Each year when the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is released I hear about it. Not because I'm a big fan of swimsuits, or super models, or even of sports for that matter, but because my therapist husband (as a recovering sex addict) specializes in helping men with self-destructive sexual behaviors.
These guys have issues around sexualizing and objectifying women. And because of that, they can tend to have more than just a passing awareness of the swimsuit issue.
I counsel the wives and partners of these men. One of the things my clients often experience is the sense that they are being compared to other women—the airbrushed, beautiful, perfect, often young, women who may, for example, look like Sports Illustrated swimsuit supermodels.
So how do my clients work with those feelings of being compared? How do they bolster their self-esteem in ways that begin to inoculate them from the pitfalls of comparison?
Over and over again, even the men who need to seek help from my husband, confess that their true desire is intimate connection. They may be attracted to whatever version of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model du jour is for them, but in general they long for the intimate relationship that comes in connecting with another emotionally, spiritually and sexually.
Your partner's attraction to you is to so much more than just your outward appearance.
This doesn't mean that appearance doesn't matter. It simply means that you don't need to enter into a competition with the models.
As women, we can appreciate and even celebrate the models' beauty. As airbrushed and sexualized as those images may be, we can still admire the grace of this sort of representation of the female form.
At the same time, celebrate your own beauty!
Not by comparison, but rather for the individual unique beauty that you carry. In the 1700's, the philosopher David Hume wrote, "Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them." By allowing your mind to contemplate, to recognize and rest on the aspects of your beauty—physical, emotional, and spiritual—you bring this magnificence to life. Then it can be more easily seen and appreciated by others.
I recognize it can seem difficult to move from a mindset of comparison and deficiency particularly when faced with today's over-sexualized media images. Sometimes the wisdom transmitted in folktales can help the mind create new pathways and understandings.
One such story (that is said to have its origins in African as well as Cherokee cultures) tells how Brer Fox wanted to trick Brer Rabbit.
He made a figure out of tar that looked like a cute little baby and set it in the middle of the road. When Brer Rabbit saw the tar baby in the road, he tried to talk to it. But since the tar baby was not real, it wouldn't respond. Brer Rabbit got so mad that he hit the tar baby and his paw stuck firmly into the tar. Since he was now trapped and couldn't get away he got even angrier and continued hitting and kicking until he was completely covered in tar and unable to move. Each hit and each kick only further entangled him in the muck of the tar.
In the same way that Brer Rabbit got more and more tangled up in the tar the harder he tried to escape, the more we continue to compare ourselves to others, to supermodels of any kind, each punch of comparison only creates further entanglement.
The first step in freeing yourself from feelings of objectification is to call off the fight. Simply recognize and acknowledge the beauty of the other. In comparison, someone is always up and someone else is down. Sometimes you will win in the comparison match and sometimes you will lose. But in the battle you become entangled just like Brer Rabbit.
Once Brer Rabbit realized how pointless all his fighting with the tar baby had been, he still needed a way to get free. He cleverly talked Brer Fox into throwing him into the briar patch. Brer Fox was only too happy to toss Brer Rabbit who was utterly covered in tar into the thick of the sharp, pointed briars. He thought the briar patch would be a painful place for Brer Rabbit to be. But Brer Rabbit was born in the briar patch. He was able to use those briars to free himself from all that tar.
Even though you may have viewed parts of your form, your appearance, as briars to be avoided, just like Brer Rabbit, it is possible to get free. Beauty can be found by the mind that knows where to look.
Perfection does not equal beauty.
What is inherently natural (and beautiful) in you is radiated from your core. You were born with it. The recognition of your essential beauty can help free you from the stickiness of comparisons. I promise, as you earnestly do this, your confidence will radiate into the world.
If feelings of inadequacy in comparison to a supermodel arise in you, first acknowledge any beauty you too recognize in those images but then more importantly remember your own beauty, in whatever form that may be. When you "take beauty action" from the inside out, others will be more likely to recognize your beauty, too.
Writer Paldrom Collins is a former Tibetan Buddhist nun and co-author of A Couple’s Guide to Sexual Addiction: A Step-by-Step Plan to Rebuild Trust & Restore Intimacy. Working with her husband and sex addiction expert George Collins at Compulsion Solutions counseling center, Paldrom counsels individuals and couples across the country.