Body image is the set of beliefs and perceptions about your body, that include generalisations like, “Oh I’m bigger than most people”. These beliefs are somewhat stable and often inform how we perceive our bodies.
How we feel in our bodies is often influenced by our physical experience of being in our bodies, and the messages we receive about our bodies from external sources. The relationship with the body can be based on negative or positive beliefs and perceptions of the body, which you may recognise is referred to as negative or positive body image.
Our body image forms through our experiences of the world. We are social creatures hell bent on belonging. The body is a tangible tool we can manipulate to ensure we belong. So we pluck, wax, starve, tan, dehydrate, and punish our bodies to ensure our place in society.
A short history on why people are so critical of bodies:
- The patriarchy: a system that advantages white cis males, and disadvantages everyone else
- Women gained power in this system by being physically attractive to men of status
- Therefore, fitting the beauty ideal = belonging, not fitting the beauty ideal = shame, powerless
Physical attractiveness is based on beauty ideals, which still exist today. However they change over time, from the heroin chic of the 90’s to the Kardashian hourglass figures of today.
Similar body image expectations exist for men. These include beauty ideals such as being athletic, and toned. But also come from porn, where men are seen to have large, constantly erect penises.
The influence of body image ideals, leads to body image insecurities. We naturally compare our bodies to the 1% of bodies that seem to fit the ideals. And this can impact our ability to relax into pleasure.
The consequences of this, is that we experience shame and anxiety about our bodies. Specifically we experience appearance anxiety which is often paired with intrusive thoughts during sexual experiences that leave us feeling self-conscious.
This shame and anxiety has us so in our heads, we disconnect from our bodies. Being in this state makes it harder to identify our internal states of sexual arousal or desire. The cues we received from our body are often important in telling us when, and where we are at in our sexual response, and heading toward orgasm.
So how do we manage body image concerns when they start to impact sexual function?