this letter that weren’t in the text, and this won’t help anyone. No one, not even OP, asked for your input on the health of a total stranger. Please resist the urge to diagnose fat people with medical conditions on the internet. This is harmful.

    • I think it’s really shortsighted and frankly rude to assume that you can’t eat well, live an active lifestyle, and also be fat. The GF may very well do all the things you’re suggesting, get normal test results, treat depression, go to the gym, eat the food pyramid and – still be fat. It’s not inherently fatphobic to “eat well” and work out. It’s fat phobic to suggest that someone can’t eat well and work out and also still be fat.

    • If we accept your premise that his girlfriend is not happy “becoming bigger,” why do you think that would be? What factors, societally and interpersonally, might play into that? Is there something inherent about being fat that makes people unhappy, or is there perhaps something in the way we treat fat people that would affect this?

      There are many parts of your reply that are not based in science. I do not have the time nor energy to fact check them specifically, but I would encourage you to re-read the part of Heather’s reply that outlines some of the many, many factors that influence body weight more than “overeating.”

    • I think what you are mentioning is part of what the columnist was saying… that the OP should learn about the tangled complex relationship of weight gain and eating is for people–including their wife. Healthcare is part of that tangled mess. It’s good to be supportive of “healthy” endeavors, but the OP needs to be empathetic and understanding of how complex it is. In understanding that they can both navigate the situation with kindness and support regardless of size. Yeah, and wtf happens if it is out of her control, is that a relationship dealbreaker?

    • I disagree with the advice. I think being honest with your partner (and yourself) was the right thing to do. It’s okay to be attracted to (or not) different types of bodies. Not being fatphobic is about how you treat people, not biological attraction.

      Also, being a caretaker for a partner who is struggling can be intense and wear on a relationship. Their health and happiness are their responsibility. If they aren’t internally motivated to change habits and/or get a health assessment done to rule out medical issues, it shouldn’t have to fall on you.

      Break up and you can both find someone who you are attracted to and who finds you attractive.

      • what is biological attraction? i do agree they should break up but attraction is determined by a lot of things, including social and cultural expectations. a lot of the time these kinds of preferences are based on societal conditioning. in many other cultures, fat bodies are considered very attractive. no one should be with someone they don’t find attractive. but i also think many people would do good to examine their own personal “preferences” because they didn’t come out of nowhere. and it might help you be a more considerate partner in the future.

  4. Thank you for your response, Heather. Your writing and the love between you and your wife is so beautiful. I really needed to hear some of this. And I’m so so happy you’re able to ride your bike again!

  5. food psych is another great podcast resource for anyone on this journey. the host is a white woman with a straight-size body, so it’s a good adjunct to some of the other resources mentioned above – during the show’s run, she interviewed a ton of activists, practitioners, and researchers about the many myths surrounding weight, food, and movement, and has great suggestions about other podcasts / initiatives / books as well.

    also, aubrey gordon (of maintenance phase, highly second that rec, heather!) has a great book, what we don’t talk about when we talk about fat, and she’s got a new book coming out this month – highly recommend these too.

  6. I loved this, thank you Heather! I would like to add to the book recommendations Hunger by Roxane Gay. That book changed me.

  7. LW, yes, you fucked up; you should’ve found a different way to respond to your girlfriend’s question, which was a reassurance-seeking question and a bid for support. As you’ve learned, the unvarnished truth is not always the highest good. I hope you’ve been doing your best to repair the damage since then. I have put my foot in my mouth a few times over the years because of this “truth-telling” impulse, so I really get that feeling of it being wrong to say something that doesn’t totally align with doubts/mixed feelings/misgivings you have inside, but I believe that when this is your set point you have some relational learning to do.

    You asked for concrete advice about adjusting your own perceptions, and the best advice I can give you is to get fat people into your media intake ASAP. I don’t mean the educational stuff, which is important but which is top-down input. I mean fat people living their lives and being people. I am fat and have been for most of my life, and nothing stretches my unconscious perceptions in any given direction like what is being normalized in the shows I watch/images I see. There’s not a ton of fat representation to choose from, unfortunately. Lindy West’s Shrill, which I would recommend for so many reasons, like truly, start here, not only has a fat lead (Aidy Bryant) but was the first time I ever saw a fat extra, just sitting there in the background on a date at a restaurant (which is *wild*- how many fat people do you see in the world when you’re out and about in actual life? but this is never, ever replicated in television). Bridget Everett on Somebody, Somewhere was hot as fuck to me? in a t-shirt and jeans in Iowa? because she just has something. Drop Dead Diva was.. fairly dumb, but fine, and it would still work on your brain in this way. You could find shows with Natasha Rothwell or Retta in them. If you’re a porn watcher, get a month of Crash Pad and spend some quality time with people with different body types.

    I don’t know if this kind of breach of trust is going to be fixable from your girlfriend’s side. I would feel extremely uncomfortable about someone doing homework to find me sexier, and I am here to tell her that there are many, many people out there who don’t have to work at it and will just be into her, full stop. (Do not, for the love of god, tell her you are doing that.) But if you are serious about changing your mental map, with or without your current girlfriend, this is a good place to start. And if you can’t genuinely connect with how sexy you find her no matter how her body changes, you might need to make some decisions. Don’t make being attracted to her your personal improvement project; don’t make being with her a way you prove your politics to yourself. This is a mess. Good luck.

    • “the unvarnished truth is not always the highest good”

      ^this part. and a lesson I’m still learning too!

      I’ll add that the first part of the OP (gf’s comments about her own body) would throw me off too.

    • Totally agree with broadening media horizons.

      Last year I was ill and spent months at home watching tv. When I was feeling better I went out to a comedy gig. And I was super surprised at how fat everyone was! Obviously the people in the outside world hadn’t changed, but I’d been conditioned or blinkered or something, by all the extremely thin people in tv shows.

      Thanks for shout outs to some shows that manage to do better.

  8. Oh my Goodness! Thank you so much for the personal story at the end of your piece. So beautiful, and sweet, and affirming, for me at least. Thank you.

  9. What a beautiful response, Heather. And I do think that the letter writer wrote in into this publication because they are coming from a place of realizing that how they want to be/feel/act/affirm their girlfriend does not align as fully as they wish with how they currently are/feel/act/are able to affirm. Social conditioning is intense, and I hope that they are able to read this vulnerable and earnest answer from Heather as the compassionate accountability it is.

  10. Hello LW. I can see that you want to take responsibility by writing in and I appreciate this. And I do want to offer some empathy here while also being empathetic to your girlfriend.

    I can relate to knowing something on a cognitive level, or having grasped something politically, but not feeling it emotionally (for me, it is about other things that weight, but anyway). I imagine if you had lied and said that “No, I am just as attracted to you as when we first met” – I’m pretty sure she would have felt the opposite nevertheless. People pick up a lot of the things that are not said out loud. And then she would have had received mixed messages and a strong double bind: Feeling on a gut level that you didn’t consider her as beautiful as before, and also hearing your response (a lie) which would have been the opposite to what you claimed. This could have been very confusing for her, and it could have also broken some trust in the long run. I come from a background of mixed messages, double binds and gaslighting, and hearing one thing but perceiving another can really fuck people up as well. What you did was honest but also brutal, and I don’t know how you could have behaved if this is the way that you feel.

    Ideally, you would be attracted to your girlfriend no matter how her weight changes. But you are not. And you are not alone in this, as many people consider weight a part of who they find attractive. It shouldn’t be this way. But since we live in an incredibly fatphobic world, it’s the air that we breathe. This toxicity affects everyone: those who are fatshamed, and those who are fatshaming (or not doing it actively but still think some thoughts and feel some emotions). Not that these groups are equally harmed – this is absolutely not the message I want to convey here: I only want to say that no one can remain unaffected by this toxic fatphobia and diet culture. However, we can choose how to respond to it.

    I also want to point out that many people don’t say or write what you expressed but feel it regardless, playing safe because they know that they will be criticized if speaking their mind. And while I think that saying something can be cruel, the unspoken attitudes and emotions can also shape people’s behavior and hurt others profoundly.

    So I guess the question is, what do you and your girlfriend do with that? I imagine it to be very hurtful and just devastating for her. She deserves to be loved just the way she is, and to be seen as the beautiful person she is, on the outside as well as the inside. As for the moment, you both don’t seem compatible: You don’t feel attracted to her right now, and she deserves to be loved, seen and desired for who she is. Maybe for her self-worth, she needs to break up with you and be by herself or with someone who is into her 100%. Maybe you can try to repair some of the harm you caused by being accountable, changing your perspectives and asking her what she wants and needs from you going forward (if there is a future for you), and you both come out stronger than before. In any case, I feel for your girlfriend, and also for you. Best of luck!

  11. my weight, gender presentation, and able body-ness have all fluctuated and/or outright changed during the 10+ years I’ve been with my wife. i am insecure about many things re: my body and how it’s perceived and often worry that any/all of these factors affect her attraction to me (this is all based on a variety internalized phobias that i am actively trying to work against). but apart from, of course, not wanting me to be in physical or emotional pain/distress, my wife has never cared about any of these fluctuations or changes. she’s remains attracted to me and always maintains that she’s actually most attracted to me when i am confident. and i feel the exact same way about her.

    i think confidence is a huge part of attraction. and, of course, much more factors into confidence than physical appearance. but, put flippantly, it’s harder for people to feel you if you’re not feeling yourself. and i think the relationship between confidence and attraction could be a factor in the OP’s situation. OP’s girlfriend (OPG) is not feeling herself for a variety of reasons and has, like many of us, been burdened with toxic social phobias throughout her life. and regardless of what her particular health and appearance goals are (and whether or not her motivations are based on internalized phobias), i think it’s pretty fair to presume that OPG would like to be/feel healthy and confident. but given OP’s declaration of unattraction, it sounds like they’ve now made it even harder for OPG to feel herself. and whether or not she’s herself will likely be plagued with the idea of measuring her own self confidence against OP’s attraction to her.

    i wholeheartedly agree with the feedback that Heather and others have generously and insightfully offered to OP re: working on themself. if i were OPG’s friend, i would very much support her ending her relationship with OP. OP turned an already complex and difficult situation into something toxic and insidious and i don’t think it’s fair for OPG to have to deal with that bullshit.

  12. I think the tenor of the response was far too hard on the letter-writer and I somewhat disagree with the advice given. I don’t think shaming the writer is going to solve the issue!

    I think it makes sense to take a look at underlying relationship issues: trust, communication, openness. There is also potentially a mental health reason the your girlfriend struggles with overeating. Are you all spending quality time together doing fun, new activities? Do you all keep up with your own hobbies and friends? Are there other aspects of your relationship/communication that aren’t feeling healthy?

    Weight is a topic infused with all sorts of cultural expectations and bias. It’s good to examine your opinions there and take a hard look at why you feel the way you do.

    I’d imagine you’d feel attracted to your girlfriend if SHE’S feeling herself, if SHE feels confident, if SHE feels sexy. That’s not going to happen if you make her feel guilty for having gained weight.

    It’s important to acknowledge you messed up big time by adding to her negative feelings about her weight gain. However, owning up to your actions, apologizing sincerely, and taking real (and concrete) steps to make amends and examine your part in relationship struggles is essential and isn’t going to happen if you’re numbed by shame.

    Find a way to let go of the shame, make the situation less about you, and turn toward your girlfriend and your relationship.

    • Hi Jaime! I’m a little confused by your interpretation of Heather’s response and want to touch on part of it. I don’t see any “shaming” happening here — I see Heather pointing out some hard truths and encouraging the letter writer to engage in some much-needed introspection. That’s not shaming — that’s giving advice, and I’m assuming that’s what the letter writer hoped for when they submitted a question to an advice column. Sometimes unlearning bias requires us to examine parts of ourselves that make us feel uncomfortable. It’s hard, but it’s how we become our best selves, and sometimes other people have to help identify what we’re missing.

  13. Dear letter writer, you are neither a horrible person nor a horrible activist, nor an asshole. You are imperfect, as we all are, and we all have conscious and unconscious biases we need to unlearn. We all have faults and have hurt people. It is human. You have started to unlearn the fatphobia you’ve learnt throughout your life. It is good that you wrote and asked for advice, that you want to do better and change.

    I think it is important to not get stuck on feeling bad with yourself and ashamed of your behavior and emotions, but go into an ability to act. What does your gf need from you? What does she want/demand/ask from you to repair the wounds inflicted? Is she interested in couple’s therapy? If yes, and you can afford it, you can pay for it as a sign you show some responsibility. Is she interested in staying with you? If yes, what does she need from you for that?

  14. OG is not a bad person who deserves to be shamed and beaten with a stick here! Sometimes people are not compatible in terms of what they feel attracted to. That doesn’t mean that anyone is a bad person. Only that it doesn’t fit and someone else might be a better fit. Or being for oneself.

    And also: I really feel for the gf here and I hope that she is taking care of herself and finds people who tell her how beautiful and gorgeous she is (and mean it). It is harming when people we love do not consider us as beautiful in just the way that we are.
    Many years ago, my then-partner expressed “concerns for my health” when I ate a lot from a buffet occasionally. I am not fat and never experienced fat-phobia, so I didn’t have that pressure from society/family/friends, but it was hurtful nevertheless & a clear message to me that I should not gain weight, that I would be considered less attractive if I did.
    Another partner said that hypothetically, they might feel less attracted to me if I put on a lot of weight (I asked). I was also hurt by that. Later I realized that they had had an eating disorder since they were very young and had kept it as a secret because they were so ashamed of it. And I realized that what they said to me had something to do with how they treated themselves, the liberties they didn’t allow themselves (like me eating & enjoying & being oblivious & carefree about any calories).
    A former dear friend of mine once said to me that my cellulite didn’t look good and that she’d buy me some cream against it (spoiler, and not surprisingly: it didn’t change).
    Many women in my life put me down for something about my body (and again, no fat-phobia). This hurt deeply. I had this patch with the words “If you don’t like me the way I am, I don’t like you at all” in order to remind myself that I am good in the way that I am.
    To everyone who is told that directly or implicitly that they are less beautiful because of whatever: they are wrong, you are perfect just the way you are, and you are loved.

  15. Reading this question and the response made me feel very grateful for Autostraddle — it’s hard for me to imagine another publication where someone would feel comfortable writing in this question and where a writer could give a compassionate but uncomfortable response. Heather’s writing on relationships always reminds me of the fluffy soulmate AU fics that I always avoid reading because they seem too unrealistic, but I’m so glad that kind of relationship is someone’s reality, even if it is uncomfortable to read. Thank you also to Autostraddle for always standing up for the full humanity of fat folks.

    The other piece that I haven’t seen addressed is that sometimes attraction changes in relationships – someone goes on an SSRI, someone experiences an intimate trauma, hormonal changes, whatever. It’s ok if a shift in attraction is a dealbreaker (which it sounds like it is in this case since attraction seems wrapped up in worth and identity here), and it’s also ok if a shift in attraction (or the absence of attraction like with ace folks in relationships) is not.

    (And yes, if possible, it seems like LW’s gf could benefit from seeing a non-fatphobic doctor and a non-fatphobic therapist to help explore/identify/rule out/address any underlying issues going on since rapid weight gain can be an indication of something else, but that’s on LW’s gf if she wants to try to do that and not on LW and that’s not at the center of this question. (At the very least, I would love for LW’s gf to get a therapist for support in navigating her current relationship but that’s my bias.))

    The thing that stands out the most from this letter is the sheer tornado of shame – LW’s shame at not being able to live up to their politics, LW’s gf’s shame around weight and feeling attractive. I hope Heather’s response is a helpful start at a way through that shame – in the relationship or out of it. Sending lots of love to both LW and LW’s gf.

    • “sometimes attraction changes in relationships. It’s ok if a shift in attraction is a dealbreaker”

      I just want to highlight this! This is so true. And so hard to wrestle with.

  16. Thank you for this thoughtful and thorough answer – it’s being shared at my workplace, and as a fat queer person it makes me so happy to see this advice.

  17. I find this kind of advice unsettling. Reminds me of the cis-het marriage books telling wives to keep having sex with their husbands whether they feel it or not. I believe you can love someone and also not find them sexually attractive anymore. The letter writer should have handled the question with more kindness, but I wonder if some resentment about the issue was building up. It is frustrating to be in a relationship with a person when you feel like you’re putting more effort into their health than they are (whether or not that is factually true).

    • hi bibliocat! i wanted to note a couple of things in response to your comment.

      body weight is not an indicator of health or “effort into health.”

      “health” (whatever that means to you) is not morally superior to any other state of being.

      all bodies change. LW is not being told they must fake attraction to their partner. They *are* being told that they fucked up with their words and need to do some hard work on their biases.

      it’s work we all need to do, to varying degrees, i think!

    • I think that’s a really disingenuous reading of the advice. No where did Heather say that OP has to feel attraction or do things they don’t want to; just that if they want to move forward, they have work to do. Anti-fat bias is absolutely everywhere in our society, and if OP wants to continue the relationship (which it sounds like they do) they will need to unlearn some of that bias and figure out how to show up for their girlfriend with kindness and care and repair the damage they did.

    • At no point was it hinted that the LW or anyone should have sex they don’t want to have.

      If you feel like you’re ‘putting more effort’ into a partner’s health than they are, you are doing work that is not yours to do. The LW’s girlfriend is responsible for her health. If she is asking the LW to be responsible, that is a problem. If the LW feels compelled to ‘help’ (ie control) their girlfriend’s choices, they need to interrogate that impulse.

    • Nowhere did it say that OP is required to continue to have sex with their GF, though frankly it seems that 1. Sex is important to their relationship enough to notice that it’s happening less, 2. They are less interested in sex with their GF, because (and this last bit I am not inferring) 3. They are less attracted to their gf. I would think that the take of “you made your gf feel bad in a vulnerable place, related to sex” would be read generously and not as you have taken it here, because it’s pretty straightforward to me.

    • ah yes, because rape culture in cishet marriages is exactly like telling a lesbian couple that *maybe* losing sexual interest in your gf of “a few years” because she gained weight isn’t really a helpful trait for wanting to maintain a long term relationship / a life-long partnership.
      just say you don’t want to fuck fat people and go. it’s your right to have that preference, it’s also our right to tell you that’s fucked up :)

  18. Not to say this is the case with the LW but when I was in an abusive relationship, my partner would tell me every day how chunky my thighs were and how I had a chunky double chin. I played sports 6 days a week out of 7, and was at about 7% body fat (it was college and y’all know how brutal the college sports environment can all be). There were other things she did, but nothing made me feel worse than that. We played sports together, we’d go to the gym together, we’d eat together. She knew how much work I put in to still be worthy in her eyes, and it was never enough. I was never skinny enough.

    I developed an eating disorder which swung from extremely low intake to extremely high (because I couldn’t be “body perfect” for her). To this day, I struggle with eating. I feel gigantic whenever I wear anything showing more than a calf or forearm. I have had years of therapy and while I’ve recovered in some ways, eating and self-image are now areas that is so deeply entrenched that it might not be solvable.

    My body make-up means transitioning to bodybuilding as I have was easy but I can’t do any competitions or meets because immediately her words from all those years ago tear through me. I’ll stand on that stage and all they’ll see are chubby thighs and a double chin. (sidenote: my cishet male peers have been my biggest cheerleaders and they are allies in this struggle that I never thought I’d have. They know my past and only want me to be happy. Their encouragement is from a place of love and admiration for our bodybuilding world. I love them all)

    Now this is in relation to LW and people who are defending it:
    Your words matter. You might be the most important person in your partner’s world and your word weighs more than all the gold in the world. You can use that to cause the biggest amount of destruction. And you have.

    Your words have power to affect them in the long-term as well as the short-term. Being honest in the moment could scorch them forever. It may provide a moment of relief to you, but you could knocked them down and out without giving anything else consideration – just your happiness at being honest.

  19. I liked this answer, but I’m also wondering if LW’s waning attraction to Girlfriend is at least partly based in Girlfriend’s lack of confidence in her body after gaining the weight, compared to maybe having an easier time when there might have been fewer body image issues to navigate. Me and my partner have a lot of body image issues on both sides, and while I wouldn’t trade this relationship for anything, it’s true that interacting with someone’s body can be more difficult when you have to balance a lot of different things that could potentially mess with your or your partner’s head – there’s the fear of your partner seeing you the way you see yourself, the fear of your partner liking things about your body that you personally hate, the fear of your partner wanting you to change, the fear of your partner not believing you can change, etc. Maybe OP is just nostalgic for a time when it was easy, and that’s being conflated with Girlfriend’s actual physical body.

    But also, like… OP, you are not an activist for sometimes listening to what fat people have to say about their experiences, and it feels like you’re more worried about being bad at social justice than you are about being there for a real human being you supposedly love. Whether or not this relationship is ruined, you need to cut that shit out or you’re going to end up surrounded by people who only care about you as long as you’re good for their reputations. I’m not saying not to care about the issues, but what makes the issues even matter in the first place is how they affect the people who are actually in the line of fire, not how they affect the people who want to show up and feel like a hero about it. If you can’t remember that, then your “activism” is worthless.

    • If your partner lacks confidence about something – if you love them and want them to be happy – you POUR love over them. You encourage them. You remind them of how loved and cared for and wonderful they are. You don’t pile on about the thing they lack confidence about.

      Heather basically points this out with her anecdote about her own body and her experience with her partner at the end of the letter.

      People develop confidence with encouragement, support, cheerleading – with love. Expecting someone who has gained weight to just carry on feeling confident in the face of a fatphobic society and WORSE a fatphobic partner is pretty unrealistic.

  20. What a tough letter and wonderful answer, really appreciate the balance of gentle prodding with actionable items. As a fat person, this is one of my greatest fears in dating, that someone will merely tolerate my appearance and/or use my body to work out their fatphobia on. In a world rife with anti-fat bias, having a partner be a refuge is one of the most wonderful things in the world, and so sad when it falls apart. The resource list here is great (can’t wait to add some to my own tbr pile)! Genuinely hope that the OP can figure out how to move forward and repair things. Also, Heather, your story at the end made me tear up, may we all be so cared for and seen <3

  21. Heather, thank you so much for this piece. Truly, your response here is so kind and shows so much care to all of the parties involved. Makes me proud to know you and be part of this community!

  22. Dang this is such a great response! That’s the truth of being in a relationship with someone over time. If you can’t handle being in it 100% with someone because they’ve gained some weight recently, why should they trust you to be there for them as they age? If/when they get sick? And that goes for physical intimacy, not just emotional support.

    I think LW would probably benefit from finding a therapist or some neutral third party (a good friend who’s impartial to the relationship, maybe) to unpack her assumptions and biases with, and to really help her examine what she wants in her life and in her relationship.

  23. heather, this is a really generous answer that gives LW a lot of actionable items, and I am thankful for it.

    i am also grateful for Autostraddle, which is the first place on the internet i ever saw fatphobia explicitly banned in the Comment Policy. AS is the first place I ever read the words “we do not believe there is anything wrong with being fat,” and I took it to heart, then and now.

  24. Heather I want to print out everything you write and tape it to my wall so I can put it in my eyeballs all the time. This is such a loving, thoughtful, compassionate, beautifully-written response and I am so grateful for it.

  25. I have a genuine question to the readers of this article, I really would like to know: what do you all think LW should have replied to their girlfriend when the girlfriend *explicitly* asked whether LW was less attracted to her?

    • Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this, wondering if there’s a way to answer both truthfully and kindly.

      The best thing that I’ve come up with is something like “I’m not as interested in sex with you right now as I used to be. And I don’t know why but I do know that I love you and am committed to making it work with you.”

      But that only works if it’s true.

    • “of course I am still attracted to you. I love you, which means I love everything you bring to the table, including your body. I know your body has changed, and I know that this has caused you significant distress. Both your body changing and having difficult emotions about it is normal. I love you and I hope I can support you even while you struggle with your weight/how you look right now.”

      • This is a lovely, lovely answer. And if the LW could say it honestly, it’s what I wish they had answered.

        But if it’s not actually true for the LW, then it’s too much like gaslighting for my taste.

        • Yes I agree completely! To me personally, the fact that LW did just say yes to the question indicates that there’s zero attraction left and to me that would make a breakup inevitable. That does not mean physical attraction doesn’t shift in successful relationships but I believe usually there’s more to attraction than physical attributes.

    • The context of the question matters. Is the LW mad because they’ve answered the question a bunch of times already? Is the LW less attracted because of their girlfriend’s body, or because their girlfriend’s insecurity itself makes her less attractive?

      I have an ex, who I was wildly attracted to, who began repetitively asking me to validate her over a physical change in her body and wouldn’t let it go. Over time, I began thinking ‘maybe this change is a problem’ (I did not tell her this) but years later, I really think it was just her insecurity that interfered with our chemistry.

      • I think this is a huge piece of the puzzle that is absolutely missing from the response. I commented down below but I had a stretch of time, post weight gain, that I incessantly asked my GF if she thought I was fat and sometimes put words in her mouth. I remember I time she told me I smelled like a donut – she meant it as a compliment, in that I smelled good, but I said “Oh you think a fat girl like me just eats donuts all day?” I was really wild about it. I could sense her exasperation and it was deserved. I wasn’t being difficult on purpose- my self esteem was SO low that my negative self talk and questioning of her became almost involuntary. I had to learn to check myself because my weight gain was never a problem for her – it was a problem for me. Whatever I decided to do about it was my own shit to deal with – not hers. I think the LW’s GF needs to figure that out too.

    • I’ve been trying to stay out of this all day, but I just can’t let this question go. M. offered an incredibly generous reply, but honestly, I think this question is a red herring. The fact that things got to a point in this person’s relationship where the partner could tell that the LW was unattracted to them means that there were already enough changes in the LW behavior that made it clear the LW was not attracted to them, even without the LW verbalizing that. And that is a problem. The confirmation is just the icing on the cake, as it were. Long before the partner asked the question, long before this LW wrote into this advice column, they should have been working on some of the many things that Heather so generously shared.

      I’m so, so tired of people’s insistence on being “honest” and “authentic” and “true to their feelings” as if that honesty doesn’t come at a price, at times. As one thoughtful commenter says in response to Vanessa’s comment below, not every opinion (or feeling, for that matter) needs to be verbalized, even if someone is asking you directly. And no, I’m not talking about giving a pass to bigots and transphobes and the rest– the irony, as is so fully on display in the far too many ungenerous comments on this thread, is that so many of the people who feel the need to express themselves fully at all cost are the same ones who can’t stand to have it pointed out to them when they are acting in a bigoted way or have internalized some kind of harmful assumptions about people in some way.

      The other thing that’s making me a little frustrated with the comments is this insistence that “oh well the LW maybe has an issue with the partner’s insecurity around themselves and lack of confidence.” This too is such a fucked up and harmful approach to dating and I’m so damn sick of it. I’m so damn sick of people (and the queer community in particular) approaching dating from the place of “everyone has to have all their shit figured out and be the best versions of themselves before they are dateable.” I’m so sick of the condescending assumption that “if you don’t love yourself then no one can love you.” When that gets layered onto people’s actual lived experiences and identities — as in this case — I think it becomes incredibly evident how much harm is couched in this “you must love yourself first” mentality.

      • “I’m so, so tired of people’s insistence on being “honest” and “authentic” and “true to their feelings” as if that honesty doesn’t come at a price, at times.”
        Yes, absolutely. And the price can be enormous, it can cost relationships of all sorts, or hurt them irrevocably. There are things one can never take back and that cannot be repaired, or still hurt years and decades later (even if the relationships continue).

        “not every opinion (or feeling, for that matter) needs to be verbalized, even if someone is asking you directly.”
        I agree to a certain extent! I remember my brother saying some deeply hurtful, misogynistic and homophobic things to me and then adding I’d surely appreciate his honesty…and I hadn’t even asked for his opinion.
        Also, I remember other times when I felt my partner wasn’t saying things because they feared it would hurt me. They were right and it did hurt. But I prefer knowing over not knowing as I feel it either way. Them denying something that I perceive feels incongruent to me. I rather know something because then I can deal with it, instead of feeling it but not receiving a confirmation to what I perceive. In some times of my life, I felt gaslighted when people didn’t want to acknowledge how they felt because it didn’t add up to their values and they pretended otherwise, and later I learned that they hadn’t been honest to me, or themselves and that my perception had been “correct” all along. If I ask someone something, I want and expect the truth, even if it hurts me; then, I can make up my mind what to do with this information rather than being this nebulous thing.
        To the same time, I know and respect that others feel differently.
        And yes, LW’s girlfriend felt something long before she asked LW the question.

        “I’m so damn sick of people (and the queer community in particular) approaching dating from the place of “everyone has to have all their shit figured out and be the best versions of themselves before they are dateable.” I’m so sick of the condescending assumption that “if you don’t love yourself then no one can love you.”
        Yes! Had I worked on all my shit before starting a relationship, I would have never had any relationship until my death at a very high age (in case I live that long). Every one has issues. Many people carry old trauma with them. New horrible things happen that leave scars. We are human and therefore have baggage – everyone, always. And also: I am not sure which comments you refer to here, but I appreciated that some commenters took more factors about the relationship into consideration because we learned only a tiny glimpse of the relationship and there is always so much more to a relationship than what fits in a “You Need Help” question about a specific theme and situation. I often had the experience in my relationships (romantic and otherwise) that so much more contributed to a specific conflict than just the situation itself. I don’t mean to project or to trivialize the fatphobia that is at play here. Just as a thought.

      • Thank you Himani. I was wondering the same thing, where the question comes from in the first place? I was also stuck on the concept of being “honest”. I’ve been in a similar situation, but from the gf’s perspective: my partner told me his (in my case unsolicited) “honest” opinion about why he wasn’t attracted to me anymore, and why. Afterwards he also mentioned this “honesty”, as if there is nothing between being honest and telling a lie. I’ve actually asked AS for advice, y’all adviced me to break up, I did in the end and we’re wonderful exes and good friends now. I’m very happy that I don’t have to communicate about our love-life anymore with him, because it was a shitshow!

        During our difficult conversations on attraction and sex I was reflecting a lot on this idea of honesty. Because I believe that he thought he was being honest, and I even think that if a thought comes up that you, in your “shouldn’t be thinking” (like something fatphobic about your gf, when you fashion yourself an ally) it seems even more “honest”, because why else would you be thinking it? It felt weird, like this “truth” had been ghosting around in his brain and that he couldn’t suppress it any longer, and had to share it because if “honesty”, but then he even cried about it himself, afterwards (how I hate it when lovers cry after they hurt you!).

        I took his so-called honesty with a grain of salt, because in the words of my new moodboard Benoit Blanc “It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought as speaking the truth.” I wonder if the LW has done any introspection, outside of the fright of this “bad thought”. I mean there’s so much between the “honest” reproduction of harmful systems and telling a lie! The LW could have done many other things than responding to this question. Like expanding on the attraction in their relationship in a broader sense: how their libido is doing, how the relationship is going, whatever. Attraction is a complex system of conditions and histories and it’s no ones “fault” if you’re not feeling it, but you can work on the conditions for attraction to flourish and that’s something to do together!

        I’ve had a couple of partners suddenly announcing how they “aren’t attracted to me anymore” and it has always mystified me, how that works, because it doesn’t seem to be directly conntected to me, more something of them? I’m a total babe, actually.

        I feel sort of bad for adding to this already major comments section but I guess I had some opinions on the backburner, whups!

        • Really illuminating comment! I will be chewing on the distance between the “true” thought and a “lie” for a while, I think that’s a wonderful point.

      • “I’m so sick of the condescending assumption that “if you don’t love yourself then no one can love you.”

        I agree completely. I am so tired of asking for reassurance being seen as some huuuuge dealbreaker or evidence that someone doesn’t deserve love. I have a partner who asks “do you love me?” probably at least once each day we talk, often multiple times. Sometimes I just laugh, and they laugh too because they know I do. It’s cute. It also makes me feel loved and needed myself, and safe to ask for my own reassurance. I know that they have experienced people treating this bid for connection as a problem (as have I, as I similarly desire reassurance) and it’s just bizarre to me. Like, honestly, what does it cost to treat people’s bids with care and acceptance? Why do people feel the need to pathologize a simple desire for affirmation? How are people supposed to get to the point where they do feel confident in being loved and in loving themselves without any help getting there?

        The queer community has too much accepted the atomization and individualism pushed by capitalism. We need to reject this kind of thinking – it does nothing but harm us. We, of all people, so many of us having been cast out and rejected – deserve love in abundance and freely given. And I don’t mean just SEX by that I mean love, real love.

    • There shouldn’t have been a question at all, because the LW should have ended the relationship before that. I guarantee you the OPG asked because they could feel that LW didn’t feel attracted to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if LW had stayed in the relationship to avoid the cognitive dissonance of being “fat-positive” and breaking up with their girlfriend for being fat. Especially given that OP gives us zero information about their girlfriend, what’s great about her, why she loved her to begin with. It was all just me me me.

      • “I guarantee you the OPG asked because they could feel that LW didn’t feel attracted to them.”

        I don’t think this is guaranteed what happened between the LW and her gf. When I first significantly gained weight, I used to regularly ask my wife if she still found me attractive. She never did or said anything to prompt my questioning; my doubts stemmed 100% from my own insecurities and internalized fatphobia. I think we should be cautious to not make assumptions about the LW or her gf and their dynamics beyond what was in the letter itself because there are sometimes other valid explanations for these behaviors.

    • If a person finds themself in this type of situation and is truly committed to honesty, what would it mean for their response to their partner’s question to include honesty about bias? Something along the lines of: “The truth is, I have internalized some ideas about body shape and size that I know are harmful. I’m working on that, and I’m having a hard time with it. That’s my work to do, not yours. I can tell that my struggle with this is having a hurtful impact on you, and I’m so sorry for that. I’m going to keep working through this so that I can show up more fully for you. I love you.”

      That all said, I also think what others have said is true—that there are times when “honesty” need not be the priority.

    • None of us were there when the girlfriend asked the question so this is just my view, but it seems likely that when she asked if the LW found her less attractive what she really meant was “please reassure me that you love me and find me hot even though I’m not feeling confident in the way I look at the moment”. And the answer to that is obvious because the LW does seem to love her girlfriend even if she’s struggling with some things right now.

    • If you know the truth is going to be hurtful to someone who is already hurting it would not be the end of the world to lie. This bizarre valorization, broadly speaking, of truth at any cost offers people a lot of cover for cruelty. The girlfriend already knows the OP is no longer attracted to her. That’s why she asked the question in the first place. She just wants confirmation probably so she feels less crazy. It’s not a crime to lose attraction for your partner. It hurts but it happens. But my goodness. When your need to unburden yourself of the “truth” supersedes love and tenderness and kindness, there’s room for critique.

  26. Thanks for this wonderful, wonderful response, Heather. For OP, I’d strongly encouraging reading Health at Every Size. Some really useful stuff in disconnecting health, weight, and understanding where much of our diet culture stems from.

  27. This hits close to home and I appreciate Heather’s advice and the thoughtful comments. I had a partner years ago who made some comments on my appearance, particularly when I gained a few pounds. I brushed them off at the time but realized after we broke up how messed up it was for them to say negative things about my weight, appearance, running schedule, and other things even when it supposedly came from a place of concern.

    They come from a family that has some disordered eating (couched in religion, yuck) and I see now that they were projecting that on to me. My heart goes out to the letter writer and her partner. Heal yourself and you can show up better for your gf and others. And like others have said, if you can’t fully be there for someone when their weight or appearance changes, ask yourself if you’re ready to be in a serious relationship because that will always come with change and challenges.

  28. A couple of general questions after reading the question and Heather’s response:

    – How can the changes of bodies (weight gain and loss, changes after giving birth, getting older, declining health, hormonal changes, transitional steps…) and partners’ feelings about that which are not just “yay!” be addressed without diving into a “letter writer, you are wrong” and shaming them?

    – What role do not only beauty norms play, but also norms about a relationship? Which needs are weighted in which way?

    – How can partners speak about what attraction includes/contains for them beyond body forms?

    • I think there’s good introspective work that can be done before body changes happen. It’s very much a certainty that one way or another, long-term partners won’t look the same physically forever. How can you hold each other in compassion and love through changes? Where can you be interrogating bias and learning how to see each other as you want to see each other? What is the voice in your head vs what you actually think if you dig a little?

  29. I also disagree with the main points of the article, namely, that a) attraction to a partner needs to kind of be ethereal, not bound to physical traits and that b) that you should not answer a direct question honestly.

    A) is just unrealistic. Attraction is tied to the way somebody looks, smells, feels, etc, and in many different ways – and the causal relationship that is implied here, that not finding a feature attractive means one is phobic to that feature, is simplistic and just doesn’t work for so many facets of attraction. I mean, people date different kinds of people. Have types. On all kinds of dimensions of the physical reality of being human.
    If you spin the point being made here further, it would lead to a moral obligation for everybody to find all humans attractive, all the time. This surely is not going to happen and also isn’t helpful as a moral stance. I am deeply convinced that you cannot make yourself find somebody attractive. It goes against the instinctual nature of attraction.
    In long term, committed! relationships, where a lot of change just statistically is bound to happen for everybody and in everybody involved, often attraction goes and love and admiration and solidarity stay. That is the happy path that is realistic to point to and to make people want to achieve it.

    B) is just…saying the truth about how you feel, when asked, is not wrong. The before and after is important. But you should not (have to) lie.

    Letter writer, LW’s Gf: I am very sorry you are in this situation. If feeling desired is what she needs , and you can’t give here that – maybe it is time to consider splitting up. Alternatively, you could try to focus on other parts of your relationship for a while. But maybe that is not a long term fix.

    • I think the answer mistakingly ties fat ppl’s worth as human beings with being unconditionally desired. if love is really ethereal, shouldn’t LW’s gf be content despite having less sex? attraction can fluctuate the same way as weight does.

      LW’s obsession with being perceived as a good person (defined as staying together forever no matter what) is ruining this relationship. how would it make you feel if your partner losses attraction to you but lies about it for optics? LW is taking up space from real, existing ppl who are attracted to LW’s gf as she is right now. I agree that the way to go is accepting that something changed and evaluating whether the relationship is still worth it to all parties or moving on.

      • Regarding honesty, I just shared this idea in response to a different comment and am sharing here too in case you don’t see that:
        If a person finds themself in this type of situation and is truly committed to honesty, what would it mean for their response to their partner’s question to include honesty about bias? Something along the lines of: “The truth is, I have internalized some ideas about body shape and size that I know are harmful. I’m working on that, and I’m having a hard time with it. That’s my work to do, not yours. I can tell that my struggle with this is having a hurtful impact on you, and I’m so sorry for that. I’m going to keep working through this so that I can show up more fully for you. I love you.”

        Regarding attraction, I agree that attraction can and will fluctuate, and that not all people will find all other people attractive. And, I believe social and cultural factors and power dynamics can impact our attraction. And, I believe we can make choices that can shift our attraction over time (what media we view, experimenting with how we fantasize, etc.). When I see a repeated pattern in my attraction that reinforces oppressive social norms, I personally am going to try to push back against those oppressive patterns in my own ways of relating to other people, including in my attraction.

  30. I want to reiterate what another commenter has said, which is that your words matter. ESPECIALLY when you’re someone’s partner. They matter so much. I am disabled (and a wheelchair user) and I take anti-depressant medication. Both of these things impact my appearance and my weight is part of that. Until over a year ago, I was in the lucky position that no sexual partner ever said sommething ableist or bodyshaming to me (maybe I had a better radar then, I don’t know, or it was bc I only dated women then), so I never had any problem with body image issues even though other people in my life were already fatshaming me (it was weird, like day and night, once I got a bit bigger the criticism changed from “you’re too skinny” to “you should eat healthier stuff, you’re getting fat”). But I was always a proud feminist and I think in some ways, being disabled and disconnected from my body/being desexualized emotionally shielded me from criticism towards my body (even though it was also incredibly traumatic to not even be considered a sexual option in the first place). anyway, more than a year ago I had a one-night-stand situation with a man. I did not have feelings for this man, in fact, I was not even that attracted to him, felt emotionally distant from him and only desired him sexually (or at least thought we would be sexually compatible). We had sex, and afterwards he said the most horrific things about me and my body that anyone has ever said to me. He was ableist, he told me my disability made me unattractive, that he should get karma points for fucking me, that he wouldnt do xyz with me even though he did it with other people,etc it was like he was actively trying to destroy my sense of self-worth. And even though I knew from the start that he was actively being cruel, that maybe he just struggled with the fact that he was attracted to me despite me being disabled, even though I knew from countless other partners that I am fucking hot, even though I had no emotional connection to him and so emotionally his opinion did not matter to me on an intimate level, it still fucking HURT more than anything anyone has ever said to me, and I still carry those words with me to this day, and I still feel extremely insecure about parts of my body that I didn’t give a fuck about years prior. And I still have not dated anyone or had sex with anyone since that happened. I am just now coming back to allowing myself to develop crushes on people (and maybe something will happen with those people and with them I know for a fact that they would never say those things because they are GOOD DECENT QUEER PEOPLE) but I still mostly feel undesirable and ugly and like my body does not have any worth and I have to compensate for my body with my mind so that people consider me attractive (and I knew before that my thoughts are the most attractive things about me and that most people who fuck me love me for who I am and do and say rather than the rest but I didnt feel like I had to hide my body, I didn’t feel shame for my body, I trusted that whoever decided to have sex with me would also take my body into account). what I mean to say is, if this completely irrelevant asshole and those few comments had this impact on me, I don’t even want to imagine what your girlfriend must feel like having a romantic partner of many years say that to her. She was not asking for the truth, she was asking for reassurance (I am autistic and I know these kinds of rhetorical questions can be hard to understand sometimes). I sadly think that for the relationship there’s no coming back from this, your girlfriend has to heal from this, and it’s likely that she will always carry those words with her.

    • Hi M, I just want to pop in to say how sorry I am that this abelist man said such horrible and hurtful things to you. You didn’t deserve that (as you know), and nobody does. It sounds horrific. I understand that this terrible experience impacted you going on forward and made you insecure. We don’t know one another, but just as one stranger in the internet to the other – you are beautiful and you (including your body – your whole self) have so incredibly much worth.

  31. Heather, thank you – I appreciate your generosity and kindness in letting us know what it means to transform our relationship to fatness rather than conform to a political or social ideal. I feel your care for everyone involved and I’m grateful to have you as a resource in my community!

  32. I’m not really a bar person, but the few times I went to a bar when I was younger, I felt completely invisible to women there. And I was much thinner back then. I think we don’t want to admit it because we try to be non judgmental as lesbians, but many of us are VERY visual. In fact, I used to get hit on by men more than women! This was a great question and great answer. I would love to read more about this topic, because it is so important.

    • I can relate to that and struggled with some similar issues in the past as well. The queer/lesbian scene is so much against lookism, fatphobia, beauty norms, abelism… But then who is asked in bars/clubs/online etc. Who is considered “hot.” How do all of your ex-partners look like. I want many people here to look into the mirror and critically examine their own lives and biases, instead of jumping at LW as if LW’s feelings were uncommon. LW at least was open about their shortcomings. Granted, I don’t know all of you and I don’t know your lives. My comment is solely based on the frustration I felt over the years because I experienced such a double standard for lesbians/queers in having these great opinions on one hand and not integrating them when dating. Not that people own others something. Rather as in: I often witnessed how queers located problems at others, but didn’t look at themselves critically.

  33. heather, i always appreciate the ways that you write about love, relationships, and authentic care, and i absolutely love this advice. i read this out loud to my partner and we both literally cheered at various points. attraction of course can shift and change, especially over the years in long term relationships, but respect and compassion should always come first when it comes to communication. thank you for writing such a beautiful piece.

  34. Oh Heather – your writing is such a gift to the world! I appreciate your gentle-but-firm truth-telling to the OP, and the ways you bring your own experiences into the answer.

    I just ended a 5-year relationship and in the chaos (logistical and emotional), I’ve accidentally lost weight. It’s annoying because my clothes don’t fit, but also because, despite my best efforts, I can feel a subconscious sense if success/pride about it. Which isn’t healthy for right now, and also sets me up for feeling shame and failure when I get back to a more normal-for-me body.

    This was a helpful reframing for my internal thoughts and for setting future relationship standards: “because gaining and losing weight, over and over and over, is part of nearly everyone’s life. It is so inconsequential in the vast tapestry of existence, and if getting fatter over the course of nine short months throws you into this kind of tailspin where you find yourself not only unattracted to her, but you feel honor-bound to tell her so, how are you going to handle it when the really hard stuff happens? When one of you gets sick or disabled? When one of you becomes consumed by seemingly endless grief after the death of a loved one? When one of you loses your job? When money trouble strikes? When you lose your home? When one of you unearths a trauma you hid away even from yourself? When you become responsible for a dying family member? When one of you is unable to free yourself from the dense fog of depression or anxiety? When one of you is in an accident? When your bodies simply get old, the way all bodies do?”

  35. Wow, this is a really generous and kind answer Heather.

    Honestly I don’t understand how some of these repliers think about attraction and desire as an either/or situation that is purely physical and not about love and intimacy and chemistry and all the things! Or that you either say something you know will hurt someone you love or you are lying – these are not the only two options! Or the repliers that immediately tried to blame the gf (oh her health, or her mental health or her confidence must be the problem!), Do these people hear themselves, honestly.

  36. Thank you for this response. I think your advice was very thoughtful and genuine – harsh but fair, so to speak. You didn’t sugarcoat anything, and I think that was the right approach.

    It was also something I really needed to hear – I’ve struggled with my weight for pretty much my entire life. And I always will, for a good part of that is due to binge eating as a relief from severe childhood trauma. It’s something that I still feel ashamed of sometimes, to be honest. But reading what you said about weight being a conflux of so many different factors – a lot of outside of our control – really reminded me that I’m not a failure for being heavy, or anything like that. Thank you, those words are going to give a lot of people hope.

    I see there are a few people in the comments who still don’t get it. To them, I can only say that I hope they realize someday just how cruel and harmful it is to insist that someone lose weight and diet and exercise at the cost of their physical and emotional health. A dear friend of mine is also struggling a lot with body image and weight, and I can see the toll hearing all those messages takes on him. Diet culture doesn’t save lives, not at all.

  37. Heather this is a fucking fire answer. My husband has gained weight over the last five years and we’ve both noticed that he is frankly much much much more healthy fat than when he was skinny, and it’s changed a lot for both of us on how we view size and health. I’m thin and currently pregnant with our first kid and it’s been really eye-opening for me to be on the other side of body changes beyond my control, and I am really really really grateful to be with someone who’s been generous enough to teach me so much about how rancid diet/weight culture and fatphobia are.

    I’d really encourage folks reading who are worried about the GF’s health to remember that someone can be healthy at any size, can work out at any size – there really isn’t a way to look at someone and know exactly what their individual health situation is. When my husband was at his thinnest, he couldn’t walk across our living room without taking a break. Today he can hike, lift weights, and move our apartment almost singlehandedly (as I am now a whiny fatigued back-ache plagued preggo).

    LW – good job reaching out and admitting you fucked up. I hope you find this helpful and you and your girlfriend are both able to find a path forward.

  38. (oh and also, Heather, the way you write about your relationship is just so beautiful and inspires so much hope in me that a love like that is possible <3 )

  39. I had a huge reaction to both the LW and Heather’s response, and interestingly it didn’t have to do with weight (I am guilty of containing a lot of internalized fatphobia as a fat person with a fluctuating weight). What I related to and reacted to was saying the wrong thing. I don’t know if it’s my ADD or brain fog or something else, but I sometimes unintentionally blurt out the wrong thing. So maybe your saying this to your gf was different, but I have said things to loved ones without thinking that have hurt them. I fuck up a lot! I’m not good with words. Which is funny because my partner is very thoughtful with words. I am actively working on it, and in doing that, I feel for you.

    You, LW, f*cked up. I do not think you are a bad person. I think there is hope for you to do the internal work to reframe your thinking and also to reposition your language. I read an article or tweet or something last week about apologizing. It’s not just saying sorry. It’s actively working on not repeating the mistake and also not centering yourself. To me, it’s less about making things right and more about like a sense of peace.

    I think you can fix your relationship – should you both want that – AND it will take a lot of effort! AND you are human who makes mistakes and is constantly learning and growing, and I hope this is an opportunity you take to learn and grow and eventually, ultimately forgive yourself. I say this because I am so hard on myself and beat myself up over this shit, so like, while I agree this isn’t about you, I don’t want you to further harm yourself in trying to work through it.

    I will briefly return to the original topic of fatphobia, as it is relevant to my interests. I spent a lot of time thinking every time I got rejected it was because of my weight. And I’m sure that sometimes it was. I’m also sure sometimes it wasn’t. Fatphobia is actively horrible, and I have, as previously mentioned, a lot of internalized fatphobia that I wish to rid myself of. So I also feel for your girlfriend, and she probably felt (and may still feel) like shit. And she may not verbalize that, or the extent of it, because as fat people we are taught to fake confidence. In echoing Heather, it’s not all about you. It’s about her too! Like, you are valid in having feelings that you consciously think and know are sucky because you are a human. And also you f*cked up and shouldn’t have said what you said. But you did. So now you both have decisions to make and YOU, my friend, have some actions and work to do.

    I sincerely hope you two can make some sort of peace with this, no matter what happens. Because it sucks. I wish I had practical advice. I just have, like, feelings of having fucked up myself and wishing it didn’t happen. Control Z. Edit undo. Alas.

    Keep us updated!

    • I really liked this reply, Rachel. As someone who deals with fluctuating weight and internalized fatphobia, AND blurts out thoughtless remarks, f*cking up often, I have empathy for both parties in this letter. I echo your hope that they find peace.

    • Yeah, I too have blurted things out and had them blurted out to me (not about appearance but there are plenty of vulnerabilities in relationships) and I’ve been thinking about your comment. I think what I make a distinction around is whether your mouth got you in trouble or whether your head and your heart are there too.

      If your mouth gets you in trouble, in my experience you can quickly and sincerely speak from the heart and often that carries a lot of weight because the thing that was said is out of character and the sincere humanity shines through. My partner said something kind of terrible to me and you know what, I can’t even remember exactly what it was now because what I remember instead is the genuine conversation we had afterwards. [this is not the same as a cycle of insults and apologies!!!! I am speaking of nuance and mistakes and repair on the internet and I can feel how close I am to getting roasted]

      Sometimes the hurt might ring in someone’s ears and it won’t matter what comes after but I think the best chance for repair and trust is when your mouth moved too fast and you are sincere rather than defensive when your heart and head catch up.

      But when it’s not just your mouth and then you continue on with defensiveness, talk about “honesty”, etc, well then it seems more like your mouth expressed what your heart was feeling and that I think is much harder to repair.

  40. There’s a lot going on in this letter, including run-of-the mill fatphobic ideas about lifestyle and ‘overeating’. I have no doubt OP, that you have fatphobia issues to work on and I love Heather’s advice. What sticks out to me is your emphasis on your partner’s distress and the ‘support’ you have provided. Her response is a natural result of broader cultural fatphobia, but there are limits to how much a partner can compensate.

    Is it possible that your issue isn’t really your girlfriend’s weight gain, but her distress about it and the emotional labour you have been performing, however imperfectly, as a result? Maybe she is over-relying on you to validate her as she struggles to validate herself; there’s a big learning curve when we adjust to changes in our bodies or life situations. Perhaps you’ve overstepped by trying to influence her diet or exercise routines, because you are trying to ‘fix’ a problem you feel she is laying at your feet.

    I have had relationships in which I experienced what I perceived to be a devastating change in myself, including weight gain, and I consequently put a lot of pressure on my partner to validate me and perform emotional labor that went beyond her capacity. It didn’t end well. I’ve also been on the other side, where a partner demanded a lot of me due to insecurity about a perceived new ‘defect’, and it was this demand that became unbearable, not the ‘defect’. I felt obligated to counter her negative self-perception but nothing I said or did was enough, which left me feeling hopeless and less connected.

    Is it possible that you told your girlfriend that you are less attracted to her because you resent her for asking the question, because you’ve had 100 conversations about this topic and you are tired of it? Maybe you said something cruel because you’re actually really mad at her but don’t know how to express that. And maybe you wouldn’t be so mad if you’d been able to set better boundaries. Ask yourself: would you have given the same answer if you didn’t associate her weight gain with her distressed reaction to it and your failed attempts to manage that?

    If you stay together, set limits on your discussions of weight, exercise, or food. The more you feel responsible for her self-esteem, the more you will resent her or over-step in a fatphobic way. Accept that you can’t control her body or her choices and that such efforts may be harmful (fatphobia often results in loved ones doing harmful things that they mistakenly believe are helpful) Her choices are not your business or your problem. If she is in distress, tell her you love her and encourage her to take independent steps to empower herself. You could help her find a non-fat phobic counsellor to talk to who is actually qualified to help her with this work. If this unhealthy dynamic goes away, but your issue with attraction remains, maybe you need to let her move on to someone who can love her for who she is.

    • Thank you for this nuanced and thoughtful, smart perspective. I also thought about potential underlying issues in the relationship, but you expressed it more eloquently than I could have put it into words.

    • yes, very very good comment. I was also not sure that the weight gain was the issue at the core of the letter since I sensed a very real concern for how LW’s girlfriend herself is generally feeling about her weight

    • I just want to wholeheartedly agree with this comment!! Of course we can’t know the details of this relationship as strangers on the internet but the mention the waning attraction really struck a chord with me. I have been on the other side of this dynamic, when I was doing poorly for an extended period of time and my gf was very overwhelmed, very pressured both by me and by herself to somehow make me feel better, and, yeah… not that into me anymore. Of course I could tell (as I’m sure LW’s gf would have been able to tell even if LW hadn’t answered honestly), and it only made my self-esteem worse, continuing the cycle. Sometimes what we need as people who are struggling is someone who is there, present, and loving and supporting, in a way that feels right for them. In a way that won’t leave them feeling resentment. It’s a hard cycle to break but it is possible!

      • Yeah, I could be wrong about the dynamic of insecurity and emotional labour, it just reminds me of experiences in my own life. I also think that all the focus on ‘honesty’ distracts from the possibility that the LW was being cruel as a form of passive aggression they don’t even recognize for what it is. They said something they knew would be hurtful. Maybe that’s because part of them actually WANTED to hurt their girlfriend. Maybe the thing they really need to be honest about is their need for boundaries for emotional labor. Or maybe the aggression was motivated by resentment that their girlfriend has eluded their efforts to control her body.

  41. Hello, it’s me, Vanessa, the editor of this column and also a fat person!

    First of all I want to say, Heather, thank you for this incredible piece of writing — it is, as all your writing is, so heartfelt and so filled with love, and it’s also incredibly generous and offers so much grace to everyone involved in this situation. It also provides clear next steps for that the letter writer can take in this situation. Second of all, I want to thank the readers who have recognized Heather’s excellent work. Thirdly, I want to thank all our readers and commenters for always maintaining the only comment section on the internet that has space for nuance, challenging information, and empathy.

    That said, I am finding some comments to be distressing, and while I don’t think any of them are stepping over the line of needing to be removed for violating our comment policy, I wanted to publicly bring up a few points to consider.

    1. Several people have brought up the word “shame.” The definition of shame as a noun is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” To shame someone, a verb, implies the act of making someone feel ashamed — as in, causing humiliation or distress. I do not see anywhere in her response where Heather has attempted to *shame* our LW — in fact, her response was so generous, so open, so entirely the opposite of shaming, that I want to use it as an example for how to answer challenging advice questions in the future. I think if you as a commenter are *feeling* shame or *experiencing* this column as “shameful” you have to look inside yourself and ask why that is, because it’s not coming from Heather.

    2. Concern trolling and telling the OP’s partner what to do with her body is not okay nor is it the subject of the post. This *is* a violation of our comment policy — straying from the subject of the post — and it’s also just flat out wrong. You are probably not a doctor, and if you are a doctor, you are *not* OP’s partner’s doctor. You have no idea about her health, physical or mental. The subject of OP’s partner’s health is not up for debate here. Any comments further mentioning it will be deleted.

    3. I mentioned this a bit in point 1 but it bears repeating: Heather was super compassionate and was not too hard on the letter writer. Sometimes it is difficult to process the truth and sometimes being asked to be accountable can make us have feelings, but that is not the same thing as the other person being “harsh.”

    To conclude, I want to remind everyone that the goal of our comment policy is not to censor conversation, but to ensure that Autostraddle is a space that everyone can feel safer interacting in. We take our comment section really seriously and while we can’t guarantee a safe space, we continue to do our best to make this space as safe as possible for as many members of our community as possible — and I’m grateful to all of you for helping us keep reaching for that goal. As always, we invite commenters to share alternative perspectives in the comments, but to do so respectfully and speaking from their own perspective, not in a way that is prescriptive to how others should exist in their own bodies. And as a fat femme I will just say — if you think you are not going to exist on this earth long enough to witness your body change in a way that you will not have control over… you are almost certainly wrong. As a community, we could all be doing a lot more to unlearn internal biases against fat people and fatness. If this column made you feel a big feeling, I co-sign all of Heather’s resources. I know the people who read Autostraddle are the ones invested in community care, and I truly believe we can all do better than some of what I’m reading here today.

    • Thank you for your work on curating these spaces within the articles and the comments! Also point 1 – can’t agree enough.

    • Hi Vanessa, I completely agree that commenters should not tell letter writer’s girlfriend what to do with her body, that they’re not a/her doctor and I want to add that it is nobody’s business but hers. I am happy this site opposes fatshaming and that this is part of the comment policy; that Autostraddle takes up a position against racism, abelism and so many other systems of oppression.

      I further believe we have different understandings of what ‘compassionate’ means. This was also the case with Danijanae’s answer about porn and masturbation in “You Need Help” which I won’t go into here.

      You wrote that your comment goal is not to censor conversation. I sometimes get a different feeling as a reader on this site. For one, you urged readers to stop the critical comments on the porn/masturbation article. For another, comments were deleted about Brittney Griner being released in exchange for releasing a weapons dealer. Those deleted comments were not hateful, nor were they unhappy about BG’s return. Furthermore, when readers criticize an article’s content, Autostraddle writers rally up behind the article’s writer and tell the readers how wrong they are. Moments like these make me feel like Autostraddle is an exclusive club for the powerful and cool kids, and who doesn’t cheer but expresses an unpopular opinion in the comments gets told off or silenced. This makes me feel alienated to a point where I think about quitting the site – but on the other hand, it is my “home in the internet” and I want to stay.

      Finally, I am also confused because I’ve read a number of articles from the past where the comments are super-transphobic, and these comments remain there.

      All in all, I am writing this because I love Autostraddle and would like it to be a warmer, more compassionate space.

      • Hi Marie, we also want this to be a warm and compassionate space and I do love to hear that this feels like your home on the internet, so I wanted to respond to your points here.

        1. Please lmk about the TERF comments as I often take care of those, am happy to handle them. If they’re on older articles, that does happen and sometimes we miss them because the editors are also the comment mods and we are human.

        2. The porn/masturbation article was a different situation where Vanessa was making herself accountable for an editorial oversight and asked people to stop commenting and therefore piling onto the WRITER when it was an editorial decision. Often, these kinds of pile-on’s can be super distressing for a writer and it’s not fair when an editor is also responsible.

        3. In keeping with trying to construct a safer space, the comments on the BG articles were dehumanizing, however subtle it may seem to some, and we wanted to hold space for our Black readers to be able to celebrate in that moment, which is what we can tangibly offer as a community, and which is what is actually helpful to our community (no one in the US gov’t is gonna look to us for political analysis).

        4. People are allowed to disagree with Heather and you will notice that we’ve left the comments up. In fact, I only deleted one which was blatantly and unapologetically fatphobic. Vanessa was here to remind everyone that if your comment might make someone in a more vulnerable or marginalized group feel hurt, then it is a good idea to reconsider, for the sake of everyone here, before posting it. Behind every name is a real person and we want to be mindful of everyone’s wellbeing.

        Thank you for reading.

      • @Marie:

        I am sorry if you’ve been feeling alienated or excluded in some way. I am not sure what your experiences here have been, so I can’t speak to anything in particular.

        I will say that I don’t think every “unpopular opinion” is worth posting. Sure, there can sometimes be good-faith criticism, but I’ve noticed that there’s usually a good reason an unpopular opinion is unpopular. And I’ve also seen plenty of “piling on” that’s just pretending to be good-faith criticism.

        For instance, I remember the Brittney Griner article you mentioned, and there were definitely comments unhappy about the circumstances of her return. Those comments needed to be deleted, IMO. That wasn’t the time or place.

        I don’t agree with every opinion ever posted here – for instance, I don’t like Jennifer’s Body at all – but that doesn’t mean I have the right to complain about it the comment thread. I just decide it’s not for me, and move on, to slow others to enjoy the discussion. I think more people should have that mindset – you never have to comment on anything, after all.

        Last thing – a lot of older articles have bot or troll comments just because comment threads aren’t locked. So if you see something super-transphobic or trolly, you can always alert a mod.

        Hope you have a great rest of your day.

    • thank youuuuuuu Vanessa and everyone at Autostraddle for making this space and showing up every day with to take a chance on all of us readers!!! when an article passes 100 comments, something is happening and i really really really am hopeful & optimistic that what is happening in this thread is some good healing for a lot of ppl. it’s helpful & validating for me!!!! <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

  42. Heather, everything you had to say when it comes to the long haul of a relationship and bodies and changes and shifting EVERYTHING was so touching. Thank you for this response and thank you for being so vulnerable out loud.

  43. I watched my father love my mother through thyroid disease causing her to gain about 100lbs in a year, breast cancer at 35 with limited access to plastic surgery leaving her heavily scarred, two pregnancies, menopause, etc. And she’s loved him through worsening OCD, going bald, and much more. They’re in their 60s and have been together since they were 18. They have found a way to continue to love each other and be attracted to each other, though I’m sure there were rough patches along the way.

    Seems like this could (and maybe should) be a breaking point for this relationship. Regardless of everything else, the OP said something cruel. It may have been honest, but it was not helpful nor kind. The OP repressed their own feelings and then lashed out. I’m not an idiot; I understand that sexual attraction can change over time, and that it can be a make or break part of some relationships, but I think it’s pretty obvious in this situation that answering no was going to be pretty devastating. But, we are all human and do cruel, thoughtless, awful things sometimes–intentionally and incidentally. Heather’s advice and insight is really crucial if the OP wants to put in the work on their end, but it sounds like the GF might need to do some work too.

    It really sounds like they both need outside support. From watching my parents and other relationships, I’m very much against this idea that romantic partners need to be best friend, confidant, lover, caretaker for each other at all times. You need to let other people in your life share some of that load. You need to recognize the limits of your own abilities and *get help* when you are at their end, especially when it’s the end of your empathy. It’s going to take a lot on both sides to build back up the trust after making such a hurtful, even if it was honest, answer.

    I’m a chronically ill person who’s weight depends on a medley of what medications I’m on, my mental health, work, stress, and the cycle of the moon. I’ve been fat and thin, and at no weight am I truly “healthy.” I find a lot anti-fatness and ableism absurd because I am worthy of respect and love. The OP has a *lot* to unpack about their own anti-fat bias if they are so afraid of offending that they can’t even talk to their girlfriend.

  44. Ok one more thing from me! A lot of people are mentioning shame, specially in the context of Heather “shaming” LW. It’s untrue, and it’s also funny, because shame is so VERY weaponized against fat people.

    The right to exist in our bodies wholly and without apology — without shame — is intrinsically ours.

    You can do whatever mental gymnastics you want as you contemplate your own biases, as you try to maintain the illusion that we ultimately have control over our bodies and our health.

    In the meantime, I’ll just be here in my fat body, touching grass, being thankful for my time on earth, and thanking dog I don’t have the same lack of imagination that the worst of these comments convey.

  45. This answer is so gorgeous and brilliant. I’m a very lucky soft-bodied queer who has gained weight over the course of my relationship. my girlfriend has never once shied away from our size difference, loves me inside and out. and I really hope this person’s girlfriend finds comfort and happiness going forward.

  46. I submit this comment from the perspective of someone who is 1. in her late 30’s, 2. has gained weight after having kids, and 3. has been married for more than a decade. I have a feeling if I asked my spouse if they found me less attractive than when we met, and they were to answer honestly the answer would be yes. But the reality is when people are in a committed relationship for the long haul your bodies, health, hormone levels, etc. will change and it will impact your attraction to yourselves and to each other, but if this is a relationship that you see yourself truly committing to then it’s important to show your love and devotion to one another. If intimacy has waned, it’s likely not just because of how you perceive her, but there are probably other contributing factors to unpack. The past 3 years have been really stressful and intense. Make a commitment to each other and find ways to show physical, emotional and romantic intimacy in small every day ways.

  47. This is such a compassionate and generous response to a difficult advice letter. My heart aches for the LW’s girlfriend. I gained a bunch of weight during pregnancy and have not lost any of it a year and a half later– I can’t imagine how devastating to my relationship it would have been if my partner had told me what this LW said to their partner. I really hope they and the commenters reacting negatively to Heather’s advice seek out the resources she shared and sit and think long and hard about why they are having such a visceral reaction. Clearly a lot of people need this advice and thank t lesbian goddess Heather was kind enough to give it!

  48. This is so wonderful. I am so grateful to be reading this letter and response, and also this very mixed bag of comments! It’s giving me a moment of learning and reflection, and humility–after my first read-through, my initial reaction was that Heather’s response, though obviously kind, was harsh and shaming. But after reading the first couple of comments, and then taking a moment for myself, and reading Heather’s response again… it actually isn’t either harsh, or shaming. As so many other commenters have said, it’s generous, kind, and loving, as well as deeply helpful, among so many other things. Those feelings were coming from inside of me, not from Heather’s words. And they have deep roots in fatphobia.

    So to anyone else whose initial reaction was to feel attacked, I hope you can find a way to see this differently–the view is much lovelier from here. Not saying that in judgment or in a patronizing way–it’s a sincere invitation.

    (Also, just wanted to say there’s so much to love here–from the part about how bodies just do change, they just do! and we are out here for each other with so much love and care and, yes, attraction for each other through all of it, to reading about Heather’s beautiful relationship, to Vanessa’s perfect comment, to just the lovely, kind firmness Heather brought to this. Just… I’m thankful. Thank you.)

  49. Heather, the space you are capable of holding for others is extraordinary. Thank you for sharing your compassion and inspiring us to greater levels of it. And thank you for demonstrating what real accountability looks like.

    Lots of people telling on themselves in these here comments. All the love to the Autostraddle staff who have to deal with this nonsense. You are appreciated.

  50. Heaping on the gratitude here for you Heather 💕 I read this piece this morning when there were only 13 comments and thought, “hmm seems low.. I wonder if this will blow up” 🙃 I was expecting a clusterfuck when I logged back on here tonight and saw the 100+ comments. I am so glad to be wrong, and am so so grateful for the thoughtful, thorough, and heartfelt responses from readers (including ppl playing whack-a-mole on the fatphobia/diet talk/shame stuff in the comments). I appreciate the fuck out of this space. 💓

  51. When the really hard stuff happens, there is no guarantee for anyone to stay in our lives, or be supportive, or to what extent. Many people’s address books are changing when someone close to them dies or becomes very sick. Some people who were believed to be in one’s life forever are suddenly no longer present. Not everyone can handle death. Maybe a person’s feelings for their partner don’t change when the partner gains weight, but do change when they have an accident and a disability, or when a family member is dependent on care. Some people are good when dealing with trauma, but not when a person loses their job. Some are very thoughtful about depression but don’t handle it when their partner is physically gravely ill. Unfortunately, there is no telling who will stay in our life or to what capacity. Only because someone is extremely supportive in one field doesn’t mean that they can hold the space in another. I’m wishing you all that the people you love will stay with you and support you no matter what. Just as a nurse who has seen a lot, and a person who has also lived their live, I don’t think that because a person deals well with one thing does not mean they are equipped for other hard stuff down the road – or, when they don’t deal well, it doesn’t necessarily mean they cannot do crises and catastrophes.

    I know this is not the main topic of this article, but I thought about what Heather said about “when the really hard stuff happens,” and because I have seen numerous times how people aren’t there although believed they would, and also vice versa, I wanted to add that.

  52. It’s a tough situation to be in. Captain Awkward’s response on unfairness of not being desired resonated with me, so I will quote it here:

    “You get to reject people (and they get to reject you) as dating partners for any reason at any time. You don’t have to be fair. You don’t have to give anyone a chance. If you’re talking yourself into feeling it for someone, that’s a sign that you are NOT actually feeling it.”

    “If you scrape the surface, many dealbreakers stink of sexism, size-ism, classism, able-ism, and racism. Someone who rejects your bad teeth is rejecting your history of depression and the resulting poverty or lack of self-care. This is problematic, but on the micro-level, what are you going to say to someone who rejects you for an “unfair” reason? You can’t argue someone into liking you when they don’t. In fact, someone who tries to argue me into liking him has inadvertently discovered one of my dealbreakers.”

    https://captainawkward.com/2012/01/01/question-162-i-am-insecure-about-my-teeth-are-bad-teeth-a-dealbreaker-in-dating/

    • I there! While I agree that one cannot argue another person into liking them/finding them desirable, I also don’t see anyone doing this in the comment section. Further, I don’t believe that fat people demand others to find them desirable or pressuring anyone in having sex/a relationship. This kind of argument reminds me of discussions in which some cis-lesbians are very vocal about that they don’t want to have sex with trans women. And I don’t like an implication that members of marginalized groups are being held up as the ones who put pressure on the dominant and more powerful groups. For the record, I am not implying that you linked these issues or suggested the latter sentiment, it is just an association that comes to my mind because of heated debates in the comment sections underneath other articles on this website in which similar arguments were made.

      And I agree that if one is talking oneself into liking someone, one isn’t feeling it. However: I find it crucial to examine critically why certain attributes might be dealbreakers and link them to the systems of oppression we live in as society. Dealbreakers can alter over time, and understanding what internalized -ism might be the root of a disqualifying quality in partners, educating oneself and being open to change one’s own perceptions can be helpful in this regard.

  53. a new perspective to empathise with LW… I am in a long-term relationship and on more than one occasion in the past said hurtful things through lack of thought/understanding/a compulsion to be truthful when my partner was looking for reassurance.

    For me I think it has come from some religious (catholic) trauma where I’m constantly judging myself and others on a binary between good and evil and have built up a lot of anxiety around that. It means I’m often obsessing about how I’m ‘performing’ and leaves less headspace available for empathy towards my partners and other people in general.

    Also as a high achiever/”gifted kid”(yuck) in school, I’ve tended to act superior and blame others when things go wrong in my life, rather than accept that sometimes life is unfair and I can’t control everything. I can see how for you, existing as you do outside your girlfriend’s body, it might seem like there are some ‘objective’ or ‘correct’ things to do in this situation like go to the gym and eat healthy, that seem easy in the logic of your brain. But you gotta realise life is not black and white, easy to see is not easy to do; is not even correct or important to someone else; does not matter. And blaming her might feel easier than accepting her pain, your pain, the weight of our imploding society etc. But that is maybe what’s needed here.

    Heather and plenty of commenters have been so articulate about the specific question of fat bodies and attractiveness so I’m not even going to get into it. To me it seems like the reason you are feeling less attracted is not a physical thing or directly because of your girlfriend’s insecurity, but maybe a lack of genuine respect towards her (her whole self) that you have allowed to develop by judging her choices (just as you judge your own). It’s one thing to feel this disrespect just for a moment, or subconsciously, but now it has your attention… maybe that is the thing to be questioning and working on. Maybe there is a new path where you can be easier on both of you and find a bit more joy, for yourself, and then together.

    • Kate, thank you for this perspective. I can relate to the religious trauma (not Catholic though). My whole childhood was about religious dogma, good and evil, heaven and hell, and every little thing (SIN!) could get me into hell. Telling one lie could mean eternal hellfire. There was a demand for honesty in every situation, even the smallest, and telling a lie was met with severe violence. To this day, I can hardly lie because I was programmed to speak the truth since I learned my first words, and I starting to learn how say things in a way that are truthful to myself and also kind, so that I am not hitting people on the head with a “truth hammer.”

      Today I am not religious but continue to judge myself and others in this “good vs. evil”-binary and I see certain parallels about this binary in the queer left wing-circles that I consider myself part of.

    • Good points about control and blame. In my experience, a lot of interpersonal fatphobia is about the ‘concerned person’ wanting to control the fat person. Telling them what they can eat, which is one of the most basic rights adults have – the right to choose what we eat (at least within the range of foods we can afford). Telling them how and when to exercise. This kind of control is seen as justified because it’s ‘for your health’, and who can argue with someone who just wants to help them be healthy?

      Then fat people are blamed, either for not submitting to the other person’s control, or if they have actually checked all the boxes and still haven’t lost weight, they are blamed for the failure of the ‘concerned’ person’s bulletproof lifestyle adjustment plan. It’s easier to blame them than admit you don’t know anything about their body or health, and the ‘concerned’ person is forced to face the fact that they didn’t care about health, they cared about changing a fat body.

  54. This essay is perfect! Fierce, honest, poetic, and revelatory. I’m sharing it with my Queer Studies students. Necessary reading. Thank you for writing this.

  55. I’m sorry, did you just tell someone they mostly talked about their own feelings… in an advice column? First, it’s not true, the writer gave an INCREDIBLY thorough run-down of the gf’s emotions. Second, it’s an ADVICE column??? Of course they were centering their own thoughts and feelings! The writer did everything they could to paint a fair picture but I guess “you said I, I, I!” is a bullet you can shoot at anyone in an advice column….

  56. Funny that Heather says that no information was included about the girlfriend’s feelings when the LW makes sure to start with her “significant distress” she’s expressing and experiencing. The advice is fine, I guess, but Heather either didn’t read the letter closely or is flat-out lying when she says the LW only talked about their own feelings. It doesn’t look safe to write into this column if they’re going to lie about what the LW included.

  57. Moderators, please delete this abusive comment. It goes against this part of the comment policy.
    “There is nothing wrong with being fat, nor is there anything inherently unhealthy about being fat.”

  58. I think it’s really hard to give objective advice when the subject at hand is one we personally struggle with. I think while some of the advice given is really beautiful – in particular the piece about basically doing life together in some really ugly moments- there was a lot of defensiveness and attacked-ness threaded through the author’s response.

    I gained ~40 lbs over Covid (went from a US 4 to a US 10)- I started a new SSRI right before Covid, lived in my sweatpants for 15 months, and when I went to put a pair of jeans on I could not believe how much my body had changed. It sounds so stupid to say but it’s true. I am so, so, so insecure about all of this newfound weight, and I relate very much to the letter writer’s girlfriend. I berate myself out loud and constantly ask my partner if she thinks I’m fat, gross, disgusting etc – she is so patient and kind and does not believe those things, but I can see her exasperation at points and use it as an opportunity to check myself. You cannot just dump your insecurities on your partner ad nauseam and forever and expect them to remain reassuring, or even neutral. You are exhausting your partner and at some point, you have to decide whether you are going to do something to change what you’re not happy with(and this doesn’t mean losing weight – it might mean therapy or reframing or any other element of your life that impacts your self esteem), or if you’re going to accept yourself the way you are.

  59. I do think LW’s response could have been more nuanced (I hope it just wasn’t a yes, goodness), but if the girlfriend didn’t want an honest answer, what was the point in asking? They may just not be a good match if she doesn’t want to address this issue OR come to acceptance (and either way I hope she does either or for herself, not for her partner).

    To me, the attraction issue isn’t just the weight gain. You can be beautiful and attractive to lots of people at different sizes and shapes. The girlfriend’s disordered eating and habits are impacting her mental health & she doesn’t seem to be seeking help outside of her partner (if she wants to change at all). The changes in self-esteem, lifestyle, and constant need for reassurance would likely have an impact on attraction. Maybe those things are just too much for the girlfriend to handle, but if you were in a relationship with someone who was distressed a lot but didn’t want to make changes or accept the situation, it would be exhausting after some time.

      • This really does seems overly harsh towards LW, at times bordering on dishonest. There are so many negative assumptions or at least heavily implied negative assumptions about LW and it actively ignores LW’s girlfriend’s actions and feelings as well.

        Good partners are supposed to love and lift each other and support each other through really difficult times, but at some point, the weight of holding someone’s worth for them, it becomes unsustainable and can breed resentment and emotional burnout (which could also explain the answer LW gave to the her gf’s question). We can’t be a therapist to our partners. No one is required or even able to come into a relationship fully healed and perfect, but we also should not be expecting partners to “fix” us or changing the dynamic of a relationship so that it largely focuses around one partner’s perceived flaw or insecurity. LW’s girlfriend does not like her own body due to the weight gain and seems to focus on it daily. According to LW, she hates seeing it and hates getting dressed, lost a significant interest/hobby she had because of it and is severely distressed. Together, they’ve changed their diet, they’ve changed the excercise habits (which are major lifestyle changes, btw) and LW’s gf consistently seeks outside validation from LW over the same issue. LW is not projecting her own weight issues or fat phobia onto her girlfriend, this is her girlfriends own actions and words. We can talk about LW centering her own feelings (and honestly, what an unfair critique about someone writing into an advice column. People seek advice based on their own perception of the events in their own life. LW included enough about her gf to give readers a decent picture, and then refocused on her own problem because thats what you do in an advice column), but her GF has also repeatedly sought out LW’s feelings and opinions about her body because her gf doesnt like it herself. External validation will not heal that insecurity for her gf.

        And those paragraphs about how the girlfriend can’t trust LW with the future. Yikes! That minimizes so much of the experience to make it seem like LW is just shallow and unsupportive. There is so much more happening in their relationship than just weight gain.

        Since we’re assuming things about LW, we can also ponder the possibility that it’s not just weight gain that has LW feeling less attracted, it could be constantly hearing her partner that she loves use negative self talk, it’s having to be in a role where she’s forced to try to hold them accountable to things they want and asked to do and the risk of not meeting gf’s goal is listening to more negative self talk and seeing her in signficant distress, it’s the drain of being around someone that hates a part of themselves and makes it known constantly for 9 months. It is exhausting. We don’t know what their dynamic was like 9 months ago, but I would seriously doubt it had this type of caretaker, excessive validation vibe to it before.

        Also, less attracted somehow turned into not at all attracted in the advice and the comments and they’re very different and its quite unfair and dishonest to pretend otherwise. Sexual attraction ebbs and flows in most long term relationships for various reasons. That doesn’t make someone a bad person.

        Brutal honesty is so rarely the right choice and definitely wasn’t in this situation, but asking questions seeking “the honest truth” out of an insecurity is also not a very great idea. LW could’ve said she found her GF sexier now than ever before, and it wouldn’t have mattered. We know because according to LW, she has affirmed her attraction to her GF in the past and reassured her about her weight and it did not matter because the gf herself is distressed by her own weight gain.

        I hope LW reads all of the things Heather linked to and works through what seems to be a lot of shame around their politics not aligning with their actions. I’m not going to assume like Heather and some other commenters that it’s because of how you’re perceived by others or that you’re trying to impress others with progressive politics and a hot gf, you could genuinely just be facing an internal crisis because what you thought about yourself is different than how you’re behaving now that you actually live it. But I also hope there’s some grace and empathy in there for yourself as well. You f*cked up, but you can still learn (and apologize!) and grow and you AND your girlfriend TOGETHER can work on addressing the issues you both have if you both want to heal and move forward as partners.

        • @ Nik

          Thank you for this. I identified pretty hard with the LW’s gf while reading this letter (my weight has more than doubled over the course of my relationship with my wife, and early on this led to a ton of insecurity/asking her for reassurances, etc), and your comment really resonates with me and is the most validating response I have read here.

        • Nik- this is the response that LW needed and I hope she sees it. I have been LW’s gf and have seen my self esteem + self worth push my partner to an impossible place- LW’s gf was always going to ask and ask and ask about her attractiveness until she heard the upsetting+ brutally honest answer. I agree that the choice here was probably to never relay that honesty to her (assuming you plan on staying with her long term), because really there is no point. But LW is a person who has her own stressors and perhaps she finally snapped on the 144th time she was asked that question.

          Like you implied, our partners are not these sort of blank, neutral receivers who can take on all of our distress forever while we, the main characters, grapple with our bodies or our emotions or whatever plagues us.

        • Hi Nik, I can’t edit my comment so just wanted to clarify in the last sentence I was referring to the LW’s girlfriend not being able to handle the situation at this time (or is not ready to). I agree the LW is not responsible for acting as a therapist. Based on what’s in the letter, I also found the LW seemed well intentioned overall.

  60. Thank you for addressing this with such brutal (and helpful!) honestly, Heather. If it’s something they’re both interested in, I hope LW can use these harsh truths to mend her relationship with her girlfriend + support her girlfriend in a way that is beneficial to both of them.

  61. Purely my opinion, but: I think Heather’s response is disproportionate and not entirely based on the facts of the situation. Why castigate LW for not mentioning a hundred other factors outside everyone’s control when describing the ways they’ve encouraged their partner? Why gloss over the other things mentioned, like LW providing reassurance and encouraging their partner to buy clothes that feel good? Why start by alleging LW is being self-centered and doesn’t care about their partner, when the whole letter is (despite being written in first-person) fundamentally about the partner’s insecurities and LW’s attempts to support them, and regret about hurting their feelings (when faced with a really unfair question)? While I generally love Heather’s writing, this clearly seemed to push some button and didn’t feel to me like a good-faith engagement with LW.

    I liked Nik’s response (in the thread under Khloe) much more—it’s nuanced, identifies the self-undermining behaviors of LW’s partner’s insecurity that go beyond the issue of weight, gives a fair benefit of the doubt to LW, and is more useful in terms of next steps.

    Best of luck to this unfortunate couple, who I worry are going to get negative attention in their personal lives due to this unnecessarily hot take response and the hundreds of comments it’s garnering (and which Autostraddle and Heather will benefit from—gotta love those high engagement metrics).

    • Hi DM! I just had to say that honestly, in complete transparency, it’s actually just mostly stressful when this happens because we’re a small team and we have to drop everything to handle the comments. We also, as a publication, try really hard to have thoughtful takes, and I think that honestly the only thing making this seem to some folks like it’s a “hot take” is that fatphobia is so rampant and accepted — and challenging that brings up a lot of feelings. As far as the actual couple involved, the LW did choose to send this question in here, knowing it could be published on the site. There aren’t really any identifying details and the submission process is completely anonymous. As you can see by the popularity of this post, this could be so many people, so many couples.

  62. Thanks for this great answer, Heather! Just want to chime in with a counter to the several comments suggesting that maybe it’s the girlfriend’s lack of confidence that is affecting the LW’s attraction. This is so insidious and backhandedly fatphobic. My partner’s weight, AND confidence, fluctuates, and they have faced fatphobia throughout their life. I haven’t perfectly unlearned my internalized fatphobia, but I have never wavered in my attraction and passion for them. Lots of people get insecure about lots of things – funny how we only talk about this as a factor in attraction when it has to do with weight/fatness. Bodies do a million things, and appreciating all of those in my partner is part of sensuality/sexuality for me. I feel sorry for all the people who are so grossed out by their partner having a body that they don’t have access to that.

  63. This is so deeply compassionate and thorough and thoughtful, Heather. I’m so glad you opted for brutal, necessary honesty.

    I hope this advice seeker takes it to heart, and doesn’t get too caught up in the ego of aspiring to be seen as an activist to do the work it takes to actually treat their girlfriend with the respect and love she deserves and has been denied for too long.

  64. I find this so deeply relatable. Thanks for your response to the LW Heather! I relate very deeply to the LW’s wife.

    I have battled with my weight and disordered eating for most of my life. I finally got to a place where I was trying to accept myself and my body no matter what size it was at. The problem was that size was much larger than I was when I met my spouse(I was in the throes of disordered eating at the time that we met, eating very little and exercising for hours a day.)

    One day we were watching Orange is the New Black, and Boo was being Boo and had a bunch of girls vying for her, and my wife commented that this was the most fantastical thing about this show. That people would be attracted to her…. She said no one in real life would ever be attracted to someone so disgusting… Meanwhile I was a similarly sized white, dark haired, masc presenting person who didn’t look a whole lot different than Boo did. I got visibly upset after she said that, to the point where she asked me what was wrong, and I told her how I was feeling. And instead of reassuring me she told me that she wasn’t attracted to me anymore. That she would never be attracted to a fat person.

    That was years ago, and she has worked really hard to open her mind about size and weight. She follows fat positive, anti-diet and HAES related content. But even with all of that she still says she will never be attracted to a fat person. She says she can’t control the characteristics that she is attracted to. That everyone has a type and for her fat just isn’t it.

    Obviously this has been really impactful to our relationship and our intimacy. It is something that we have started to work through with a couples therapist. But the things that she has said to me about my size and my weight… they will never go away. They will always be running on a loop in the back of my mind, which makes it really hard to be vulnerable and intimate with her.

    There are loads of redeeming qualities to my spouse that make the relationship worth fighting for and preserving, and hopefully LW and their girlfriend can work it out too. But I just wanted to say that moments like these, where you have to make a choice between brutal honesty and kindness, leave a lasting impact on the people involved and on the relationship. Ask yourself if your honesty was worth what it cost both you and her.

    I also want to say that everyone is at a different place in their relationship to size and weight. Everyone has lived a life that is steeped in diet culture garbage from the moment you exit the womb, so I try to have some grace, acceptance, and understanding that we are all at varying points on our journeys and leave room for people to grow and change(my spouse and the LW very much included).

  65. I’m going to try my best to be respectful here. Needless to say, this couple needs a relationship therapist, not this column.

    This is far from helpful advice. What I see here is an unnecessary lambasting of a struggling partner attempting to reconcile what they believe is right with their fundamentally *human* feelings.

    LW, after months of emotional turmoil, felt the need to be honest with their partner, yet you frame this as some sort of horrible thing worthy of extreme shame. Directing someone to dismantle how they feel physical attraction is an extraordinary thing to ask, yet you offer this as very standard advice. And what if LW, being a human and all, is unable to change how attractive they find their partner? There really aren’t any good options here!

    Physical attraction is really complicated, and is more often than not an important factor in a relationship. LW wrote in because they still had love, but ultimately struggled with their physical attraction and how to convey that to their partner. Sure, they fucked up, but they *realize* that they fucked up. But to dismiss the feelings that led to that point is effectively rejecting honest sexuality as a valid part of a healthy relationship.

    Unfortunately shitty situations like this happen all the time. For LW, maybe there’s a fix, maybe there isn’t. But this column certainly isn’t the answer.

  66. I am usually a very big fan of this author’s writing, but the response to this letter reads more like a public defense of the writer’s girlfriend and less like an attempt to actually hear and offer help to the writer. Yes, there are some practical steps and links given towards the very end, buried under a whole lot of assumptions, extrapolations, accusations of self-centeredness, and heavy repetitive emphasis on how much the letter writer – who seems already very aware that they fucked up – fucked up. I think this approach is unlikely to help someone struggling to undo their internal biases. And maybe it’s because the author cares less about helping the writer and more about speaking up on behalf of the girlfriend, but then why write an advice column?

    Regarding the replies to comments addressing insecurity – it is not fatphobic or victim-blaming to acknowledge the role that insecurity plays in relationship dynamics. Insecurity is central to almost all relationship conflicts, and any decent therapist will try to help both partners understand its impact. In fact, as someone who has myself gained a fair bit of weight in the last few years and worries about how that will affect my relationship, the comments about insecurity have given me a much-needed sense of perspective and relief, by putting a whole different context on my challenges–something I can sit with and work on, that might be affecting how I interact with my partner, and that actually has very little to do with my weight. These comments have felt much more empowering to me than anything else written here.

    • Also if people need examples of what comes across as shaming/blaming here, look no further than the title: “You fat shamed your beautiful girlfriend” is absolutely loaded with rebuke, and devoid of the compassion others seem to be finding in this piece.

  67. To me, there is a fallacy in the assumption that if LW isn’t as much into their girlfriend as they used to be, that they likely won’t be there when the hard stuff comes around, like losing a home, when sickness strikes, with a disability, when anxiety rears its head or there is money trouble etc. The one thing is being there for someone, showing up for them and supporting them on a level of action as well as emotionally. And the other is a feeling about how much one feels attracted to the other person; a feeling that one can surely work on and that can change over the time, but it is a different layer or level to me. It seems that these two were measured by the same yardstick when these actually are two different things.

  68. I find it disheartening how many people here jump at each other, assuming the worst in each other’s comments. Yes there are contributions that are damaging and hurtful, such as fat people needing to lose weight and not being healthy. But there are a number of other comments in which readers offer perspectives that don’t fall in line with the author’s response and are challenged very harshly and with insuations about things that weren’t in the comments.
    As I see it, one can interpret a comment/statement on a scale from 1 to 10, as in 1 being the worst and 10 the best, and that a number of judgements here are when people interpret something as 1 and react in bad faith. Kat linked the article “Excommunicate me from the church of social justice” which was published on Autostraddle in 2017, and when I read it, I thought “yup, this is what’s happening in the comment section here as well and on Autostraddle overall.”

  69. I am someone who has had to work very hard on undoing self-loathing related to weight (and, similarly, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to unlearn prejudices relating to others).

    The one thing which has helped me is radical acceptance. Yes, I will still have subconscious fatphobic attitudes (as well as racist ones, internalised homophobia, and so on). I also think that it’s inevitable that I have these feelings, because of the society that I grew up in. The only way I manage to confront these feelings is by trying not to perceive myself as bad or shameful for having developed these prejudices, because I grew up absolutely marinating in them. I do see it as my personal responsibility to *unlearn* them, and I expect that to be a lifelong process. That means not being shocked (and defensive) if I don’t get it right and committing to doing better next time. I also accept that it is not possible to exist as a human and not hurt people.

    That doesn’t mean you should feel okay about hurting people! Hurting people should feel bad — but both the hurting and the feeling bad are parts of life which cannot necessarily be avoided. I can see a scenario in which this letter-writer is doing their best and the outcome still sucked. Nobody is going to magically unlearn a lifetime of ingrained fatphobia in a year. And if the LW’s partner had asked this question once, out of the blue, I’d be well on board with Heather’s response. But — at a guess, there’s more going on here. The gf has asked about LW’s attraction repeatedly, suggesting that either she needs a lot of reassurance and/or that there are other ~vibes~ from LW such that a dishonest response to the question would be super obvious.

    Which is to say — LW made their gf feel sucky but I am guessing there is no viable outcome where LW doesn’t hurt their gf’s feelings.

  70. I come from counselling and I believe that everyone does things to the best of their ability. LW did, their girlfriend did, Heather did, everyone from the AS team and every person who offered their opinion. As a whole, I think that not many people wake up and be like “how can I be really hostile and mean to someone today.” It is my impression that many people genuinely mean well. That doesn’t mean they also do well (and humans surely have various understandings what they consider as “good”). That also doesn’t mean that racism, fatphobia, transphobia etc. shouldn’t be called out. I just wish that we, as queer/left community, were more generous with one other and assumed that people mean well, that we all make mistakes, that we are living and breathing contradictions and contain multitudes, that no one is pure or perfect, neither as a human nor an activist, and were more gracious with one another. Who we are today is not who we will be in two or five or ten years, and today we aren’t who we were seven years ago. And we are all flawed. We all fuck up, time and time again. We all hurt others. It is part of being human. Yes we can point out where we disagree with something and we can criticize. But I wish there was more kindness and calmness about this, less agitation. I perceive so much judgement in these comments which can make it harder for people to open up or to remain open. I miss empathy and error friendliness in political spaces, queer spaces.
    (As a site note, I can’t tell you how often I meant to comment on Autostraddle and then didn’t because of the fear people would find it problematic what I wrote, no matter the context. Now with having to be logged in in order to comment, I am afraid this will further aggravate.)

    Finally, we don’t know LW and their girlfriend. We have zero knowledge about them as people, their relationship and dynamics, except for a brief “You Need Help” question by LW. In the end, we are all making assumptions about this couple and one aspect of their relationship; we have projections that are shaped by our own experiences and injuries. But every situation is different and every couple is different and we just don’t know. So I guess what I’m saying is that I always love the comments and responses in this column that are non-judgemental and instead compassionate and come from a space of openness and good faith.

  71. “The process of making myself so vulnerable about my insecurities, and being met with nothing but affirmation, it healed something inside me I didn’t even know was hurting.”

    This, this, this. You fucking nailed it, Heather. I can only hope to be able to both give and receive this level of unconditional love and acceptance in my closest relationships. This was inspiring to read.

  72. I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for this excellent response. As a fat person it’s so rare to encounter people talking about being fat without bringing negativity and shame and concern trolling into it. I love y’all so much for keeping it real

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