How Do I Ask My Girlfriend To Lose Weight?

Dear Veronica,

Both my girlfriend and I are freshmen. We’re both heterosexual; we met in November at a party and hit it off immediately. Our relationship is going well, but we’ve both been drinking heavily, and we’ve both put on quite a bit of weight as a result. It’s getting to the point where I am noticeably (one can imagine how) less attracted to her, and I suspect she feels the same way toward me. And, as much as the loss of attraction bothers me, the self-consciousness she feels as a result is worse. Neither of us wants to break up, but at the same time, this is placing some unspoken strain on our relationship. Is there a healthy (non-dickish) way to deal with this?

-Beerbelly

Dear Beer,

You’re off to a good start in that you seem to see how complicated this situation is, if not what makes it that way. However, you’re understandably finding the subject difficult to broach. Let’s start by analyzing what the risks are, in the hope that once you’ve identified them, how to best avoid them may become clear.

Firstly, physical attractiveness is a very gendered issue. While both men and women feel a lot of pressure, especially in college, to be attractive to the opposite sex, generally speaking I think that that pressure manifests itself differently for men and women. Young men are expected to prove their worth through their accomplishments, and basically make do with the looks they were born with, while women are expected to cultivate their appearances as much as possible. Although we’re still expected to cultivate our personalities, I think young women often have the sense that while their accomplishments may impress men who are already interested in them, if they’re not physically attractive, men will never notice them. Appearance becomes a sort of prerequisite for women, while men are subconsciously encouraged much more to believe that they can gain a woman’s attention through their achievements alone.

Whether these beliefs reflect reality is another question, of course; but in a sense, it barely matters, because the pressure is so real at that age. So although you may not hold those expectations, and although you’re prepared to criticize yourself the same way you’re criticizing her, your girlfriend is still likely to be hurt and offended by your remarks if you don’t phrase them well.

The way I see it, you have two options. The first and easiest is to present it as your problem rather than hers: tell her you’ve been feeling badly about yourself since gaining weight and ask her to be supportive while you try to lose it. The fact that you’re in the same boat is a huge asset to you right now, because it gives you an avenue for empathy in a situation that would normally be very alienating. Play it up. Who knows — she may confess of her own accord that she’s felt the same way and would love to make it a joint effort.

This strategy has two major flaws, however: 1) she might conclude, immediately or eventually, that she can be supportive without actually losing any weight herself (it’s pretty hard to do!); and 2) she may see through it and decide that you’re a dick and a coward. Call me bitter, but that’s what I’d be inclined to think.

The better option, I think, is to tell her the whole truth. Tell her that before college, you vowed never to gain the notorious “freshman fifteen,” but that after you met her, you were having so much fun being with her (and vice-versa, presumably) that you’ve both begun living an unhealthy lifestyle, and that it’s starting to show in your figures. Tell her that you already feel unattractive and that you don’t want her to feel as badly as you do. Tell her that you care about her, and that you think it’d be better for your relationship to do something about the new weight than to let it go undiscussed any longer.

The biggest risk you’re running is that she might feel that you’re implicitly endorsing an unfair double-standard by complaining about her weight when she hasn’t complained about yours. You can partially avoid that risk by treating yourselves as a unit, and focusing on the fact that you’re feeling unattractive yourself (and if it’s not true, I think this is a good time to lie a little). But if you want to do it right, go ahead and tell her that you’re hesitant to bring it up because you realize how pernicious and pervasive the double-standard really is and don’t want her to think of you as another person who tacitly upholds it.

You sound like a nice guy whose heart is in the right place. Choose your words carefully and you should be fine. And let me know how it goes!

-VVM

Submit your questions about college life anonymously to VeronicaMittnacht@thefastertimes.com.

Veronica Mittnacht is a lifelong New Yorker. She has written for TheRumpus.net, ilikemystyle.net, Soap Opera Digest, Flavorwire, Boldtype, The New York Egotist, and Human Rights First, and once attend ...read more

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