I live in Hollywood, but I'm fat. Do I really deserve to be loved?

I was born and raised in show business, where appearance is everything.

Published July 19, 2005 11:33PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm fat. It's my identity. It's my comfort and it's my prison. I'm not circus freak fat, just consistently carrying around varying degrees of 50 extra pounds. I'm tall, big-boned and, many say, striking. I'm about 40 and was born and raised in Hollywood. I live there still.

I have everything I need -- friends, family, brains, education, talent, ability, street smarts, beauty, a roof over my head ... but I'm having difficulty having intimate relationships with men. I was raised by a narcissistic father and a passive-aggressive mother, in Hollywood, in show business, and I was taught from an early age that physical perfection is the only thing that guarantees love and acceptance. My parents were unnaturally obsessed with my body. Of course, I learned to manipulate and control my parents with my eating habits, giving them the huge "Fuck you" of making myself fat.

This stuff isn't a mystery to me. I know who I am; I know why I do what I do. I've been in therapy on and off my whole adult life. But, really, it was turning 40 that brought me clarity -- as if a dormant internal light switch suddenly decided to turn itself on.

So. The lights are on. I get it. I get it all. But there's one crucial thing about which my emotions and my intellect aren't seeing eye to eye: Do I deserve love if I'm overweight? Men hit on me. I'm a booby broad and I'm kinda hot, even with the extra poundage. I wear it well. But I'm having a hard time accepting that a man could be attracted to me because it's such an ingrained part of my psyche that I must be physically perfect to receive love. My friends think I'm insane when I say, "I can't date! I'm fat!"

I'm now in cognitive behavioral therapy. It's helping. I'm disputing my unwanted beliefs. But, boy, this shit is hard to get beyond. I need and want the love of a good man. How can I get past this self-imposed limitation? I'm working on the fat, but I have a life to live, too.

Whole Lotta Love

Dear Whole Lotta Love,

At the risk of splitting hairs, I would ask, Do you have to deserve love to accept love? If love were offered to you, would you have difficulty accepting it because you don't think you deserve it? If so, I really do think cognitive therapy is the way to go. Because you do need to untangle the existential question first, and then rearrange your behavior.

Cognitive therapy can help you with the first part. I know because I had a similar problem. I thought I was my writing. Cognitive therapy helped me with that. It was a dilemma: If I was the same as my writing, then if I wrote badly, I was a bad person; I could not risk writing badly because I could not risk being a bad person; therefore I could not risk writing at all. I was stuck. I had to learn that I was not my writing.

Likewise, you are not the same as your fat. You are a person. Your fat is just fat. It doesn't deserve love. People deserve love. You are a person as deserving of love as any other person.

It wasn't cognitive therapy that got me all the way through this, however. Once you are clear that you are distinct from your accessories or your activities, you may believe that you deserve love. But then how do you actually, in practice, learn to accept love? First, ALFY: Accept love from yourself. That's it. See what I'm doing? I'm not saying, Love yourself. I'm saying, Accept love from yourself. Just try it.

By the way, have you read that book "Children of the Self-Absorbed"?

I haven't.

I love the title and have great regard for the publisher, New Harbinger Press. I've paged through the book, but I haven't read it. Do you know why I haven't read it? May I confess something to you?

I am afraid to buy self-help books.

Isn't that weird? I want to buy "Children of the Self-Absorbed" not only because the title echoes the title of a horror movie but because I would like to know more about how one can overcome the effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent. I am sort of in the business.

But I have the oddest belief: When I am in a bookstore, I think my purpose in buying a book is to impress the clerk. If I am going to impress the clerk, I can only buy smart-person books.

So I was in the bookstore just the other day, leafing through "Children of the Self-Absorbed" and finding it quite absorbing. But you know what I ended up buying? "Freakonomics." It was featured up near the counter, and it seems like more of a smart-person book.

Isn't that insane? And counterproductive? And I'm supposed to offer you help? How can I offer you help if I cannot even act rationally, in my own interest, in something as simple as buying a book?

Just the same, in case you're interested, based on what I gleaned by furtively leafing through the book when the clerk wasn't looking, I suggest you read it and do what it says.

Meanwhile, if you'd like the opinion of a complete nutcase, I'll tell you what I think about fatness. I think in 2,000 years when they dig us up they will see that we were a fat-crazed society, and they will find a connection between our religious craziness, our war craziness and our fat craziness. They will understand us better then than we understand ourselves. They will have the benefit of a lack of information. But that is 2,000 years from now.

Let me just conclude: You sound like a good candidate for the kind of cognitive therapy-based ideas and exercises in "Children of the Self-Absorbed," which I have not read. Indeed, as you say, you are doing some cognitive therapy already. So you know what I'm talking about. Cognitive therapy provides methods for linking up what you know with how you feel and how you behave. It gives you a way to actually change. It's cool that way.

So buy that book and keep working with your therapist and see if it doesn't help. I think it probably will.

You are beautiful and you deserve to be loved. You have some fat. Your fat does not deserve anything. It's just fat.

Glad we cleared that up.

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