How Body Image Affects Your Relationships
Originally Published: September 11, 2020
Revised: September 11, 2020
(Photo credit: “Body Positive (front)” by Kit Stubbs is licensed under CC BY 2.0)
Body image is a person’s view or perception of their bodies and the thoughts and feelings that perception provokes. These feelings can be positive or negative, and they can affect your relationships.
My best friend, Rukky, developed body negativity after being bullied in elementary school. Schoolmates said things like, “Hey, fatso, better reduce the carbs or your belly rolls would scare away the boys. Cool guys don’t like fatsies.” By the time she started dating, she thought her entire body was hideous. One day, she told me that she was not enjoying her sexual experiences because she felt self-conscious. She was convinced it was because of her negative mindset towards her body.
When I couldn’t cheer her up, I suggested therapy, and, fortunately, she accepted. She stopped dating for a while to focus on herself. A few sessions in, she genuinely started to feel good about her body. Near the end of therapy, she decided she was ready to date again. One morning, she told me that she’d had an orgasm the night before and enjoyed sex. In her words, loving herself saved her sex life.
Body Image and Teens
Teens often have negative thoughts and views of their bodies. I know I do! So, it is a breath of fresh air to find a teenager who accepts, loves and is comfortable with their body.
When I noticed the positive effects therapy was having on Rukky, I decided to take my own advice. I suffered from body negativity, too, and I did not want it hindering my pleasure when I eventually started having sex.
With help from our therapists and family, Rukky and I adopted a healthier diet, started exercising and began practicing basic self-care. There was gradual boost in our self-esteems and our emotions became more stable. We also started thinking positively about our bodies and the bodies of other people, especially partners. Those elements certainly came in handy when navigating through all relationships, not just romantic ones.
For instance, during therapy, a friend of mine told me that she noticed that I engaged in deeper conversations with people—not just body-centered ones—and have become more self-loving. She said that it made her feel freer, more connected and more beautiful around me.
I also began to advocate for myself and stand up against sexual harassment from boys. When I was body-negative, I used to think, “Well, if they like me enough to grab my boobs, then maybe I don’t look so bad after all.” Becoming body-positive made me see their actions for what they really were. I did not seek worth and validation from being touched inappropriately anymore. I was able to tell them off and, stand up against their assault and harassment.
Body Positivity and Sex
When you love your body, you’re prepared to explore and experience sex in new and thrilling ways. Rather than being cautious about your appearance, you’re capable of taking pleasure in sexual sensations while genuinely focusing on what works for you and what doesn’t. When I started therapy, Rukky and I discussed our journeys towards self-love and self-acceptance. During one of those talks, Rukky told me that before therapy, during sex, she was always limited.
When she eventually got into a relationship after months of therapy, she found that she wasn’t repressed by negative thoughts anymore. Rather than worrying about what her partner thought of her body, she focused on doing things that enhanced her and her partner’s pleasure. Loving your body—rather than evaluating how you look—can help you and your partner(s) enjoy sexual experiences more.
Developing Body Positivity
One of the most attractive qualities in a person is confidence, so ditch the negative body talk and find reasons to love your body!
Does your body perform for you in dance, sports, yoga or another physical activity you enjoy? Show it some gratitude! Does your body move at will? Be thankful; the ability to move one’s body is not a universal experience.
Are there things you really like about yourself that have nothing to do with your appearance? Take some time out to focus on those things and remind yourself that your appearance alone does not make you who you are.
Unfortunately, social media and peers have made many teenagers, including me, believe that our appearances represent who we are and that they are all we will ever be. Teenagers should be taught it is perfectly OK if someone doesn’t fit into the societal expectations for what their gender, or lack of gender, should look and act like. After all, gender is a social construct. Judging a person based on race, gender, sexual orientation, appearance or disability induces body negativity.
Gaining body positivity made me practice healthy eating and exercise. It boosted my self-esteem, confidence and solidified my relationships with friends and family. Something that helps me become more body-positive is looking in the mirror every morning and saying positive things to myself. It serves as a reminder that despite all the bodily “flaws,” I am a beautiful human. You are, too.
When you feel good about your body, you can be empowered to have important conversations with your partner about safer sex. Check out our Communication Tool, if you need some help starting the conversation.
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