Terrified of being naked? Join the club. We're force-fed a constant stream of tight tums and hourglass figures that make it pretty much impossible to not feel self-conscious about the way we look. It's hard to have sex when you keep thinking about how unattractive you feel.
A recent survey showed that 86% of both men and women asked, said the way they feel about their body has impacted their mental health, with 76% of respondents experiencing appearance-related anxiety.
We weren't born hating our bodies, so where does this hate come from? As children, we just inhabited them unselfconsciously, not thinking about whether our stomachs stuck out or if our muscles were the right size. If you look at children playing or moving around in their bodies, their lack of awareness of how they look or what they ‘should’ look like seems incredibly freeing.
At some point, as we get older, we all start to receive messages about our bodies and the bodies of others from the outside world. We might be told directly (and cruelly) that there is something wrong with the way we look, but a lot of messaging is more subtle than this. A lot of advertising, media and images we see of other bodies tend to be one body type; this can send the message that ‘desirable’ bodies require certain features (being super skinny, or voluptuous with large boobs and bums, being white or fair, being able-bodied, to name just a few). We might hear the adults around us talk about their bodies or other people’s.
When reading online comments about who has gained weight, or how bad someone's new hair is, these all start to insidiously push one key message: that there is a hierarchy of bodies and how they look. And that you don’t want yours to be at the bottom.
It’s easy to start developing thinking habits that focus on this hierarchy and where we and everyone else stand in it. Comparing how we look with other people (especially people of the same gender as us) and making favourable or unfavourable conclusions can become second nature. Even when we come out on top in these comparisons, it’s a precarious place to sit. The top of the body pyramid is uncomfortable and easy to topple from as soon as someone 'hotter' walks in the room.
Our relationships with our bodies can be further complicated by our health and life experiences. Our bodies don’t operate at 100% all the time. Many of us struggle with chronic pain or ill-health that stops us from doing what’s important to us, as well as visible disabilities that can draw the attention of others and let us know that our bodies are considered different or even wrong. If you’ve gone through childbirth, invasive operations or traumatic experiences, you might be struggling to return to the relationship you had with your body before this - even if it was a very positive one to begin with.
The body positivity movement has gone a long way to challenge these standards and point out that all bodies have value and the capacity to be beautiful. ‘Love your body’ has become a mantra for the 21st century, as well as a very instagrammable hashtag.
Body positivity has helped thousands, if not millions of people feel better about themselves, by showcasing a more diverse range of bodies and voices in the media, championing a variety of size, gender, ethnicity, disability – it can make us feel less alone in our own shape. But it does come with this important caveat - nobody has to be body positive all of the time.
There’s a potentially unhelpful message in this notion too; that to enjoy life, and enjoy sex, you need to love and feel good about your body 100% of the time. And that’s quite an ask. Loving ourselves is a well-intentioned aim, but what about the days when we don't. It can be a source of guilt or even shame to know that you can’t conjure up the body confidence that it feels like you *should* have to have great sex. Now we feel bad for feeling bad.
Some days you might feel bloated, or tired, or you have B.O. because you've been busy all day, or your hair is weird, you have a pimple or or your knees ache. We all have that. What your sessions in Blueheart can teach you is to feel really good on the really good days, and hopefully have more of them, and on those gross days? Well, know that you're not alone and that your body is still amazing because of the things it can do.
The fact is, if you want to feel better about your body then you have to LEARN to love it. It may not come to you out of the blue. There are a number of things we can do that help us love and accept our body, but again you are not expected to love it 24/7.
It's exactly the same as the concept of happiness, it's not a permanent state of bliss we're trying to get to, it's to move that balance of feeling good more often than bad.
Using ‘LOVE YOUR BODY!’ as another stick to beat yourself with is probably not going to help your relationship with your body in the long term. If we hear it without the T's and C's and the work we need to do to get there (working on our thoughts and mind), it just becomes meaningless like LOVE SPEAKING ITALIAN or LOVE MY DEATH METAL ALBUM.
Ok thanks I'd like to, but where do I start? What do I need to do?
So how can we shake ourselves free of these judgments, so we can just get on with being in our bodies? Being in and experiencing the world as it happens (especially pleasurable experiences...) is a key skill in learning and tuning into what you like in sex so that you can get more of it, and you'll learn this during your Blueheart sessions.
If and when you notice yourself comparing your body with other people, this is a great opportunity to refocus on what’s happening internally. Just noticing what’s going on for you internally, tuning into it and maybe naming it (I feel unsettled, I feel energetic, I feel some pain in my knee, I feel sad, I feel like I need a wash…) can open up your experience of who you are and how the world is for you.
You can take this further by making time for physical activities that aren’t about achieving something. A lot of what we do each day can have a measurement aspect to it - how did I do at work today? Is the house clean? Am I running far enough? Finding an activity where it’s less about achieving an end goal and more about just getting out there and doing something with our bodies can be a reminder that there can be more to life than just trying to get to the top of the pyramid, especially when it comes to our bodies. If you need motivation to get out there, focus on doing rather than getting somewhere. It's the difference between ‘I went to yoga and moved my body for an hour, it feels good,’ and ‘I went to yoga and did all the positions perfectly, way better than the guy next to me’.
Body positivity has helped thousands, if not millions of people feel better about themselves, by showcasing a more diverse range of bodies and voices in the media, it can make people feel less alone in their own shape. But it does come with this caveat - nobody has to be body positive all of the time.
If 'body love' and 'body hate' are not helping your relationship with your body, what about body neutrality? This is about getting away from making intense positive or negative judgments about your body and how it looks, and focuses more on acceptance.
You’ll find a lot of these ideas and skills helpful for the modules you’ll be working through here, learning more about tuning into your body’s feelings and experiences. Hopefully, in time, you can like or even love your body, but in a way that actually means something to you.
If you enjoyed this and want to learn other ways to feel good about yourself, check out the Blueheart app here.