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Hi Captain!

My problem is one that I imagine is very, very common, but I’ll start with a little background on my specific situation.

I recently started going to therapy for some pretty serious self esteem issues that had led to me isolating myself for a long time. Up until this year I hadn’t been to a non-family social event – including just one-on-one hangs – in over five years (and even before that it was pretty rare).I’ve made a lot of progress over the last few months; I have a few good friends that I can go out with and all in all, I have learned how to get better about relentlessly judging myself during and after every social interaction.

But even after all this (successful!) work, there’s one aspect that I just can’t seem to crack, even with my wonderful therapist, which is the possibility of a romantic relationship. It has been ten years since my last relationship (I’m in my early30s) and I haven’t been on so much as a date since then. While I was in my hermit state I vacillated between “I don’t really want a partner anyway” (a big fat lie) and “You’re not worth a relationship.” Basically the idea of being involved with someone in a romantic way seemed to be something that just wasn’t in the cards for me, ever. I always pictured myself alone.

Now, though, that I’ve started being around people socially, it’s starting to seem…not so insane. Like maybe it’s not out of the realm of possibility anymore, at least not when I think about it in an abstract way. But when it comes to a practical way – joining a dating site, talking to guys at social events, whatever – I can’t seem to break that bubble of “Why even bother? Who would want to be with you?” Even just writing this part of the letter made me feel embarrassed and silly.

There’s one important thing at play here that I haven’t mentioned yet: I’m fat. [details of weight redacted by Captain Awkward, per the site policies] I just can’t stop thinking of my weight (and looks in general, to a lesser extent) as my #1 defining characteristic.

It’s pretty easy to draw a straight line directly from media portrayals to my issues in this area. A fat girl talking about sex is almost always a punch line, a character for everyone else to make “ew, gross” faces about. Despite intellectually knowing better, I’ve internalized this message. For instance, occasionally I’ll use Tinder when I’m bored or feeling optimistic about the future (but mostly bored), and one time I ran across a co-worker. What should have been a “haha isn’t this awkward” moment sent me into a complete meltdown. I was *mortified* that this co-worker might think that…I don’t know, that I thought someone would be attracted to me? It was ages (like, literally a year and a half) before I could be around this extremely nice co-worker without wanting to crawl under the table and die. I couldn’t even talk to him.

So that’s basically where I am. This feeling that, no matter how funny or kind or interesting I am inside, it doesn’t even matter because my outside is so unappealing. I get so sad thinking about how no one will ever look at me and think, “Oh, she’s pretty, I’d like to get to know her”.

How can I start to escape the “overweight=unfuckable, unfuckable=unlovable” cycle?

-Want To Make The Rockin’ World Go ‘Round (She)

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Gather round, Awkward Army, and join me, Sweet Machine, for a Shapely Prose Tent Revival!

This Way to the Holy Ghost Revival
(photo by Trey Ratcliff)

The occasion of our glorious gathering is the existence of the Pavlok wearable fitness tracker, described by the Telegraph as a device “which gives the wearer an electric shock if they fail to meet their daily exercise targets” and by the incomparable Lindy West as “like a Saw movie and/or dystopian nightmare in which thigh gaps have become the global currency.” Here’s the idea: you set some daily goal (which the Pavlok site suggests might also be something like writing 1,000 words or going to sleep on time, but let’s be real — they mean exercise), and if you do not meet your goal, the device will zap you like you are some kind of lab rat. I know what you’re thinking: a brief electric shock is just what I need to get sleepy for a responsible bedtime! (No. This is not what you’re thinking.)

I have so much to say about this method of fitness-by-torture that I could literally write all day and not finish. This post would grow and grow, my endless anger at the world that constructs beauty ideals so toxic that this seems reasonable to anyone spilling over until it takes over the whole site, breaking the tent poles and all. I will not do this thing. I will use my ability to control my own body and brain in this small manner. I will do this because I am in fact not a lab rat but a human being with autonomy and free will, and I don’t need to fucking strap a torture device to my wrist to be the kind of human I want to be.

This is not the first time I’ve written about efforts to introduce torture into weight loss. This idea makes a certain kind of insidious sense, if you buy into the notion that being fat is a moral failing of individual persons (an idea, btw, that transparently is at odds with the idea that we’re in the middle of an “obesity epidemic,” but who says logic has anything to do with fat-shaming?). If you think that fat people are fat because they are constitutionally incapable of eating less or exercising more, and that “calories in < calories out” is a method that will always lead to thinness, then the idea of torturing fat people just a little bit for their own good sounds pretty effective. I mean, sure, it’s unpleasant, but it will work, and that’s more important, right?

Look, it’s true that habits are hard to establish and hard to break. Gamifying your life is an intriguing possibility that uses rewards and punishments to provide external motivation for behavioral changes, and sometimes that works: it can be very very hard to overcome your internal inertia to do something good for yourself, especially if you are prone to depression. Personally, I have become worlds more likely to do the dishes and to write every day since I started using HabitRPG, a free site where I can set my own rewards for good behavior and also have a red panda cartoon companion level up with me. It’s just a little extra boost of motivation each day: if I draft a new poem, I am a tiny bit closer to buying a new dress from Ureshii. There are lots of ways to trick yourself into performing more self-care — including enjoyable exercise as self-care! — that are about building you up rather than breaking you down. Because you know what is not that likely to make you overcome self-loathing-based inertia and go for a jog? STRAPPING A PAIN MACHINE TO YOUR BODY.

This unholy child of Pavlov and Milgram is the logical extension of a fat-shaming culture. Not only are you supposed to volunteer to torture yourself, but you’re also supposed to spend money for the privilege. Make no mistake, Awkwardeers: this is part and parcel of the massive beauty and weight loss industries that sell you the idea that there is something disgusting about your body and then sell you products to fix it, thus reifying the disgust by making it real for you even if it’s not for anyone else.

You are not disgusting. You do not deserve to be tortured. You would not torture someone else, because you are not a torturer. You are a human being with as much worth as every other human being on the planet. You are made out of atoms that were ejected by supernovae when the universe was young. You are a fucking miracle.

Thus ends the lesson. Here begins the dance party!

Hello Captain and Co.!

Here’s my super sad background: I am a fat (stats redacted), black, straight, able-bodied, 33 year-old woman. I haven’t had sex in 13 years. I’ve come to realize that my one sex partner kinda raped away my virginity. I basically kept dating and sleeping with my abusive date rapist. Yes, I’m in therapy.

Despite my unfortunate past, I’d like to date but have been extremely unsuccessful. I try very hard not to think that it’s because I am fat and black and over 30 and both inexperienced AND damaged goods, but it’s hard to stay positive. Online dating hasn’t worked. I’ve been on exactly one date and I’ve tried online dating on and off since 2006. Set-ups are rare and typically don’t pan out, though one did result in 6 dates with a man who was WRONG for me, but it was still something!

I have, probably ridiculously, got my eye on this beautiful specimen of a man. He’s like a kind, friendly, sorta urban Lex Luthor. I may not have a chance; I think I have a lovely face and I do my best to look pretty, but men don’t seem to look beyond my size or blackness or horrible personality? I end that as a question because I don’t know what my problem is.

I try my best to smile and make pleasant conversation with Mr. Luthor. I even emailed him once as a follow up to one of our talks. (He wrote back!) I don’t know if he’s single, but I don’t think he’s married. If he isn’t single, I’d like to be his friend because someone that beautiful and kind must hang around other beautiful and kind people, right? Maybe my new friend could introduce me to someone great! And he seems pretty great. Win-win!

I think he has gazed at me more than once during our weekly chats, but I’ve been talking myself out of those thoughts because really? I’m so out of practice would I even know if he was? However, when he talks to me, I sometimes get the feeling that that’s how he’d talk to a friendly puppy, like even with all the possible gazing, he may not see me as a woman to maybe do pants things with.

Can you teach me how to excuse his beauty and not get so flustered when he’s around? Can you teach me how to show him that I am a woman, dammit, but in a way that won’t get me fired because our interactions happen when he visits my workplace a few times a week?

Thank you for reading and helping!

Hello.

Please go read the entire Shapely Prose archive. Read this post twice, and then bookmark it. You’ll want it later.

Then read this.

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One thing that happens when you make a blog is that you also make friends? And then sometimes you Tom Sawyer those friends into writing guest posts for you. Sweet Machine is in the house today answering a question about body acceptance inside a relationship.

Dear Captain Awkward,

So’s I got a question, which looks like this:

I live with my nice girlfriend, and we are two fat ladies. Heavy Betties, if you prefer. We are both on the fat-positive train, but it turns out that this becomes more complicated. We both gained a reasonable amount of weight in the last year-ish, which for me, just kind of is what it is. I was in grad school, and I like to eat. I have some lingering wishes/hopes that I might lose that 25 pounds, and also if I don’t, I won’t miss out on my life because of it. I just bought a bikini this summer, which I’ve never in my life had before. Really I just wore it around the house a few times, to practice staring at myself half-naked, because I think it’s kind of unacceptable for me to be grossed out by my body. And also, sometimes I am, and right now I’m just going for “can look at myself in all states of naked and feel, at least, neutral.”

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