It’s well-documented that women with body image issues frequently struggle in their intimate relationships. Until now, I’ve never discussed this subject, even with my closest friends, yet I am one of these women. So with Valentines upon us – and a plethora of red, lacy underwear on display in every lingerie shop – now feels like a good time to raise the subject here.
Let’s start with said underwear: It makes me uncomfortable. I’m not sure when I realized the type of underwear we’re told is sexy simply feels wrong on me. The lace scratches, and I find the elastic around my waist and thighs grows restrictive.
Then there’s the way it makes me look. To be honest, that’s far worse than how it makes me feel. I know my husband, David, loves all of me, but I simply can’t see the beauty in my body that he so obviously sees. And despite how I much I’ve come to love my body, I still struggle to love it the way he loves it.
I believe I’ve figured out why: We’re fed highly sexualized images, but because the average body is invisible, when we do see one – even our own – it appears wrong, which causes shame. I realize now that I rarely see a body like mine wearing swimwear, let alone underwear. I’m either looking at a Victoria’s Secret Angel or a plus-sized body that gets a round of applause for being so bravely exposed.
But I don’t have either of those bodies. Mine is somewhere inbetween. It’s ‘average.’ It’s no wonder so many of us don’t like the way we look or our size, shape or age – because we so rarely see ourselves.
So I’ve been thinking about what feels and looks desirable to me. I’m defining my sexuality rather than being defined by it. In doing so, I can see how much I’ve allowed myself to believe that in order to feel a certain way, first I need to look a certain way. I’m not trying to change the examples of what desirable looks like to society because I’m not sure that’s even possible. Rather, I’m exploring why those examples are meaningful to me and challenging the validity of my beliefs.
I’m tired of being acutely aware of what I don’t like, whilst failing to seek out what I do. So rather than feeling shame, I’m giving myself permission to explore what does make me feel like a body-confident, sexual woman.
My intimate life is private, but I hope that by sharing this much I’ll encourage you to do some exploring and defining of your own. We all deserve to have a sensual relationship – no matter our shape, size, looks or age. Red, lacy underwear or not, that’s entirely up to you.
Society may say otherwise, but there are no rules, which means you get to make your own.
The Pro-Body Project is published fortnightly. You can read the first entry here.