For heterosexual men, women’s bodies are the source of fascination and erotic nourishment, but the relationship between women and their bodies is a war zone.  In my capacity as a sex therapist, I recall treating an eighteen-year-old female patient whose body would elicit drools from most men and envious contempt from most women. Despite her actual shape and proportions, she could only express criticisms of, and contempt for her body. She shared harsh words about her thighs; she verbally attacked her behind, and when she mentioned her tummy, her face contorted into an expression revulsion. If the sampling of women I have had the honor to treat is representative, this eighteen-year-old is typical of how many women feel, irregardless of the shape, about their bodies.  

     It has seemed odd to me that many of the women’s male partners do not share this negative perception. Most men say, “I like her body.  It isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t matter to me as much as her ability to relax so that we can enjoy closeness and pleasure.”Unfortunately, the negative relationship between a woman and her body has a direct and negative effect on the healthiness and quality of her sex life with her partner.  Good lovemaking requires the ability to relax. A woman who dislikes her body cannot relax during sex.

    Beauty is a primary feminine value; just as power is a primary masculine value. To possess beauty is to own a potent source of a kind of power, but because beauty has grown into an unhealthy societal obsession, many of us have been deluded into believing that unless we have high physical beauty, we have no value.  This is not true.  The media constantly pushes the beauty/sexy button knowing that it can elicit a spending response, but this unintentionally fuels women’s shame and insecurity about their bodies.

     Some men and woman received the gift of physical beauty, but, to be honest, most of us have not.  Especially as we age into our middle or later years, if we have not given up on our need to have magazine looks, our vanity and our disappointment damages the beauty of what inner gifts we do possess. Perfection is an unrealistic goal.

Not evident in her experience is that the rejection women subject their bodies with is a little more than an expression of negative self-esteem and shame.  When women feel bad about themselves or emotionally uncomfortable, this is likely to be expressed in the form of physical self-criticism…experiencing one self and one’s body as ugly and unacceptable. Women self-talk when naked in front of the mirror can be cruel and harsh…language that she would never allow another to say to her daughter. While none of us are perfect, no one deserves to be verbally abused. Instead the practice of kindness, acceptance and gentleness may gradually replace self-hate with self-acceptance.

    It is wise for women to set a goal of physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual health rather than perfection in physique or beauty. This can be accomplished by making friends with your body, despite its limitations. Do you end your friendship when your friend demonstrates an imperfection?  Be just as forgiving with your body. If you harbor negative emotions, your body’s health will be harmed. To feel badly about your body is to be less than your best; it is unkind to rob your partner of access to all of you. Do make the most of your physical assets, but don’t let that be the source for obsession or self-hate.If you make it your friend, and if you can let go of negative emotions, your body is still capable of providing you and your lover with great pleasure; that is truly beautiful! Andrew Aaron, LICSW