Body Image in the Bedroom

A while back, Mar left this comment on a post about body image:

Have your negative body image issues ever affected your relationship with your romantic partner? This is what I am struggling with right now. I go through these cycles of feeling flabby, outright fat, you-name-it, totally unattractive. My partner loves my body irrespective of where in my body image cycle I am. But my body image issues affect me and by extension then him in terms of the physical aspects of the relationship. And it’s a huge issue I am not really sharing with him: I mean, who wants to constantly hear their partner talk themselves down?

We ended up corresponding via e-mail a bit, and she added this important point to her original question:

I also often wonder what could be the appropriate role for the partner, if there is one, that could help me fight through my issues – beyond just loving me no matter what I happen to think of my body. I sometimes suspect that my negative body image is rather unaffected by what my partner says about my body, meaning even seeing him clearly be attracted to me and having him verbally reassure me doesn’t seem to often get me out of my body-loathing funk if that’s where I am at in my body image cycle – which is a bit puzzling to me since I would think my partner to be the main person for whom I would want to have a flatter stomach, leaner legs, or whatever other narrow images I have in my head.

I have grappled with these same issues for years. For as long as I’ve been sexually active, in fact, which is a little more than 18 years. And they’ve eased up as I’ve gotten older and more self-aware – and especially as the love in my marriage has ripened and grown – but they still flare up now and again. So I’m happy to share some of the ideas and actions that have helped me most.

First and foremost, we are the only ones who expect our own bodies to resemble the socially-sanctioned version of “sexy.” Even though the images of women created by mass media are of a narrowly-defined type of beauty, the people who love us – be they men or women – really can see past that. On an individual basis especially, our lovers love us AS us … not as a substitute for a hot celebrity bod.

Furthermore chemistry isn’t all about body shape, firmness, and proportions. You are sexually compatible with another human being because of hormones, emotions, and the intricacies of intimate interaction. Yes, the surface-level considerations of how your body looks play a part initially. But once you have connected based on visual attraction and moved on to sexual interactions, it’s really more about what your body can DO and how your body interacts with your lover’s body that have lasting meaning.

Another thing that I bear in mind is that I need to trust that my husband tells me the truth. If he says he still loves me when I’m not loving myself, I should believe him. I don’t expect him to look like Daniel Craig. Why would I dismiss him when he says he doesn’t expect me to look like Penelope Cruz?

While these are fabulous ideas that make perfect sense intellectually, there are still times when drilling these reminders does nothing. Mar is right: Most of the time these painful body image barriers refuse to come down, even in the face of praise and affection and even outright lust. Intellectualizing and reasoning your way out of self-loathing CAN work, but sometimes it just won’t. I wish I had easy solutions, but the real bottom line is this: Just as you are unlikely to find true love with another human until you learn to love and accept your own humanity, you are unlikely to find lasting sexual spark with another human being until you learn to love and accept your own body. And I definitely don’t have quick tips or bullet points for that. The whole blog is about THAT. But I can tell you from personal experience that my own bedroom hang-ups have eased as my body image has improved, and that getting comfortable with myself was the only thing that made me become more confident and comfortable sexually.

If you struggle with feeling unattractive and it inhibits you sexually, I would encourage you to talk with your partner about it. I know that, “It’s not you, it’s me,” is a horribly cliched phrase, but it might benefit your partner to know that what you’re dealing with is internal and not triggered by something she/he has done wrong, or that your attraction to her/him has diminished. This can create a difficult dynamic, I know, but try to keep those lines of communication open. Eventually your partner will start to blame herself/himself for infrequent or awkward intimacy, and then you’ll both get sucked into suffering.

Finally, it’s up to you to decide the role of your partner in bedroom-related body image barriers. Would it help to get a constant stream of positive verbal feedback about your sexiness? Would it help to receive more sensual messages through casual-but-intimate touch – kisses on the neck, caresses on the hip? Although the brunt is on you, your partner will likely want to help somehow, so give some thought to what would benefit you most.

Body image is intensely personal. Intensely. And that’s why it’s incredibly difficult to cope when your feelings about your own body affect your relationship with someone else’s body. There’s no easy way to overcome bedroom body image hang-ups, but working to do so over a longer time-line will benefit you, your partner, and your relationship immeasurably.

Image courtesy sweethardt.

  • http://elegantmusings.com Casey

    Honestly, this post could not have popped up in my feed reader at a better time. Great post, Sal!

    ♥ Casey | blog

  • http://www.kitchencourage.com Beth @ To the Fullest

    Excellent post on a vulnerable topic. Thank you!

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  • http://stephsrandomlife.blogspot.com/ Stephanie

    I always feel sexier in low light. We have a lamp that’s base lights up and its great.

  • VAMarcy

    At our neighborhood pool this summer, I was feeling self conscious in my bathing suit…wishing I’d lost some weight…and I began to examine the other women there. Only one or two (out of 20 women or so) had a ‘perfect’ body. But all the women were attractive and interesting. It struck me that these were women men loved–many were with men and kids. All of these women were different–but the fact that all appeared to be loved, irregardless of size/shape, was a remarkable insight for me. (duh) I mentioned my thoughts to my husband later on, and he said “Well, of course. Men love normal women. We love ‘em the way they are!” That’s us, normal women in all shapes and sizes, loved by our men.

    • Becky

      I love this comment. Wholeheartedly agree. Thank you for reminding me. :)

  • http://www.femininebravery.com/ Charlie, Feminine Bravery

    Very good post on a subject not often discussed. Everything yo uwrote is very true, it’s often not others but us who make us feel bad about ourselves.

    xxx Charlie
    Feminine Bravery

  • http://restingmotion.typepad.com Mardel

    The truth is that I didn’t love my body when I was thin and marvelously well proportioned and oddly enough now that I am far from that, it is easier. I think society puts a lot of strain on girls when they are at their most vulnerable and it can take a long time to overcome it, or at least it took me a long time. I think it has been very helpful that my spouse has been very forthcoming with his approval and attraction has been key in helping me to realize that my issues are exactly that, my issues.

    great post.

  • http://lynniebee.blogspot.com Lynn

    Great Post!!! I especially agree with the part about not holding ourselves to different standards than we hold out romantic partners. I would never expect my boyfriend to have a *perfect* body. Our attraction is about much more than that, and I know he feels the same way, so I shouldn’t beat myself up over my perceived flaws :)

  • Dani

    Try this test… Ask your husband if he would rather your body be perfect or be naked up against him. I bet every single one would pick the latter every single time. :-)

  • http://ohjulieanna.blogspot.com Julie

    Great timing. I’ve been struggling with this lately. Thanks so much for a great post.

  • http://www.dailyjohaiku.blogspot.com Jo

    What a great response to a very touchy subject. I think this is every woman’s struggle – to balance the person she thinks she is inside her head, vs. the woman her partner sees. I have been struggling with this same thing the past few months, so this post could not have been timelier!

  • Jessie

    It’s nice to see this topic handled well–I saw pretty much the exact same issue addressed in Self magazine once, and the advice was ‘put on a white t-shirt and hop in the shower with your hubby, he’ll tell you how sexy you are and you’ll feel covered up.’ I have no patience for the implication that hearing men tell you how sexy you are is the best or only way to heal your body image. Part of the problem, I think, is women thinking about their bodies primarily in terms of what other people see, instead of in terms of what we feel, or what we can do.

  • http://www.sidewalkchic.com/ joann, sidewalk chic

    Wow, Sal, this is a fantastic topic and you handled it really well. Thanks for posting this! I especially love how you mentioned that the “sexy” image construct is mostly in our expectations, and not our partners. Funny how advertising would have us think otherwise … ;)

  • http://swissmiss-nina.blogspot.com/ nina

    I think a lot of how we feel about ourselves comes from what’s around us. I’ve gone topless on beaches in France, but I have a hard time wearing a 2 piece in the US. In France women of all sizes and shapes celebrated their bodies.. and here I think we’re taught to be ashamed of them.
    Thank you for posting on this topic. I thought I was the only one who felt self-conscious in bed with my husband!

  • http://www.hourglassy.com Darlene

    I appreciate your emphasizing that body image issues are intensely personal. We each have different reasons for the way we feel that we have to work through. I tend to avoid sex when I’m feeling like a blob, but it helps when I remember that sex isn’t just about me. It’s also about him, and if I can pretend that I have no inhibitions for his sake, I usually end up happier and more at peace with myself. I think it’s related to the advice we sometimes hear that we should act “as if” until we actually feel that way. (For example, act like you feel confident at work until you do; act like you’re a social butterfly so that you can feel comfortable at a party.)

    But sometimes the difference between the way I look in the mirror and the way the cute lace panties looked on the model can be really disappointing. When we dress for work or an event, we can disguise our weaknesses and emphasize our strengths, but that’s harder to do in the bedroom. That’s why I’m fascinated by this new product: http://www.sexcies.com. I’m not in any way associated w/ it, but I love that this woman has come up w/ a way for women who are sensitive about their stomachs to disguise them under lingerie. Of course there are major implications to consider about solving a perceived problem simply by covering it up, but if I want to focus on how I look in the mirror and not only how I look in my husband’s eyes, this might be one route to take.

    • http://www.SexCies.com Suzy Mac

      Hello!

      This is Suzy, the Creator of the SexCies line of lingerie that has been spoken of here; I am honored to have my product mentioned in such a profound discussion.

      First, I must say that this blog affected me deeply, and the reason why I created SexCies was for this very reason. I had begun to avoid intimate contact with my husband due to my scarred, flabby belly. Did he mind it? He claimed not to (and I actually believe him on my more confident days).. but it wasn’t about him, it was about me wanting to be uninhibited again, and not have MY mental focus be on my own tummy during lovemaking, even though his was definitely not (hey, we all know that most men are just happy to be naked with someone lol)

      I found there to be quite the debate about this issue in some forums. I was antagonized quite a bit at first for proposing a product that “hid” the area where our babies had their dramatic and gracious exit into the world. I loved the site http://www.shapeofawoman.com, for the women who were unabashed and wanted to change societies perception of what is considered beautiful. I desperately wished that I could be one of these women who referred to her C-sections scar as a “battle-scar” and wear it proudly. It actually isn’t the scar that upset me, but the puckering from the surgery, the “flap” that hangs over the scar. I figured that when you are being intimate and find that your breasts ain’t the only thing bouncing, something must be done. ;)

      I often joke about it, but that is to cover up the past pain, of course (I once had an ex-boyfriend say extremely cruel things about my physical appearance during an ugly break up). I had a designer sit in my living room and have the audacity to say, “Well, aren’t you being quite VAIN? If your partner really loves you, what should it matter?!”
      I took a breath, counted to ten, and informed this man that it had nothing to do with my husband loving me…and until a Victoria Secret model sashes down the runway with a flabby or hanging belly, or we women stop contributing billions of dollars a year to the cosmetic/beauty industry, that my goal of helping women to feel better about themselves will remain constant. I don’t think that we are solving a problem by “covering it up”; just as I wouldn’t admonish a woman to get cosmetic surgery, or to make even a more poignant point, berate a breast-cancer survivor for choosing to get her breasts reconstructed after a double mastectomy, I don’t fault women for seeking out that which makes them feel more free, more sensual, more confident. And if I have a hand in helping to make that happen, I am humbled and honored to have done so. :)

      P.s There were a few “fake it ’til you make it” suggestions, which I love, and wrote an article about Feeling Sexy After Pregnancy, which can be found on the http://www.SexCies.com site. Thanks again, Sal, for sharing your thoughts. I have become an instant fan! (hug)

  • http://labeletterouge.com La Belette Rouge

    I love not only this post but all the comments( especially Dani’s).I will admit that I feel better in and out of bed now that I have lost weight. I know he loved me in both thick and thin—but what matters most, I suppose, is how I feel about myself.

  • Elise

    My current relationship started when I was slightly Anorexic/bulimic. (I had a crazy eating pattern of gorging for a day so my legs and butt wouldn’t get skinnier, then starving for a few days so my stomach would be empty and flat) I’d tell my boyfriend about how I felt, all the flaws I saw in my body and how I was so hungry all the time. He listened but didn’t say much about it, like it wasn’t a serious issue. At the time I thought he didn’t realize what a big deal it was but now I can see that he was just refusing to feed into my illness. He loved me, not the sick part of me; so he didn’t give the sick part much attention. Now I’ve figured out that I can achieve the same flat stomach look from exercise instead of starvation. I love the way I feel in my body now.

  • Emily

    Sal, what an excellent post, and one I can completely identify with in every way. Thank you for your gracious open-ness on a tough subject.

    Emily

  • Bubu

    Wow, incredible post – you are so brave to put this up Sal, and I applaud you and Mar and all the commenters for weighing in. I’ve struggled with this issue – I think if you have body image issues, it is necessarily going to spill over into your love life… a few thoughts (and I am in a heterosexual relationship, so can’t speak to how this would play out in a different relationship): 1) I think women spend way more time assessing and comparing women’s shapes and sizes than men do, so men are not going to focus nearly as much on the perceived flaws as we are – they wouldn’t even notice them. Also, my husband has often looked at a movie star type and just said “too skinny.” I think the ideal women often aspire to is not as curvy as men tend to like (to put it really bluntly: playboy models do not look like runway models)…2) I think Darlene made a really good point – sometimes its better to just fake it a little and go along in the beginning, both for your partner’s well being and confidence, but also because sometimes it has a lot to do with stress and unwinding and not being distracted as with body image. As hokey as it is, music and candles and a silk negligee (which is soft and slippery and forgiving) can go a long way even if you don’t feel perfect in your body.

  • http://www.justatitch.com Amy — Just A Titch

    This is such an important post. It really is a process to feel okay in our bodies.

    I’d like to add that men struggle, too. My long-time boyfriend and I are both working to lose weight and during a candid conversation about intimacy, he confessed that his feelings about his own body held him back, too. Love, respect and care for one another’s feelings about their body go both ways.

    Great post, as always.

  • http://makedostyle.blogspot.com/ Make Do Style

    I think sex esteem ebbs and flows but best not to think about your body in the midst of pleasure. If you think about what some thinks or expects to much then you are trying to second guess them, unless someone says anything negative then don’t think a negative thought.

    xx

  • Lanika

    I think this is the one area of body image that I actually don’t have a problem with. Maybe I’m just simple-minded and sex and intimacy trump self-consciousness for me because they’re more fun, but I’ve always been able to discard my insecurities along with my clothing when it comes to being near my partner. In fact, sometimes intimacy is exactly what I need to snap me out of my self-loathing rut (which I always fear is unhealthy and I should get to the point where I can just compliment and love myself out of body hate)

  • Nomi

    “talk with your partner about it.” What if you have no partner, in part because you are too shy because of negative body image?

  • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

    Really well done. Thanks for sharing!

  • Fruitful

    Nomi’s comment relates to what I wanted to say. My body image has affected my relationships before they even got to the bedroom. Any guy I’ve been absolutely crazy about, who I’ve thought was truly gorgeous, I’ve avoided getting close to. I think I’ve found it hard to believe they’d like me for a number of reasons, but particularly because I thought they’d be disappointed to see what my body was really like (without the covering skirt, the Spanx or the pushup bra). I knew it wouldn’t be as good as theirs.

    Instead I’ve settled for men who I found less attractive. That way I was in control; they had to find me more attractive than I did them, right?

    I wonder if other women have done this? Sidestepped whole relationships because of perceived attractiveness disparity? When women say that they wouldn’t expect their men’s bodies to be perfect the way they do their own, I wonder if any of them have set it up that way, like I did?

    And I wonder if I can ever do it differently.

    • Brittany

      Yeah I do it all the time! It’s terrible!

  • kateri

    I agree that sometimes no matter how many times a lover tells you they think you’re gorgeous, if you don’t believe it, it doesn’t seem to help.

    For me, what works to actually make me feel good about myself is when a lover is SPECIFIC about what they like about my body, rather than a vague “of course I think you’re sexy”. An example: every time I get irritated by my non-flat stomach, I remember how much my first boyfriend once told me he adored it, thought it was incredibly sexy, and was horrified that I’d prefer it to be flat. That one comment, over a decade ago, I have remembered and cherished ever since, and it’s helped me learn to love what I once hated.

    I guess my paranoid brain tends to write off a vague, general compliment as an automatic response, or telling me what they think I want to hear, but it’s harder to dismiss a genuine description of a real part of you and why they like it. So I’d recommend you tell your lovers to do that!

  • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

    Fruitful and Nomi: I feel like addressing your questions in a comment is giving you short shrift … but, on the other hand, I could write an entire book of advice for you and it’s possible that none of it would help. What you’re grappling with is so intensely personal, anything I say may feel wrong or fall short. But I think there are tens of thousands of women in the world who shy away from intimacy and partnership because of negative body image, so you’re not alone.

    I also think that entering a relationship before you’ve learned to feel confident, cultivate self-respect, and yes, love yourself just as you are is a risky move. I attracted nothing but fixer-uppers and misunderstood genius types for YEARS, and was so frustrated by my lot. It wasn’t until I spent some time living alone, being single, and learning about myself and my real needs that I met my husband-to-be, a fully-formed, mature, nurturing, amazing man who constituted the antithesis of my previous lovers. And I firmly believe that I wasn’t ready for him until I had started down the path toward self-love.

    No one can heal your body image issues for you. Entering a relationship with another person in hopes that they’ll convince you of your own beauty and sexiness is a losing game. You have to work it all out on your own, and THEN seek partners. And once you’ve reached a confident, strong place with yourself you won’t look at potential sexual partners and worry about how you “rate,” you’ll look at potential sexual partners and decide which ones YOU find alluring and interesting.

    At least, that’s what I believe.

    And that’s cold comfort, I know. Nebulous advice, too. But in my experience, it’s the best way and will help you only be intimate on healthy, supportive, exciting terms. Your terms.

    • Brittany

      This is true. I guess we have to discovery it on our own journey. I just hope my journey isn’t too drawn out or I’ll keep missing out on good relationships.

    • Irene

      I used to think this is true. I’m not condoning people going from relationship to relationship to try to make themselves feel better about their bodies.
      But I do think avoiding intimacy for a prolonged time because you are working on your self-love is a way of hiding from intimacy, often when it’s in front of your face. I think self-acceptance comes with many layers, and yes, it’s best to avoid trying to feed off of someone’s affection to make yourself feel better about yourself, but that can also be an excuse to never get close to anybody. What I’m saying is, I think it’s more about balance. Yes, get started on the path to self-love – but don’t feel you have to be at some ‘perfect’ self-love place before you can have a meaningful relationship – I feel that waiting to be perfect in any way is a hindrance to connection.

  • Becky

    I love this post. Thank you, Sal.

    At 42, I always feel a bit overweight, too short, too much thigh, etc. Always want to lose 10 lbs, even when I’m at my “thinner” weight. It’s infuriating and typical female body image crap. But one thing that has made my marriage and sex life work (married 14 years, 3 kids, including a toddler) is that my husband absolutely loves my boobs. Yup. He just loves them. It’s really kind of cute. I think the fact that he’s so into a particular part of me (and so often doesn’t even register the areas I feel self conscious about) has helped me feel entirely sexy with him. He of course touches my “self conscious” spots: butt, thigh, etc. and loves ALL of me but b/c he’s so into the boobs, I don’t give my self-consciousness a second thought. We still have sex almost every day…even in our 40s with kids running around outside our bedroom door!

  • Carissa

    I didn’t realize an unexpected consequence of working a job I loathed as a result of the bad economy a couple years ago until it had been several months of rejecting my boyfriend’s sexual advances. It was scary to realize how much my doubts about my career had effected every aspect of my self-esteem. It took a long time for me to regain my confidence in the working world and at that point, while I felt strong and intelligent in the office, it didn’t automatically translate to feeling sexy or enjoy the vulnerability of intimacy. Luckily, I have a loving and patient boyfriend who has been there through it all. But my point is, feeling sexy (beyond the stereotypes, at the point where you take off your clothes and feel good about yourself for your own reasons) can take work and you have to make the effort to consciously put aside the judgements, to do lists, and excuses and see yourself as a dimensional person with great stuff to offer (in and out of the bedroom), regardless of how much easier it seems to look away.

  • Katharine

    I posted about this in the thread about loving your hated body parts – but Nomi and Fruitful, I did exactly that, and turned down several opportunities with _beautiful_ partners, because of (specifically) my self-consciousness about my breasts, but in general because I thought I couldn’t possibly be attractive enough to really interest them, and thus they must have been intent on using me. (Which, in retrospect, I know was not at all the case in at least one instance — DAMN!)

    I don’t think I’d do that now (although I’m not totally sure) — after all, I’m much older, and have battled with, among other things, eating problems, so I would expect anyone who shows an interest to have some idea of what they’re getting. (Hint: not perfect.)

    The hardest times for me, however, are not the times when I’m “doing it”. I’ve got better things to think about then than whether or not my thighs and belly are jiggling (and they are).

    My relationship with my body vis-a-vis my partner gets really troubling when for whatever reason–stress, other life or relationship issues, exhaustion — my partner’s interest is at a low. THAT’S when I start thinking, “oh, he says he’s got a lot of work to do – BUT IT’S REALLY BECAUSE I’M FAT AND UGLY! AND HE’S MET SOMEBODY HOTTER! AND JUST ABOUT ANYBODY WOULD BE HOTTER!” If I also happen to be at a low, sad or stressed point in my life, that little loop can play incessantly in my head until I don’t even want to talk to my partner, because I’m convinced that his next words will be, “You’re disgustingly unattractive, and I’m leaving you.”

    I don’t really have a good solution to that, although keeping some line of communication open is important. It’s depressing, though, to be such a prisoner of the stories in my head.

  • Tab

    Becky, that’s good for me to know. I was a little worried about that seeing as how my fiance is considerably older than me.

    This is actually similar to what he and I have been discussing today. He knows I want to lose weight, so he keeps making comments about how I should go work out (usually I already have), or today I tried a Billy Blanks dvd and only got 30 minutes into it. He then told me I should do the whole thing. I had to tell him to back off on that. That I did not need him to motivate me to work out, that I needed him to love me the way I am. Pictures pop up on fb of him in his ex, and I see how thin she is, and see how pretty some of his female friends are and it makes me uncomfortable (especially since we live 3 hours away). What I have to remember is, he put the ring on MY finger. He told me the other day he wanted to see me in a bikini, just the way I am now. And when we spoke today about my issues told me how great he thinks I already look.

    As far as encouragement goes though, I feel it works better for me if it’s unprompted. If you want to help a friend or love one out, don’t give them compliments when they’re fishing for them, it feels fake. Tell your girl friend (platonic or otherwise) that she is beautiful, just because she is! And honestly, I’m more flattered when I get hit on when I look like crap than when I’m all dolled up. Just some food for thought.

    • Becky

      Tab, glad my comment helped! My husb is 4 years older than I am, so yeah, age isn’t a problem. ;)

      Like your guy, mine does encourage me to work out, walk, whatever, but not in relation to my appearance. I think he (and I) want us both to be healthy, to get some sort of exercise. About a year ago I started doing yoga and he really hasn’t said a word to me about exercise during that time. While yoga isn’t what I’d call “working out” it is helping my body…toning, etc.

      An earlier poster remarked (and I agree) something to the effect of “I don’t expect my partner to look like…FILL IN THE BLANK HOT MOVIE STAR…so why would he expect me to look like…etc. So true. My husband doesn’t have the stereotypical perfect body, but he’s still hot. :)

      • Tab

        Well my fiance is 17.5 years older than me lol. I’m only 21. He doesn’t know when I work out, because he lives 3 hours away but he does know that I work out. I think it’s different from person to person what they need from their partner.

        I don’t need work out encouragement, even though he was only doing it because he knows I want to work out. I need reassurance that we’re good with the way I am. Other women may need motivation to do things to change/accept what they don’t like. And though talking about it was very hard to do, because like Sal said it is a personal thing it helped me to open up about some of our other problems.

  • Kate K

    Fruitful and Nomi, I need to ditto you and tell you that you’re not alone. I tend to avoid intimacy and relationships for a laundry list of reasons but one of the biggest revolves around the issues I have with my body. Personality wise, I always think that I’m a catch–that I’m a reasonable, intelligent, smart, passionate woman who would be a fantastic partner but I simply *do not* believe that someone would *physically* be attracted to me. It feels awful and ridiculous to type out, much less believe but it’s the truth, sadly.

    I am by no means an expert but lately I’ve been working hard to work through some of these issues. I think the first step came in accepting that I feel this way–for the longest time, I pretended that this wasn’t a problem. I’ve also started running, which has changed the way I feel about my body. All of a sudden it’s useful and awesome and powerful and I want the best for it, nutritionally and emotionally. With this, I also feel very protective of my body and feeling very loving toward it. I still don’t know how/if this change in my thinking will affect how I feel about my body image with a romantic partner/in an intimate situation but even if it doesn’t, it’s still a really great feeling.

    Another thing I’ve tried was to get past the idea that only skinny, model-like people are allowed to wear beautiful, sexy underwear. I went to a specialty lingerie store (a non-Victoria’s Secret store) and I got a bra fitting. And the incredibly kind and lovely saleswoman came in with this ridiculously sexy and impractical bra and I said “But I don’t have anyone to wear that for!” and she said “If you build it, they will come.” (I kid you not :D) I tried it on and I am now the proud owner of a pink and chocolate brown lacy push up bra with matching underwear. And while no one is seeing these items, much less me in these items, I’m at least to the point where I think someone would enjoy that and I would as well.

    Again, I haven’t figured any of this out and who knows if this will work but I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone in this. And Sal, thank you for your kind words and I think that what you’re saying is true, particularly about how this should all be on your terms.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Oh Kate, how I LOVE the story of the sexy bra fitting. That saleswoman is a total star. And what an utterly fantastic way to celebrate your body right now, partner or no!

  • Mar

    Thank you for the post, Sal! I really appreciate your insights. What really struck a chord with me was your thought that sexual intimacy is about how your body relates to that of your partner, and how it makes you both feel. Not showcasing big boobs or a flat stomach or a trim butt. I will keep thinking about that.
    Tab made a comment above about her fiance being a bit too zealous encouraging her to work out – I had the same situation with my ex. He was aware of my body image issues, but concluded that it will all go away if I REALLY WERE skinnier and got working on my exercise and food program and gave me grief when I had somehow fallen behind. Of course I never actually lost any weight, and it made me in a way even more insecure, as he was so focused on “skinny” himself. (An applaudable desire to help, but terrible execution – so like my ex in general ;).
    What my current partner does that is of great help is actually the casual-intimate little sensual things you mentioned at the end of your post, Sal, and little verbal whisperings of positive feedback throughout the day.

  • http://www.budgetchic.org Budget Chic

    I’m glad that my man is older then me (early 50s) so he is happy with what I’m bringing to the table. lol. I know sometimes I get a little insecure but I don’t let him know that. Confidence in yourself is key. My thing is if someone want to tighten up their game physically then do that. Be about it, take action and make changes or start accepting and loving the body you got.

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  • http://applesandporsches.com Ellie Di

    This is something I struggle with on and off. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten “better”, meaning I have more positive days than not, but it’s been the result of a lot of baby steps and self-work. No amount of my husband telling me how sexy I am will pull me out of The Hole when I’m in it, but I am convinced that being praised without prompting rather than getting silence or having to fish for compliments has created a mental environment where I feel “safe” to feel sexy. Does that make any sense? I truly believe that if we can concoct a place where we feel emotionally and mentally safe to bear our vulnerabilities and face them, we can conquer our fears and insecurities. It’s all in how you cultivate that space and what you do in it.

  • hlynn

    There are some people who I feel comfortable telling me how I look in things, but it’s never safe or wise to compare. There are moments when I’m like ‘specific body part: does it look a specific way when I wear this specific article of clothing?’ I guess an example would be when I was going to a business interview. I wanted to look put-together, mature, but not matronly, and was extra conscious of not really showing skin while trying to look young. I know that sexy time is a different requirement (involving no clothes), but sometimes when I’m feeling self-conscious, I just need to step away and realize that 1) it’s dark and 2) he’s totally not looking at how bloated I am from dinner because I have boobs.

  • http://www.geekthreads.blogspot.com Audi

    It surprises me that so many women struggle with this, although I guess it shouldn’t. I think what’s important to remember is that there is so much more to intimacy and sexiness than just the shape of the body; in fact I’d argue that the shape of the body plays a very minor role in the bedroom. When two people are close they’re using all their senses, and even the visual elements are much more narrowly focused; for instance, your partner may be completely enthralled with the notch of your neck, or the curve of your shoulders. The bedroom is therefore the ideal time to completely let go of all the issues that plague you when you’re standing, fully dressed, and letting your entire body with all its lovely intricacies be taken in at a glance, with much of its subtlety and mystery hidden beneath clothing. In the bedroom there is so much more to experience; the smell of your partner’s skin, their breathing, the feel of their hair brushing against your face. It’s also a great place to focus the attention on your own best features. If you have beautiful wrists then dab some perfume on them and tell your partner to kiss you there, and moreover, spend some time admiring them yourself. Unless you’ve got mirrors on the ceiling, then your whole body, the one you scrutinize in the mirror and criticize for all its flaws, is almost completely invisible — instead you are the curve of a breast, a shapely calf, soft hands, a gracefully curving neck, and a thousand other little gifts for your partner to experience.

    • Mar

      Really like these thoughts, Audi. Thank you.

    • Brittany

      Oh gosh, this is perfect. Thanks for sharing this. You’re right ..it’s better to view it like this instead of my narrow thinking of “oh my god is that jiggling?!” Really, this is sweet. I just wished more people thought like this..

  • Kitty

    This is something I really struggle with. I have 5 kids and had a myomectomy when I was 16 that left a long jagged scar on my bikini line that puckers. I am grateful for the surgery that left me able to have children, but every time I undress it is a harsh reminder of the pain and how mutilated I look. Before the surgery, when I was 14, I had a much older boyfriend that was emotionally and sexually abusive. He insulted my labia and said I should “cut them off” or “staple them aside” because they did not look like the ones in nude magazines. Now, with my scar, my leftover weight from pregnancy, and my deflated breasts, I can not get comfortable with my husband, still. I have to hold my arms over my torso anytime we are not pressed together. I can’t stand him looking at any part of me. He says he thinks I’m “fine” but one night when I asked him not to look, he commented that if he compared me to other women, I’d do “fairly well”. Not exactly what I needed to hear, even if I would not rate myself that high. Sorry for the rant! I’ve never talked about this with anyone. It would be nice to know that these feelings would go away, but I’m doubtful.

  • Brittany

    What if you’re so caught up in your body issues that you don’t even HAVE a relationship! I’m too scared to get intimate with someone because I know I’ll have to expose my body. I’m 19 and I’ve never had a serious relationship because sometimes even if guys hug me I freak out about my body. I’ve had several eating disorders and I’ve been a healthy weight range for a 2 years now but my body hang ups still prevent me from socializing and meeting guys. Actually, sometimes I even cancel social dates with my friends if I feel too self conscious. How can I break past this ? ;(

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Brittany, please drop me an e-mail so I can give you some resources, OK?

  • Nadia

    Ive always had issues with my body but that stemmed from family criticizing me. Now I’m 22 & have been in a long term relationship for 5 years. He’s a good provider but has the tendency to criticize me. He went through trauma when he was younger & as a defense mechanism he attacks those closest to him. So basically he’s spent these 5 years commenting on how fat I am. Granted, I’ve never had extremely high self esteem but around him it’s much worse. I’ve been trying to get over it but idk how. I’ve have so many arguments and conversations with him and idk what else to do. He knows how I feel. I just don’t know how to fix it. This is also the first time I’m speaking out on this issue. Recently, I gained weight and I made the mistake of asking him if he’s still attracted to me. He basically said his attraction towards me went down but then claims its bc my self esteem is gone. It’s hard because he’s my first boyfriend and it’d 5 years I’ve invested. Please help :-/

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Nadia, if you want to e-mail me I can find you some resources.

  • Elizabeth Gomez

    Well, I am going to marry my boyfriend in 3 months and everything is going normal, but I’m nervous of how I should have sex with him for the very first time . I live him very much and I want him to have a good experience in our wedding night. You’re the only one that can help me this this problem because I think that if I ask my mom or my older sister about it their are going to give me a speech and that’s definitely what I don’t need.

  • Dana

    This is an issue that I can definelty relate to. My constant struggle with weight has been a life long problem. I had finally gotten to a point in my life where I was happy with the way that I looked. I felt sexy, desireable, and comfortable in my own skin. I fell in love with a man 9yrs younger than me with some major trust issues. His ex wife had cheated on him repeatedly and I tried to be understanding. I patiently tried to help him work through his issues only to for him to become even more jealous and controlling. I was not able to see or talk to my friends or family because he didn’t know them or trust them. I became very depressed from all of his accusation and controlling behavior.I gained a considerable amount of weight as a result of my depression. I On more than one occassion during a disagreement he has told me that my body disgusts him and that if I cared anything about him I would have the body that he desires. He has even been “fishing” around but has not actualy cheated as far as I know.However, he insists that he loves me and wants to spend his life with me and actively pursues intimacy with me. After his hurtful comments, his interest in other women, and my poor body image I just can not make myself want to be intimate. How do I erase those words from my mind and get that desire back? .

    • Jo

      Oh, Dana. Ow, ow, ow. I don’t know that any of us can completely erase words once we’ve heard them. I know that the more my ex critiqued my body, the LESS motivated I was to look the way he wanted me to. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for you to not want intimacy in the circumstances you describe. Do you feel loved and desired at all, or does sex feel like something you’re just supposed to want? Maybe you can come to love your own body, apart from his reaction to it.

  • Jo

    I’m a recent divorcee with really no sexual experience except with my ex, and he did care what I looked like (though he didn’t want to care). This leaves me now with the odd problem of basically being fairly happy with my body but being pretty sure that partners won’t see me like I do. Intellectually, I know this isn’t necessarily true, but my gut doesn’t always believe my brain.