I love my girlfriend’s weight gain but she doesn’t – how can I boost her confidence? – The Irish Times

dear ro,

I have been with my girlfriend for almost a year. I love her and we have a great relationship. I've been struggling with her weight gain. At first I thought I had a problem. However, I realized that I've always found plus-size or curvy women attractive. For me, the problem wasn't weight, it was lack of confidence. I find it very attractive when my partner is confident and sexy in their own skin. My girlfriend struggles with this and it affects my attraction to her. I found myself not wanting to have sex anymore. I've never talked to her about her confidence and don't know how to have that conversation.

Compliment your girlfriend. Compliment your girlfriend. Compliment your girlfriend.

A bit of a tragic irony to your situation, your girlfriend has put on some weight that she feels insecure about, you love the weight gain, but you've stopped having sex and wondering why she feels insecure. It seems to her that she has gained weight and you have stopped having sex with her. Of course, it doesn't boost her confidence! Compliment your girlfriend!

Before I go any further, I must point out that it is entirely possible that her loss of confidence has nothing to do with her weight, or there may be some external factor that is affecting her physical and mental health in ways that neither you nor I know about. As ever, it's always a good idea to see a doctor and therapist. (However, I've also noticed that society has a horrible habit of thinking that all weight gain is bad and needs to be “fixed” by going to a doctor or therapist. That's not true at all, nor is it my advice, But sudden changes in weight and mental health can indicate other problems, and it's important to check for these.)

But compliment your girlfriend even when something else is going on.

Now, of course, it's not your sole responsibility to address her self-esteem issues, and if your girlfriend is really struggling with recent weight gain, I'd recommend that she see a body positive therapist and start talking to some body positive and even body-neutral groups, events, and online communities where she can find support and encouragement, and see people of all sizes celebrated, respected, and valued. It's also lovely to pursue a hobby that makes her feel connected to and empowered by her own body.

But let's not perpetuate the popular, nonsensical idea that human beings should always be fully self-reliant and self-validating, and should not be influenced by other people's opinions or statements. We are humans, not self-cleaning ovens. Most people care deeply about what their partner thinks of them, and feel more confident, desirable, and comfortable when their partner actively expresses their appreciation, attraction, and desire.

Coupled with the fact that most women are subject to endless body shaming from mass media and pop culture which constantly conveys that their worth as a person is directly tied to their body, yes women's self confidence can be profoundly affected by increased Weight and their partner's perception (or perceived opinion) of their body.

This cultural message around body and weight is extremely destructive, false, and inherently fat-phobic, often making it clear that a person's value decreases as weight increases – and this message has reality meaning of life. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and self-esteem issues are all too common, and the stigma, shame, and prejudice faced by obese people is relentless, yet somewhat socially acceptable. Fat people are often punished socially, professionally, and even in the healthcare arena, and studies have repeatedly demonstrated that medical problems of fat people are not taken as seriously or treated as quickly or effectively as other patients because doctors ignore fat people concerns and symptoms and blamed their weight for all health problems. We all need to work together to combat obesity phobia at a systemic and societal level to ensure that everyone is respected, valued and cared for.

These are broader issues – but these broader issues affect individuals. Your girlfriend's confidence suffers because everything about the culture and society she grew up in tells her she should feel bad about herself. While you may not be able to eliminate all fat phobias in the world alone, you can make a huge contribution to eliminating fat phobias in your life and hers. You can help her improve her self-esteem by communicating with her, supporting her, and telling her that you find her very attractive.

Start by talking to her about her confidence and happiness. Not to mention her weight – she knows her body. But tell her she doesn't seem that happy and confident, and ask her if there's anything she can do to help. If she mentions her body, reassure her that you find her beautiful and attractive, and seeing her happy, confident, and empowered is the sexiest thing you can imagine. Ask how you support her and ask her what makes her feel good and confident about herself. Listen to the answers, pull together to do the things she mentions, and be her personal cheerleader. You ask how to fix your girlfriend's lack of self-confidence–be someone who boosts her self-confidence every day. She's also hopefully starting to build her own confidence, but sometimes we need to get our loved ones to tell us we're worth it and ourselves to start believing it.

As you do this, see the ways in which you may have internalized some of your fat phobia and try to counteract it. Why did you initially think there was something wrong with her weight gain? Why Are You Surprised To Find Curvy Women Attractive? I ask you this not to blame you or judge you, but just to highlight the way many of us are unconsciously engaging in fat thinking. What types of media and images of women do you (and your girlfriend) consume? Have you ever consumed media that centered and celebrated people of different body types, either together or alone? How do you and the people in your social circle talk about weight and shape? And, importantly, are you complimenting them and their body type even if you don't personally find them attractive? People's worth should not be defined by their sexual attraction to you or other people, but simply based on the fact that they are human and therefore worthy of respect.

Seeing, admiring, respecting, and complimenting people of different body types will not only let your girlfriend know that the person she loves won't judge her body negatively, but it will have a positive effect on everyone around you. Good luck to you and your girlfriend.

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