The obesity/self-esteem dynamic is a topic that doesn’t get enough attention. Sure, there have been countless studies on how obesity affects self-esteem, but duh – that’s kind of like a study of the obvious, like telling us that water turns into ice when it freezes. We have started the dialogue on other important issues like bullying, but not specifically on how being overweight affects us from an emotional and a psychological perspective.
You can’t hide from being overweight. It’s always there and it’s all encompassing. It’s there when you put on your clothes, it’s there when you look at your reflection and it’s there in the way that other people treat you. The sad thing is that we, as a society, gage our worth and our value on the feedback we get from others. Stop and think about that for a moment. If from birth, everyone is telling you that you have a huge nose, even if you don’t, but you keep getting that feedback you’re going to be self-conscious about it and you will see imperfections that don’t exist. For people that are overweight, the feedback they get is: there’s something wrong with you, you’re not important, no one will love you, you’re ugly and unappealing….. so naturally when we get these kinds of messages it is going to affect how we feel about ourselves.
Over the past several weeks I asked several women that I was working with, what they thought obesity felt like. Here’s some of their answers. Being overweight:
- Makes you feel invisible. People pass you over and behave like you’re not even there.
- Makes you feel like you are broken, that something isn’t working inside of you. So if a man wants children – don’t pick me or they’ll inherit this brokenness.
- Makes you feel like you don’t deserve what everyone else does.
- I feel like I’m always the side kick. Everyone else gets attention, but not me. I’m just there for comedic relief.
- Makes you feel like no one can, or will want you looking like this.
- You feel like if someone gives you attention you have to jump all over it because your options are limited.
- Keeps you from achieving your full potential, because you’re constantly battling the weight issue. People will pass you over for jobs and promotions, because you don’t look corporate enough. You look like you have no discipline or willpower.
- Makes you feel ashamed and embarrassed. You don’t want to be touched because you don’t want someone to grab you in places you feel self-conscious about.
- Makes you want to hide from people and not go out.
- Makes you feel ugly, unattractive and that no one will want you.
- Makes you feel like you’re uncomfortable in your own skin, like you’re not normal.
The one thing I get from all of these answers is that being overweight hurts. Words like, broken, unwanted, unlovable, shame, invisible – they’re powerful and they cut deep. Almost everyone said that they associate being overweight with being lazy and having no willpower, even if they were overweight themselves. Nearly 36 percent of Americans are overweight. Isn’t it time people started talking about how this really affects us on a deeper level?
The reasons people are overweight are as numerous as the stars, for some it’s, the type of medication they’re on, hormonal imbalances, food addiction, sugar addiction, unhealthy coping mechanisms (emotional eating), in some cases it’s our armor – it protects us from hurt, pregnancies, depression, heredity….. to just say someone is weak and doesn’t have willpower is ridiculous.
People have been talking lately about the stigma of mental health and how our perceptions need to change and how we should start talking about it. I heard a famous hockey coach, Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings say, “Depression has nothing to do with a lack of mental toughness.” And from that I think we can safely say that, obesity has nothing to do with a lack of will power. Will power can only get you so far.
I’ve been on both sides of the obesity coin. My mother was beautiful. She probably weighed about 105 lbs. You could almost wrap your thumb and index finger around her ankles, they were so tiny. I was not so tiny. I had an obese father and I was the only daughter, to a mother, who believed that looks were the most important thing in life. I was an embarrassment to her and she took passive-aggressive jabs at me, on a daily basis. She was heartbreakingly critical. She shamed and humiliated me at every turn, under the guise of, “I’m only trying to help you.” And I used to believe, as a young girl, that if only I was a size zero, then people would love me, then I would be good enough and it would be ok to let someone get close to me – but not until then.
After my long-term Narcissist left me, it happened. I got angry and I got focused and within the year I was fitter than I’d ever been in my whole life. This should have solved all of my problems, according to my unhealthy thinking, but it didn’t. I still didn’t feel good enough, or worthy. I was so focused on my outsides, that I neglected my insides. I was still attracting narcissists and I felt like a fat person in a thin person’s body. Don’t get me wrong, I liked looking at myself naked (for once), I had developed a level of confidence and I liked the attention I was getting, but something felt off and it told me I still had work to do – this time though, the work was inside, not outside.
I started to think about where all this shame and self-hatred came from and I wondered, what if, in an instant we could switch cultural norms and instead of thinness being in fashion, it was the round bodies that were in vogue. Wouldn’t we all feel different about ourselves then? Wouldn’t we be strutting our stuff in all our plump glory?
This made me realize that all this shame, judgment and hurt that I was carrying around came from other people. It came from society and it wasn’t real. Something is true only when it doesn’t change, so when the opinions and trends of others can change on a dime – they have no substance and therefore no truth. I was again giving other people way too much power over how I was feeling about me. To be comfortable in my own skin, regardless of the numbers on the scale, was up to me. It was not going to be given to me by someone else, I had to reach out and accept this body that was mine – flaws and all.
I realized that people are going to think what they’re going to think, judge what they’re going to judge and it has absolutely nothing to do with me. People pass on the culture, the opinions and prejudices that they have been brought up to believe and what they’re judging isn’t me, because I am not this body. This body houses my spirit and my spirit is who I am – what someone else thinks and does, doesn’t diminish my worth, it doesn’t make them right about me, all it does is make them a person that needs to judge others.
Having said that, the most profound thing I learned about being healthy was that it encompasses you in your entirety. What I mean by that is, that you can be a person with a healthy body, but an unhealthy mind or you can be a person with a healthy mind and an unhealthy body, but neither is fully healthy. For me, being healthy means healthy within both the mind and the body.
A mentally healthy person knows that they need to take care of themselves physically every day. The two go hand in hand, so get out there, get moving. You don’t have to hit the elliptical for an hour, but go for a walk around the block. Our bodies weren’t meant to be so stationary – inactivity kills. As I’m writing this, this morning, I threw an apple, a half of a pear, some spinach, kale and a little cucumber into a blender with some ice and water and voila… breakfast. It feels good to treat yourself with love. I should know, for a long time I punished myself, punished my body for not being perfect, by abusing it with food.
What this all boils down to is a choice. You can give yourself the love that you deserve and treat your body with kindness, or you can continue to hurt yourself. Remember being healthy means being fully healthy both mentally and physically. To fully love yourself, means to take care of yourself fully. Make the move to self-love, shift your perspective, take back your power and take the steps to health, you’ve punished yourself long enough.
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There is another side to the coin of narcissism and weight.
My Narc was married three times to three different women who gained large amounts of weight during their marriage. Is that a coincidence? Then I come along, we have a long-distance relationship for six months. I gain weight.
Fortunately, my weight gain was limited, as was the “relationship,” but his three wives had gone from thin to obese. Two are still obese. The one that is now thin was the only one able to talk back and challenge him. She obviously hated him and able to vocalize it. And she lost her excess weight.
Narc liked thin women and could not understand why he always ended up with obese women. He joked that he caused it. I think he did and it was no joke. The women gained weight because they were not able to express the agony they went through during marriage to him.
Just a thought.
Great point Oona. I think I’ve through the same, even though my narc liked the weight, I wasn’t thin when I met him. I’ve been from one narcissist to another practically my whole life, with some substance abuse thrown in for good measure-which I thought was the problem. Really, it was only disguising the real issue: NPD. Anyway since him, I am at my heaviest. I do think that eating your words, so to speak, must be an issue. Also self-protection. You become invisible. It’s not just protecting me from them, but also from myself, bc I don’t trust myself not to pick another one yet. I am working on my issues and am getting better at recognizing unhealthy behavior and turning away, not toward it through ACA 12 step program and therapy. I have a hunch that when I can trust me to fully protect myself the weight will be easier to shed.
Well here’s another one I can relate to and as a man it may not seem as bad because it seems so many guys let themselves go and women don’t seem to care. As a young man I gained a lot of weight and suffered the ridicule of schoolmates. Being the fat kid brought on a special pointed abuse from some jocks. As I said in a response to one of your other columns I lost the weight after the end of my first teenage marriage. I married and thought i was safe. Be she started cheating on me immediately. I was the GUY that had no other choices but to stay.But I finally left and determined to lose the weight. But like you I took care of the outside and not the equal work on the inside that I needed. I thought I was but I let myself get trapped again with an alcoholic this time that I was determined to stay with to prove to the world I could endure.I believe in the Love conquers all myth too. How stupid. I only managed to teach my daughter to follow in my codependency foot steps. I realized this when after losing weight and starting to lift weight I got bigger but everyone started calling me fat again when i was in a totally different shape. My mother off all people seemed to take a perverse delight in calling me fat to my face. It bothered and hurt me because the inside was still the little child trying to hide in a circus strong mans body. I’m learning and i’m trying to balance looking for a woman with equal understanding of that healthy mind and body understanding while not telling some woman who may be a little over weight to change for me. I’ don’t want to inflict pain onto someone that way. Better appreciate the work done inside and let it transfer to the outside if and when she decides to do it.
I am actually a little different. I have always been athletic and fit. We moved in together in 2007. In Feb 2008, he proposed. That is when my weight gain began. By May 2009, I had gone from less than 125 lb to around 145lb. I had to find a new wedding dress the week of our wedding because of it. Fast forward to now, I am at 170lbs. I am barely 5’2″. I am eating my emotions. I never had addiction issues or eating issues before this relationship. Around June 2013, my blinders came off and I finally realized that I am married to a narcissist. It has taken me a year to really digest and come to terms with my reality, but I am very glad I am awake. Honestly, I am not too concerned about my weight. I realize it needs to come off for my health, but the root of the issue needs to be addressed first. His abuse will kill me before my wobbly bits do. Thank you for your articles. I learn a little more each day. I am still not sure how I am getting out, but I will. Much love, Lucy.
This really hits home for me. I’m a 30 something male recovering from a horrific relationship with a female narcissist. The pattern of me staying in spite of cheating in my last two relationships that made me realize there was a problem. When the relationship went the exact same as the last I knew there was something deeper. Where did this codependent relationship behavior come from? It seemed to be initiated through betrayal. I would cling harder. Why did I put up with it? Then I started to realize that I validate my self worth through others. I paid attention to how my inner critic is so loud all day, how it’s ever present in each interaction. At a grocery store, through a drive thru window, in a pharmacy, or with a coworker. Always saying, don’t say that! you don’t fit in! This person just looked at you funny, they think you look strange!
After much deep thought, I realize the source of all of this. The oddest thing, I remember it all well, it was always there I just never tied it so deeply into my self doubt, self defeating behaviors two decades later.
When I was 13 years old I found out I was fat. I say found out because I moved to another state. Up until that point I had life long friends and I guess I just never noticed. At my new school I was tormented, bullied, teased, ridiculed, and mocked. I was so ashamed that somehow my parents would be ashamed of me. My brother was popular played sports, and was fit. If I told them what my days were like, they would probably think I was a loser. So I kept it in. I remember I just wasn’t a fighting type. I tried to win over my tormentors. Sometimes I did, and they’d see I was a nice person, other times they’d just make fun of me more. I never went to dances because nobody would want to dance with a fat kid like me, I told myself. I was scared to play basketball my favorite sport because they’d make us play shirts and skins and everyone would laugh at me. I hated myself. And when my brother would fight with me, he started calling me fat too. I was crushed. Now my own family. It must be true, I’m worthless. So there I was isolated and alone, forced away from my friends I knew forever and who were my support structure.
This is where ALL OF MY ISSUES with self image, self worth, fear, anxiety, worthlessness, shame and codependency started.
I’m not sure what to do to heal them, but you know that feeling you get when you KNOW something? I think we dig and dig and dig looking for what that backdrop is within our minds, constantly present that blocks the sun rays from shining on our faces. We mettle, we ruminate and sometimes we think we found it only to realize that’s not it. The FREEDOM I feel, even though I haven’t even began the journey to heal from all these things of my past, is in finally getting THAT FEELING. This is it. This is the big one. This is the time period that really damaged me. That set the course of my life in so many self defeating ways. This is where it all started for me.
I feel like 90% of the battle was finding the source, I feel like healing will be easy. IM SO READY TO FORGIVE, TO HEAL AND TO LOVE MYSELF, I’ve been so ready to let go of this pain for so long, but I didn’t know what I was letting go of until now.
You are so right. There should be more work done on the psychology of how obesity affects people. The fact I read a panel suggesting we shame them into being thin to keep healthcare costs low, is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I was 13 years old. I just wanted some friends and to go to school. Not be tormented into two decades of anxiety, fear, and loneliness. Nobody deserves that. I just want to get better now and be ok.
What you say is both true and sad. I was friends with a Narc who selected his fiancee partially based on her being overweight because (as he drunkenly told me)”he could get away with anything he wanted to do because she would never leave him because no one else would ever want her.” And danged if he wasn’t right. He’s been caught in so many atrocities and she doesn’t do a thing about it except sob.
Sarcerre this is the reality for a lot of people, the message that needs to sink in is that we are so much better off being alone than being with someone that uses or takes advantage of us.
Savannah, thank you for sharing and pointing out that losing weight and being thin did not solve all of your problems. Many of us women make the huge mistake of thinking that our lives will magically become perfect if we lost X number of pounds or if we look a certain way.
It took me a long time to get here, but I feel better about myself at age 35 and at a US size 10 then how I felt about myself when I was 25. And when I was 25, I was much smaller and had what could be considered an “ideal” body. But at that age, I loathed myself and was in a very unhealthy mental space, allowing myself to date Narcs and I was still suffering from my mother’s abuse. All I saw in the mirror back then was flaws and fat everywhere, when it in fact didn’t exist. Now I look in the mirror and am legitimately OK with what I see.
I now view being in good physical shape as similar to having more money: Money won’t buy you happiness, but what money CAN do is give you more options. And being at a weight that is healthy for YOUR body type and genetics CAN give you more options that contribute to a healthy, fulfilling life.
You have so many more choices when shopping for clothes. If you’re fit, you can easily rearrange furniture around your home, hike to a remote beach or join your company’s softball team. Then add in the health benefits of being fit, and the list grows.
It was good to read this article. I was with a narcissist for 18 months. It was the worst relationship of my life. Filled with verbal, and emotional abuse. My ex wasn’t attracted to me. Wanted me to lose weight. Not eat certain foods. Told me I was repulsive. I have never had a problem with real self-esteem issues until this relationship. I am trying everyday to overcome the memory of negative comments and criticisms. Thank you for you positive input that helps me move on.
Guilty as charged! I have been considering extremely obese people as lazy and weak-willed. But it’s so true that this not so much different than any other addiction and lack of power to stop bad habit. Except, the obesity is hard to hide!
You opened my eyes Savannah!
It’s not that I was prejudiced or disregarded obese people but in the back of mind I thought that if they only ate less and moved more they could help themselves. I carry strong diabetic and high blood pressure genes and part of my efforts to keep my weight under control is the postponing of inevitable health problems. Partly, because there is the big Look component to it. I’ve never had problem with my weight when I was younger but after turning forty this became a different story. I really have to work hard to keep my weight under a reasonable gain. So I thought, if I can then anybody else should, if they only wanted to.
Thank you as always Savannah for helping me to be a better, more understanding human being!
Savannah what I love about your blog is how poignent it is and how you address so many different factors that brought us to this point.
I agree with everything you said and in fact I think these insecurities and unhealthy behaviors give the Narcs yet another way to hook us. I feel that during love bombing not only did my N figure out all my emotional triggers but physical ones as well. He would go on about how perfect my breasts are (they’re small and I’ve always been insecure about them). He would spend hours touching me and telling me how much he loved my “curves” (I’m actually very fit but struggled with being overweight in my teens and that insecurity always stayed with me). He called me “the hottest thing on the face of the earth” and he made me believe it too. The boost was amazing but the problem was that it came from him, not from within. I was so terrified of no one else ever looking at me like that…I was the hottest thing only with him, I saw it only through his eyes. And when his control would slip he would not hesitate to use these things to get me back in line…withholding sex (conclusion I’m not attractive enough anymore), making little jokes if I would get a little softer (but at the same time being upset if I wouldn’t eat pizza with him or if I tried to leave his side to go to the gym or bringing this up when I wanted to go out to eat and he of course didn’t). Another giant mind fuck and mixed messages. The point he was trying to make is “I will love you even if you get fat and even with your small boobs but I don’t think anyone else will.” And by me focusing on my body in the wrong way I gave him yet another way to control me.
The point is, you’re absolutley right, mind and body are also so closely connected so neither can truly be at its best with the other lagging far behind. I’m trying to keep myself moving through no contact by “doing me.” And focusing on getting my body strong is a great stepping stone for that. I’m working on healing my mind but that is a lot slower and intangible process so I found that doing physical things and eating healthier gives you small positive changes that are a little easier to notice and a good way to shift your focus from being on the N and back onto yourself. It’s about keeping things balanced and in perspective. Just have to remember that there are so many different perceptions of beauty out there and with our messed up society we can drive ourselves crazy trying to conform to them or failing to do so. But a beautiful heart and mind will always win, and we are the only beholder who’s eye really matters.
@Poppy — Wow it sounds like we dated the same guy. My ex constantly did whatever he could to undermine my efforts to live a healthy life, then when I did gain weight (from the depression of being with him) he consistently made back-handed comments about how I looked.
If I didn’t want to order a pizza, eat fast food or any other junk with him (because I honestly don’t enjoy these foods), he’d call me insecure and high-maintenance, instead of just getting the crap food for himself and letting me eat something else. Same thing happened when he’d make a fattening dinner of mac and cheese (he ONLY ever cooked crap like this), he’d get upset when I’d want to make something else for myself.
One day I came back from the gym and he asked about my running timing. I was at a 10-minute mile at this time (which isn’t that bad). His response? He chuckled and said “My brother used to run 3-minute miles.” First, this is probably BS because only pro athletes can run this fast. Also, he was referring to when his brother was the captain of his high school soccer team 20 years ago. Of course a teenage boy who plays sports is going to be fit! You can’t compare the athleticism of a 35-year-old woman to a teenager!
My ex did all of this to keep me emotionally imbalanced and dependent on him. It seems like he initially sought me out and enjoyed showing me off because he thought I was attractive, but he didn’t want me to STAY attractive or become MORE attractive by losing weight — if I did, I could have left him for someone else. So by making me feel bad about myself and trying to sabotage my efforts to stay healthy — no one would want me, right? This is not my thinking, but what I think his twisted thinking is like.
Know what the ironic thing is? He cheated on me with a woman who weighs 250 pounds.
I hope you are ignoring everything that your ex Narc said and did to you, because it sounds like he was playing a similar game that my ex was. Their words mean nothing and are NOT true, and their only purpose was to manipulate and hurt.
LOL, we have 2 “Kathy’s” posting! I will revert to my real name, which is Emilie, rather than my pen name, for clarity! I’m the “Kathy” who wrote about “Bluebeard” Emilie. 🙂
Savannah, read “Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It is not only a fascinating book of the”myths and stories of the Wild woman Archetype”, but it also points out the how the valuing of body types is very cultural; the author as an adult went to her homeland in Mexico where she discovered that ALL the women were very round and, in fact, they told her that she was looking a bit thin and wasn’t she getting enough to eat? But on so many levels this is a great book, and I recommend it. So many myths are here and will help us. In fact, the first one I read made my hair stand on end: “Bluebeard”. Bluebeard was a narcissist. Read it.
Have read many of your posts Savannah and gained immense knowledge from them. Just like to put my 2 cents worth in here. I used to be size 16 (85 kilos) 5.4″ when I met my husband. Anyways after a long (42 years) and somewhat happy marriage have since divorced. Since the divorce I have trimmed down and lost nearly 20 kilos. Now I get comments from guys like, you have the best backside (which they always want to touch), you have lovely legs, etc. My reply is usually – aren’t you looking at my face – this is who I am, etc. I get pushed, shoved and punched in the stomach on the dance floor by other women So, I guess it is not easy being slim as most women would think. I have had 2 bodies – large for most of my life and now slim for the past 2 years, Mainly through being alone and stress. I quite often see guys with larger women and they seem to really like them. Just my personal experience.
Kathy I agree men often prefer more voluptuous women, but my point wasn’t about being fit to attract men, it was about how being fully healthy encompasses both the mind and the body.