the approval of men

The other day a man wrote to me to tell me that I shouldn’t worry—I’m not that ugly. You’re not stunning, he told me, but you’re not hideous, either. So get over it. Men don’t care. Men aren’t thinking about this stuff. It’s just a bunch of women, driving each other insane, waving mascara wands like tiny ineffectual swords, shouting “You look FAT in that!” at each other.

No, he didn’t say that, about the eye makeup swords. He wasn’t that original. I know, because I get emails like his all the time.

(source)

Often they’re from nice men who want to reassure me. “You look good!” they say. “I read something you wrote and I thought you’d be worse looking, but then I found a picture, and you’re pretty! So don’t worry!”

Sometimes they tell me they’re really into women who look like me. “I know it’s not that common,” they tell me, “But I actually love big noses on women.”

But mostly they agree with each other that men don’t care. Men like them aren’t worrying about this stuff. They think I look fine. They’d definitely have sex with me. So what’s the matter? What’s the problem?

The problem is I don’t care.

 

It’s complicated, of course. I have always expected individual boys and men to find me beautiful, fall in love with me, get turned on just from looking at me, because individual boys and men always did. And at the same time it’s true that I’ve wanted more from men. I’ve wanted to know that they approved of me, as a group. Because as a group, men have seemed supercharged and threatening, more likely than women to yell something insulting out, more likely to yell something complimentary. Men have seemed more likely than women to try to summarize me to my face.

But in spite of all that, all of this body stuff– it was never actually about guys.

And it was never only about other girls and women.

It was always about the whole world.

(don’t look so innocent…you did it! source)

It was always about what makes someone worthwhile.

And for girls, prettiness is always there, leaping ahead of other qualities, vaulting over unquenchable curiosity and innate talent at rhyming words in the middle of the stanza.

Sometimes I think, no, that can’t be right. We must be past all that. That’s just an old, tired cliché. But so many of the young women I know finally let something slip about the eating disorder they had in college. Just a quick mention, in passing. A footnote. A sidebar. And too often the older women are still there in front of the mirror, criticizing themselves, frightened of losing something essential, frightened of losing themselves.

This is not about men. But I do have to point out that men are involved. There’s a lot of evidence. I’ve sat in front of guys on the train. I’ve walked behind them in college, and heading home from the subway. I’ve heard too many blunt dismissals and evaluations of women to pretend that men just don’t care or notice.  I’ve been the friend who gets asked about my friend. At a nightclub, where guys pushed by me to approach the girl I was with, nearly knocking me off my five inch heels. Where a few guys were forced to interact with me because I was with her, and one of them said, “What’s wrong with you? You shake hands like a man—“ his eyes sliding eagerly back to her.

Once when a friend of mine left the room, a guy came up to me and was like, “Your blond friend—was she looking at me? Do you think she’d go out with me?”

“She’s just visiting,” I said, “She lives across the country.”

“Damn,” he said. “She’s pretty.”

“Yup, she is,” I said.

He stood there a while, crestfallen, then, shifting tactics, he looked me up and down. “You’re OK, though,” he said. “Would you go out with me?”

There it is—that egalitarianism that people talk about. He was willing to have sex with me, too, at the end of the day. But he knew exactly what he wanted, and I didn’t look like it.

That story used to be painful for me. It felt like a dark secret. It felt shameful. I tried to pretend these things never happened. I tried to pretend I hadn’t seen the way men looked at her and not at me. But I knew I wasn’t the one any of the guys would choose first, when I went out with certain friends. We all knew it. I knew it, she knew it, they knew it. I have had whole clever, thoughtful conversations with a guy only to have him turn to my silent, sexy friend at the last second and ask her to dance.

And less frequently, but sometimes, I’ve been the one who got all the attention, while another girl was ignored.

Men care. Men notice. This is about men, too.

But it is not all about men. That would be a huge oversimplification. It’s presumptuous to imagine that all I (or any other woman who has expressed insecurity about her body) need is some male approval and a healthy dose of rationality.

“You look good enough to get a man,” said the last man who wrote to me. “So what’s the problem?”

The problem is I’m not trying to “get” a man. And most of my body insecurities have had very little to do with the desire to have one. I have not tried to be prettier so that men would ask me out. Men asking me out was good. It was important. I would have been happy with more of it, I’m sure. But my disappointment with my appearance, and the squirming, insistent anxiety that I didn’t look right, I didn’t look good enough—those things felt bigger than men. They felt like they were about what I could accomplish. They felt like they were about me failing as a person. They felt like they were about everything, and everyone. They felt like a prison with bars that inched forward, contorting, rearranging themselves into a tighter, smaller cell box, until sometimes it was just me and a mirror, locked up together for eternity.

(source)

For almost that whole time, I had a boyfriend. A boyfriend who thought I was gorgeous. Who I loved. Who wanted nothing more than to photograph me in my underwear. Who begged me not to get a nose job. Who brought back pages of research on cosmetic surgery, trying to convince me to change my mind. Who celebrated the weight I gained.

I wish it was as simple as needing to prove that I could get a man.

I wish it was as simple as needing a compliment.

I wish it was as simple as just being reasonable.

I was reading an article about people jumping off the Golden Gate bridge. One of them was a thirteen year old girl. She did well in school, the reporter noted. She was pretty. Actually, he mentioned that part first. She was pretty. I noticed it because it was annoying. Her mother found the suicide note later, tucked into a book. The girl explained that she had killed herself because she was fat and ugly. She was sorry for leaving her parents like this, but she hoped they’d get over her quickly. Because you know, it’s easier to get over the death of a fat and ugly daughter than one who is thin and pretty.

You can get into anomalous, abnormal psychological problems, and oh, we do, we definitely do, but for me, there’s a hard, flat truth at the bottom of it, and eventually you have to slam into it.  Something is wrong with the way we use beauty. Something is wrong with the way we allow it to be taught. We learn it just fine. We learn it so quickly and readily. We memorize it perfectly, and we remember every word.

Recently, I went on Australian radio to blunder through an interview about what I thought, as a body image expert (ha!), about Lady Gaga’s weight gain. The fantastically composed host shot some statistics at me—80 percent of Australian women, when polled by someone, confess that they feel bad about the way they look.

“What advice would you give them?” he asked me, jovial and bright-voiced.

Oh god.

“Um,” I said, and then I think I probably paused for a long time, in desperation. And then I said the only thing I could think of: “I would tell them to take a long bath.”

I would tell them to enjoy the water. The warmth. Their nakedness. Their bodies. Without expectations. It feels good to have a body. To be naked in it, in a tub.

(sometimes all I want to do is post pictures of gorgeous tubs…source)

It’s good to be alone with your naked body sometimes. Without the world rushing in for comparisons and opinions. Without anyone explaining women to you. Without anyone explaining yourself to you.

I didn’t say all that. I should have. I probably got immediately confused and wandered off in another direction and starting mumbling something about how we should all be nicer to ourselves and each other and how we need world peace for real, guys, like, now.

But I was right about the tub. The approval I need is my own. It’s not about men. It’s not about women. It’s about me, the world, and my naked body. It’s about learning to recognize the bars so that I can cut through them before they crush me. So that I can learn a better definition of worth. In my case, it might have something to do with rhyming words in the middle of the stanza.

*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in electric blue stilettos.

If you feel like reading even more stuff I’ve written after this very long post, check out my latest column over at The Frisky, about wearing costumes and being a woman and my experience wearing a kittel (burial shroud) during Yom Kippur.

53 Comments »

Kate on October 19th 2012 in beauty, body

53 Responses to “the approval of men”

  1. Erin responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    yes.
    I need to approve of myself. I’ll get on that.
    Thanks.
    -E

  2. ladykatya responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Kate –

    Again, you hit the nail on the head.

    I’m wrestling with this still at 35. Thirty-Freaking-Five. An age when I couldn’t imagine still having a body image issue. I have two gorgeous kids. I have an amazing fiancee. And all I can do is obsess about this bulge and that flubber. AHHH!

    I need to accept me. The question is, how do we get to that end? Therapy? Working out? A good cry?

    Thanks for making me think, as always.

    – lk

  3. Rachel responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    For me it has a LOT to do with men. Way more so than women. I’ve always not cared too much about what other women thought of me, because I was always a ‘tomboy’ who didn’t wear makeup or get dressed up, and girls would sort of make fun of me but I never cared. But being ignored by boys always hurt. Still does, though it happens a lot less frequently. For me “not pretty” has always meant “will never get or keep a boyfriend”. And when a guy has dumped me it’s always been because I’m not pretty enough, in my head, even though logic tells me that it had absolutely nothing to do with that.

  4. Mary responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    YES. I have started mentioning – ever so slightly! – my body image issues on my blog, and it’s so difficult to explain that it’s not about being pretty enough to get laid. It’s not about being thinner than my female friends. It’s about me and the mirror.

    During the period when I actively had an eating disorder, it was linked in to the idea of men, of course, but in the sense that if I couldn’t control my appetite and my body I didn’t deserve a man, not because I was fat (although I thought I was) but because I was weak. I knew fat women who had partners, who were loved, who were sexy. I never judged any other woman with the standards I applied to myself. It was this idea that I should be able to, by sheer force of will and denial, make my healthy weight be about twenty pounds less than it is, and that if I had that force of will than I would be a strong enough person to deserve good things.

    Obviously I’m still hashing through articulating it, and dealing with it. Thank you for putting it so well.

  5. jc responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    When I read what the man(men?) said to you in the email, all I could think was “ew. ‘I, as a man, approve of your appearance, so you need to get over it.’” How condescending.

  6. Mary responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Ack! “THEN I would be a strong enough person…”

  7. teegan responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    For the last few months of my pregnancy, before the very end when we relearned how to have intercourse, naked time was super important for me. Naked time alone – in the shower, in the tub – was important for me to love my body. Naked time with Mark full of just touching and kissing was important so that I could love my body, so that I knew Mark still loved my body (even though he never showed any signs of doubt). All I’m saying is – I agree with the bath tub thing.

    And I agree with the idea of the doubt being bigger about impressing men or women. It’s an overwhelming force. It’s the same as when Catholics describe God watching everything they do; during the hard times, it’s like the Fat Fairy is watching and judging every outfit, every bulge, and deciding whether or not you get into Pretty Girl Heaven. It’s tough to ignore her. It’s tough to banish her.

  8. Kate responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    @ladykatya
    For me, I think the thing that helps is watching myself be good at other things that have absolutely nothing to do with the way I look. And of course baths… :-) And just the passage of time, I hope. But as we know, no guarantees there…too many women still feel these things when they’re 90. I am not planning on being one of them.

  9. Melanie responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    I loved this post. When are people going to understand that our self-esteem is not a reflection of what others think? Our self worth and what we think of our physical selves comes from us. Our childhood and upbringing have influenced it. The things we have seen in our culture have influenced it. But it’s not about “Do I think I can get a man?” Why do people think, “You’re not that bad” is a compliment? It makes me want to scream.

    At my birthday bbq one of my friend’s said, “His other girlfriend is not nearly as pretty as you are.” I immediately turned and said, “I adore her and I would appreciate if you not say that again.” I don’t need to be prettier, or less homely than anyone else. I just need to work on the things I don’t like about myself and be the best me I can be. Comparing me to other ladies, doesn’t make me feel prettier. It makes me think the people comparing are lame and judgmental, and it makes me very uncomfortable.

    I do not love everything about my physical self, but none of my self worth has to do with what men, or even other women think. It’s am I taking care of myself and being healthy? Am I taking pride in my physical self without going overboard? So many things come in to play, and not one of them are, “Hey random guy who reads my blog: do you think I’m pretty?” Gah!

    Okay, I’m done ranting. :)

  10. Aurora responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    There is something incredibly empowering in the idea that someone could, if they looked good enough, stun people without having to lift a finger. I often wish I had that ability. I don’t, and I think that’s part of what people are looking for and wish they had. The idea that you’re capturing attention and seeming noteworthy just because you *exist.*

  11. Kate responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    @Aurora
    Yes! There absolutely is. And I’ve definitely wanted that. But I’m also pretty excited about the possibility of stunning people with the things I do. I know, it’s harder, but it’s pretty damn satisfying when it happens.

  12. Kate responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    @teegan
    The Fat Fairy. Totally.

  13. Kate responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    @Mary
    Well said!! That’s seems exactly right– it is LINKED to the idea of men. But there’s something bigger, something more happening.

  14. Emily responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    Something that I’ve tried to articulate for awhile now. Is that when I have some body image insecurities, it is not because I fear of what a man will think. I’ve been hit on, I know its not awesome. That’s not what its about.

    I feel like society cares more about people who are thin and attractive. And not in a sexual way (necessarily) but your story is more interesting to people if you are thin and attractive. If you look at popular books and movies, the protagonist is always thin and attractive and probably white. So, the closer you are to those things means the more interesting your ideas are, your stories are, what you have to say. I also say this because, well, i’m thin. And I feel more paid attention to when I’m with people who are maybe not thin. And not in a men-sexual-attention way. But in a regular way. The waiter might glance to me first, a stranger decides to strike up a conversation to me, etc.

    And there are probably countless factors, but, I think reducing body image stuff to gaining the male desire is not accurate.

  15. Kate responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    @Rachel
    Sometimes I wonder if I’d have felt more like this if guys had dated me less and broken up with me more. I think there’s a real chance. And it’s usually not correct, but it’s an understandable translation of the way the world shows us worth. I’ve watched so many gorgeous friends get broken up with, and cheated on, and heart broken, and not called back. I’ve watched shy girls people almost never notice find immediate, lasting love. Sometimes it seems totally random. I can’t help but think that a lot of it is just about dumb luck.

  16. Lisa responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    This was such a fantastic article! I loved it. Thank you! Sometimes it feels as if this “fight” with ourselves is never ending. I was one of those women who no one ever looked at, ever. I was that smart nerdy weird chick who was kind of masculine in my ways and thinking.

    Later in life (the last couple of years, I am 42 now), my looks became a lot more noticeable (acceptable?) to people in society. But despite the constant looks, comments and new thinner body, I still feel the same and people still react to me the same when I open my mouth. I am that same awkward nerdy woman I always was. Sure, I still find flaws when I look in the mirror, though I laugh about them now instead of trying to change them. But it took years for me to finally laugh at myself. Maybe as we get older, fighting with ourselves becomes too tiring and we find other more important things to waste our energy on. :)

  17. Maja H responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    It is such a weird phenomenon how men feel you should breathe a sigh of relief when they offer creepy sexualized approval that you never even asked for in the first place. “Lighten up, I’d totally do you”. Yay, unwanted sexual attention! It was never about me and my issues as a human being after all, it was all about snaggin’ me a man. Gotta love that bloated sense of male privilege.

  18. Rosanne responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Very good article, Kate. I feel I want to say more on the subject but I have to let it sink in a bit, it seems. Just, nicely done :)

  19. San D responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    oooo, just wait until gravity wins, grey is everywhere, moustache hairs grow, people open doors for you and call you “ma’am”. (that kills me…although I know people are just being polite and reacting to the “outside me”). I once belonged to a poetry group of women all older than I. One wrote a beautiful piece on how no one whistles at her anymore, or even gives her a second thought, but she is still the same person. What until you actually DO become invisible. As I told my contemporary friends, “ask for senior citizen discounts, no one will card you”…and it’s sad but true, they didn’t believe me until they tried it. Because people see you as old and fat, and so I might as well oblige and get that coveted discount! Inside 30 max, outside 64. $9.00 round trip on the train to NYC….SWEET!!

  20. San D responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    geeze, I should proof before I hit send….

    “wait until you actually DO become invisible”

  21. e responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    The standards other men had were never good enough for me, never strict enough. They were happy with anything. They thought I looked gorgeous when SO obviously I was fat, and ugly in the face.

    The standards of other women were a little better, but still not good enough. They thought my hair was pretty when so obviously it looked horrible. They thought I looked good enough without my eyelashes curled. They gave me still way too much space and permission to be fat and ugly.

    It’s not even the world, to me. It has become so clear over all the years how it was only myself enslaving me. If I was not being driven like a slave by a master who is never satisfied, I simply didn’t trust other people’s standards and assessments.

    When you’ve been so pretty that it’s common for men to actually be stunned at your beauty, stare at you no matter what woman they are with or how they are angering/hurting her, become spellbound and tongue tied/babbling or else (if the player type) assume that you exist to be objectified just because you look like all the other objectified women used in advertising and entertainment media – what even means anything??

    There is no place of gorgeousness and irrestible beauty/charm/love/health/money/friends in the world that is an oasis from the judging. There is no safe place of thin gorgeousness where no man will ever look at you with utter contempt and disrespect and no woman will ever say a mean thing to you. There is nothing that can be achieved. I LOVE the bathtub idea and suggestion, because truly we have to find this within ourselves, and we can. From there is such freedom and peace!

  22. e responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    “…until sometimes it was just me and a mirror, locked up together for eternity.”

    This is so beautiful and haunting.

  23. Heavy responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    @Emily – Bingo! I think this totally echoes what Kate said about it being a more universal (in Western and Western leaning cultures) problem. It’s that thin, pretty, young and yes usually white-looking are the currencies of our culture for women and girls. If you can’t be white at least be pretty and thin and young. On an individual basis, in our interactions with specific people that may not hold true necessarily because personality and other values can affect the game, but on a universal level, these are the things that make people care, that make people notice you, that make people want to be with you or be associated with you. Who you are and what you do are a lot less important to society as a whole, than how you look. Which is patently insane and dangerous and terrible.

  24. Sarah S responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    @ladykatya: Body image issues have no age limit. I was diagnosed with anorexia at thirty-five myself, and many doctors have literally said to me, “Aren’t you a little old for that?” One of the biggest hurdles getting older women (as in past high school and college age) into treatment is the perception that eating disorders are only a young person’s disease; we feel shame for not having outgrown body issues when we are so accomplished in other areas of life. You aren’t alone in your struggle!

  25. Kristina responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    I don’t want to generalize men, but I find the majority I come across like to down-play women’s issues, as if the thoughts and emotions we experiance are just there to keep us occupied until it’s time to do something important, like cook dinner. I hate to bring politics up but just this week I had a few men, including my uncle, tell me that women’s issues in our presidenital campaign is a “small issue” and we have “big(real) issues” to worry about like the economy. In my head, I was thinking , “excuse me? There is nothing at all SMALL about my vagina.” Men don’t get it, they might never get it. I was talking to my husband about this last night, about how men try to pacify women’s issues and this makes me feel like I am inferior to them, and he agreed that men (including himself) just plain don’t understand how a woman’s mind works. It’s like Kate blogging about her body issues and men think her body issues stem from wanting a man.

  26. Shannon responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 11:35 pm #

    Might be a bit off topic, but I find “You look good enough to get a man” very insulting.

    First and most insulting, it implies there are women who don’t look good enough to get a man, which is not at all true.

    Second, it implies that getting a man is somehow important. With the exception of a small percentage of people, everyone wants to have a warm loving relationship(s). This necessarily mean a romantic one either. It depends on the person. Getting a man should never be a part of self worth. If you are desperate for a relationship to prove your self worth, then you may not be picky enough to choose someone who is appropriate for you. It is important to be picky! (This applies to men as well.)

    Brains don’t like to let go of things they have ingrained, so it is really important to quit teaching girls this crap, so they don’t grow up with body issues they have to struggle against.

  27. Red responded on 20 Oct 2012 at 3:25 am #

    I’m 18, so I guess i’m done growing. I’ve always wanted to be taller though. Everyone I know knows this, including my male friends. At 5’7″, I know i’m already pretty tall. Sometimes taller than my guy friends.I’m skinny too, so I guess that’s cool. I’ve been told on several occasions that guys don’t like tall girls. I don’t care. I have this image in my head, of what I want to look like. 5’8”, skinny. johnnydepp-esque cheekbones. Model-like.Perfection. I tell myself that this is really what I want for myself. No outside influence. I don’t know why it has to be a model. I had a girl once tell me that guys don’t like chicks with flat boobs. So what? should i pay for a boob job just to impress some potential guy? fuck it. At some point, I realized I just didn’t care enough about men’s opinions.

  28. Becky responded on 20 Oct 2012 at 8:03 am #

    lk-
    Your post is one of the first comments I read and I wanted to tell you what I learned in counseling years ago for my eating disorder. You need to take a notebook and everyday write one thing you like about yourself in it. Kind of like the unroast that is done in this blog. In desperate time for myself I have gone as far as saying today I love my uterus for carrying my son through my pregnancy. This comment was done when I could not find anything on the outside that I liked or anything in my personality that I liked. I have been doing this notebook for the past 3 to 4 years now and I find that it really keeps me on track with the way I feel about myself. I hope this helps.
    Kate again another wonderful post your posts are a breath of fresh air. Thank you!
    Becky

  29. Becky responded on 20 Oct 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Kate, your suggestion about taking longs baths really hit home with me. For years I avoided the bath, trying to convince myself that I just didn’t like taking baths, when really that was a lie. I didn’t like spending that much time naked with myself, seeing every inch of my body taking up space. I hated seeing how much water my body had displaced when I got out of the tub. Now that I’m learning to love myself and my body just the way it is I’m rediscovering the bath. I love taking baths. I love how relaxing it feels, and I love just being there with myself with no one to judge, spending time appreciating how my body looks and feels without comparing it to anyone else.

    @Becky (the one before me that is, I’m not talking to myself :) – I love the idea to take a notebook and write something nice about yourself in it everyday so you can look back at it on the really rough days. I currently have sticky notes all over my mirror to remind me that I’m beautiful and to stop obsessing over how I look, but I love the idea of a notebook that is going to stick around for years. The sticky notes are a little more fleeting.

  30. Brittany responded on 20 Oct 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    I can’t believe these men who email you to say that! What a bunch of pompous phonies, trying to say they don’t care while they clearly judge your appearance immediately based on your writing and think its important that they reassure you about it; important enough to take time out of their days to email you. This isn’t just some kind of misunderstanding or misplaced “support”; this is another no-win situation: we’re going to project body image issues on to you and then make you feel like its your fault for caring. Argh.

  31. M responded on 21 Oct 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Wow. I’m so glad I read this. I am almost 40 and still have the body image issues I had in high school. And these issued truly affected the way I lived my life. I spent my 20s and most of my 30s avoiding being truly naked in front of men, never letting go during sex because I thought I would look ridiculous jiggling here and there, never wearing bathing suits or shorts in public…..

    Then somehow I arrived in my 30s and met a man who loved every inch of my body. But I’d spent my life hiding my body and only let him catch controlled glimpses of my body even after we got married. I was too embarrassed to change clothes in front of him — not embarrassed about being naked, but embarrassed about being overweight. Without the “protection” of figure-flattering clothing, I felt so unlovable. I wouldn’t let him touch my stomach and would tense up if he even bumped it. He would tell me over and over that he would love me just the same even if I gained 300 pounds. He was my husband and he loved me–why couldn’t I just get over it, he’d ask. Why would it matter what anyone else thinks if my husband loves me just the way I am, he’d wonder.

    I thought he only believed me beautiful *because* he was my husband and love is blind. I started to realize it really was about *me* and my inability to accept myself in my skin. His attempts to assure me of my beauty made a little difference, but in the end it was something I needed to work on myself. And I can’t tell you how hard it is to fight 30+ years of what I believe now would qualify as “severe” body image. Ever since our engagement, I started looking at wedding photography online, and whenever I’d see photographs of less-than-skinny women looking so content and blissful in their engagement and wedding pictures, I wished I could be like them. I would look at the pictures of their fiances/husbands, actually touching what to me were “no-go” areas, with no cringing, no tension. Just all-encompassing contentment and love. I would tell myself, if they can feel that confident and at peace in their own skin, I can too!

    I got a really good workbook called “The Body Image Workbook,” and started to work my way through the first couple chapters. But it is so hard to get over engrained ways of thinking and dressing, negative self-talk, constant personal comparisons with other women, etc. It was taking a long time. When I started to gain a full awareness of my body image issues and was able to articulate them, that’s when I felt I could start to actually work on them. I would share my insights with my husband, but he could never get it. He thought these issues weren’t very important and probably thought I’d *never* get over them. His patience started to wear thin, and he began to define this as a lack of trust and intimacy in our marriage. And for him it is one of the reasons he recently left me.

    I know I need to continue learning how to accept myself, but this has been an even bigger blow to my self esteem. As I head into my 40s, I don’t know if I want to try climbing this mountain with anyone else in my life again. Now that I am alone, I think it will be easier to do the personal work required, and not feel pressured to “get over it” in a month or two. My goal is to eventually love myself fully in my skin–whether I weigh 100, 150, or 200 pounds. Until I can feel confident enough with myself, I don’t think I’m ready for any more relationships.

  32. Caitlin responded on 21 Oct 2012 at 9:52 am #

    I’ve tried to explain this feeling to people – “I’m never the woman that a guy will buy a drink for in a bar. I’m never the woman who someone will try and start a conversation with because they like how I look and want to get to know me – I’m the woman who people crush on after they get to know me.”

    I know I should be flattered that people think my personality is awesome (ie awesome enough to not care I’m obese), and that it’s better for someone to like me for my personality as opposed to my fleeting appearance (is this why divorce rates are so high? because people pick out spouses based on their appearance first and personality second?), but just once, I want to be that woman that strangers want to know.

    (I just proofread my comment and changed all my “girl”s to “woman”s and I feel strange about it. Like I’m not a woman yet even though I’m 27…)

  33. zoe responded on 21 Oct 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    yes. to everything.

    and i know you said it doesn’t hurt you anymore, but i’m still sorry some dude said “you’re okay though” to you. ugh, i wish you’d seen my reaction when i read that. bleh.

  34. Manda responded on 22 Oct 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Wow…the last few times i went out with my best friend…it was just like that…the guys headed for her…and if she wasn’t interested they would turn around and talk to me…one guy liked her alot…send her two dozen roses…she told him “no”…then we went out…i am stupid…and i never got roses..we still see each other..but he is trying to convince us both that he hates her…ugh..

  35. skye responded on 22 Oct 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    I always thought it was silly to obsess over aging, but now I understand how it starts to happen. I wake up one morning and see a light brown mark on my face where there wasn’t one before. A week later I look down at my hands and see that the skin at my wrists is less taught, it’s losing elasticity. I feel anxiety needling me, forcing me to the mirror to take stock of the changes and note what needs to be fixed. And I realize that no, I am not immune to the trappings that leave so many confident women questioning their place in the world after age 30.

    I do blame the rest of the world for the way I feel. I think my changing wrists would be interesting to me if I didn’t have to worry that other people would notice. The new wrinkles around my eyes would feel normal and even healthy if I didn’t worry about what my family will say when I see them for our annual Christmas gathering. I love my body. It’s the rest of the world that needs to stop judging me and assuming things about me and obsessing over age and appearance.

  36. Cindy responded on 22 Oct 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    “I read something you wrote and I thought you’d be worse looking, but then I found a picture, and you’re pretty! So don’t worry!”

    That’s one of the most backhanded compliments I’ve seen in a while. Apparently he thinks you write like someone who’s unattractive (because apparently the combination of physical attributes you possess that society has deemed “attractive” shows up when you use a series of abstract symbols representing a verbal language in order to express your thoughts.)

  37. ladykatya responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    @Kate –

    I’m good at lots of things… I’m just not perfect enough looking! :) It’s so silly. There are many women who have told me they’d want my life… I don’t know why that can’t just be enough!

    @Sarah S –

    Thank you. I truly feel like I’m alone when it comes to a lot of this! I feel like, by now, I should be all put together!

    @Becky –

    I don’t know if I could do that, but I’m going to try! It can’t hurt, right?

    Thank you ladies. Your comments meant a lot to me! I’m really glad that I came back and read (and hope that you all do as well!)

    – lk

  38. Kim McCabe responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 3:01 am #

    My daughter is still young enough to inhabit her body in total comfort. It is not that she is not conscious of her body – she is deliciously aware of it. She delights in it. She likes to adorn it, to change outfit several times a day, to dance and run and jump and climb, to wriggle and wallow in a bath, to prance about naked. Her body is an uncomplicated source of pleasure for her.

    But something terrible is going to happen to her. She is going to learn to judge her body, to wish it were different, and probably to expend effort, time and money trying to alter it.

    No matter how much we love her, and love the way she looks, and let her know this, other forces are at work that will cut across all this and destroy her easy self-acceptance.

    So what do we do?

  39. Celtic Hound responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 5:41 am #

    Women are not the only one with this problem. I feel it too but in a more profound way. 30+ years ago I was one of those hot guys girls would practically fall in love/lust with at first glance. Now between losing hai and gaining weight and just getting old, I don’t stand out anymore. I look like every other guy in his 50′s.

    Sometimes I miss being the best looking guy in the room, but most of the time I am relieved that I don’t stand out like that anymore. My older brother spent most of his life looking like Pierce Brosnan, and it caused him three marriages because he could not stay faithful when faced with temptation.

    I am at peace with not being handsome anymore. Now that I blend in with the rest of my generation, I get to stand out of the crowd for my ideas, my problem solving, my humor, and my empathy. My wife of 23 years does not mind I am not the Prince Charming in our wedding photos, because she did not marry me for my looks. She was the first person to see beyond my good looks to who I really was. It was that person she fell in love with, and who I am on the inside has not changed. The reason I fell so deeply in love with her and why I have been faithful since the day we met is because she recognized who I am as a person. Once you find true love, the physical does not matter as much. I still swim a mile a day to stay healthy but I’m not turning heads anymore and I am fine with that.

  40. Celtic Hound responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 6:13 am #

    CORRECTION: my older brother’s good looks cost him four marriages. I forgot about the 18-year-old he married when he was 45.

  41. Katie responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 10:12 am #

    What a wonderful piece. All I could think was yes yes yes. You described my own experience, and it’s lovely to hear that explained so beautifully. When I try and discuss with other people, they don’t get the issue. They say “you aren’t fat” or “you’re so pretty”.

    Also: the comments by those men are infuriating. Even when they are trying to be “nice” they assume that women only care about how they relate back to men. I won’t ramble any further because you wrote it so much better than I could.

  42. Sissa Says responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    I have JUST found you! (Thanks to Pinterest!) & this has made me cry! I am almost 40yrs old & yet, this stuff just sits bubbling away under the surface until someone thoughtful, eloquent & brave says it out loud for us all to acknowledge ‘Yeah?! Me too!’ – THANK YOU!!

  43. bailey responded on 26 Oct 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    Totally agree. Others can say you look great, but to actually feel great you have to accept yourself the way you are!! I have had body image issues for years,this website helped me: http://www.justsayyes.org/topics/self-image-media-influences/

  44. peter responded on 29 Oct 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Kate, I have read yor story, and i appreciate your emotion. i feel your analysis is a little one dimensional in parts though. Men pay women different kinds of attention and plenty of these kinds of attention are based on pure lust, ego power or raw youth-desire and nothing to do with actual beauty and not the kind women should be hoping for or appreciating.
    There are lots of different types, and depths, of men.

  45. Lovely Links: 11/2/12 responded on 02 Nov 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    [...] “The problem is I’m not trying to ‘get’ a man. And most of my body insecurities have ha…. I have not tried to be prettier so that men would ask me out. Men asking me out was good. It was important. I would have been happy with more of it, I’m sure. But my disappointment with my appearance, and the squirming, insistent anxiety that I didn’t look right, I didn’t look good enough—those things felt bigger than men.” [...]

  46. Marla responded on 02 Nov 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Just want to say thank you.

  47. Haley responded on 03 Nov 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    YES. Thank you!!!

  48. SamiJ responded on 08 Nov 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Working out makes me feel stronger, makes me appreciate my body more. Not losing weight — getting physically stronger. I appreciate my legs the most when I am running the last mile, I appreciate my arms most when I am doing curls & lifts. When I started, I could not do much of anything. I went slowly and it took almost a year to get into condition, but now I can’t imagine not running or doing my tape. I am not the fittest, and I am sure I don’t look athletic — but I feel athletic, heck I am athletic and I like that strong feeling.

  49. Link Love (08/11/2012) « Becky's Kaleidoscope responded on 08 Nov 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    [...] “The problem is I’m not trying to “get” a man. And most of my body insecurities have had very little to do with the desire to have one. I have not tried to be prettier so that men would ask me out. Men asking me out was good. It was important. I would have been happy with more of it, I’m sure. But my disappointment with my appearance, and the squirming, insistent anxiety that I didn’t look right, I didn’t look good enough—those things felt bigger than men. They felt like they were about what I could accomplish. They felt like they were about me failing as a person. They felt like they were about everything, and everyone. They felt like a prison with bars that inched forward, contorting, rearranging themselves into a tighter, smaller cell box, until sometimes it was just me and a mirror, locked up together for eternity.” The Approval of Men – Eat the Damn Cake [...]

  50. Great Reads for a Slow Week » Two Wishes responded on 26 Nov 2012 at 10:10 am #

    [...] Wordy, but this post eventually gets to real truths: Beauty challenges aren’t really about finding a mate. “[M]y disappointment with my appearance, and the squirming, insistent anxiety that I didn’t look right, I didn’t look good enough— those things felt bigger than men. They felt like they were about what I could accomplish. They felt like they were about me failing as a person.” Some wise comments too. At Eat the Damn Cake. [...]

  51. Mel responded on 16 Jan 2013 at 7:34 am #

    My cousin died mysteriously. They’re investigating now and I hate the way they go on about the fact that she was physically beautiful in the media, and that it’s one of the first things people say about her even now, and that when she was alive people went on about it all the time, men and women. I hate that it made me feel shy and ugly ducklingish around her, and that it’s partly because of that that I didn’t get to know her very well. It’s too late for that now, but I try not to let beauty intimidate me these days. It’s harder than I thought.

  52. Lena responded on 19 Jan 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    Beauty challenges aren’t about men’s approval when you already know you have it.

    I’m nervous to even anonymously admit that I have never had a guy. I’m about to graduate from college, but I have never been complimented, kissed, invited on a date, or been in any semblance of a relationship in my life. Men are not interested in me. Apparently women are, but that’s a whole other story.

    I have horrible image issues because I feel the need to explain this. Everyone I know has had at least one of the above – and I’ve never met any girl who hasn’t at least been flirted with by a guy by the end of college. I don’t dress like a slob. I don’t have social problems with friends. I’m just not interesting to any guy who hasn’t already been forced to spend time with me and realize I have a personality (and even then apparently it’s a friend-type personality). Guys seem to avoid speaking to me in public unless it’s their job.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable, given that I have no idea what’s going on in their minds and that I would like to be married someday, to be concerned about their approval. I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with me. When I strip away all of these extraneous factors I don’t have an issue with who I am or how I look. I just feel like everyone else does.

  53. Victoria responded on 29 Mar 2013 at 1:52 am #

    At the “ripe old age” of 52 I’m still battling insecurity and my overly harsh judgement on the reflection in the mirror. It used to matter, what men thought of me. Now…well, I feel more liberated to let men know what I think of THEM when they feel a need to comment on my outer self. My inner self feels slightly more at ease with the constant changes. Not always happy, but more accepting. Another persons perception of you isn’t who you are, right? Some mornings (truthfully, MOST mornings) I still don’t like the reflection in the mirror…the dark circles under my eyes, my “too large” nose, the appearance of fine lines, larger pores, disappearing waistline..and on, and on…. and then I have a cup of coffee and greet my dogs, sit on the front porch and let myself wake up slowly, and eventually a long, hot shower helps to dissolve the negativity and I move on to the things that matter most to me…family, friends, pets, hobbies, and finding a measure of joy in my day. Getting ready for bed I find myself face-to-face with that reflection once again and sometimes I’m not as hard on “her” as I was earlier. Mostly, I wonder why I feel a need to be hard on “her” in the first place… I don’t care why men are such harsh critics of us. Why are WE such harsh critics of ourselves? A smaller nose and less gray hair isn’t going to change anything that truly matters in my day to day life…yet, still, I look in the mirror and find myself lacking.