How Bad Body Image Affects Intimacy

Don't let a negative self-image interfere with your romantic relationship.

shy woman beneath sheets

Intimacy. In a romantic relationship, it is a sacred bond that requires openness and vulnerability. It requires the courage to express the deepest parts of yourself, knowing that you can truly trust the other person. However, it's nearly impossible to cultivate intimacy to its fullest extent when one or both partners hold back because of a lack of trust, fear of vulnerability, or the inability to reveal their true selves.


While we can all look back on our lives and identify situations that either tested our ability to trust, convinced us that it's dangerous to be vulnerable, or caused us to question our self-worth, a poor body image will almost certainly propagate these feelings, affecting intimacy on at least two levels:

Physical intimacy. Imagine this scene: A man and a woman are kissing and their hands begin to undress one another. The man is barely thinking because he's so excited and grateful to be in the presence of such a beautiful woman. The woman, on the other hand, is thinking, I wish we could turn off the lights because I don't want him to see my dimply thighs.


With each article of clothing that drops to the floor, the woman's feelings of sensuality diminish and her body becomes more rigid. As a result,  what could develop into a deeply natural and beautiful sexual experience is blunted by an emotional wall she puts up. Meanwhile, picking up on her subtle cues, he wonders if he did something wrong.

Emotional intimacy. While you would think that despising your thighs would motivate you to do something about them, ironically, it does just the opposite. If you suffer from poor body image, you're more likely to overeat and engage in other unhealthy habits to comfort and/or punish yourself, creating a vicious cycle of weight gain and self-loathing.

So how does this stifle intimacy at the emotional level? According to Geneen Roth (author of When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair), "Every time you sneak food, you give yourself the message that you cannot be seen ... [and it] translates into sneaking your desires, sneaking your hungers, and sneaking your heart," because you feel you don't deserve love. 

And of course, if you share your negativity towards yourself with your partner, he/she may try his/her best to convince you otherwise, which can make things worse. For example, in the book For Keeps: Women Tell the Truth About Their Bodies, Growing Older, and Acceptance, author Sara Nelson tells the story of how on numerous occasions, her boyfriend lovingly referred to her as curvy, round, sexy, generous, lush or Rubenesque. "That's how many times I wanted to kill him," she explained, because she couldn't accept her body and the last thing she wanted to hear was that he did. 


If your body image is getting in the way of intimacy in your relationship, remember that you are not only your body. You are a combination of heart, soul, feelings and emotions that represent the true meaning of beauty, far more than your waist size. The more you appreciate these qualities, the more likely you'll feel compassion for yourself. And as you soften up to you, you'll open the doors to a deeper level of intimacy that may just eventually have you feeling grateful for every inch.