Self-esteem is a tricky topic. There are so many factors, both internal and external, that can affect how you feel about yourself, and those things can change seemingly on a dime… Improving self-esteem is just as complicated. It can involve a myriad of changes – the most important of which have to happen in your own mind.
Today, we want to dig into one specific area of self-esteem: body image. This is effectively how you feel about your own physical self – from height and weight to hair, skin, figure, foot size… You name it!
How you feel about the way you look plays a major role in your overall self-esteem, and can have a serious impact on the quality of your marriage.
Imagine this scenario: you and your spouse are fixing dinner or getting ready for bed, and they come over and put their arms around your waist. It’s meant to be an act of affection, but as they embrace you, all you can think about is the weight you’ve gained, the self-consciousness you feel about a “spare tire.” Maybe you voice this concern to your husband or wife, and they tell you not to worry – that you’re attractive and sexy. Still, nothing they say can get you out of your own head, and you brush off their compliments because of your negative thoughts about your own body…
Not only is it a problem if you feel that way for you personally, it also creates a pretty major problem in the marriage. Think about it: if your spouse is complimenting you, trying to make advances or offer you affection, and you resist because of your own negative body image, how does that make your spouse feel?
They may internalize it and blame themselves, they may not understand because of how attractive you are to them, or at the very least, they may feel powerless to help you.
Negative body image affects sex lives, overall confidence, even willingness to open up emotionally. It can make us withdraw from the people we love and make us think we aren’t good enough, that they shouldn’t be attracted to us… Even worse, it can make us ignore affection, never getting to a place of intimacy or pleasure, all because we can’t stop thinking about “how bad” we look, what’s wrong with our appearance, what we wish we could change… And most of the time, it’s totally unrealistic!
In fact, according to the Social Issues Research Centre, the “ideal woman” as described by popular culture is a size and shape only attainable by less than 5% of women – and that’s just one example!
So, where do we go from here? First, let’s talk a little about how and why this happens – then we’ll get into what you can do about it.
Why It Happens
Body image problems stem from a number of factors, but many of them can be boiled down to the expectations we have for ourselves - and the outside influences of media and society about standards of appearance and attractiveness.
It can start in our younger years, and many people fixate on things they don’t like about themselves – crooked teeth, a birthmark, their ears, whatever – and carry that assumption of negativity with them into adult life. This can also happen as we age or experience changes in our bodies. We worry (and internalize) thoughts about weight, gray hair, wrinkles, and so on, to the point where it’s all we see when we look in the mirror.
Add to this the bombardment we receive (nearly around the clock) from television, social media, magazine covers, and the like – where the vast majority of the people we see are in great shape, with perfect hair and flawless skin… And it’s pretty easy to understand how we can get down on ourselves because of appearance. We simply can’t help but compare ourselves to the images we see and the people we encounter every day.
There are also people who criticize, cultural standards, and so much more that all work themselves into our brains and influence the way we feel about our own bodies… It’s just so easy to see “everyone else” in a different light than we see ourselves, and that can have hefty consequences on relationships.
What You Can Do
Now, there are two major ways we can fight back against negative body image. The first is all mental. It’s definitely easier said than done, but you can change you basis of comparison – or stop comparing altogether. Remind yourself that the people in magazines are not only professionals at “being good looking,” but also that the images are often altered, they’ve got top notch makeup, and that only the very best images even find themselves into the pages.
You can also remember that others see you differently than you see yourself. They probably don’t notice that things you fixate on, they probably have their own issues of self-consciousness, and so on. Even the most attractive people you see probably have some hang up – you’re not alone!
Another portion of this “mental solution” is to understand that confidence affects how attractive you feel AND how other people perceive you. Being comfortable in your own skin (again, perhaps easier said than done) is half the battle! No one is perfect, and you’re the only YOU there is! Quiet that mental noise that gets you down.
We could go on and on about the mental battles of body image and self-esteem, but you get the idea. Your body isn’t perfect, and neither is anyone else’s. Learn to love the body you have, be grateful for your best features, and focus on the good over the bad!
Now, the other piece of this is physical… And it won’t work for every potential body image problem… However, if you’re self-conscious about your weight, figure, lack of muscle tone, etc. – get to work! These are the parts of your body and appearance you CAN change. Healthy habits like diet and exercise have a huge effect on your hair, skin, teeth, etc. as well.
This is an area where you can absolutely control what your body looks like, and you can start as small as low intensity exercise and minor diet changes. If you and your spouse can commit together, you can both improve your bodies (and your health) with the support of the person you’re closest to.
Negative body image is a mental and social trap we fall into that fills is with doubt, distracts us from marriage, and builds up unrealistic expectations. If this sounds all too familiar, talk about it with your spouse and try to tackle both sides of the solution. Do what you can to work on the actual parts of your body you feel self-conscious about, but more importantly, change the way you think about what you’re “supposed” to look like. It will take time and daily effort, but you can fight back against the negative thoughts and standards that are creating roadblocks in your marriage. Think positive!
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com