The Secret to Stopping the Body Image War

I’ve been taking a women’s Bible study on marriage.

After class one day, a few of us women were talking about body image — and what it does to a wife’s confidence (or more often, lack thereof) when she has sex with her husband.

It reminded me of this amazing video that is so good, you need to go watch it and then please come back.

We women are generally the ones waging the body image war.  Sure, men have some struggles in this area, but overwhelmingly, the relentless pursuit of “ideal beauty” is a gal’s game.  Not exactly a revolutionary comment on my part. I know.

Advertising, pornography, Hollywood, our own unrealistic expectations and possibly even hurtful comments from our husbands have merged into the perfect storm. An unfathomable amount of damage has been left in that storm’s wake.

Some efforts have been made to expose the truth, like this Dove video that has received more than 3,400,000 hits on YouTube.

(And husbands and wives would both be wise to read Paul Byerly’s incredibly insightful post. LOTS of aha moments in this one).

But the war rages on.

It is no wonder that so many wives (maybe yourself included) are not overly thrilled about getting naked with the man they married.

I hear from numerous women who refuse to ever make love with the lights on or the covers off, because their engrained sense of shame about their bodies is unbearably raw.

I don’t know about you, but my breasts just don’t look like they did when I was 20. I’ve given birth (and have the stretch marks, widened hips and saggy breasts to prove it). And even if I hadn’t given birth, the natural progression of time undeniably has transformed my body.

When I make love to my husband, I am not privy to a make-up artist, props manager and lighting director.  Go figure.  When put that way, it seems almost ludicrous that we consciously or subconsciously expect sexual intimacy to look like it does in the latest romantic movie.

So what is the secret to stopping the body image war?

As thrilling as it would be if Hollywood, the media, advertisers and the porn industry would all at once get a wake up call, I don’t think we really should sit back and wait for that to happen. We need a Plan B.

The secret to stopping the body image war?  Here are three ideas that have the potential for momentum:

Step One: Wars are Won by People Who Work with the Best and Most Accurate Information.

There’s the crux of it all — If you are wrestling with body image, it could be because you are basing your actions on lies rather than truth.  I say that not to condemn you, but to free you.  If you are like most women, you have been told (either directly or indirectly) that your worth is rooted in your appearance.

That is a lie.

It’s not that God does not value beauty — it’s that His definition of beauty does not bind our identity with our physical attributes. And it’s not that pretty and girly things are bad (like make-up, attractive appropriate clothing and a stylish haircut)… it’s that those pretty things are not who we are.

That sounds all noble, right — like I just read it off a greeting card.

But if you want to arrive at peace in this war, you absolutely must start with agreeing with what God says about you and disagreeing with what Satan says. Author and speaker Margot Starbuck brilliantly pointed this out when she guest posted for me about the toll of body image.

God’s truth is that you are beautiful, treasured and valued because your true identity is in Christ.  Your value is not in your breasts, hips, hair, lips, eye color, skin tone or stomach muscles.

Step Two: Wars are Won Collectively by Individuals Who do Their Part.

While the efforts highlighted in the videos I shared earlier in this post are admirable and needed, I can’t help but think those efforts really are more about inspiring individual accountability.

In other words, as a wife and as a woman, what can you do in your own walk to embrace your own beauty?

What can you do to strengthen your own confidence?

What can you do to educate your husband by shedding light on media-perpetuated lies?

What can you do to enlighten your children about authentic beauty, authentic sexual intimacy and God’s plan for marriage? (I have a dear friend who was walking with her sons in the mall once and actually stopped in front of the Victoria Secret’s window display to engage her sons in a conversation about authentic beauty — and the inaccurate messages advertising sends).

What can you do to strive toward realistic standards of healthiness? It’s not that taking care of our bodies is wrong. It’s all about motive. Do you want to be healthy because you want to enjoy life and be around to spend time with people you love? Or are you hung up on squeezing yourself into jeans that are a completely unrealistic expectation?

What can you do?

I’m just asking.

Step Three:  Wars are Won One Battle at a Time.

If you are allowing body image to sabotage your sexual intimacy, you will likely find greater success in conquering it personally if you start on a small scale.

If you’ve been making love with the lights off for your entire marriage, I don’t exactly think you’re going to be sporting a sheer negligee with the lights on tonight.

Study after study would show, though, that the vast majority of husbands desire their wives — and they want wives who want to fully participate in sex and embrace it for the gift it is.

The hang up about body appearance is more about our own insecurities than it is about their expectations.

There are exceptions to this, of course. If you are a wife whose husband has been hurtful — even going so far as to say he isn’t attracted to your body — then try to educate him that his expectations are based on unrealistic media-based standards. If that doesn’t work, rest in the assurance that he will ultimately have to give account to God on how he has been careless with his marriage covenant.

Nurturing sexual intimacy to its fullest in your marriage has so much to do with embracing the beauty and femininity of who you are. And you are beautiful.

The secret to stopping the body image war?

Well, we need to look at the person in the mirror.  I guess it’s kind of ironic when put that way.

Copyright 2011, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized.

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27 thoughts on “The Secret to Stopping the Body Image War

  1. Scott says:

    This is such an important topic and I so appreciate your words of wisdom to wives! One of the most-read posts I’ve ever written is my instructions to husbands concerning this topic. For any husbands lurking here, I suggest that you may be your wife’s only ally in the body image battle. You may not even realize how very critical your role is in her struggle. If you are interested, you can read the full post here: http://www.surrenderedmarriage.org/2010/06/body-image-battle.html

    This is a huge barrier to deeper sexual intimacy for many.

  2. GC says:

    These are all excellent points, and both of the videos are very powerful.

    I would like to suggest that some women may find increased confidence in their struggle with body image by taking control of some aspects of their bodies and changing them. The biggest one that comes to mind is weight. I know this is a very sensitive issue and that our society promotes absurd images of what women should weigh. Nevertheless, if a woman is very overweight for her height and frame, it can really take a toll on her body image and self-esteem. On the other hand, if a woman takes control of her weight through regular physical activity and healthful eating, she can improve her body image and gain a great deal of self-confidence. Although none of us who are over the age of 30 and have had children are going to have super-model figures, most of us can have lovely, shapely bodies that help us feel confident and sexy. The woman who is 50 pounds overweight but loses 25 and keeps it off by making positive lifestyle changes is likely to feel much better about her body, even if she has not reached her “ideal” weight. This increased confidence in her body can (and should) translate into increased confidence in her intimacy with her husband.

  3. Some married guy says:

    @GC
    Love my wife, but there came a point in our marriage, in which, I had to tell her, I was no longer attracted to her because of the extra weight about 100#. It wasn’t so much the weight, but all of the things we couldn’t do together and the poor example for our children. She has lost 60# of that and now runs marathons and I don’t have to eliminate potential dates because of her lack of stamina.

  4. Julie in Houston says:

    Thank you so much for this! Its so hard not to compare ourselves to the images and other women around us. I too often get wrapped up I that as well and forget that my body was made by God and that I need to wirk to keep it healthy but also remember its his handiwork.

  5. Louise says:

    Very Interesting and Important topic. I know for me… now that I dont live the same lifestyle as I used to may have a few body image issues. But for me, My body image issues come out moree infront of the public. For example if my fiance’ and I go to the beach, I will not feel comfortable and carefree as I do if we are in a private back yard swimmimg pool. I guess I have a complex of what the world thinks and the only one that matters is him. Reading this has opened my eyes to see I have more serious issues to address within myself, Thank you for sharing this topic!!!

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  7. Broken and Spilled says:

    Our church has just started streaming live on the Internet. The visual criteria for musicians is either thin or young. Many talented musicians have been sidelined because they are not thin or not young, myself included. The gospel has become a marketed commodity. My husband has the same view of me, refuses any intimacy because of it… but he’s no action hero. The double standard is anathema.

  8. sharon says:

    I am a Christian, a wife, a mother, friend (etc.). I have a lot of people around me that love me. But the battle in my mind is this very issue! What a struggle it has been for me. Body images are EVERYWHERE! I’ve had 4 children and turned 40 and workout regularly. It is so much harder to maintain a tiny figure.
    The funny thing is when I lost all my weight after my first and second babies, I was surprised to find my life still had the same issues/struggles. That being “tiny” didn’t make my life joyful. Sure I get to wear what I want and look cute BUT that does not fulfill me. I remind myself I am made for more then this struggle.

  9. JulieSibert says:

    Thanks for all the comments! Alecia… the Johnny Diaz video is powerful; thanks for sharing! Broken and Spilled — I’m saddened by what you have shared. Amazing how even the church has too often been swayed by what is “attractive” or “marketable.” Sharon — I love what you shared that you “remind yourself I am made for more than this struggle.” So true.

    Thank you everyone for the dialogue. We have to be real and shed light on the toll body image takes on our self esteem, our relationships, etc.

  10. Heather says:

    Thank you deeply for this! I started dieting when I was 9 years old after my grandmother told me I was fat. I struggled with anorexia in high school and bulimia has been an ongoing battle. Family, friends, media, etc have hurt me physically and emotionally. When talking about getting our self-worth from other people, a friend of mine shocked me by saying that we need to beg God’s forgiveness when we allow people to take the place of God. We should receive that from Him. We just have a tendency to let people get too big.

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  13. Jason says:

    My very first blog post ever was on this very topic… Because my wife had been struggling hard with it. It was called “The Most Beautiful Woman In The World.” The post was intended for the husband’s eyes, but many wives expressed how they had been blessed by hearing about this issue from a man’s perspective.

    We’ve done a lot of reading, praying and learning since then… Is she all at peace with this now? No. But she IS much more accepting when I tell her that she’s as hot today as when I married her back in 1987. For that, I am grateful!

    http://songsix3.org/the-most-beautiful-woman-in-the-world/

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  16. Anon says:

    Thank you for your article, it was helpful. I’m am really trying to be caring toward my body and stop my internal hurtful judgements. My biggest struggle is that I feel my worst around my husband. I can go to the beach, pool, shops or wherever with friends or just myself and feel happy and free. However, just being around my husband I feel anxious and judgemental of myself.

    He elevated physical appearance above other attributes for women and criticised body parts of other women over the years as being too this or that. He never criticised me but it showed his critical eye and told me what was most important to him. Then over more recent years he started glancing at other women more often and head turning. I noticed what he is attracted to and brought it to his attention. He assured me that yes it’s attractive but not what he wants. I’m in shape but the shape he’s attracted to is different to mine. Basically I just don’t have sexual confidence with him after all this, I simply don’t believe or trust what he says. This has caused me to withdraw from him and slowly my ‘in love’ feelings have been replaced with resentment and distrust.

    Now I am happiest not in his presence, is there any answer for this?

  17. Reba says:

    @Anon My heart goes out to you as I have struggled in similar ways. It took several conversations with my husband to help him understand how undermining his emphatic comments about other women were for me, especially since he never/rarely made those comments about me. And like you, I noted that the women he ogled and talked about had bodies very different than mine. He seemed to light up at the sight of them in ways I never saw him do with me.

    A couple of suggestions: There is a Chapter in “For Men Only” (Jeff Feldhahn) that explains this rather effectively for men. I asked my husband to read that chapter and recalled a time when he had stopped in his tracks and pivoted to keep his eyes on a beautiful woman. There was another time when he followed another woman around a store, but I chose to keep silent about that incident.

    What really drove it home for my husband was when I explained that the way he felt when I refused sex might be similar to the way I feel when he ogles other women and comments on their beauty. I confessed that even with focused effort on my physical appearance, I would never look like some of these women. He exclaimed he didn’t want them, he wanted me. Blatantly incongruous, it would seem.

    He needed to understand that I need to hear from him that he finds me beautiful and I need to hear it often. Just as often or more than he needs sex to feel loved and appreciated. If he expects me to be secure, confident and uninhibited in the bedroom, he must keep his eyes and thoughts on me and offer consistent encouragement.

    After some time, I was able to detach a bit from this situation too. I know I am beautiful and I know other men find me beautiful because they tell me so. If my husband chooses not to be captivated by me, he owns that. I have come to believe that those comments he used to make weren’t about me. They were about him and his own insecurities. In my specific situation, they may have been connected to alcoholism, and an attempt to make himself feel better by making me feel inferior.

    I struggled for a very long time feeling that I wasn’t enough. I was convinced my husband was fantasizing about other women during sex. I didn’t want to be married because I would rather be alone that be inadequate.

    Finally I realized that I needed to be enough for ME. I am more than a body and a face and so are you. Use your gifts and hold your head high. Embrace the abundant life Christ offers. Trust God to shape your husband’s heart. Care for yourself first so you can in turn care for others. Be frank with your husband about what you expect, knowing you deserve to be treated well. Find your voice and your power and use them to bless others.

  18. HopefullyHelpful says:

    Without knowing much more, all I can tell you from personal experience is that “looking at other women” typically comes from being denied sex. I’m not saying you will see it that way, but your husband might, and it is *his* mind you are trying to peer in to. Has he complained about frequency or acts performed? A tricky one: Is it possible you have unknowingly denied him?

    Even if you weren’t before, it sounds like you are now turning into a denier. Typically, those “in love” feelings get lost in women for other reasons. Look through Julie’s blog for other women’s opinion, and also for husbands’ views on what they consider denial.

    Be patient. Keep an open mind, humble heart and pray for insight. You never know what you’ll find when examining yourself, so you need to do that, and you might not like what you find.

    If the rest of your marriage is fine, do not let this problem begin to tear up the rest.

    My prayers go with you.

  19. Reba says:

    @ Anon

    A couple more things that helped me let go…

    I realized that I could not win this battle because the game is rigged, so to speak: even if there were such things as a perfect body and face and I had them, and regardless of frequency, quantity, quality, and variety of sex, my husband will still notice other women because of the way he is wired. I cannot fix or change that nor is it my responsibility to do so.

    This was a major issue for me because it triggered my fear of abandonment button. For him, the other women are just bodies, just shapes. I am his wife, the woman with whom he chose to spend his life. In time, and with counseling and hard emotional work, his looking became a minor issue for me, and now that he has toned it down, it is no longer an issue.

  20. Reba says:

    @HH Denying comes in many forms. Husbands sometimes deny their wives the gifts of feeling cherished and adored when they ogle other women. We need to be careful about these behaviors that increase distance between us and our spouses. And to change directions, someone has to go first. You seem to be making that effort. Kudos.

  21. HopefullyHelpful says:

    I explained in my blog. It is very difficult to deal with. In the end, as you well know, someone has to go first. And unfortunately, it is usually the one who sees the problem.
    There was a time when I was not in the Truth that I took any chance to notice a woman as “bonus”. Now it really bothers me when some woman wears a skirt so small, she shows all her secrets with each step. But the only time I even start to notice such things anymore is when I go through a denial-relapse. And it makes me resent my bride that my head starts to turn to what I really don’t want to watch anymore, or that I start noticing other ladies perfumes, what stockings they wear, which blouse button might be open. That embarrassed quick-turn away of your head or clamping your eyes shut. A quick prayer usually settles me, but still.

    Do women go through the same distractions?

  22. Reba says:

    It is my understanding that generally speaking, women are not sexually aroused by visual stimuli, at least not to the extent men are. Speaking for myself, I am not distracted by the kinds of things you mention.

    However, if I see a man treating a woman the way I long to be treated, touched, etc., that longing grows in intensity. For example, a passionate kiss in a movie ignites a desire to be kissed passionately by my husband.

    This may be an oversimplification, but perhaps men and women long for the same things and just have different routes they must take to arrive as the same destination.

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  24. Cassie from True Agape says:

    It is very important for wives that we have very supportive husbands. However, we should also act on some things like if ever we don’t feel confident anymore on our bodies, we can act on it not just to gain back our confidence but also to be healthy.

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