by Gideon

August 7, 2018

In a world of perfect Instagram abs and thighs, feeling shit about your own body isn’t all that hard. It’s actually quite easy becoming stressed out or depressed about your “imperfect” body. But, it actually goes beyond that.

Researchers are now also finding that in addition to our body image impacting our overall feelings of identity (i.e. how we feel about WHO we believe we are), it also plays a key role in creating a happy relationship and satisfying sex life – or not.

In other words, your body image impacts how happy and satisfying your relationship and sex life are.

So, you might have a problem on your hands, unless we sort out this “body image” thing.

muscular-young-woman-body-image
“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.” ― Simone de Beauvoir

Let’s get an important fact out of the way – we are physical beings, and the awareness of how we look becomes intimately tied to our self-concept in general.

In other words, our body image is intimately tied to our self-concept or identity.

But what is body image in it its essence?

Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. – National Eating Disorders Association

It encompasses:

  • What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalisations).
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
  • How you sense and control your body as you move.  How you physically experience or feel in your body.

And self-concept can be defined as,

A general term used to refer to how someone thinks about, evaluates or perceives themselves. To be aware of oneself is to have a concept of oneself. – Simply Psychology

So, to feel good about yourself, you need to feel good about your body, in every sense, even and especially without clothes. When you do, you’ll be more relaxed with a partner who sees your body as it is, without any cover provided by your clothing.

But this actually goes beyond just feeling relaxed or comfortable in your own skin, with or without clothes.

How you feel about your body, and thus by extension yourself, actually has a huge impact on ALL of your love life and relationship!

According to a recent study at Uttrecht University (2018),* many adults who seek sex and couples therapy are unhappy with their physical appearance, i.e. they have a negative body image.

The researchers noted that body image, in turn, “consistently and meaningfully related to sexual satisfaction in both women and men.”

The link between body image and sexual satisfaction occurs because “body self-consciousness during sexual activity with a partner can be distracting, thereby interfering with the pleasure of the experience and sexual satisfaction”

In other words, if you’re too busy thinking about how you look, especially if you are focusing on what’s wrong with your naked appearance, it will be difficult for you to experience the sensations involved in physical contact with your partner.

And this can have some real negative, long-term consequences for your love life and relationship.

The other interesting thing that these researchers have found, was that body image issues were not gender-specific – in other words, both men and women struggle with this. 

Not just women, as previously believed.

So even a man feeling self-conscious and bad about his body will have a less satisfying sex life than a guy who feels good in his own skin.

lovers-problems-body-image
Body image issues impact men too.

The important finding in this study, which is important to us here, is that your ability to see your body in a positive manner may contribute in ways you hadn’t realised to the long-term fulfilment that comes from a sexually and emotionally satisfying relationship.

Not being able to do this, conversely, will impact the level of long-term fulfilment you experience, that comes from a sexually and emotionally satisfying relationship.

Not dealing with how you feel and think about your body (body image), is, therefore, a very unwise thing to do.

It isn’t simply a matter of, “who cares what I look like,” because at the end of the day, YOU do!

And your levels of satisfaction and fulfilment in your love life and relationship are impacted directly by it.

Taking this one step further – when you have a poor body image which then impacts your sex life by extension, your body image also becomes your partner’s problem.

It doesn’t stay with you. It becomes something that impacts them as well. And their levels of happiness, satisfaction and fulfilment. Sexually and emotionally.

So this is a big thing.

Creating and adopting a healthy body image is crucial, not just for your own benefit, but the long-term satisfaction and happiness of your relationship and sex life.

This brings me to the top 10 ways to develop a healthy body image.

If body image is really such a huge factor in the quality of our relationships and satisfaction of our sex lives, as it seems it is, then we need to know how to develop a healthy body image as soon as possible.

This is why I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 strategies you can use to change your current body image and develop the one you need that will serve your relationship well.

Now, we already know that having a positive feeling about your body can be very challenging.

The media and social media present us with countless people blessed with perfect bodies further enhanced with Photoshop.

It is also very easy to start comparing yourself to an unattainable physique and then feel bad about the cards you’ve been dealt. Truthfully, it can be very depressing sometimes.

However, a healthy and attractive body can come in many shapes and sizes. That’s super important to remember.

The reality is, you CAN have a healthy body image regardless of your current situation – but it will require doing a few things differently.

And let’s start with the following list.

Learn to love the body you have with the following strategies:

1. Ignore the magazines.

The people on the covers of magazines are literally one in a million. Or teenagers. Or freaks of nature (with respect).

Either way, it’s silly to compare yourself with sponsored or Photoshopped models.

For the most part, most of us don’t play professional sports, aren’t sponsored fitness models, have a billion dollars, or develop the Theory of General Relativity.

In fact, it’s doubtful you’ve ever even met someone capable of being an actual fitness model.

So, for your own sake and the sake of your sex life, ignore the magazines (and social media).

Yes, work your ass off to look good or be healthy and fit, but have reasonable expectations.

If you don’t look like the ripped guy or girl on the front cover, that’s OK.

Seriously, it is.

This brings us to a second point …

2. Focus on a weight that feels good.

You might think you look better at lower body weight, but if you feel terrible, who cares?

I know that it sounds sexy or great to have a 6% body fat percentage, but do you even know what that entails?

Many competitive bodybuilders or fitness models who routinely sit at  4% body fat percentage (or under), tells us of a whole range of issues that simply do not sound pleasurable or like fun.

For example, if you’re a woman with a low body fat percentage, you may not be able to become pregnant.

Furthermore, being extremely lean can also cause problems with your metabolism, decrease your brain function and cause fatigue in the long run.

That’s not even mentioning the mood swings and cravings.

Who wants to be snapping at their loved ones all the time, just so they can show off their Abs online?

That’s crazy.

I’m sure it happens enough, however – but it’s still crazy.

Look, if you’re serious about having a lean physique, it’s important to have realistic expectations and knowledge around this.

I’m wondering, have you ever even been under 10% (guy) or 15% (lady)?

Maybe make that you aim first, and see how that goes.

Being under 10% body fat takes quite a bit of discipline. And there is a big difference between 10% and 6%.

As someone who has lost nearly 30 kg, I can tell you that it takes a lot of hard work to lose weight and keep it off.

That’s not even talking about getting very lean.

Especially if you have a lot of bad eating habits to overcome and replace.

I found it more helpful to rather focus on a weight that feels good for everything that I want to achieve and do in my life – and go from there.

Choose the healthiest body weight that feels good to you, and supports the lifestyle you desire.

Having a healthy body image doesn’t require having a 4% body fat percentage.

If that’s the case for you, you might have bigger problems than you think.

This leads to the third point …

3. Focus on what you can do.

Not everyone wants to climb mountains or finish triathlons. Not everyone wants to compete in bodybuilding.

And that’s fine.

Furthermore, just because there are couples on social media who do very complicated couples workouts together, doesn’t mean you have to.

It might look like fun, and you might feel the pressure of doing something with your partner, but please understand that many of them do it for completely different reasons from you.

And there’s a HUGE difference between reality and expectation.

In many cases, it’s about getting eyeballs on their channel or page, in order to get sponsors out of it or sell their fitness programs and apparel.

But, truth be told, to walk and play the violin is a lot more impressive and meaningful than the ability to do 20 pull-ups.

And no one has a body that’s perfect for every activity. Unless you’re an alien-like some people seem to be.

So, accept your body, focus on what you can do, and work hard to doing well – if it’s really that important to you.

Just stop comparing yourself, or feeling bad because you are not that “impressive.”

The next point is very much like this one, but I need you to get a bit more specific if you want to change your body image …

4. Identify your best three physical features.

Do me a favour, go to the bathroom and take a look in the mirror and find a few things you like.

Then write them down.

Now, put this list where you’ll see it often.

And whenever you catch yourself comparing some of your “not so great” features with someone else’s “best” features – take a look at this list.

Because that’s something we sometimes do, don’t we?

We compare our worst with someone else’s best and end up feeling stink or inferior as a result.

Focus on your best three physical features and remind yourself of these features each day.

5. Be active.

Physical activity and being active feel good on multiple levels.

A lot of feel-good hormones are released when we are active in moving our body as it was intended to do.

In addition, research shows that those who exercise also have a more positive body image than those who don’t.

man-exercising-move-body
Don’t complicate things. Just start moving more.

So, being active is not just about fitness, it’s actually a simple way to improve your body image without doing anything else.

The more you move, the better you look, the better you feel about yourself.

Therefore, get moving and notice how much better you feel about yourself.

6. Avoid comparing yourself to others.

This is a big one.

It’s also exclusively mental.

How you use your mind to compare yourself with others, plays a huge role in determining your body image, and by extension how you feel about yourself.

Comparing yourself to others usually results in unfair feelings about yourself, because we tend to look at someone else’s best and compare it with our worst.

It is unfair toward ourselves as well as overly generous to the person we’re comparing ourselves with.

The truth is that everyone’s body is simply different.

Accept it and move on.

No one body shape is any “better” than another – and that includes yours.

7. Avoid checking your body.

I’ll be honest with you – this is one I fall victim to quite a bit – checking my body too much.

Not from a place of vanity, but a rather constant evaluation. And that is dangerous for your body image (and self-image).

The problem with checking your body too frequently is that it is very common to put all your attention on what you feel is your worst body part.

We very rarely check our bodies to focus on the parts we love, instead, it becomes a self-degrading exercise.

You beat yourself up for not being ripped or having wide hips or too much loose skin (even though you had three babies) – it gets absurd.

A good rule of thumb is to simply start cutting down on the number of times you check a specific body part in the mirror each day.

Truth be told, you most likely have more important things to do than that anyway. I know I do!

8. Meditation.

If you find yourself obsessing about your body, meditation can help to clear your mind and allow you to refocus.

A few minutes of meditation can make a big difference.

But I’m not just referring to any type of meditation.

Frequent sessions of meditating on gratitude can make a huge difference in how you see your body and life in the grander scope of things.

When you frequently reflect on the gift of mobility or eyesight, especially compared to those who are impaired, your obsession with your body might begin to shift.

Gratitude might become the way you create a healthy body image – which in turn will cause you to use all of your body in your relationship and love life.

Have you ever considered that perhaps your husband doesn’t care whether you have a tight ass or not – he just loves the warmth of your skin and the smell of your hair when you embrace closely?

OR,

Have you ever considered that your wife doesn’t care about your six-pack, but loves looking into your eyes as it makes her feel seen and adored?

Meditating on these bigger realities might cause a real shift in your life.

Give it a try.

9. Try affirmations.

Alongside meditation, you can also try affirmations.

You will see that I included an affirmation down below which you can have and use as you please.

Instead of saying negative things to yourself, say something positive instead.

Keep positive thoughts in your head and you’ll feel better about your body and yourself.

Create a mantra you can use over and over again to remind yourself of your beauty and uniqueness, rather than so-called “imperfections.”

Maybe even ask your spouse what they see when they look at you, and if positive, use some of their words as part of your mantra or affirmation.

If your husband says “I think you’re beautiful,” make that part of your affirmation – “I am beautiful …” etc.

The more specific and positive, the better.

Lastly …

10. Be respectful of your body.

If you treat your body respectfully, you’ll think more highly of yourself.

In other words, treating your body with respect leads to an improved body image.

And once you see your body differently, you will start treating it differently.

This might mean eating healthier foods, getting enough rest, and exercising regularly.

When you truly respect your body, you will start to treat your body like it matters, because you know you cannot live without it.

It’s the only one you have.

Take away …

It would be very sad if you miss out on a happy relationship and a satisfying sex life because you cannot accept your body.

Especially when it’s totally avoidable.

We know that a negative body image can affect people of all ages and genders.

No one is exempt from it.

As the earlier study showed, while this occurs more commonly in females, males can also suffer from this significant challenge.

But at the end of the day, everyone deserves to enjoy a healthy body image, and by extension a happy relationship and satisfying sex life, including you!

So, be appreciative of the body you have.

You have every reason to love your body.

You can always make improvements – nothing keeps you from doing that.

But it starts with self-acceptance.

You are more inclined to take care of your body if you believe that you are worthy and beautiful beyond your body.

So love yourself.

Love your life.

Love your spouse.

And use your body to show it.

Live and love fully!

AFFIRMATION (Loving myself enables me to have more fun in the sun)

Here’s an affirmation you can use in the morning and at night (before bed).

It focuses on fun in the sun and enjoying your body, rather than what you think others think about your physique.

A different way to use this is to record yourself reading it in a calm, relaxed and confident tone, and play it back to yourself on.


* References: Van den Brink, F., Vollmrann, M., Smeets, M. M., Hessen, D. J., & Woertman, L. (2018). Relationships between body image, sexual satisfaction, and relationship quality in romantic couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(4), 466-474.

About the author 

Gideon

Gideon is the Owner of The Relationship Guy, a top-100 marriage advice blog that helps married couples create happier relationships. He is a trained professional counsellor (DipProfCouns., DipMSHT.), has been happily married for over fifteen years and is a dad of two.​ He also holds Bachelor and Master degrees in the field of Theology and is currently studying Psychology at Massey University (New Zealand).

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