As physical beings, we think about our bodies a lot, especially when we’re looking into a mirror. Being conscious of how we look can be important to a certain extent; it can be a way to remain aware of our health, primarily, but also to ensure that we present ourselves well in our appearance in the professional or career world. We want how we look on the outside to match how we perceive ourselves on the inside.
For our purposes, though, that sense of self-esteem and confidence in our bodies plays a significant role in our romantic and sexual relationships, from early dating to long-standing, dedicated monogamous relationships. When someone feels they don’t look good or becomes dissatisfied with their body image, then, those negative self-perceptions can become detrimental in their relationships. “Discomfort with your body can translate into discomfort with the sex you and your partner have,” wrote Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. in a Psychology Today article “The Key Role of Body Image in Happy Relationships” in 2018. “In turn, your partner may feel that you’re not happy with the relationship in general, and a vicious cycle becomes set into motion.” Whitbourne adds that it’s especially important for lovers to possess a strong self image and sense of self-importance because they are going to see each other completely naked with every nook and cranny completely exposed and not disguised by clothing.
One of the biggest obstacles for most people is the never-ending onslaught of images of “beautiful people” that surround us on television, in magazines, in films, and online. We are surrounded by fantasy marketing and advertising concepts of beauty that are not realistic for many people to achieve. Many people struggle with the challenges and changes that come from eating disorders, aging, trauma they have suffered, or poverty that prevents them from being able to afford hiring personal trainers and enjoying a designer diet regimen that Hollywood promotes as the ideal way to live. Additionally, body positivity is not just about countering how society views people based solely upon their physical size and shape.
According to Kendra Cherry in verywellmind.com, the concept and movement also recognize that judgments are often made based on race, gender, sexuality, and disability. “Body positivity also aims to help people understand how popular media messages contribute to the relationship that people have with their bodies, including how they feel about food, exercise, clothing, health, identity, and self-care,” she wrote in a 2020 article What Is Body Positivity? “By better understanding the effect that such influences have, the hope is that people can develop a healthier and more realistic relationship with their bodies.” Cherry explains that body positivity grew out of the fat acceptance movement of the late 1960s. That effort focuses on ending the culture of fat-shaming and discrimination against people because of their body size or weight. In 1969, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance was established; the organization continues to implement programs to correct how people discuss weight. Body positivity, Cherry explains, believes that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture define ideal shape, size, and appearance. That’s why today, the body positivity movement continues to:
- Challenge how society views the body
- Promote the acceptance of all bodies
- Help people build confidence and acceptance of their own bodies
- Address unrealistic body standards
In 1996, still reeling from her experience with a teen eating disorder and the death of her sister Stephanie, Connie Sobczak did something to address the impractical expectations society places on people to maintain perfect bodies. She founded thebodypositive.org to “help people live with more appreciation and love with their precious bodies.” Sobczak believes those “suffocating societal messages keep people in a perpetual struggle with their bodies.” So as part of her organization’s mission, they developed the 5 Competencies to provide people with the essential skills to live in their bodies happily and harmoniously every day. “Our model defines health as the interconnectedness of physical, psychological, and emotional needs in human beings,” their website explains. These core competencies “establish foundational building blocks that honor individual authority as the primary path to positive change.” The following are the 5 Competencies of thebodypositive.org:
- Reclaim Health
- Practice Intuitive Self-Care
- Cultivate Self-Love
- Declare Your Own Authentic Beauty
- Build Community
According to their website, a pilot study completed by Stanford University demonstrated that the organization’s 5 Competencies of its Be Body Positive Model had a positive effect on the participants’ self-reported guilt, body satisfaction, and social determinants of body image.
Ultimately, the point of being aware of body positivity is to make sure that you are comfortable and assured in your own body. More important, two people in a relationship should confirm each other’s physical beauty and dignity as a person because of the love they share for each other. When people are overwhelmed with their jobs, families and other responsibilities and as their metabolism and availability and physical ability to exercise change with age, it can become extremely difficult to maintain a perfectly fit and trim body that is projected as ideal by societal and cultural messages. While always trying to eat nutritiously, exercise and stay healthy is critical, tempering your expectations of yourself and your partner’s body with reason, common sense, and love is key to maintaining a strong, healthy, physical and intimate relationship.