Sex Ed in Small Doses

Prescriptions for Sexual Self-Confidence, Self-Esteem, and Knowledge

Three Steps Toward Loving Your Body

Better body image may increase your ability to enjoy sensual pleasures.

Despite being surrounded by messages about how we should look, what we should weigh, and how fit we should be, we cannot attain physical perfection. We can, however, strive to accept and embrace our bodies. The three steps of forgiving, accepting, and appreciating can help with that process.

Body image is our perception of, attitudes toward, and feelings about our body. It relates not only to how we perceive ourselves, but also to how we believe others perceive us. Body image is an aspect of our sexuality: The way we feel about our body affects our self-image, self-esteem, whether and how we want to engage our body sensually, and whether we want to engage with it by ourselves or with partners.

Body image is shaped by how our body compares to our ideas about what is beautiful and attractive. While we can control some of the variables related to our physical appearance, health, and function, we can’t control all of them. Recognizing the difference can help us feel more accepting of our body.

It also helps to know that the appearance or condition of our body says little or nothing about our character or our value. Appearance doesn’t necessarily attract others, either: Self-confidence and happiness often draw people to us more readily.

People who feel good about their bodies tend to communicate more with sexual partners, which relates, in turn, to greater confidence in sexual decision making, and to increased satisfaction and sexual self-esteem.

People with not-so-positive feelings about their bodies may feel shame, awkwardness, and anxiety. They may feel less empowered to discuss safer sex and sexual boundaries with partners, too.

At different times of life you may feel more or less accepting of your body. Those temporary shifts are normal. If you never feel good about your body, and if those feelings interfere with your happiness or relationships, consider talking to your healthcare provider, to a sexuality educator, or to a therapist who can help you explore these feelings.

Some people naturally enjoy positive feelings about their body. For others, developing a healthy body image is a process, or even a challenge. Exploring forgiveness, acceptance, and appreciation can be a step in a positive direction.

Forgiving Your Body
Little children usually enjoy their bodies without judgment, but that unilateral acceptance tends to change over time. If you’d like to love your body more, you could start by forgiving it for not being perfect.

What’s perfect? That depends on your standard of perfection. You may focus on the shape of your nose or thighs, relative to a favorite celebrity. Your neighbor may be distressed by decreased muscle tone due to age. Someone else may feel betrayed by a body that no longer functions sexually as it once did.

You may never have liked your body, or you may have liked it until it changed due to childbirth, accident, or illness. You may feel unhappy, frustrated, betrayed, disgusted, or angry. If you can forgive your body for not being “perfect,” you may begin to feel more accepting of it.
If you want to release some negative feelings by forgiving your body, you could:

  • speak about your body in more positive terms
  • smile at yourself in the mirror
  • wear something that makes you feel special
  • share a cuddle, a kiss, a massage, or another sensual activity that helps you focus on your body’s capacity for pleasure

Accepting Your Body
Feeling unhappy with your body can feel like you’re looking into a fun house mirror that exaggerates what you like least and minimizes what you appreciate. You may avoid looking at yourself in the mirror, or you may try to look only at the “acceptable” parts. Suppose that instead of avoiding the mirror, you looked into it while seeing yourself differently?

Your skin color and condition, body type, and health reflects generations of your ancestors. Your scars, freckles, and physical condition also reflect some of your life experiences and lifestyle choices. What a fascinating constellation of stories your body tells!

You’ve got more stories to create and enjoy, and the body you’ve got today is the one that can get you started on the next adventure. You may decide that you want to make choices that change your body so it is healthier or more functional, and that’s fine. But don’t put off trying to accept and embrace who you are at this moment.

Appreciating Your Body
Accepting your body is a healthy step toward positive body image, but suppose you took it a step further, toward appreciating it? This step in the process requires a little self-examination:

  • What is one thing your body does well?
  • What is one goal your body helped you reach?
  • What is one way your body gives you pleasure?

You may not feel like celebrating every aspect of your body, but by taking time to be grateful for the small ways your body pleases you, you may, in time, feel better about your body overall.

Looking Ahead, Positively
You don’t have a choice about many of the ways your body looks and functions, but you do have a choice about how you perceive yourself and how your body image affects your spirit.

In the foreward to Iman’s book, The Beauty of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide for Skin of Color, actress Salma Hayek wrote, “People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder."

Make the choice to behold yourself: You are beautiful.

 

Dr. Melanie Davis is a certified sexuality educator, professor, co-president of the Sexuality & Aging Consortium at Widener University, and author of “Look Within: A Woman’s Journal.”

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