Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Q. “Not” married to “hot”: I’ve been on a weight loss journey since October 2020, but I’ve yet to tell my husband what my biggest motivation is.
Second to health, aesthetic goals, family medical history, of course, my main motivation is to get people to actually take me seriously as his partner in public.
I’ve been overweight for my adult life due to lack of knowledge about nutrition and not committing time to healthy habits. Since we began dating, people of all genders and sexualities have openly flirted with him in front of me, as if I’m not there or I’m just a friend. Even when I’m holding his hand.
My husband has a unique sense of style, which draws attention. I love being married to a handsome man who can dress himself, but I can’t help feeling dumpy when people flirt with him as I just stand there. To his credit, my husband is cordial, but keeps the interaction short.
Logically, I know that strangers are going to make assumptions, and I can’t stop them, but it still hurts my feelings … and motivates me to pick up my dumbbells. I know my husband is deeply in love with me; he calls me gorgeous every day, and he was very attracted to me when I was 50 pounds heavier. I know he would do anything for me and would not stray. I know it’s not the healthiest thing to use these fleeting interactions as motivation for my health/fitness journey, but it’s very present in my mind. Is there a healthier way to reframe this for myself? Should I tell him that this is a motivation tool for me?
A: The motivations that get us up out of bed and into the gym are myriad and strange. We work out for “health,” but what that means and how that manifests can mean really anything. I don’t know that sharing this with your husband will help you or him, however. It feels like something that would cross over from “things you visualize on the treadmill” to “things that burrow into the foundation of a marriage.” If you think that your husband knowing this part of your inner life will draw you closer, by all means share it. But from your letter it seems that it’s really more of an internal coach, a way of spinning a potential negative into a net positive in your view. However, you would do well to share it with someone in any case; if you have a therapist, it’s worth unpacking this with them.
On that note, I don’t know that there’s a way to fully reframe this. Your experience will always be what it was, and the feelings activated by being slighted by others are valid. At the risk of sounding disgustingly cheesy, I wonder how motivating it might be for you to switch from thinking about a “revenge body” in response to the people who think you and your husband are an aesthetic mismatch, to thinking about working out as a way of giving yourself more mental freedom to enjoy the relationship you have. At the end of this journey, everyone who doubted you isn’t going to gather in a room and applaud you like you were on Extreme Makeover, but you will get to wake up every day in a happy and secure relationship. Visualize the two of you together while you’re on that treadmill; visualize how happy you are now.
My sister Margaret (30) is morbidly obese. She’s happy, active, and has a wonderful group of friends. But she refuses to take steps to lose weight, and she eats poorly, and it drives me crazy. I love Margaret so much and am terrified of losing her too early. I also hate that people hurt her feelings and treat her poorly because of her health. This manifests in me criticizing her and picking fights with her about her weight. I’m ruining my relationship with Margaret. She avoids me, and I don’t blame her. I make her feel bad about herself. I don’t know how to change this dynamic, because swallowing my fear drives me crazy. My own husband has lectured me about this. I want to change. Where do I begin?