By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
Over the last two years, I have lost a lot of weight. I made a decision two years ago that I could not live with myself anymore being morbidly obese, and I went to a nutritionist and began a serious exercise regimen. The sight of myself repulsed me and I couldn’t live another day in my body. This took tremendous willpower, because I love to eat. I am probably addicted to food, just like someone else might be addicted to drugs or alcohol. Every day is a struggle, but looking in the mirror is enough incentive to never fall off the bandwagon.
My friends and family, and especially my children, shower on the compliments, and yes, maybe it’s superficial or childish, but I like people noticing me in my new frame. I’ve worked hard. But the one person from whom I need it the most doesn’t seem impressed by my extreme weight loss: My husband never compliments me on how great I look in an outfit.
I want my husband to tell me that he knows I worked hard and that it has paid off. I think I want him to find me more attractive now that I have lost the weight. We have spoken about this ad nauseam, and he says that he loved me the same before, and is attracted to me at any weight.
I should probably be jumping for joy. I have a few friends whose husbands demand that they stay thin and who say things to them when they indulge in a piece of chocolate cake. I don’t want that. But I don’t like this, either. What can I say to my husband to get him more excited about my new figure? How do I get him to notice me?
Dear Barely There,
Congratulations on your impressive accomplishment. As anyone who has struggled with a food addiction, or any addiction, knows, you never are quite done with the addiction. As you mentioned in your e-mail, every day is a struggle. Here you are, having shed one body for another, feeling great about yourself, and the one person from whom you are yearning for approval isn’t giving it.
You are looking for some acknowledgment. We’re all social creatures, and by our very nature we thrive on positive reinforcement from others. Hearing it from friends and family is wonderful and affirming, but there is nothing quite like hearing it from your other half to make you feel like a million bucks.
I have some questions for you about parts of your relationship that you did not address in your e-mail. First, I wonder what kind of physique your husband has. Forgive me if I am completely off, but I feel it must be addressed. If your husband is heavy, as you were, it is possible that he has mixed emotions toward your new body and lifestyle. If you two used to indulge together, he may be angry with you for “deserting” him and entering into new territory without him. He may miss the time you spent together when you were heavier. He may feel threatened by this new person he now lives with. He may feel judged because you gave up the lifestyle you shared with him. Regardless of his weight, it is possible he feels threatened by the new you. This all may be completely off, but I just couldn’t ignore this possibly important piece of the puzzle.
Another possibility is that he is a gem of a man who genuinely does not care about your size or shape. He may be the unique find who sees you for who you are regardless of the body you are housed in. He finds you attractive and loves you for your personality, character, mind, and soul. You acknowledged this in your e-mail. But you simply want to feel attractive to your husband. That is completely normal. Everyone wants to feel attractive to and noticed by his or her spouse.
The thing is, unless I am missing something, your husband is attracted to you. It seems like he was attracted to you long before your weight loss. The person who could not live with you “another day” was you. Very often, people who have lost a considerable amount of weight will say they still think of themselves as heavy. These people look in the mirror and see a smaller frame. They are wearing smaller clothing and getting great feedback. The evidence is there. They have lost the weight. But more times than not, a previously heavy person will not identify with the thin person in the mirror. It is only when the emotional weight is worked through and released that this person can begin to identify and “own” the new thinner body.
I would like you to think about what drove you to lose the weight. What was your frame of mind? Were you feeling pumped and positive about getting into better shape and being healthier for yourself and the kids? Or were you repulsed at yourself? What role did your weight play in your intimate life with your husband? You have to love your body and yourself. Your husband may not enjoy one frame over the other the same way you do. At the same time, he loved you just the way you were before you lost the weight. Now, it’s your turn!
I would now like to address your last two questions. “What can I say to my husband to get him more excited about my new figure?” and “How can I get him to notice me?” I’ll start with number two first. He notices you, all right! He noticed you then, and he notices you now. The first question is a bit trickier. If you were unexcited about your body before the weight loss, you must realize that it negatively affected your marriage and intimacy.
Your husband now has to unlearn whatever the intimate norms were back then. If you felt horrible and he wasn’t allowed within three feet of you, you have some work to do. Open the lines of communication and let him know you are feeling better about yourself now. Let him know that when you ask for the compliment, you are now ready to receive it, whereas before you were not. If you are feeling excited about your new body, stop telling him and start showing him! And please remember, he was always into you; you are the last one to the party. But hey, you’ve arrived–and the night is still young!
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.