Women’s Body Image: The Role it Plays in Love and How to Change it
Women’s body image plays a powerful role in her psyche. The way we see ourselves – our perception of the way we look – shapes the way we feel about our bodies and how we allow ourselves to be seen, or not, in intimate relationships. Those perceptions, often inaccurate according to others, lead to the beliefs we form about ourselves and our value in the world. These self perceptions and feelings fuel our actions and patterns of behavior, from the clothes we wear, to the opportunities we accept, to the relationships we seek and partake in, and the sexual pleasure we allow ourselves.
So, while a positive body image can create great satisfaction in life – business, relationship, and sexual intimacy, a flawed body image usually results in limitations in love, career, and overall life satisfaction. When the story we tell ourselves is that our body is not beautiful, we live in the shadows of the greatness our life could actually be. We hide. We lose out. And we hurt. That hurt bleeds into our relationships.
Women’s body image and the influences that affect It
The intricate nature of women’s body image stems from a complex interplay of various societal, cultural, psychological, and individual factors. Because body image refers to how we perceive, feel about, and relate to our own body, it plays a significant role in shaping self-esteem, self-worth, and overall mental well-being. For women, body image issues are particularly prevalent due to several reasons.
Throughout history, women have been subjected to societal norms and cultural standards that dictate how they should look and behave. Unrealistic beauty ideals perpetuated by social media, advertising, and other entertainment industries often emphasize thinness, youthfulness, and specific physical features. This unattainable ideal places immense pressure on women to conform to these standards, leading to dissatisfaction and negative feelings about our own bodies.
We are sometimes subject to body shaming and stigmatization based on our size, shape, or physical appearance. This negative feedback from others can significantly impact women’s body image and self-esteem. When we are frequently objectified and valued for physical appearance, it can damage our feelings of overall personal worth. This objectification can lead us to constantly evaluate our appearance and compare our bodies to others, resulting in a heightened focus on physical looks and body-related concerns over intelligence, attractiveness, purpose, and contribution. The fallout can be devastating on personal relationships, goals, and happiness.
Outside influences aren’t even the only contributors to our body perception. Interestingly, women’s body image can be a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to another based on the season of life and the environment that surrounds us. We experience a variety of bodily changes throughout our lives, such as puberty, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. These changes can lead to shifts in women’s body image perceptions and challenges in accepting and embracing these natural transitions. Too often these changes have us withdraw from the very people and situations that both love us most and could most support us when we feel insecure.
How women’s body image impacts relationships
Since women’s body image significantly affects overall emotional well-being and self-esteem, a negative perception of our own appearance may lead to heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, which strains relationship dynamics. A supportive and empathetic partner can play a crucial role in helping with body image concerns. If our partner understands and validates our feelings, it can foster a more positive environment for addressing and managing body image issues. Yet no matter how much affirmation we receive from a loving partner, we have to do the work ourselves to change how we view ourselves as well as the internal dialog that accompanies those perceptions and beliefs.
It’s important to realize that when we feel shameful about our body, it almost always plays a significant role in our romantic connections. Body image can affect our comfort and confidence in being intimate with our partner. If we have a positive body image, we may feel more at ease in expressing affection and being physically intimate. On the other hand, negative body image can lead to feelings of insecurity and reluctance to engage in intimate activities, leaving our partner to feel frustrated and confused – after all, our partner finds us attractive, so why can’t we see the beauty they see?
When we avoid intimacy or pull away when our partner goes to squeeze us or caress an area we feel self-conscious about, we hurt ourselves and our partner. Communication about these happenings can often lead to arguments, and ultimately impact our willingness to discuss these sensitive topics. Over time, this can cause a loss of connection and lowered relationship satisfaction for both partners.
Body image issues aren’t set in stone
While body image concerns can be deeply ingrained and challenging to overcome, with time, effort, and the right strategies, we can develop a more positive and accepting relationship with our bodies. We were not born with these body image issues. They arose through our life experience and they can dissolve the same way. The human mind is capable of change and adaptability, allowing us to reshape our thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions about our bodies. But how? How can we change our frequently misperceived body projections?.?
First, start with compassion. Cultivating self-compassion and treating ourselves with kindness and understanding can significantly impact women’s body image. By learning to be more forgiving of perceived flaws, we can develop greater acceptance of our bodies. By being aware of media influences and understanding the manipulations behind unrealistic beauty standards, we can empower ourselves to critically evaluate the messages we receive. As a result we often find ourselves being more open to love in all its forms.
Shift your focus. It’s easier said than done, but by shifting our focus from appearance to health and overall well-being, we can reduce the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards and instead embrace a more holistic perspective on our body. Engaging in mindfulness practices such as meditation can help us to develop a more compassionate and non-judgmental attitude.
Seek support. Surrounding ourselves with supportive and body-positive friends and family can create an encouraging environment for improving women’s body image. Supportive relationships can provide validation, understanding, and a sense of belonging, and this can help to create a foundation of trust for improved intimacy and connection in a relationship.
Reach out for professional help. Seeking assistance from mental health professionals, such as therapists or counselors specializing in body image issues, can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the journey of improving women’s body image. Therapeutic approaches like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have shown effectiveness in helping us to challenge and reframe negative thought patterns related to body image. These techniques can promote healthier self-perceptions and attitudes.
Coaches and conscious communities focused on authentic relating can also provide a nurturing environment to discuss and unravel the false judgments we hold of ourselves. Spaces where we can speak honestly about our women’s body image stories and be validated for them, while also having the opportunity to hear trusted genuine feedback. These honest discussions and reflections that help us see how we can misperceive our true beauty can be profound catalysts for shifting body image issues.
Women’s body image is intricate and delicate. The process of improvement may vary from person to person, and it’s normal to encounter setbacks or moments of self-doubt. However, with patience, persistence, and a commitment to self-growth, we can develop a more positive and accepting view of ourselves. The goal is not to achieve a “perfect” body image but to foster a more honest, healthier, and more compassionate relationship with our own body for greater life satisfaction.
The blessing of these shifts come pouring in in the form of deepened connections, greater self-confidence in relationships, and a lot more pleasure as physical intimacy issues fall away. Give yourself the gift of finding the real truth about your body, beyond all the stories you’ve told and the fears you’ve held. Life and love will reward you in myriad ways.
*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.