One of the advantages of having an advisory board is the different perspectives we bring to the same set of problems. In our last conversation with Mary Jo Rapini, the issue of body image came up: the fact that we women are sometimes our own worst enemies when it comes to nurturing our sexuality. The topic clearly hit a chord with Mary Jo--she'd also been coming across examples of it--and she offered to write this blog post.
I was recently at a meeting that explored the literature and dealt with issues of sexuality, dysfunction, and relationships. The most popular theme in each educator’s presentation, no matter what their field of study, was the importance of body image in influencing women’s libido. Although many of the diagrams and graphs were complicated, the message was not. How women feel about their bodies influences their libido. It makes sense, especially if you are a woman yourself or are close to one. You know how it feels when you feel bloated or fat and your partner wants to get naked. There is a sense of dread and duty; either you acquiesce or you find an excuse. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your partner tells you they believe you are, or what you’re wearing; if you don’t feel good about your body you don’t look forward to being vulnerable or wanting pleasure. Both of these are important when making love.
When I see women who are struggling with their body image I find myself reciting things I have heard or read that help. For example, experts tell women to focus on an area they like and to appreciate and dress in to flatter that feature. For many women, this may be helpful, but my practice is full of women who can only admit to liking a very small limited area. Let’s face it; if you tell me your favorite area is your eyebrows, I'm going to struggle with how to help you build a better body image using your eyebrows--any expert would. Body image can include areas that aren’t exactly body related. For example, many professional women boast a high body image and self esteem due to their careers. They may not like their body or parts of it, but they don’t let it hold them back sexually. What we say to ourselves is much more important than what others say. A recent report I read said that women routinely say over twenty derogatory things about their bodies each day. These same women suffer from how they view their body emotionally, physically, and sexually. It doesn’t matter if their husbands love their bodies, comment on the beauty of their bodies, or tell them how attractive they are: These women are destroying their concept of themselves from within. Media is an easy target to blame, but media is not the entire problem. What we say to ourselves is the problem. What we think to ourselves is the problem. What we say to our friends about our inadequacies is a problem. All sex talk begins with what we say to ourselves.
No sex talk will make women feel sexier, hotter, or more desired if they have destroyed their sense of sexiness from within. Hormone therapy can make you feel more like having sex, but if you don’t feel good about your body, you will be reluctant to act on your feelings. Since this is an inside job we do to ourselves, the work to stop perpetuating a poor body image is also up to us. It means you have to take a stance and begin by advocating for yourself, for your intimacy/sex life with your partner. That means sitting down with your partner and directly addressing what happens to you when you talk to yourself. Usually loving men will do anything to help their partner if they understand the mission.
- If you are highly suggestive and seeing a photo of a taut, scantily dressed woman with sex appeal makes you feel and talk badly about yourself, then rid your home of these types of magazines, TV shows, or whatever you are currently seeing.
- Movement is linked to many sensory areas of our brains. Movement makes our mood better, our affect more animated, and our sense of sexuality healthier. You don’t need to run marathons to feel and be sexy, but you do need to exercise each day. Ten minutes is better than no minutes. An hour a day split up any way you want is best!
- Begin a journal to yourself listing derogatory comments you remember being said to you prior to the age of eight. These comments may have been made as "jokes" by warped people, but they weren’t jokes. They are wired into your brain, and you may be repeating these to yourself as part of your negative mantra.
- Catch yourself. Whenever you make a derogatory comment about some part of your body, picture a stop sign and say aloud, “No.” Ask yourself, “What right do you have to abuse anyone including yourself?” Then think of who in your life made you think this was okay. Sometimes you will remember things your dad said, but more likely your mom used to insult herself as well.
- If anyone in your life right now insults your body, that is a huge red flag. Tell them they are waving a red flag, and abusing you with negative comments is not okay. If your kids hear this message, they will begin early protecting their body image.
- Women are much more critical of their bodies than men are. Part of this is due to the fact that women are more sensitive and do not abuse men’s bodies with negative comments to the degree men do with women. One way men will learn how to treat women is if a woman stands up to them when they make a derogatory comment instead of joining them in their taunts.
Couples will spend money to enhance their sex life with products, medications, and exotic vacations. However, the least expensive and perhaps most effective is to begin changing how we talk to ourselves. The first sex talk you get is not the one you get from mom or dad during a formal birds and bees lecture. It’s the mini body image lectures we give ourselves when we are children. These mini body image insults we say each day to our bodies are more potent than any sex product, medication, or exotic vacation we could ever afford.
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