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When you look in the mirror, are your first thoughts about what you'd like to change? If your partner says, "You look as sexy to me as ever," do you think, "Hmmm, I wonder what he (or she) really wants this time?" If you had to take your clothes off tonight in front of a new sexual partner, would you make sure the lights were off? If so, you share the feelings of many people today, and it's a blueprint for sexual turnoff.
Your body image is how you see your body -- not necessarily how others see it or how it really looks. A negative body image can drain the joy out of many aspects of your life, but it can be especially damaging to your sex life. It's difficult to abandon yourself to pleasure when you're obsessed with sagging breasts or a potbelly. Yet it's a scientifically proven fact that you don't have to be skinny or have perfect breasts or an unlined face to have a great orgasm. In your heart of hearts, you probably know this. So why are you turning off the lights, hiding under the sheets, and losing the visual stimulation of watching your partner respond to you? Why isn't sex something you look forward to, as you used to?Societal Ideals
It's no surprise that researchers easily find a statistical correlation between body weight and body image. Grow up with Barbie and Ken and GI Joe as your role models, and even though today's outcry against unrealistic advertising makes sense, it can still be hard to swallow emotionally. These were our childhood images of what we were going to grow up and look like. We never saw Ken lose his hair, GI Joe struggle to button his fatigues over his potbelly, or Barbie's breasts sagging after her pregnancy. Unconditional self-acceptance of fat thighs and thinning hair is difficult in a culture that reveres self-improvement.
For our honeymoon, my wife and I went to Brazil. On the beach at Ipanema we saw women in string bikinis and men in tiny swim trunks, and frankly, many had round stomachs and waistlines hanging over. The Brazilians had a different snapshot of beauty. It was obvious in their media, in their magazines, and most of all on their beaches. If you have a body that meets American standards of beauty -- flat stomach, skinny thighs, what one of my patients calls the "antiseptic look" -- you start to feel emaciated on Ipanema. It was amazing to me how quickly one could adjust a lifelong vision of beauty after a week or two in those surroundings.
While I can't tell patients that it is good for their health to be overweight, I truly admire those who are comfortable with their bodies and feel so accepting of themselves. I have the same question most people have: "What do you know that the rest of us need to know?"
A therapist can help you gain body confidence. Because your goal is to change your thinking rather than your body, cognitive behavior therapists are a good resource. Those who specialize in eating disorders may be especially helpful because they treat body image issues on a daily basis. The Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy (www.aabt.org) maintains a referral service that can help you find a therapist in your area.
Excerpted from Making Love the Way We Used To . . . Or Better, by Alan Altman. Copyright 2001 by Alan Altman. Reprinted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.