Please Don’t Turn On The Lights: How Body Image Affects Intimacy

I’m so excited today to share a post I wrote for the blog of Dr. Lily Zehner.  What an honor!  Read on…

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Please Don’t Turn On The Lights: How Body Image Affects Intimacy

Have you ever looked in the mirror and had negative thoughts or emotions jump out at you about the image reflected back?  What about standing in front of the mirror naked?  Now try to imagine how it feels to let your partner see you naked.  If you ask me, I’d say vulnerable!!!  Yikes!

We all have a body, so we all have a body image. Our relationship with our bodies can have a significant impact on our physical and emotional intimacy with our loved ones and with ourselves.   Body image is described as a culmination of a person’s internal and external experiences, personality, perception of the world and impact of cultural influences. I also think of it as a person’s perception of their body’s attractiveness and acceptability by others, and it is often influenced by expectations set in the media, in our culture, and by those close to us.  Sometimes, our body image is passed down to us as a reflection of our parents’ own relationships with their bodies.

Our culture’s obsession with the “thin ideal” as the standard for beauty can have a detrimental effect on women (and men) whose bodies do not look the way that society says is “beautiful” – ie: thin, yet curvy in the right places, tall, toned, active, strong yet not too strong, etc etc etc.  For men the standards are equally as confusing and contradictory.

And when we feel as if we are unattractive based on society’s standards, we can internalize that feeling and become at war with our own selves.

Chasing, yet not meeting this elusive thin-ideal standard can foster feelings of inadequacy in women and men and can support a belief that there is something undesirable about our bodies and thus ourselves. Intimacy, whether physical and/or emotional, is the deep connection and closeness felt between romantic partners that is intended to be a method of communicating love, affection, and acceptance.  If we struggle with communicating love and acceptance to ourselves, with our negative body image creating a barrier between us and the world, we can cut ourselves off from this deep, nourishing intimacy with others and create a divide in our relationship.

When we don’t feel emotionally safe and accepting with our own bodies, we may create a self-protecting defensive shield around ourselves which can lead to a disconnection with ourselves and with our partners.  As someone who works extensively with people who struggle with body image and disordered eating issues, I can attest to the deep disconnect and loneliness that these struggles can bring to physical and emotional intimacy.  What I also know is that healing body image wounds is very possible and it is one of the leading factors to re-establishing a sensual, intimate relationship with your partner(s) and with yourself.

How?

If you struggle with body image issues and you feel that they are affecting your intimacy in your relationship,

Be honest.  Open up to your partner(s).  Share as much about what you are feeling as you feel comfortable.  Sure, this is vulnerable as heck.  It also opens the dialogue for understanding and connection and can foster communication between you about how you can feel more comfortable in your body.

Be kind.  First to yourself.  I know this is hard.  I believe that we cannot truly offer to others what we are not able to give to ourselves.  Instead of judging yourself for having these struggles, try to be compassionate and gentle.

Be curious.  What is really going on for you in your body image struggle?  As author Geneen Roth (author of Women, Food and God and When Food is Love) states: “”Every time you sneak food, you give yourself the message that you cannot be seen … [and it] translates into sneaking your desires, sneaking your hungers, and sneaking your heart, because you feel you don’t deserve love.”  Try to take a gentle look at what might be feeding your body image struggle including experiences from your past where you have felt judged about your body for some reason.

Try to reconnect to what intimacy feels like to you.  When have you felt close with someone?  What did that feel like in your body – sensations, emotions, physical touch?  How did your body react to that feeling of closeness?  What is one small step you could take today to re-initiate that feeling of closeness with your partner or yourself?

Have you had body image struggles which have impacted your intimacy and closeness with loved ones?  Leave a comment below about your experience and how you healed that connection with your partner or yourself.

 

Read more about the amazing work happening at Dr. Lily Zehner’s private practice at their site: www.drlilyzehner.com.  Thanks for the opportunity to guest post, and it was an honor to feature owner Lily Zehner’s guest post on my blog last week!