Welcome to "Ask I Heart My Body," an advice column that tackles real-life problems sent to us by fans of our body positivity Facebook page, I Heart My Body. This week's question:

I am 23 years old and I've never dated anyone, as I gained weight in my early teens. I am not ashamed of my body, but I am constantly judged for it and guys also stay away. If there were any that would actually pay attention to me, I worry that I might not notice them, or not trust them to not make a fool out of me.

I was wondering if I am the only one who has been going though something [like] this, or it is something that happens a lot? Furthermore, how does one get over it? 

— Ioana

Dating as a plus-size woman isn't easy. A lot of men (and some women) have a "type," and that type is often straight-size.

That's a hard pill to swallow — not just in terms of finding potential partners, but also in terms of your own self-esteem.

"Confidence is a challenge, for sure, especially when your figure doesn't fit the societal ideal," Dr. Gretchen Kubacky, a Los Angeles-based psychologist (and "a plus-size woman and veteran of the dating scene myself") told Revelist.

So what's a plus-size girl to do?

Ignore potential dates who are highly specific about their body preferences

That goes for potential dates who have preferences for large or small bodies, said Dr. Kubacky: "Too much focus on the physical is not a good start to a relationship. Our sizes can change over time, our looks certainly will change, and bodies can be affected by disease. You are not static."

On the other side of it, plus-size women may find themselves receiving attention from "fat fetishists."

"Men who specify certain body features and start sexualizing it immediately — that's a red flag," she continued. You can open yourself up to meeting new people and still have your antenna up at the same time, just in case.

Assume that others will find you attractive

"If you take good care of yourself, dress to the best of your ability ... and are well-groomed, you will be physically attractive," Dr. Kubacky said.

But first and foremost, the attraction has to come from within; other people can sense when you don't feel good about yourself.

"People respond to those internal negative messages and feelings. Start with some self-love and self-respect," Dr. Kubacky said. "Doing some of that work, and coming to believe it, is not a quick fix. You need self-esteem exercises, and exposure to people who are body-positive" in order to get there.

If you're scared, look for group dating activities

Dating is intimidating for a lot of people, and having a friend or network for support is a great way to soften the anxiety you may have around it. Get out and find a social group, whether it's a sports league, supper club, or any other special interest, where you can meet like-minded people.

"The timing, social focus, and shared interests will all make it easier," said Dr. Kubacky.

Don't be afraid to call it quits

Whether it's been one date or 20 dates, if you're seeing someone and something seems off — about the way they perceive you, what their intentions are, etc. — "bail out," Dr. Kubacky said. 

"Saying 'no' or 'no thank you' is hard for a lot of women, especially when dealing with a fat-phobic society," she continued. "You may hear messages like, 'you should be lucky that he asked you out; this is as good as it's going to get.' And that's not true

"There are great men out there that prefer larger women ... But no matter what, they'll still focus on her character more than the size of her body. Dating is a numbers game, and it may take 50 first dates to find the right guy."

But they're out there.

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