As anyone who has been following this blog knows, I didn't lose weight to attain beauty. I'm 47 years old, soon to be 48, and I know that the best I could hope for physically was to escape the stigmatizing and physical pain that come along with being nearly 400 pounds. Nonetheless, the idea of "beauty" has been on my mind a lot lately, and I want to explore why.
One of the things that makes me think about beauty in this way is the manner in which some of my friends talk about how men interact with them. These women are contemporaries of mine, a few years older than me. One of them lost 40 lbs., but is still a little chubby and decidedly looks like your average middle-age lady from a physical characteristics point of view. Even at her lightest weight ever, she has had a flabby neck and double chin (much to her chagrin).
There's nothing wrong at all with her appearance, but she's also not some hot mama who you could see strange men walking up to and hitting on her. She has been married, happily from all external appearances, for a very long time. She mentioned on Facebook that a guy hit on her in the supermarket while she was buying a deli salad.
Another one of my friends is very, very short (4' 11", I think) and somewhat apple shaped with disproportionately large breasts and possesses a classic middle-aged Italian lady look (if you're thinking Sophia Loren, think again). Again, there's nothing wrong with her appearance, but she's no Roman beauty. She's just an average woman in her early 50's. She has mentioned that a friend of her ex-boyfriend has always wanted her and started hitting on her after her former relationship ended. I believe that, from time to time, she has talked about other men wanting her, but her having no interest in them. She is unmarried (never has been) and is actually one my my husband's former girlfriends (though he chose her, like he chose me, for personality, not appearances).
After losing so much weight, I feel as if something must be very "wrong" with my appearance when I hear about contemporaries getting hit on despite the fact that they don't appear to possess any special beauty. I realize that this is unproductive for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I'm pretty sure I'd be creeped out if a man tried to pick me up and I am utterly devoted to my husband. However, a part of me wants this sort of validation, and I'm not happy about it.
I've been pondering why I want this because my husband is the only person whose opinion matters, or at least it should be the only one that does. He adores me and tells me he feels I'm beautiful. I adore him and think he is the sexiest creature on the planet. I have never wanted another man after committing to a life with him, and the truth is that, if something horrible were to happen and I lost him, I don't think I'd ever want another man in my life again.
I should also note that I don't like being touched by people other than my husband, but I absolutely love to be touched by him (as much as possible). We are incredibly physically affectionate, sometimes to an extent which makes other people a little uncomfortable. We always hold hands when we walk together, kiss or hug intermittently when walking around, put our arms around each other, and sit in contact with each other if it is at all possible and not socially inappropriate. I am not one of those people who just doesn't want to be "pawed". I love it, as long as it is coming from him.
Despite my high level of comfort with being physical with him, it's sometimes an effort for me to engage in social hugging because I really don't want to have such contact with others. This probably stems from a certain amount of distrust of others as well as deeply ingrained fear that they secretly are repulsed by touching me, a remnant of being so overweight for most of my life and knowing people were repulsed by touching a morbidly obese person. I mention all of this because I want it to be clear that I'm not sitting around desiring other men in any way.
Though I've been picking at this psychological knot for awhile, I haven't quite untangled it. I think that there are a variety of insecurities at play in this. One is that, when I was much younger and lost weight, no men expressed any interest in me. I look back on pictures of myself from that time (age 21-22, around 170 lbs.), a time when I thought I looked pretty good "for my weight" and wonder what was wrong with me. At that time, I believed it was because I was still fat and any fatness at all was a huge turn-off to men. There was a man who was far fatter than me (about 75 lbs. overweight) who I was interested in who did not return that interest. There was a man who I had a crush on for over a decade who was not particularly attractive who turned me down even after I'd lost weight. In both of the cases I'm citing here, it's important to note that I knew both of them well, socialized with them a lot, and made my interest clear. I didn't hint, I directly asked, and was nicely told I wasn't seen that way by them.
I never got any validation that I was physically appealing even when I was younger and had a greater potential to be seen as such. Since my picture is not on this blog, you'll have to trust me when I say that I do not have any unappealing facial features. I don't think anyone would look at me and say I was "ugly". In Asia, where I was considered "exotic", I was often told I was "beautiful" by the natives. Their standards are different and some of them were almost certainly just flattering me, but I think that if I was actually strongly physically unappealing, they wouldn't have said that.
Looking back at some women who had boyfriends at the same age as me (in my early 20's), frankly, I think they were not very visually appealing at all and many of them were as dull as dishwater to boot. In retrospect, this continues to baffle me. Not only did young women get more attention than me then, but middle-aged women I know get more than I do now.
So, I wonder, what was/is wrong with me? Well, the answer is that I still am seeking external validation for my worth based on my appearance. This is not a good thing for two reasons. First of all, even if I got it, it would never be enough. In fact, getting it would very likely make me want to seek more of it and start to hang more of my esteem on a continuation of such validation. Second, it's more of placing control of my sense of worth outside of myself.
I think what I'm experiencing here is a re-occurrence of a life-long pattern. People have always invalidated me based on appearance and I have accepted that that is their right. Now, I want them to validate me based on appearance because I think that is also their right. I'm so accustomed to my appearance being a critical factor in how my value is determined that I continue to look for cues that I am valuable (or value-less) in this area. Clearly, this is a point which I have to work on.