As women, we live in a world where we’re constantly made to think our bodies need to be smaller to be considered beautiful, desirable, and even just worthy of existing — and it sucks.
- We’re constantly made to believe our bodies need to be smaller to be considered beautiful, desirable, or even just worthy of existing — and it sucks.
- Though it’s not easy work to get out of a slump like yours, it is possible.
- Focus on things that have nothing to do with your body, like a project you’re passionate about or spending time with friends.
- Reframing sex with your partner as an emotionally-driven activity, not a physical one, can help.
I’m not happy with how my body looks right now. I’m absorbing all the body positivity I see and am trying to be kinder to myself, but the truth is, I don’t feel like I look my best.
This is starting to affect my sex life with my boyfriend, whom I’ve been dating for a few years. I’m honest with him when I don’t want to be intimate because I don’t feel sexy, but I get the impression he’s starting to be frustrated.
He tells me a lot how beautiful I am and I know he means it, but I can’t find it in myself to believe it just yet. I’m so conscious of my weight that when he touches me, I get upset. Is there something he can do to help me work through this? I’m feeling stuck (and kind of alone) but I also don’t like thinking I have to lose weight to feel comfortable having sex again.
– New York
Dear New York,
I’m so sorry you feel alone, because you’re not. We live in a world where women are constantly made to believe our bodies need to be smaller to be considered beautiful, desirable, or even just worthy of existing — and it sucks.
Though it’s not easy to get out of a confidence slump like yours, it is possible. Doing it once will give you the tools to do it again and again. That’s important, because we all have days when we don’t feel amazing in our bodies.
In order to start feeling better about yourself right now, you have to consciously recognize triggers try to avoid them, according to Andrew Walen, the founder and executive director of the Baltimore-based Body Image Therapy Center. If you enter a body-shame spiral every time you scroll past a size 2 model on Instagram, it’s time you unfollow her and fill your feed with women who look more like you.
Walen also suggested focusing on parts of your life that have nothing to do with your body, like volunteer work you’re passionate about or the can’t-breathe laughs you experience when you’re spending time with friends.
“Do something that makes you feel like you have purpose in life,” Walen told me. “Focus on your body less and your body image is likely to improve.”
Walen also suggested reframing how you think about sex. Rather than viewing it as a solely physical activity, consider the mental and emotional aspects. Physical desire is certainly part of sex, but when you’re doing it with someone you genuinely care about, like your boyfriend of many years, it goes deeper than that. Sex is a way to show you care for and love him, and vice-versa.
“We get lost in the ego-centric sense of sexuality,” Walen said. Instead, we should really “focus on feeling certain things and telling your partner what you want in the exchange.” Doing this takes practice, but sex is often an important aspect of a strong and healthy relationship.
You can also try some mental tricks to feel more comfortable in your own skin. Start with small steps, like wearing a bathing suit at your friend’s pool, and then work your way up to laying in bed naked with your partner with no expectation of sex. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll start to feel.
You can also start in private with just you and your mirror, Walen said. “Look at body parts on yourself you’re overwhelmed by, look at them for 15 seconds, feel whatever you want, then stop. Do it for increasing periods of time, then when you stop feeling a reaction, move on to more difficult body parts.”
Take it from me. I swore off bikinis for years because I thought my stomach, which is not flat, looked gross in them. Eventually, I got sick of cornering myself into only wearing one-pieces, so I took small steps, wearing bikinis around just my friends at first.
Now, I pack multiple bikinis to wear on packed public beaches during family vacations.
Although most of the work to feel better about your body has to come from within, there is one thing your partner can do to help you out.
He probably means well when he compliments your appearance when you’re feeling down. But according to Walen, doing so can be invalidating since it’s kind of like saying he agrees with your negative opinions, but loves you anyway. Instead, tell him you’d rather he sympathizes with your feelings and say something like “I understand this is difficult for you and I’m here to listen.”
If you take anything from this advice, I hope it’s that you’re not alone. It’s not easy to change such a socially ingrained mindset, but with a bit of persistence, it’s possible.