Beauty Redefined Blog

Thinness, Happiness and the Illusion of Control: Let Your Heart Break


By Geneen Roth (Originally published here.)

When you accept that hurting and healing are part of living, you can give up the fantasy that being thin controls your happiness.

His name was David, and I was crazy in love with him. The way his shiny dark hair curled around his collar, and how his long fingers waved oh so eloquently in the air as he talked. Every breath he took, every word he uttered seemed as if it was designed to crack my heart open. I wanted to spend my life with him, grow old with him, have more children than Angelina Jolie with him. The only teensy problem was that he didn’t feel the same way about me. “I’m not attracted to you,” he said. “It’s not the same for me as it is for you!” he exclaimed.

Picky, picky, picky, I thought.

I was certain I could persuade him to love me, that he wasn’t seeing clearly, that it was my job to show him that we were meant for each other. I was also certain that when I finally lost the 10 pounds I’d been losing and gaining for a hundred years, he’d be smitten.

photoshoppedAnd so I pulled out all the stops. I developed a sudden fascination for 18th-century architecture (his field), I baked coconut layer cake (his favorite), I dyed my hair blond (his preferred color). And most of all, I starved myself. I ate nothing but Grape-Nuts without milk for six weeks (don’t ask). I chipped a few teeth, leached most of the calcium out of my bones, and probably depleted my muscle mass by half, but I did finally lose those 10 pounds. A few months into Project David, he fell in love with a size 16 brunette and moved 3,000 miles away.

Most of the people who come to my retreats and workshops believe in Control-of-Life-and-Death-by-Weight. They are convinced that loves and losses can be titrated in pounds. That if only they were thin or thinner, everyone who didn’t love them would love them. Life would be magical, easy, illuminated. In other words, they believe what many of us believe: If we control what we put in our mouths (and the size of our bodies), then we can control everything else. So we spend our lives focused on losing weight, believing that thinness will provide invincible protection from rejection, grief, and sorrow.

But as you probably have already guessed (or experienced firsthand), when you are as thin as you can ever imagine, the people who didn’t love you before will still not love you, and the people who did love you before will love you still. People will come, go, leave, and die, no matter how much you weigh.

Talk about busting childhood myths. As children, we all believed that it was in our power to make our parents happy. If our mother was depressed, if our father was absent, if our parents fought incessantly, we were convinced that it was in our power to make things better. It wasn’t. But how we self-medicated those hurts with food was, and still is. Listening to me say this, one woman in my workshop said, “But wait a minute! The problem is that I’m not in control of what I put in my mouth. If I were, I wouldn’t be here!”

Funny but relevant! Original by Hipster Edit.

Funny but relevant! Original by Hipster Edit.

I responded, “If there is one thing about which we are in absolute and irrevocable control, it’s what we put in our mouths. I understand that you don’t feel that’s true. I understand that you feel at the mercy of potato chips and pizza, but truly — it’s only you who lifts your fork or fingers and puts the food in your mouth. It’s completely up to you. And, if there is one thing about which you are not in control, it’s who loves you, stays with you, gets ill, or leaves you.”

As long as you are saying, “Well, I may not be in a relationship now, but when I get thin, I will find the perfect partner,” you give yourself the illusion that you’re in control. You may not be happy now, you tell yourself, but someday soon you will make a change and Prince Charming will suddenly show up at your door. You fool yourself into thinking that you have total control over when your unhappiness will end and perfect happiness will begin. And it has something to do with your weight.

How heartbreak can lead to overeating

Yesterday I received a letter from a woman who weighs 350 pounds. She wrote, “I have always believed deep in my heart that if I would just lose this weight, my parents would love me. They would also stop yelling, stop drinking, stop leaving. My husband would pay more attention to me. My money problems would vanish. My house would be clean. What if I lose the weight and those things don’t happen?”

Losing weight does bring a feeling of lightness; more freedom to move; it puts less pressure on your joints. But it doesn’t pay the bills, clean the house, or prevent people from getting sick or leaving or dying.

Before my father died, I tried everything to keep him alive. I bought him athletic shoes and exercised with him. I made sure he ate well. Part of my motivation, besides wanting him to be healthy, was that I was positive I couldn’t live without him. But when he died, I grieved, I cried, and then life went on. When my cat, Blanche, died, I thought life was over. And then it wasn’t. My best friend, Isabel, moved to Australia a few months ago, and I thought I’d never have another close friend. And then I did. Seems as if I’ve been wrong about quite a few things. But the thing I’ve been most wrong about is that having a broken heart is something to avoid at all costs.

It’s the nature of hearts to break. It’s in their job description. When a heart is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, it holds nothing back. And sometimes it gets broken.broken heart pink

And it’s all to avoid something that can’t be avoided. While we are postponing our joy for a future time when everything will be perfect, life is going on with or without our consent — and we are missing it. People come and go, pain comes and goes. But so does joy. And if our hearts are closed because we don’t want to suffer, they won’t be open enough to recognize the joy as it flies by.

Hearts are made to be resilient. Think about it: Is there one thing that’s happened to you that you haven’t survived? Here you are, right now, reading this article despite all the heartache you’ve had in your life. Something in you is still awake, alive, eager to learn, ready to be moved.

And once you know that your heart is resilient, once you accept that part of being here on earth is, as a friend of mine says, living among the brokenhearted, then you can take in the huge streaks of delight, joy, and happiness as well. Once you understand that everything will end, you can finally let your lifethe one you already have, not the one you imagine you’ll someday lose enough weight to deservebegin.

For more information about the author of this post, Geneen Roth, check out her website here

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

  1. Melinda

    What an amazing post. It was exactly what I needed to hear today. I have spent far too much of my life believing that if I lost weight, it would automatically mean I was more eligible for joy. I finally did, and I found out, I’m the same person I was before. I know, what a shock! lol

    Now, I am trying to figure out what I really want in life and I have slowly discovered that it is up to me to decide. No more blaming external factors for my internal issues and the decisions I have made. It is a little scary, but very freeing.

    Again, thank you for the post. I really appreciate the insights and reminders!

  2. Celine

    Thank you so much for this moving post! I couldn’t agree more with this! I do believe that “when you accept that everything has its end, you will start to live.”, because then, you will want to live every moment, everyday.


  3. Atiqur Sumon
    Atiqur Sumon04-21-2014

    I have always wondered how to do that!

  4. Rebecca

    I love this! I call it living in The Long Now.

  5. Jen

    I really needed this today. I’ve been struggling with the whole “if I just lose weight, I’ll get a boyfriend and someone will love me, and my life will be perfect” and It’s very difficult trying to get away from that mindset. It seems to be ingrained into our heads from such a young age.

    When someone asks what my goals are, I honestly have no idea. I’m feeling ‘stuck’ in this mindframe because I am stuck with the thought that life begins once I lose x pounds.

    I’ll definitely be re-reading this article often. Thank you!

  6. Ana

    I enjoyed so much of this article. So many true and profound things in it.

    One issue I have had for a long time however, is the notion that it’s untrue that life will improve once you lose weight. It just doesn’t ring true for me – in terms of my lived experience or common sense. Or perhaps, the explanations often given are not satisfying.

    I know the statement that ‘you’re just fooling yourself if you think losing weight will make your life significantly better’ is often made. And maybe it’s true for someone with just 10lbs to lose.

    But for really fat people, the statistics just don’t support that claim. Because, as a fat person, if you lose weight you are likely to: experience less weight stigma, have better chances of receiving good health care, have better chances of being employed, are more likely to be in a relationship, are less likely to experience depression…the list goes on. If these things don’t contribute to a better, easier life then I don’t know what does.

    I know as a fat person, when I lost a big amount of weight my life did change for the better. Everybody loves a thin girl! I met my husband, got job promotions, was treated politely by shop assistants, had men in lifts actually make eye contact with me, had access to beautiful clothes I’d otherwise never dreamed of wearing, could finally fit into seats that had previously been a torment. Life was better.

    Of course, the weight came back on, as it does for most people, and those ‘privileges’ are once again denied to me.

    And here is my moment of real revelation. The thing being fat has taught me is the painful lesson that in this culture, if you don’t fit physical norms you may have to work very hard to learn to love yourself. You are forced to live the experience that you can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t live in a world of superficialities as easily as other people do. You have to rise against all the wrongs and injustices and still find meaning and joy and dignity. Not impossible, but for me a lot of hard work and determined effort.

    And perhaps this is where it comes full circle, to where the author of the original post, Geneen Roth said that it’s about accepting that life is about living amongst the broken hearted and also amongst the joy and delight and happiness.

    • Melinda

      Hey Ana,

      Perhaps I’m out of line here, but I just wanted to give a view from the other side of someone losing weight.

      When I lost my weight, my job didn’t change, I still haven’t found the elusive ‘boyfriend/husband’, I have store clerks treat me about the same, and my medical stuff really hasn’t changed much at all.

      Some things you say are true. Men do look at me more (this one I have experienced and it hasn’t been all pleasant), I feel more energetic and can breath better, and I do have a wider selection of clothing to choose from. Honestly though, to me most of it seems external. With the exception of better health, I don’t derive joy, not true joy, from those things. I have found that trying really hard to love myself exactly as I am is really the best way to find joy every day.

      I really am saying this not to argue, but just to give a different perspective. I have also seen the superficialities that you speak of and I agree that being overweight and then losing the weight can be suprising with how people respond to you, but do those things really matter? Is that what makes you happy?

      I lost weight so others would love me, for my problems to be solved and everything to be wonderful, but when that didn’t happen I actually became more depressed. I gained some weight back and began to feel that it didn’t really matter what I did. No one would love me.

      Now I am changing the way I think about myself and my weight a little every day, thanks to this website. It has helped me realize that in my original weight loss process I wasn’t taking time to love myself, to even connect with how I was feeling or even appreciate the amazing gift my body really was. When the weight was gone, I was left to face the fact that deep down, I was still the same person and I didn’t even know who that really was. I was so focused on becoming something everyone else wanted me to be, that I didn’t know who ‘I’ wanted me to be.

      For me, weight loss didn’t bring happiness. And after finding this website, now I know why. I am learning here that there is a whole new view to life I didn’t know. One beyond comparison or measurements. One that can create a joy that remains no matter what my body looks like. A view that can be sustained, through hard work, for the rest of my life. Creating joy, in a single person – me.

      • ana

        Hi Melinda

        Thanks for your thoughtful and honest post. It really got me thinking and pushed me (gently) to look at some things from a different angle.

        I agree – loving yourself, as you are, is the only real way to happiness. I was forced to accept that fact when I put the weight back on. And, I agree that ‘changing the way I think about myself and my weight a little every day’ is the way to do it.

        Looking back, I think the greatest thing about the period I weighed less was being free of the constant self-criticism and loathing that had been my constant companion since I was a little girl. The joy and freedom of that surpassed all the ‘external’ things I achieved at that time.

        Now I’m having to learn that I can be free of self-criticism and loathing, no matter what I weigh. Perhaps the lesson we have both had to learn, albeit via slightly different pathways?

        Thanks again for your thought-provoking post. Amazing how intimate you can be online with a complete stranger!


      • Melinda

        Thanks Ana! You are very kind and I love what you said. I agree and think you are right about the lessons we have both learned.

        I hadn’t thought about how losing the weight helped free me from self-criticism and loathing even for a short time. That is quite insightful, thank you so much for that thought. It will really help me keep things in perspective!

        I think part of my struggle was that when the weight loss didn’t solve all of my problems, I reverted back to old habits of attacking myself mentally and internally. Freedom from those things didn’t remain for me just because I lost weight. I continued to feel ‘not good enough’ and struggled to regain that freedom in some other way.

        Thank goodness we are both learning to see value in ourselves and others separate from weight and physical appearance. I am grateful for this site and wonderful people like you, who help me along.

        Thank you so much for your response and your kindness. You are amazing!


  7. Lil

    being thin may not make others fall in love with you but it will make you love yourself more and people who love themselves are more attractive to others. I am still thin but not nearly as thin as i used to be. As a thin woman i have a very attractive partner, a good job and all round good life. I hurt my back half a year ago and gained 8 kgs. Although i am still slim compared to the majority ( i live in australia, a very fat country) i have become depressed as my body no longer reflects the person i feel i am. True my partner still loves me – but i am less able to recieve his love because i don’t love myself. Being thin does equate with happiness, being in a body that reflects who you feel you are does impact on your happiness.

  8. Jennifer Plant
    Jennifer Plant05-30-2014

    Oh my goodness. I came down here to express my gratitude for this post and what do I see? A respectful and honest discussion in a comments section on the internet! Thank you, Melissa and Ana, for what you said, but most of all for your courtesy to each other. You’ve improved my whole week.

    • Shannon

      I completely agree with you, Jennifer! Two women, with differing view points on the same topic speaking pleasantly and gently with each other while still getting their own points across. And THEN, even more remarkable, both women actually read what the other was saying, THOUGHT ABOUT IT and may have even adopted some of those ideas to their own personal introspection.

      I was, honestly, amazed to read it… made me feel all glowy and warm inside and like there is hope for we women to be supportive of each other and kind and gentle.

      Nicely done, ladies!

  9. Althea

    An excellent post – thank you!

  10. Georgia

    This was just wonderful – perfectly written and so very accurate. A reminder that many of us need from time to time. Thank you!

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