I spent a significant part of my life building a solid foundation of body insecurity based on the belief that my bottom was too BIG. Imagine my surprise when, later in life, my assets would prove to be woefully undersized - as in I’m not even close to keeping up with the Kardashians. We’re all constantly reminded that we fall short of the ideal with messages that read: lose weight, color your hair, brighten, tighten, lift, surgically make this bigger, surgically make that smaller. It isn’t about us, it’s about a future, idealized, fantasy version of us. We all grew up with that same drum beat playing in the background, so it's no wonder that feeling positive about our bodies can be a struggle.
My answer to body positivity has traditionally been to either (a) strive for perfection or (b) use food to compensate for the shame of failing to achieve perfection. Let's be clear. If perfection is the tool we choose to transform our negatives into positives, we’ll need to be thin, but not too thin, with large breasts, a big derrière and, of course, a flat stomach. Oh! And don’t forget the thigh gap. We’ll need one of those to reach perfection as well.
Beauty Is a Moving Target
If it were the 60s, we would be chasing after a different ideal. Back then it was about peace & love and thin & willowy. Go back a decade further to the 50s and the hourglass figure was in vogue. Every few decades or so, there’s a shift in how we view and define beauty and beautiful bodies. But this has been the case since the beginning. The ancient Egyptians idealized slender women while the Greeks preferred pleasantly plump. During the Han Dynasty, the Chinese defined beauty, in part, by slim waists and small feet. Later, during the Italian Renasissance, an ample bosom, round stomach and full hips were what it took to make the cut. Suffice to say that beauty is and always has been subjective. And for most women, the idealized versions of it have always been impossible to attain - no matter when we were born.
Body Positivity & Sexual Self Esteem
It makes sense that negative body image takes aim at our sexual self esteem, because sex is so often connected to unrealistic ideals of beauty. The fact is that almost every body type is underrepresented in what we see on television and in film. It's rare to see anything less than an idealized version of physical perfection when it comes to sex scenes. So the reason we connect our sex with physical perfection is not shrouded in mystery. Far from it. Still, accepting ourselves and our bodies is key to a healthy, satisfying sex life.
No quick fix, but more and more we’re seeing the products that we buy on models who more realistically represent real women. Huge help. But while I (greatly) admire women of all sizes strutting their stuff, it has not yet translated to me being simpatico with my not-even-close-to-flat tummy or my legs with the jiggle that appears, at this point, to be permanent. We could spend a month of Sundays discussing how we feel about our bodies and how that affects our sexual self esteem, but it comes down to this: accept the status quo or actively seek a better way.
Here are some ways you can get started right now.
- Begin by rejecting the images we see on film and in media as the standard for what we should look like. Focus on loving yourself – as you are right now, not in a month or two after you've lost weight or whatever. We should have never tied the love we feel for ourselves to our physical attributes.
- Recognize beauty ideals for what they are . . . and are not. We certainly can appreciate beauty in others, but we need to do so without turning it into a contest. There is no comparison – you are unique.
- Define what beauty means to you without mentioning a physical characteristic.
- When in doubt, give thanks. Our bodies give us many reasons to be grateful on a daily basis.
- Banish negative self-talk.
- Fill the time you just freed up banishing negative self-talk with positive affirmations. It makes a big difference when you purposely fill your head with the positive instead of the negative.
- Spend time with friends who are not body-focused. You know the ones.
- Focus on the pleasure your body gives you and your partner during sex.
- Consider talking to a professional, if you can't get past the negativity on your own. Sometimes, a therapist can help us navigate to a healthier, more positive, outlook. Here's a link to Good Therapist. It's a starting point to finding someone to talk to, if you decide to pursue this route.
Want to learn more?
7 Tips for Building a Better Body Image as an Adult
The Cleveland Clinic
How To Boost It, From a Sex Therapist
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST
Clinical Sexologist & Psychotherapist
mbg relationships, Yes, Sexual Self-Esteem Is A Thing: How To Boost It, From A Sex Therapist, Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, Clinical Sexologist & Psychotherapist, January 12, 2021
SMSNA For Patients Sex Health Blog, Communication, Sexual Self-Esteem Important for Women’s Orgasms, 2/27/2018
Psychology Today, How to Have a Positive Body Image, Elizabeth Halsted, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, 2016
PostivePsychology.com, 3 Positive Body Image Activities & Worksheets, Courtney E. Ackerman, MA, 2/18/2021
Cleveland Clinic, 7 Tips for Building a Better Body Image as an Adult, Cleveland Clinic, May 8, 2019
PATIENT, How To Tackle Poor Body Image in Older Women, Lydia Smith, reviewed by Dr. Sarah Jarvis, MBE, November 22, 2020
Institute for the Psychology of Eating, Body Image Around the Globe – Psychology of Eating, 2018
International Journal of Anthropology and Ethnology, From the Jungle to Urban Centers: Body Image and Self-Esteem of Women in Three Different Cultures, Julia Odina & Erich Kasten, 2020
Science of People, Beauty Standards: See How Body Types Change Through History, Vanessa Van Edwards
Psychology Today, Sexual Self-Esteem: Who Has More of It?, Elyakim Kisley, Ph.D., June 25, 2020
Harvard Medical School, Improving Your Self-Esteem Can Improve Your Sex Life, May 2019