I Got Hot, But Now I Feel Weird About Myself!

I Got Hot, But Now I Feel Weird About Myself!


Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

Dear Dr. NerdLove: Gonna be upfront; confirmation bias is a real bitch. Because I used to be very, very fat like not thick or husky but like straight up fat for like four years and well that made dating and attraction extremely difficult as a guy. Like if I was to give numbers I was 4/10 painfully average mediocre and shlubby.

So I did something about it. Actually started watching while I was eating, working out and to keep me motivated I’ve watched those “Reject modernity embrace masculinity” videos where it showed Nikacado Avacado being disgusting and repugnant.

My appearance changed significantly like I don’t have six pack but my shoulders got broader, my muscles got more visible, my face hot more sharp features and for the dirt time in a long time I’ve actually felt somewhat sexy and desirable, you could say a 7/10 granted I haven’t achieved my goal yet but I kinda look like Halsin from Baldur’s Gate 3 mixed with the thickness of Lazlo from What We Do in the Shadows. Which I suppose is something if you’re gay man because I fit one of their archetypes (bear) not really attracting women who are more into Astarion from Baldur’s Gate 3 rather than the bear type.

Despite that when I lost more weight and gained more muscle something else happened: I was hit on more by women, I was approached more by women and even outright lusted after all because my appearance changed significantly. Some might it’s confidence but not really since I’m still an insecure mess just with more bulk. Which circles back to my confirmation bias that when I was fat I was essentially invisible and now that good chunk of that fatness disappeared BOOM I’m a sexual T-Rex like WTF. Doesn’t help when I’m told that Jack Black or Matt Berry or large dudes are found desirable by women pardon me if I raise my eye brow in doubt thinking this is performative or trying look safe, politically correct or trying not to look vain, shallow or vapid.

So what do I do to shake this feeling that I only became desirable because my body changed? How do I shake the confirmation bias?

Sincerely Fit and Sad

Let’s get this out right at the start: you’ve put in a lot of work and you’re feeling better about yourself and that’s excellent. It takes a hell of a lot of effort and discipline to make the changes you’ve made and that’s something to be proud of.

But that’s also why it’s a shame that you’re still harboring those negative feelings about other fat people… and about yourself.

This is something that happens a lot with folks who have lost a significant amount of weight; they often get almost performative in their dislike or disgust about other fat people. It’s almost as if they’re hoping to distance themselves from who they used to be and prove that they’re one of the “good ones”… as if they can retcon their previous self out of existence.

In fact, that’s part of why I picked your letter, FaS. It illustrates something I’ve said many times before: you can’t shame yourself into improvement.

Part of why you can’t shame yourself into being better is because shame is a demotivator; it robs you of your emotional resilience and desire to keep striving. When you’re using shame, anger and self-recrimination, you aren’t actually motivating yourself to do better. What you’re doing is saying “look at you, you’re disgusting, you’re horrible, you need to undertake Herculean tasks just to reach the heady heights of ‘tolerable’, you don’t deserve to breathe the same air as the worthy.” All this does is reinforce the underlying belief that there’s something wrong with you, that you’re flawed and pathetic.

So when you run into those moments that everyone has – when you have an extinction burst or you just have a moment where you fail a wisdom saving throw and lapse back into old habits or old patterns, you are more likely to think “well this ruined everything, I don’t deserve to be my better self, I should just give up and stay the disgusting thing that I am”. So instead of getting up and dusting yourself off and resolving to bet back to it tomorrow, you decide that everything was irrevocably ruined and fall back to old habits. Once you do that, then you have to expend even more effort to get back to the start of breaking those habits again.

The other issue with it is that reinforcement of underlying beliefs means that you never fully relax or accept yourself. Everything becomes either vindication that your past self was The Worst or else a sign that you haven’t reallychanged, that people can still see the old version of you and that you’re just trying to pull off a fraud and everyone who hasn’t clocked it already will, sooner or later.

Case in point: using watching a fat YouTuber famous for mukbang videos (that is: a livestream where a host eats varying quantities of food – often but not always to excess – and interacting with the audience) where he eats food that’s chosen to be messy and often done for gross-out humor as motivation. Clearly the point is to keep telling yourself “look at this fat slob, look at how disgusting this is, this is what you look like, that revulsion you’re feeling is how other people feel when they look at you.” Which contains the unspoken but understood message of “…and if you don’t stick to your diet and exercise routine, everyone will feel about you the way you feel about this.”

And oh look, reinforcing those feelings about yourself just makes it harder to be happy with what you’ve achieved and it’s served to mute any not just compassion and empathy for yourself but also makes it harder for you to believe that other people don’t feel the way you do.

Now, nobody is saying that there isn’t a lot of anti-fat bias out there, nor are they saying that there aren’t people who are not only unattracted to fat people but are very vocal about it –to the point of causing folks to ask “why do you feel the burning need to tell people that you don’t find fat people attractive, chief?” There absolutely is and there absolutely are. But the fact that there are folks who aren’t into fat people – and your personal feelings about fat and attractiveness – doesn’t mean that people who do like Matt Berry or Jack Black, pre-Star Lord Chris Pratt or pre-heart attack Kevin Smith or whomever are lying for… clout, I guess?

That’s not you seeing the Matrix or being the lone voice willing to tell the truth in a world of lies. It’s just you projecting feelings about yourself out onto others and your confirmation bias serving up evidence that bolsters your belief while discounting anything that contradicts it. Like, say, the fact that Jack Black has a thirst brigade.

“But,” I hear you cry, “I suddenly had people who were attracted to me! I didn’t have that when I was fat! Surely you must admit that that means something!”

It does. What it means is that you’re forgetting that your weight loss and muscle gain didn’t happen in a vacuum. This wasn’t a controlled environment where your body fat and muscle mass percentages were the only things that changed and everything else stayed exactly the same. Your self-image changed. As your body started to become what you wanted to see, your idea of who you were also changed; for the first time, you were able to accept the idea that you were sexy and that people might like you.

That change in attitude changes everything. It changes how you behave with others and how you interpret other people’s actions and behaviors. Projecting that sense of “yup, I know I’m desirable” instead of “I’m sorry to be occupying space that might go to a better, more deserving person” through your body language and the way you talk to people creates a significantly different vibe to others. You almost certainly started wearing clothes that actually fit instead of ones that were sized to try to hide your body. And importantly, you were more willing to see when people were flirting with you because you were willing to accept that it was a possibility. Before, you wouldn’t have been able to accept it as real and genuine even if someone had stripped you down, tied you to the bed and proceeded to ride you like she was going for the Triple Crown.

This is why you’re, in your words, “still an insecure mess, just with more bulk”. Because the problem wasn’t your weight, so much as how you feel about yourself. Weight may have been a trigger, but it wasn’t the cause. Losing fat and gaining muscle didn’t change you as a person, just your body mass ratios. You’re still the same person inside, just wearing clothes in a new size.

This is why magic bullets don’t work. There’s no magical cure, no one thing that will change everything. It’s a holistic journey to self-improvement because the inside needs to change as much as the outside does. If you change only the superficial aspects of yourself, you start believing that people only care about the superficial aspects. It’s why I tell people that the Ru Paul quote about loving yourself is true: it’s hard to accept love when you don’t feel it for yourself. Self-acceptance is as important as self-improvement.

It’s also important to note that you can be glad to have changed without running down your past self or buying into other people’s beliefs or attitudes about who you used to be. Being fat isn’t a moral issue; it’s just adipose tissue. You can say “I wasn’t happy with who I was but that doesn’t make my past self bad.” You can say “I’m glad I’ve brought my physical self more in line with who I want to be,” and not say “too bad I was such a fucking loser”. Especially since it was your past self who made it possible to get where you are now.

So, yes, you’re fully allowed to enjoy what you’ve accomplished, to feel more attractive and to reap the rewards of a better self-image and being able to accept the attention of others. But you can also accept that the way you felt and feel about having been fatter wasn’t healthy or helpful. Don’t have to punish yourself for having those thoughts; you can just note and name them – “ah, right, those are my old negative beliefs” – and redirect your thoughts in more positive directions. Having more grace, compassion and an understanding of how attraction isn’t one-size-fits all for others makes it easier for you to have it for yourself as well.

And being willing to accept that maybe you’re wrong about what other people find attractive will help you give that grace to yourself about the other areas that you feel could use some work. It’s far more effective than beating yourself up about it and calling yourself names.  

And don’t me Shirley.

Love your whole self, FaS, not just your idealized self. Recognize that those negative thoughts and feelings are just that: feelings, not evidence, not data. Accept that you can be wrong about what other people think and feel and that just because it makes sense to you doesn’t mean that it’s the TRVTH, carved into stone tablets. Recognize that and you’ll start cracking through your confirmation bias and feeling far better about yourself.

Good luck.

Hi Dr. NerdLove,

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I am not in the proper working order you’ve referred to when it comes to dating, and that my efforts and emotional energies would be better dedicated elsewhere. I’m dealing with a handful of recently diagnosed mental disorders that ate at me all throughout college, have incredibly low self-esteem and a current inability to see myself as attractive, am working on losing weight and clawing my way out of obesity, and am trying to figure out what I want to do with my life now after landing a career that I don’t really enjoy or find meaning in after college.

On top of all that, I work horrible hours for any kind of social human contact and feel like I wouldn’t have space for a full-on relationship in my life in the first place. It kind of feels like I’m interrogating every single aspect of my life at the moment. It’s been a bit overwhelming, but I’ve been working on trying to figure out what answers work best for me.

My question, now that I’m here, is how do I quell the desire and longing for a relationship that still remains? I unfortunately spiraled quite often because of this in college, wasting way too many hours stewing in both self-loathing and despair at me not being able to get a single date, much less experience a romantic relationship. I realize that tendency and flawed mindset is itself yet another roadblock to making that kind of connection with another person. But much as I’d like to say that tendency is gone now that I’ve made the conscious decision, I still have days where something will set that tendency off and it’ll hook into my mind for the rest of the day, telling me I’m not capable of finding romantic love and will remain single forever. Perhaps it’s caused in part by impatience, as I made it to my mid-20s without any success despite getting feelings for and asking out quite a few people in college. I logically know I’m not in a good enough place for a relationship at the moment, but in return, the bothersome part of my mind spirals yet again at the idea that not only have I tried for so long without a single instance of success, but now I have to wait even longer as I sort the rest of my life out. I am working with a therapist, but haven’t tackled any of this stuff yet.

I wish I could just turn the romantic part of my brain off for now, but it always seems intent to keep coming back.

Check Engine Light

Let me make this easier on you, CEL: wanting things isn’t bad. There’s no need to “turn off” the desire for relationships and companionship and it would be bad if you did. Humans are social creatures; our desire for community is baked into us. It’s part of how we survive as a species. Trying to shut that part off is like trying to deny our own humanity.

Nor, for that matter, is there anything wrong with desiring something, even when you feel you’re unworthy or when you know, intellectually, that it’s not something that you could handle right now. The key words being right now.

You already know that when I say “be in good working order” doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect. You should also know that “being in good working order” doesn’t mean “you aren’t allowed to want this until you are”.

Part of the point of being in good working order in order to date isn’t because there’s a moral judgement involved. It’s recognizing that there are times when you might not be in a place where you could be a good partner or be able to handle a romantic relationship without causing undue stress or harm to yourself. It means understanding that there’s work and healing to do so that you can show up for yourself and others, not that you’re forbidden from even desiring things.

It may help to think of it this way: an athlete who tore a ligament or had a significant broken bone or other injury is going to need time and physical therapy to recover. The entire point of their taking time and doing the physio isn’t just so they can perform at their previous level. It’s also so that they don’t hurt themselves even further, risking a career-ending injury or even crippling themselves. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t allowed to so much as think of the day that they might be able to get back on the field.

In fact, it’s that desire to get back out there that is what drives people to do the work. Why would you bother going through all that effort if there wasn’t something to look forward to at the end of it? Yeah, “a functioning body” (or mind, for that matter) is a reward in and of itself, but sometimes we need a juicier carrot to go with that particular stick.

So what are the rewards that you would get for solving these issues? Well, to start with, far less stress and a lot more self-assurance. You’d also have reduced the emotional issues you’re dealing with and gotten a handle on your mental health. It also means that you’ll have actually a better handle on what you want and need, how to balance your life better and to have both the room and the energy for relationships. And knowing yourself better, having improved mental and emotional health and the rest will mean that you’ll be the sort of friend and lover you know you could be.

I’d also point out that having friends and a community makes getting in good working order… not easier, but definitely not as hard. Having the support of people who care for you and who cheer you on and lend a hand when it’s needed is invaluable. As the bards once said “I get by with a little help from my friends”.

So no, you don’t need to try to shut off that part of you. If anything, what I would suggest is consciously telling yourself that “I’m doing this so that I’ll be ready for a relationship” will be far more helpful. It’s not “wait even longer”, it’s “finally getting started and if I do this properly and with care, I’ll get there sooner.” Instead of seeing it as a distraction or a demerit, let it be your motivation. It’s one more benefit from getting yourself in good working order (which, again, is not the same as being in “perfect” condition) and one that will remind you of why you’re doing all this hard work.

After all: nobody said it would be easy or even quick. Just that it would be worth it.

Good luck.