What if I'm put off by my girlfriend's weight?

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What if I'm put off by my girlfriend's weight?

Mar 29, 2010 |Candice Watters
Question

I've been a reader of Boundless for a number of years now and have appreciated your wisdom, encouragement and admonition. Recently I listened to the Boundless podcast, "I'll never get married because I'm fat," and it struck me from the other side of the coin.

For the past year I had been seeing a girl who was fairly overweight. I met her in very quality circumstances (I would call them quite God-contrived) at a friend's Thanksgiving dinner and was quite soon interested in her. We were both at seminary. She was like no other woman on campus, in a good way — bold, different, gospel-oriented.

From the get-go I was aware of her weight, and it was not my favorite part about her. Yet in the past I have had the experience of growing to be completely attracted to women whom I at first did not think much of until I came to know them more. Their personality and beauty accentuated and shone forth through their bodies. So, I figured I shouldn't worry about that. I let time pass and we grew to know each other and hung out, often in groups, sometimes by ourselves.

The more I got to know her the more compatible we seemed. We have a similar purpose in life being to serve the gospel, shared hobbies, hope to travel, enjoy language, cartoons (yeah, silly stuff like that, too). Over the months we were seeing each other, in some form or another, she grew more and more closely to me and I somewhat to her, though hesitantly.

Yet, even after months I couldn't get over her weight, it still was somewhat of an issue for me.

I didn't think telling her that her weight was an issue would be helpful, and I didn't want to discourage her, for she is beautiful and amazing. For some time I kept telling her I think she should move on, because my heart is confused, on the fence, and wavering. Sometimes I see us being together and it working out, and I want to, and I remember times where I did indeed think she was cute or was not at all concerned about the physical. But then I will remember times where my heart is frozen, or I am put off by her weight.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago we had a talk and we parted our ways. She said if we were not going to go forward we should call things off completely. I miss her quite a bit now.

Now I am stuck. Both thinking I am a big fool for letting this woman go, and wanting to go back to her and try to make it work, but also afraid if I go back I will need to be honest. I have my doubts whether going back and telling her about the weight will be just to soothe my conscience rather than really help her. I also sometimes think, maybe this is for the best. I was quite selfish in the relationship, and even now feel selfish.

Someone on the blog mentioned that you said you had to grow out your hair and lose some weight before Steve found you attractive. Is this true? Would you both be open to write about that? Any thoughts or wisdom that you can share from your and Steve's experience that may help? What about the attraction between you and Steve: Did you discuss this? How did all this come about, you making changes and the like?

Thanks for reading my letter, if nothing else. I would appreciate any prayers you can send up to God on my (and my lady friend's) behalf. I also look forward to your answer.

Answer

Dear reader, thank you for reading, for listening and for writing. It's a privilege to be useful in God's hands and I pray that what I write will both encourage and admonish you.

You ask about our story and how the issue of attraction played out in my romance with Steve. He does tell some of his side of our story in the Afterword of my book, Get Married. Though he doesn't go into detail about my appearance. I'm glad you asked because although I've alluded to how my appearance changed, including losing weight, I've never given a lot of detail. And I'm glad to if it will help others!

Steve never said a word about my weight. I had a mentor (something I think every believer needs) who mentioned it in passing. We were talking about another man in my life who had walked away from me. She was very matter-of-fact about a subject I always believed to be utter taboo — weight and beauty. She said, speculating, "He'll probably go for a skinny, petite, blonde."

That conversation got me thinking that losing weight was something I should make a priority. I knew losing weight wouldn't guarantee me a husband — there are many fit, beautiful women who are unhappily single, and just as many who are out of shape and happily married — but I also knew being fit wouldn't hurt in my search.

Close on the heels of our conversation, Steve said something to me that gave my idea wings. He was wishing me a happy birthday in front of a group of our friends and decided to read his card to me out loud. We were "just friends" at this point. He said that one of the things he liked most about me was that I "dream no small dreams." I knew he'd seen that in many areas of my life and I started thinking that maybe I needed to have the same approach to my health and fitness: "No small dreams."

He motivated me without even knowing it. I heard those words in my ear every morning that I got up early to work out. I can't understate how important his belief in me was.

Keep in mind though, that when we started talking about dating, I had yet to start losing. That was huge for me: to know that Steve Watters found me attractive and worthy of his affections even though I didn't fit a cultural model of physical perfection. It gave me the freedom to lose without the weight of expectations or condemnation.

By the time we started dating, my hair was longer than it had been since I was a little girl. But Steve never said he preferred long hair or asked me to grow it out; he simply noticed that it was getting longer. And he complimented me on it. Again, his kindness and awareness of my efforts spurred me on. Steve's gentleness made me want to please him.

All of this mattered a few years after our wedding when I started gaining again, this time because I was pregnant. Some women leave the hospital in their pre-pregnancy jeans. I'm not one of them. It takes me nine months to grow a baby, and at least a year to get back to where I began. A wife needs to know that her husband finds the physical ups and downs of pregnancy to be not only unavoidable, but beautiful. Participating in God's act of creation includes a body that changes shape and function to accommodate the miracle. How tragic that our culture has made an industry of trying to erase any evidence of life-giving with, among other things, postpartum plastic surgery specials.

Since getting married, I've felt accepted and beautiful in Steve's eyes. He has given me much grace in this area. His kindness is the best motivation to work toward health and fitness I can imagine. And there is a place for husbands and wives to encourage each other in this area (our bodies belong to each other) But I fear this is not the sort of encouragement you were thinking of when you considered telling her that you would marry her if she were thin. That would indeed be — as you have rightly observed — selfish. And married love that reflects Christ and the church is selfless.

I've written before about the importance of outward appearance. Women need to know that it matters more to a man than we often realize (Song of Solomon, Psalm 45:11). And men need to know that women long to be deemed lovely. But we all need to remember that outward beauty always fades and is a small part of what makes a marriage beautiful. Both men and women have much to learn in this area.

We could begin by studying those who've modeled righteous behavior. Consider George Mueller. George was a handsome and charismatic leader. And he had the attention of the beautiful, Christian Ermegarde. But when he told her of his plans for ministry, she laughed. So he moved on. That's when he met Mary Groves. A housekeeper and strong Christian in her early 30s, she and George talked for hours about missions, endearing him to her. Janet and Geoff Benge's retelling says,

The more time he spent with Mary Groves, the more George came to like her. Mary was not a giggly kind of woman like Ermegarde had been. Nor was she pretty like Ermegarde. In fact, she had one of the largest noses George had ever seen on a man or a woman. Yet there was something about her that appealed to him....

The relationship blossomed, and George found himself in love with Mary. Such a feeling surprised him for more than one reason. First, Mary Groves was thirty-three years old, eight years older than he was. And second, he had not been looking for or even considering a wife. As far as he was concerned, a wife would slow him down. What if God called him to go someplace strange or remote? Could he expect a wife to follow him? And would he feel as though marriage had made him a prisoner?

Mary wouldn't be just any wife. George knew she had seen her brother and sister-in-law give up everything for missions and thought she might be willing to do the same. So he asked her about it.

The Benges write,

He talked to Mary about his fear, and Mary assured him that a godly marriage would set him free to do even more than he was doing now, not the reverse.

Wise words from a wise woman who put her faith not in her looks -- for she had none -- but in God. And she was right. George Muller did more than anyone could have dreamed possible. In his lifetime, nearly 1.5 million pounds passed through his hands into the hands of those in need. When he died, he had only 160 pounds in his estate -- "the value of a few pieces of furniture." Together, George and Mary Muller helped turn the tide for thousands of British orphans, giving them a home and the knowledge of a loving heavenly Father, at a time when it was commonplace for orphans to die of hard work and disease in the poorhouses.

You say you found a woman who "is like no other woman" and "who is a beautiful, godly woman, who will make a fine wife some day." You also mentioned that for a year you were seeing her, though she is "fairly overweight," something that is "not [your] favorite part about her."

I worry for men like you who may miss out on highly productive marriages and families that are fruitful for the kingdom, simply because the women God brought to you didn't look a certain way. From your own description, this woman sounds like a gift. Yet you are unable to marry her because of her weight.

I'm not saying you have to marry her. You don't. You have a choice in the matter. And if a woman isn't attractive to you, then you have the choice to not pursue her. What's deeply troubling is that you did. You were in a relationship that went beyond friendship, for a year. That's a long time.

When a man meets a woman he's unable to see himself marrying, then he should own his decision like a man. Don't string her along, asking her to give you pieces of her self — the pieces you like — only to see the relationship end when she finally says enough.

We've often said before on Boundless that if you can't see yourself married in a year, you shouldn't be dating. I think in your case, I'd say if you can't see yourself married in a year to the woman you're already dating — even if she doesn't lose weight — then you should not be dating her. You're obviously attracted to her, or parts of her. But that's not enough. And telling her that you'd love her, if only she'd drop some pounds, isn't an option. That's love with conditions.

I'm not saying there's no place for encouragement of good stewardship of her body. There may be. I just don't think it should come from you. A mentor, yes. A close female friend, yes. And someday, her fiancé and then husband. But not you. And especially not now, after so much time has passed with you leading her to think your intentions were other than they are.

Going forward, I would encourage you to ask for mentoring from your father, pastor or other trusted godly man. If you don't know someone like that already, ask God to bring him into your life. Ask your mentor what areas of ugliness — what blind spots — you've missed in your own life. Ask God to show you His view of the women you know; the beauty He sees in them when He looks at them through the veil of Christ's blood. We were all wretched before Christ rescued us. How helpful it is to keep that perspective when we're tempted to criticize someone else's shortcomings, imperfections and dress size.

Where you observe selfishness in your own heart, repent and seek God's forgiveness. Be relentless in the fight against it. Ask God to create in you a pure heart. He may yet use you to encourage others who are weaker in an area where you have strength (e.g., weight), but you must bear that strength with humility. Never forget that we all stumble in many ways. Ask God to fill you with compassion for those whose stumbling comes with such a public pronouncement as an oversized body. And pray for mercy for your own stumbling, especially if it's more easily concealed.

Ask him to reorient your focus to Him, that you may pray with David,

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:3-5)

The more we fix our eyes on the ultimate beauty, the more able we'll be to recognize unfading beauty in each other.

May God have mercy on you and build you up in His Word and by His grace.

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2010 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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