The Truth About Attraction  


Perceiving one’s own attractiveness is a complicated thing. It’s walking a line between narcissism and self-deprecation. Somewhere in the middle is the goal, at least for me, but it always feels like I lean too far to one side or the other. I can be both self-deprecating and narcissistic, although typically not at the same time. How I come across in this post remains to be seen.

I can’t be certain, but I think my physical attractiveness peaked in high school or college. This is probably the case for many people, sure, but I now find myself to be a harsh contrast from my days of underwear modeling and bodybuilding. It’s not that I consider myself unattractive, I just didn’t expect to lose my boyish looks and model’s body so quickly. I used to be ripped, with a chiseled jawline and thick head of hair. And when I say “I used to” have these things I mean not that long ago — a few years. Now it feels like I woke up one day with a receded hairline, expanded waistline, and poor health. I might have expected this kind of physical deterioration to happen over several decades, not a couple years in my mid-twenties. That is if I expected my looks to deteriorate to such an extent at all.

On the bright side, I like to think that my intellectual attractiveness has yet to peak. I hope that will be in the next couple decades. But the sad truth is that physical attraction is really difficult to part with or overlook. Self-confidence and the way you perceive your own looks matters I suppose. But, and I may be mistaken, it seems few people, if any, can be fully attracted to someone else without being physically attracted to them, regardless of the person’s self-confidence.

No matter how you feel about a prospective mate, his or her appearance matters. Is it the biggest factor? Not always, but for me it is definitely important.

The nice part about attractiveness is that, usually, if someone doesn’t find your looks appealing, another person will, or they will put more weight on attributes like your sense of humor or intelligence.

Physical attractiveness used to matter way more to me. This may be because I’ve matured, or I’ve developed my own non-physical attributes thus stimulating my awareness of such traits in others, or maybe it’s a product of my illness and my isolation from the women I used to find attractive, or most women in general. But I have a feeling that, although they are very beautiful, I would not find most of the women I was attracted to as a teenager or in my early twenties as attractive now.

Saying that, however, makes me feel picky. And I can’t help but feel like my standards are way too high, especially for a chronically ill guy who hasn’t gone on a date in, oh I don’t know, five years? Yikes!

I realize that this is entirely out of my hands — my body has plans that don’t involve dinner with an intelligent and gorgeous woman. But I also feel like if I was able to date I would have to face the reality that women might not find me as attractive as they used to, and that includes those of whom I am still very much attracted to. There is, after all, not much worse than being attracted to someone and it not being reciprocated.

That idea is kind of heartbreaking, isn’t it? It is for me. I miss both the physicality of affection and the giddiness of knowing someone is attracted to me and something will come of it. I think this is the first time in my life that I’ve been deprived of those things, at least in person.

I haven’t had someone give me that look, the look that says “I want you to kiss me” in such a long time. I can’t even remember the last time, actually. And I definitely haven’t had someone give me the look that says “I want to rub Nutella all over your bare chest and then lick it off,” but that’s a whole other blog post.

Besides being sick and living in a very rural area, a three-hour drive from any large city, I am, as I’ve mentioned, not as attractive as I once was. A big part of that is the weight I’ve put on.

I am, at the moment, the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. This may surprise some people — it surprises me. It was not two years ago that I was emaciated, unable to eat solid food, instead I drank two Odwalla protein shakes each day — my only digestible source of sustenance. Now, while I haven’t recovered enough to step on a scale (though, I’m getting close), using my observations as a former fitness instructor (and a human), I would say I’m somewhere around 180 pounds. At 5’8″ that is more than I have ever weighed. It’s even greater than my weight during the bulking phases of my bodybuilding days. (#bulking). 

Don’t get me wrong, by no means do I consider myself morbidly obese, but I definitely consider myself overweight. And if I do in fact weigh around 180 pounds, then, according to the body mass index many fitness professionals use, I am in fact overweight. But to be honest I’m not worried about my current weight. It is the possibility of becoming heavier and living at an unhealthy weight that scares me.

One reason for my concern: this is the first time that I can remember in which gaining weight is mostly, if not entirely, out of my control. 

For over a year now I’ve been on hydrocortisone, a drug used to boost low levels of cortisol, a vital hormone. Coincidentally (or not) I started the drug around the same time I began to put on weight. For the last few weeks I’ve started to ween myself off hydrocortisone in an attempt to see if my body will correct the imbalance itself and make adequate amounts of cortisol. Several months ago I tried to ween off the drug, cutting down to 7.5 mg in the morning from 10 mg. Within a few days I felt awful and had to up the dose. Now, after slowly cutting back by 0.5 mg a week, I am back to taking 7.5 mg and I haven’t had a bad reaction yet.

I realize that not taking a drug that is vital to my body is risky. But the truth is I hate the way it makes me feel and look. My skin is constantly greasy, I have the acne of an adolescent, and as I mentioned earlier, I’ve gained a lot of weight. However, not taking hydrocortisone mostly for reasons of vanity is at best cavalier and at worst irresponsible. But I’m not taking the little bit of health that I’ve regained for granted. If I don’t do well without hydrocortisone I will immediately start taking it again and I’ll just have to deal with being overweight with greasy skin and acne until my body starts to make enough cortisol.

Another possibility is my appearance has changed because of the liter of saline that is infused into my body each day. I imagine that could cause someone to look puffy and carry some extra weight — water weight. Perhaps my weight gain is a mixture of the subcutaneous fluid from the saline infusions and a side effect of the hydrocortisone. It could also have to do with my metabolism slowing with age and the fact that I am eating again. But I still eat very healthy — usually just fish, veggies, and fats.

Either way it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that my health is more important to me than vanity. And if I’m not as attractive as I once was, so be it. That, like the hydrocortisone, is a tough pill to swallow, but it is one I can deal with.

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17 thoughts on “The Truth About Attraction  ”

  1. Hate to say it: thank goodness! I think the kind of ‘look at me’ physical attractiveness young men (and women) value and spend so much time attaining (while pretending it takes no effort and is entirely natural) is exhausting for most people, and serves to attract a mate in a purely physical way which no way ensures compatibility for a lifetime together or the rigors of working are rearing offspring.

    Yes, it’s important to get the best possible genes for your kids – a joke to those of us who wonder if any of our physical and mental problems from CFS are genetic (as some claim).

    But other qualities, ones that don’t necessarily show up until the severe testing stage, ARE more important: what are you going to do if your beautiful thin-by-dieting-and-exercising wife develops diabetes as a result of pregnancy as is stuck forever battling extra weight she has relatively little control over?

    It’s shallow.

    And I’m not saying that to make you feel better.

    As you know, your weight isn’t necessarily under your control – does that make you a bad person? Does it make it okay for other people to fat-shame you when they have no idea how you got and stay that way? Or is it more important that you are kind to people, and a loyal friend, and can’t wait to be able to do for other people the kinds of things they do for you – as soon as you can? Nice to have everything – and unrealistic.

    You got the very short end of the stick, but there are qualities that are you regardless of how you look. The question you have to ask yourself is whether THOSE qualities are enough.

    I won’t tell you what I have to do to lose a few pounds, but it is drastic. And as soon as I finish the process of selecting our next home, and finishing the second book of the PC trilogy, I’m doing it – because I hate being heavier than I like and the drastic way is the ONLY thing which works.

  2. A very honest and heartfelt post Jamison. I understand how you feel about having lost some of your attractiveness, as I was once quite a looker from what people have told me. I never thought so, as I was always rather insecure about my looks, but I had a nice face, thick black hair and long lashes and, most importantly, was thin. I never liked working out much, so never was never buff, but I was in shape.

    I looked pretty good until around 50, but now that I’m about to turn 63, I feel very unattractive. I’ve gained weight and everything’s succumbing to gravity (though I’m not fat), my right knee is bad, and I’ve lost much of my hair – which unfortunately is now growing on my back, shoulders and out of my ears – YUK! But, being married to a man I’ve been with for over 37 years, my looks really aren’t that important any more.

  3. Stephanie Stultz

    Although it would be nice to be as attractive as I once was (I’m now 63) I realize that in truth, I’d settle for butt-ugly if I was healthy again! And that’s saying a lot because, like you I was a real ‘looker’ as they say, in my 20’s, 30’s and honestly, well into my 40’s until I became ill at 47 with ME/CFS. My mom and grandma were really beautiful well into their 60’s. It’s all a matter of perspective. And like your experience, I went from a normal weight of about 125 to sickly 106 and once I started on HC….now at 150. Everyone that I’ve known that is on full replacement hydrocortisone complains of weight gain and especially ‘Buddha Belly’. In theory, it’s only supposed to replace the cortisol you’re not making but for some reason it seems the body doesn’t recognize it in the same way. It’s so distressing….I don’t eat half of what I used to eat to even maintain my current weight. And while I do have a really, really nice husband of 22 years who doesn’t seem to mind that my looks are not what they used to be it’s hard on your self esteem no matter who you are. I was sharing with a gal pal of mine that I knew the days of being sexy/attractive were long gone when a man was looking at me in a doctor’s waiting room and instead of thinking he might be admiring me, I wondered if he was going to try and steal my purse!!!

  4. I often tell people that the thing Hashimoto’s disease stole from me first was my looks. Yes, it can be frustrating to have your body do things that you can’t control, no matter what foods you choose to eat or how much exercise you can (or can’t) take. But life does that anyway, eventually … and we learn to adjust.

    Your heart is kind, Jamison. That is not nothing.

  5. You still do look great & you have so much to offer Jamison, don’t doubt that your kindness courage thoughtfulness & openness are far more important than anything which is superficial. You have every reason to feel really good about yourself !

  6. You are forgetting about chemistry between two people. If there is chemistry there, it doesn’t matter how fat, thin, beautiful or ugly a person is (and these are fairly subjective traits to begin with), you will want to be with them no matter what. I can attest to that from my own experience. I know my ideas of what love and intimacy are have changed dramatically since coming down with ME/CFS. I am much more free as to give love and affection where I can because I understand more now how important small acts of affection are and I am not so concerned about what others might think. But I am a married person woman in her 40s and I imagine it is really difficult for a young man for a variety of reasons. For what it’s worth, you are still attractive and have much more to offer than a pretty face 😉

  7. The mixture of sadness and longing in your eyes is still the same…

    Yes, both – the medication and the saline can ramp up your weight and slower your metabolism. While I understand that it is not easy to let go of our self-directed vanity, there are things in life that take priority over that (ex. health). My mom was overweight, struggling with cancer. Some people suggested she lose weight, but no matter what she did, the weight would not come off. When it did, it was towards the final stage of her life… Sometimes heavier means healthier. However weird it sounds.

    Attraction is important. However, keep in mind that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. People appear cuter/ better looking the more we’re into them. We have infatuation goggles on and a “6” is suddenly an “8.5”. Later in the relationship, we get more realistic and we see the faults, but by then, the looks aren’t as important. I don’t know if this paragraph helped, but I was trying to be encouraging and empowering. (That does not always come across. I am not too good at making people feel better type of thing.)

    Nonetheless, I wish you lotsa health!

  8. I don’t have ME but I do have Crohn’s disease and I’ve been on/off of prednisone for the past 16 years. I am still working on losing the weight I gained during the last long period of long prednisone use and at 28, the weight doesn’t come off so quickly especially because I am now living with a traumatic brain injury that severely restricts my exercise/activity.

    It is hard because I also love my body for all the things it does for me but struggle with my self-image. For years I’ve gone between being borderline underweight to overweight or even obese depending on the state of my Crohn’s disease and the meds I’m taking. It is hard to feel so powerless over it all. I don’t know if I worry so much about being overweight as I don’t think thinness should be a goal in and of itself. I worry more about how excessive weight gain could compact my health issues & further restrict my life/activity. I hope I get to a place where I’m able to feel comfortable and attractive again regardless of my weight or the state of my health.

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