It shouldn’t be a surprise that both men and women had strong opinions after reading Loving a Woman’s Body, which addressed how we women should view our bodies more positively, as our husbands do. But that is tough work, because women as a group tend to dislike our bodies, or at least have some “body image issues.” Men, on the other hand, generally do not have the same struggles.
When both men and women take the Sexual Style Survey in Hot Monogamy, author Dr. Patricia Love says she can almost always pick the husband’s or wife’s survey just by glancing at who has the high body image (the man) and who has the low body image (the woman). This is not due to the fact that men have fitter bodies, mind you, they just don’t seem to obsess about their flaws like we do. Dr. Love adds that unfortunately it’s young women, particularly in their teens, who have the lowest body image of all. So, if you are fretting about your body, your daughter or niece may be learning from your example.
Of course culture tends to contribute to our attitudes. We see “perfectly shaped” women in media promoting every product known to man—on TV, in magazines, in stores, on billboards, on sidewalk signs. Basically, you can’t miss them. I think these images affect women more than men. Many men appreciate the variety of female bodies and only wish their wives could see themselves through their husband’s eyes. Women may look at the airbrushed pictures and only see what they are not. There is no cellulite in the magazines, but more than 90% of women have it in the real world. We are taught to aim for abs and buns of steel, not to celebrate the natural curves (or lack of curves) we were given.
“One of the hazards of trying to measure up to our cultural standards of beauty, especially feminine beauty, is that they change from decade to decade,” says Dr. Love, citing the Twiggy trend, then the trend toward prepubescent bodies with large breasts (an anomaly achieved through harsh dieting and implants), and the popular “waif” look common in girls with eating disorders. It’s more than a bit sad that these are cultural ideals. My petite body doesn’t compare with the tall, leggy models. The funny thing is when we look at our friends and relatives—even those with similar shapes—we think they look just fine and even beautiful. But our negative self-talk says just the opposite inside our own heads.
According to research I recently read and shared with you, pornography can be another contributor to low body image. Some men were basically raised on porn, and it negatively shaped how they view real women. And for wives whose husbands regularly view porn, research shows this tends to lower the wife’s own body image, feeling that she is being compared with porn stars in her husband’s mind. Tony DiLorenzo of One Extraordinary Marriage describes in a podcast how he had previously (negatively) compared the images in his head to his wife’s body. He had to reshape his thinking and now views his wife as his ideal.
One way this body image issue plays out in the bedroom is in women covering up instead of celebrating their bodies and allowing their husbands to experience the pleasure of seeing them naked. If he is not allowed to look at your body, do you want him looking at another woman? It can also cause women to be inhibited in the clothing they wear or in their enjoyment of sex. Do you worry that your husband will touch or see the part of your body that you feel least comfortable about? If so, it takes your attention away from enjoying one another.
“When a woman is unhappy with her body for any reason—she thinks she’s too fat, too thin, too “hippy,” too short-legged, too thick-waisted, too busty, or too flat—it can have a deadening effect on her sexuality,” says Dr. Love, who points out a study that shows a very strong correlation between body image and sexual desire. Women who feel badly about their bodies “not only were less interested in making love, but were more restricted in their range of sexual activities and had more difficulty becoming aroused and reaching orgasm.” Some women even feel so badly about their bodies that they feel unworthy of their husband’s love and affection.
While healthy living and fitness is a positive goal, an obsession with thinness can be self-destructive. What most spouses want in a lover is not the perfect body, but someone who is passionate, confident, intimate, generous and caring—who can be in the moment.
News flast: Did you know men aged 60 have the highest self-esteem, and young adults have the lowest? Married folks also tend to have higher self-esteem.
There’s more to say on this topic and too much for one post, so stay tuned for 6 Tips to Improve Your Body Image. Do you think a low body image has affected your marriage? Do you have the secret to eliminate cellulite? Have you learned to be confident at any shape, any age? Do your compliments to your spouse fall on deaf ears?
Photo credit: Jaimie Duplass